Aligning Systems and Structures

How well-suited are your current ways of operating to achieving your goals?

Things are working pretty well but maybe you want to improve time to market, reduce costs, or improve employee satisfaction.  Structures, processes, and other organizational elements may make seamless action difficult.  How do you know where to start making changes and keep change moving?

Ask yourself:

To what extent are current ways of working getting in the way? Do you have cumbersome decision-making and approvals, lack of clear roles, lots of hierarchy or complex structures, under or over-staffing, convoluted processes, software and systems that don’t easily enable issues to be fixed?

Have you calculated the costs of your organization’s complexity? If you have a TQM or other quality regimen in place, you can use metrics like cycle time, call center response times, and product development milestones to gauge the extent of your problem. If not, start with anecdotal evidence and conduct some focused analyses to build a more quantitative case.

What do front-line employees consider the greatest obstacles to getting work done? What’s the relative ranking of obstacles? Where could you make rapid change through policies, less rapid change through processes, and slower change through systems?

Are efficiency gaps internal or external pinch points, or do they exist where boundaries meet? For example, do gaps exist between your organization and an outside contractor providing a service to customers on your behalf? If so, could you task the contractor with fixing the problem, with or without your help?

Could you remove small impediments to work flows while waiting to resolve more systemic obstacles?

For structural inefficiencies, what’s the average span-of-support (i.e., supervisor to supervised) for the organization? What’s best practice in an organization like yours? Where are the spans that are too narrow or too broad? Could you de-layer the organization to remove levels of hierarchy?

For inefficiencies linked to technology, which services could you outsource? Could you implement non-technology work-arounds until you found a more comprehensive or permanent solution?

If you needed to make long-term changes to legacy IT systems, could you proceed in concert with shorter-term improvements to signal progress? Are you changing processes, policies, and roles in tandem with technology enhancements to ensure that technology investments achieve the promised productivity improvements?