One of the principal roles of management is solving problems. The hierarchy is an artifact of solving problems by divide and conquer. Now a new problem solving method that has been maturing in relative obscurity for the last three decades provides us the opportunity to reconsider how we manage. This new method allows us to use efficiently the information flow that is inherent in each specific problem rather than have that information thrash kicking and screaming through some more arbitrary organizational structure. This allows organizations to work flatter and more efficiently, and still maintain the necessary coordination of the work.
In this information realm we find how our plans and the information flow that occurs while implementing those plans are affected by the use of assumptions. Thus, whereas in the past we planned in the realm of tasks and time, now we can first look into the realm of information dependencies to better define the assumptions and the resulting tasks to be scheduled in time. This allows us to manage better those assumptions to decrease their risks and use more effective review processes tailored to the problem to shorten the time to resolve the assumptions, reducing risks and shortening the time to implement the plan. And particularly, we avoid those last minute catastrophes that arise when we realize that an assumption we made but may have overlooked was not valid.
The understanding of the information flow along with the availability of computers provides the situation visibility that is a missing ingredient that explains why so many of the ideas being proposed by gurus today have met with so little success. It is interesting to note that Mary Parker Follett proposed that such techniques as cross-functional teams, empowerment, learning and knowledge rich organizations and so on all follow as a natural consequence of providing situation visibility. But since she died in 1933, she never got the chance to know about computers and the use of the information realm needed to provide that situation visibility.
Situation visibility provides a cornucopia of rewards. For example, we have a better handle on true progress because we know not just what tasks have been completed, but which of those tasks may still depend on assumptions that have not yet been verified thus may still be subject to further iteration. People can see on whom they depend and who depends on them. They can be notified when the information they need becomes available or trace what may be holding it up and possibly help to break the bottleneck. Since they have a better perspective of their role in the larger operation, they feel a greater sense of ownership and pride in what they do.
This method has an interesting property. It does not need to be imposed on those who must maintain it but don't reap its advantages. They use it because they are the ones that benefit. It can be introduced first for use by teams, and later for larger projects.
The computer software already exists to develop and analyze the information dependencies to chose assumptions, make plans, and coordinate the work to implement those plans. What is missing now is only wider understanding of this new method and your readiness to use it.
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