The key to working in a post-Covid world is simplify, simplify, simplify.

There’s huge scope to strip out layers, silos, rules and methodologies. All it takes is the mindset shift.

Rob Fyfe recently talked about lack of agility in central government “One of the weaknesses of central government and bureaucracy in Wellington was that it was not agile – departments could be “very territorial” and people held on to “rigid positions” for far too long after facts had moved on, he said. “Government is not particularly good at moving fast.” Rob was talking in the context of improving contact tracing but this also applies to the overall management of organizations. Arguably, poor agility is one sign of an unhealthy bureaucratic culture.

The world embraced the ‘Zoom’ phenomenon during Covid lock-down as the way to work, and some would argue this was a sign of agile management. I think many organizations were simply replicating their existing devotion to management meetings without actually rethinking whether meetings were useful or productive. At the risk of being branded a heretic, it felt like a knee-jerk response driven by the fact that they were ill-prepared for their people no longer being in line-of-sight. I have to admit the use of conference tools made me more than a bit grumpy, especially having to use 4 -5 different solutions to connect-up with people. Managing all of this took considerable time often for second rate outcomes. It certainly made me think that in the event of our next lock-down we need better approaches to working with our people and managing work. We need to simplify things and rapidly. And this may fly in the face of the line being pushed by major platform suppliers who have convinced organizations they can build their own solutions using various parts of their platform. Can organizations really afford the time and money this will take based on open-ended promises when rethinking how they currently work would enable them to use existing, rich off-the-shelf solutions, with solution providers, rather than organizations, carrying all the future-proofing risks? This has to be the time when Executives see the Emperors Clothes for what they really are and take charge of a future that is very different.

…in the event of our next lock-down we need better approaches to working with our people and managing work. We need to simplify things and rapidly.

Colin Chapman, the British founder of Lotus, said that if you design a car with a massive engine it’ll go fast in a straight line, but if you make it light it’ll go fast everywhere. This seems like the perfect analogy for the management of organizations in 2020 and beyond. Up until now many organizations, private and public, have struggled to get out from under decades of bureaucracy with senior teams showing little appetite to apply common-sense to transforming their organizations. Many CEO’s will admit that the burning-bridges just didn’t exist and they were not going to be held accountable for lack of progress. Maybe with the challenges we all now face the concept of simplifying our business landscape – lightening up our organizations – is the way we must go.

…if you design a car with a massive engine it’ll go fast in a straight line, but if you make it light it’ll go fast everywhere.

Simplifying your organization is not a business re-engineering exercise where you remove process steps based around perceived efficiencies. That’s old-world. It’s about completely rethinking how you work and stripping things back to the essentials. And, once you put aside loyalty to current processes and methodologies, it’s not that difficult. Project management is a great example and topical considering most organizations are investing in portfolios of projects. Here’s just four examples of many.

  1. Formal hard-copy reporting is a project staple. It’s expensive and will consume over 40% of your time. But it doesn’t need to be this way. Implement a solution that gives you all the necessary data on-line and in real-time with the ability to navigate up and down the business. Get rid of the reports. Accept nothing less.
  2. Project planning is often clumsy with bits of plans scattered across separate siloed applications. But it doesn’t need to be this way. Implement a solution that gives you all plans in the one place and with all dependencies connected-up. Embrace living plans. Accept nothing less.
  3. Without business alignment of both thinking and delivery projects fail. Always. But it doesn’t need to be this way. Implement a solution that aligns everything to the degree that you can present the truth-in-plain-sight. Ensure everyone who needs to can see the true state-of-play at every level of the business. Be relentless. Accept nothing less.
  4. Enterprise Programme / Portfolio Offices can be useful. Multiples of them will have everyone tripping over each other. EPMO’s that rely on lots of process and lots of people inevitably fail under their own weight. The answer is very simple. Use well-designed software and virtualize the EPMO. All your people and all your teams and all your data then become your EPMO with no other structure required. Be smart. Accept nothing less.

Implement a solution that gives you all the necessary data on-line and in real-time with the ability to navigate up and down the business. Accept nothing less.

Simplifying your organization isn’t a matter of fiddling with org charts and job descriptions. These things position people in organizations and ensure people get paid on time, but they’re not instruments of work enablement. This needs a whole new approach. Projects, Business Services and Business-as-Usual all succeed because of the people delivering them. In the right situation they feel empowered and passionate about the challenges in front of them. So let’s focus on your people wherever it is they are working and whatever role they’re carrying out.

  1. Help people work. If you ask your people what they need to help them do their work they’ll talk about having control over their work day-to-day, and knowing that they are contributing something meaningful to a purposeful organization doing stuff that matters to the world. Bluntly, their work matters. As one step to help with this Executives and Boards need to define Purpose Statements that clearly and passionately outline why the world would be worse off if your company wasn’t in it. As a software development company we don’t want to just build great management software. We want people using our software to deliver great health, education and social services, and much more. That’s when things start to get meaningful for us.
  2. Help people work better together. Lock-down revealed how important it is to have people around us. There’s huge opportunity hinted at in Agile thinking to loosen up the constraints and let people find their own ways of networking, generating ideas, and unearthing innovation. Senior teams should endorse this approach then get out of the way and see what eventuates. If you apply the ‘let’s work better together’ approach to pretty well everything you do existing constraints melt away and unanticipated opportunities – lot of them – surface. As a business you can’t lose.
  3. Help everyone tell better work stories. Many companies facing the threat of Covid-19, the dramatic changes to the world around us, and the uncertainty about what lies ahead started to question their place in the world and, in the shorter term, their viability. Better work stories proliferate in organizations. We just need to give everyone a voice and embrace the passion that people bring. But there’s a bigger opportunity and that is to collaborate world-wide and tell a whole new brand of stories that takes the ‘fake-news’ movement, and the fake-news advocates, out of play. Collaborating on solutions that help us rebuild world economies brings a bit of scope to the table.

Rob Fyfe talked about a living plan. “We need to create a living plan and a road map that can be continuously adjusted as new information comes to light.” This is a brilliant concept and should be adopted by every private and public sector organization. Why?

“We need to create a living plan and a road map that can be continuously adjusted as new information comes to light.”

Ask yourself what having a living plan says about you and your business. It says you’re comfortable with real-time, real-world views. It says you can plan and pivot as you need to. It says that you recognize the importance of data and how it can change the story in front of you. It says you are enabled by your roadmap not constrained by it. Now imagine everyone in your business contributing in their own way, in their own voices, to the living plan. What does this say about your culture? What does this say about your future?

Now imagine everyone in your business contributing in their own way, in their own voices, to your living plan. What does this say about your culture? What does this say about your future?

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