Minimize Constraints to Collaboration

To operate effectively, a complex organization needs to be able to continuously adjust their operating metaphor to accommodate for changes in the environment, business demand, technology and other aspects of development. Apart from such a strategic readjustment, at the tactical level even more flexibility is needed to ensure timely exploration of new opportunities and fast flow of value to the customer. For this reason, it is critical to remember that:

It is virtually impossible to big-upfront-design the organization and have that design sustainable over time.

In other words, change is inevitable. And the more flexible the structures the easier the task. This is often exactly contrary to the way many enterprises are organized; they favor fixed, granular structure. But regardless whether the structure consists of functional silos or exploits the best from the world of feature teams, rigid structures are not supportive of responding to change, a fundamental tenet of Agile Development (see also Next-Order Silo anti-pattern).

In this quest to achieving organizational flexibility, the goal is basically to avoid extremes: either extreme rigidity or complete chaos. Certain structure can be helpful, one cannot make any sense of an organization where everything is a moving part. And yet, it is the Reductionist Mindset that tries to place everything in its “predefined” place.

Here’s some suggestions to building better and more enabling structures that foster collaboration:

  1. Watch for Static-Dynamic Mismatch anti-pattern applied to business demand and organizational design. Chances are that business demand is more variable than the organizational structures allow.
  2. Watch for Agile teams overly focusing on themselves and their own backlog (Next Order Silo)
  3. Relentlessly control WIP at the cross-team level. This usually unveils a lot of structural flaws.
  4. Foster real-time interaction across teams and levels of enterprise. Enable Gemba. Watch for Gemba Surrogates.

One of the biggest problems associated with constraints to collaboration is the management’s compartmentalized thinking, subdivided areas of responsibility and ownership as well as fragmented KPIs (see People as Resources and Obsession with Metrics anti-patterns). This requires to be addressed. While it is rarely possible to change the rules of the game all at once, much can be achieved by asking the permission for people from different units to freely swarm around a problem at hand. For that matter, increasing the management’s visibility into the actual flow of work and bottlenecks is key (see Stitching the Organization).