Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Snowflake Theory of Management

I heard myself saying every business relationship is a like snowflake yesterday.  I thought it sounded a little corny at the time and I wondered if I could just rewind time and take it back.

In retrospect, I'm glad I couldn't.  Every relationship is different and every relationship is ephemeral.  Our organization supports over a hundred different departments and thousands of individuals across the institution.  It would be impossible to create a separate process for every relationship.

So our processes become frameworks for enabling individuality to thrive.  The framework sets the boundaries around how far we can go, how much we're willing to spend, and who we can support.  But within those guidelines, the individual needs the freedom to do their job.

A good example is our project management process.  It is quite rigorous about specific activities.  We demand a project charter document to explain the business case justifying the project.  A project plan is expected to define how the project is to be executed.  Regular status reports are produced to track progress to plan.  The project is wrapped up through a project closure report.  That's all.

The process doesn't get any more prescriptive.  There is lots of room to maneuver within the framework.  Project managers are free to apply their personal creativity to get the job done within a small set of very specific checkpoints.  

This approach gives the management team the appropriate level of control over the process without stifling the individuality of the project managers.  The freedom to make a broad range of decisions within a small set of clearly defined rules allows control that supports the flexibility required to adapt to the unique set of circumstances inherent in every project.

The same is true of any process we build.  Because each relationship between the organization and its clients is independent, we need to build processes that simultaneously enable flexibility and control.  The trick is to ensure the appropriate degree of flexibility and while ensuring we can still control the quality and efficiency of our process.

Hmmm ... it looks like it's snowing outside ...

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