Network structure – 11 lessons learned

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1. Autonomous & multifunctional teams

Having all necessary skills in one place allows you to have hyper performing teams able to handle complex tasks. This can be achieved if such environment is created for teams:

  • Ability to make decisions on a timely manner and with maximum return on value
  • Technical and organizational autonomy to deliver on demand
  • Focus on clearly defined area to avoid context switch
  • Possibility to acquire all required skillset to enable autonomy and reduce dependencies
  • Service oriented approach which brings value both internal and external

2. Value/Service delivery oriented teams

Main benefit of such setup is reduction of functional/component (which typically are valuable only in combination) dependencies because teams are forced to exchange valuable services with each other.

Important to keep in mind that it is still a system of mutually dependent elements. It means that it is crucial to operate with respect to the capacity of the teams that you are dependent on. Negative effect of sub-optimization is amplified by fast pace of autonomous network elements.

It requires to adjust behavior, and instead of putting all effort on performing local optimizations to advocate and strive for solving identified bottleneck in the whole structure.

One sample could be hiring. Instead of hiring into your area, hire where bottleneck is or even form a new missing entity. Such actions will optimize whole value delivery

3. Common target

Whole activity of a network must be aligned to a common target. If there is no common goal defined network structure will perform only slightly better comparing to conventional organization (where each function optimizes it’s behavior according their KPIs). Positive effect is driven by focus on value delivery for identified users.

Even if you do not utilize all benefits of network structure you at least will achieve following:

  • Clear cost structure: teams are organized around value delivery and 100% focused on a single purpose
  • Clear communication map: easy to understand who is covering which areas
  • Easier to notice not covered areas, dependencies and

You can make a decision on a strategic level in <10 minutes for a scale of 400 people by just looking at a couple of pages in confluence (or other team collaboration solution) without diving into complex excel files and diagrams.

4. Strive on being a team

It is important to take personal responsibility for every leader of network element and make an effort to act as a team. Team typically shares following characteristics as minimum (if compared to a group):

  • aligned goal,
  • optimizing the whole,
  • supporting

5. Fire fast

The only way to save the box of apples is to throw away rotten ones. By “rotten” in this context I mean:

  • not acting upon achieved agreements,
  • acting according own agenda,
  • not adapting behavior according raised expectations,
  • not learning.

6 Constraints

No system cannot operate without constraints. It is needed to eliminate entropy and to keep the focus of the whole. The most important constraint is common target.

Other constraints play key role in establishing stability because they set rules for communication between elements.

Includes, but not limited to: organizational level artifacts and deliverables, KPIs and/or Service Level Objectives, agreements, dependencies, set of internal services. Each element must expose following artifacts publicly available:

  • Purpose aligned with common target
  • List of stakeholders (clients and dependencies)
  • Service/Product catalog
  • Team structure
  • Roadmap
  • Business KPIs
  • SLOs and Non functional requirements
  • High-level architecture

7. Quality

Quality must never be opinion based. It must be measurable and agreed set of clearly defined metrics that are communicated to stakeholders, publicly visible and tracked in real-time.

There always must be a professional included in a team who understands what quality assurance as discipline means and knows all set of practices that can and should be applied at the right moment of product/team evolution.

Typical mistake is to measure quality with # of bugs. If your team relies mainly (or sometimes only) on this metric, it means there is no agreed quality definition in the team.

Things mentioned are important and beneficial for conventional structure, but vital for network structure because of service oriented approach.

8. Internal services/platforms are critical

It is critical to establish and properly staff internal service/platform teams as soon as possible. It will increase speed and efficiency of the rest of organization. Such internal services cannot be avoided and must be used across company.

It can be useful (time to market, lack of experience and etc.) to use 3d party vendors or build custom solution as a temporary decision while internal service is being developed.

9. “API”

This is foundation of network structure. Contexts must be separated by programming interfaces. It gives possibility to:

  • have autonomous teams,
  • control dependencies with other teams,
  • react faster to market needs due to proper technical decomposition,
  • apply the best technologies and tools for specific challenge,
  • reduce unnecessary communication and coordination (the most important!) among teams,
  • easily add more teams with increasing returns,
  • keep innovating and reduce unknown side effects due to smaller codebase.

10. Chaos in da house

Assumptions that things do not change and can be finalized are wrong. It applies both for work structure and technical solution.

Way of work. Network structure is dynamic as it consists of autonomous elements not fixed functions which can be changed/adjusted based on business needs.

Technical uncertainty. Capacity, stress and resilience tests are new practices that must be introduced and performed periodically. This is the only approach that will help to: ensure technical excellence, identify bottlenecks, visualize dependencies and ensure right level of automation in all teams.

11. Building an internal service/platforms is difficult

Because it requires to act differently (not typical for internal teams in conventional structure):

  • Identify users
  • Understand their problems
  • Build a solution for those problems (not ideal solution)
  • Deliver value as early as possible (typically pick to work on ideal solution)
  • Continuously work with users in gathering feedback, sharing knowledge, organizing meet-ups and etc. (the most difficult)

This is big behavioral shift from a conventional functional/component team that focuses only on development into a multifunctional team which spends a lot of time on pre and post development activities.

12. Resources that I was inspired by

Here is possible implementation of network structure – http://agilemindstorm.com/2016/03/16/network-structure-it-works/

It was inspired by following material:

Recent findings which show things are moving that direction:

Why team don’t work

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Very good article about Teams performance by J. Richard Hackman

http://econ.au.dk/fileadmin/Economics_Business/Currently/Events/PhDFinance/Kauttu_Why-Teams-Dont-Work-by-J.-Richard-Hackman.pdf

Mistakes Managers Make

  1. Use a Team for Work That Is Better Done by Individuals
  2. Call the Performing Unit a Team but Really Manage Members as Individuals
  3. Fall Off the Authority Balance Beam
  4. Dismantle Existing Organizational Structures So That Teams Will Be Fully “Empowered”to Accomplish the Work
  5. Specify Challenging Team Objectives, but Skimp on Organizational Supports
  6. Assume That Members Already Have All the Skills They Need to Work Well as a Team

How teams are often formed:

There are two different strategies that managers use to implement work teams without upsetting the corporate applecart.

One is to try to capture the benefits of teamwork by relying mainly on rhetoric and training. Members are told that they are now in teams, team leaders are appointed, and everyone is sent off to get training in good team processes. It is easy to implement teams this way—neither organizational structures nor managers’ own behaviors need change. But such teams are more ephemeral than real, and mere changes in appearances rarely yield measurable improvements in organizational outcomes.

The second strategy is to form real teams—intact, performing units whose members share responsibility for some product or service—but to lay them atop existing organizational structures and systems. The rationale, as one manager told me, is to see how well they perform before making other organizational changes that could be hard to reverse.

This is exactly why network structure is suggested as preferred approach for complex and ambiguous tasks:

  • Teams oriented approach
  • Organizational structure must reflect value delivery, not work composition

Top 2 reads of the year

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1. Wardley Maps

About situational awareness and strategic planning. This includes, why maps matter, how to map, some common economic patterns useful for prediction, common forms of doctrine and the concept of context specific gameplay.

Video: https://vimeo.com/189984496

Slides: http://www.slideshare.net/swardley/an-introduction-to-wardley-maps

2. Boiling frogs

GCHQ’s internal Boiling Frogs research paper on software development and organisational change in the face of disruption – https://github.com/gchq/BoilingFrogs

The pace of disruptive change is increasing, from the rise of cloud technology, social business, the Internet of Things and others. We feel it as much as other government departments and so we offer this internal research paper publicly, not to present policy or guidelines, but to stimulate debate.

So why the title “Boiling Frogs?” The story goes that if a frog is placed in a saucepan of cold water, which is slowly heated, the frog adapts its body temperature to the changing heat of the water and gradually goes to sleep. The frog goes to sleep at 40 ˚C, unaware that at 100 ˚C it will boil! However, if the frog is placed in already boiling water it immediately jumps out to safety.

p.s. other people who made a significant influence – http://agilemindstorm.com/2015/05/12/people-that-made-great-impact-on-my-thinking/

External provider

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When do you use external service provider? I tried following:

  • To provide commodity infrastructure services – in progress, think will work
  • Commercial offerings without mixing in people from your company (defined scope and budget) – failed
  • Fast experiments to validate options (no integration with platform, no involvement of internal people) – success
  • Commercial offerings with heavily involving teams from your company (not fixing scope, but only cooperation period) – success
  • Bringing in industry accepted expert for knowledge sharing, problem solving, review (short-term: up to 2 weeks) – success