Will the present way of working be sufficient to successfully deliver on your critical project or initiative? Specifically, will you be satisfied with the typical levels of speed, agility and innovation, or are you looking for more?
Faced with the need to deliver ever more ambitious projects, with even greater speed, organizations are looking to a new way of working. The hallmarks are collaboration and agility.
Ironically, projects that depend on the heroic solo-run of one or a few individuals have a higher risk of failure. That is because BIG projects depend on the collaborative effort of networks of individuals and teams.
How many times have you heard someone brag that through their own heroic efforts they saved a project? Usually this is greeted with backslaps, cheers, and congratulations. I see this as a fundamental flaw in the process. A team that depends on regular heroic actions to make its deadlines is not working the way it’s supposed to work.
Jeff Sutherland (1)
Tomorrow’s new products, technologies and business models are brought to life not by individuals working in isolation, but by high performing teams that cut-across functions and silos. This collaborative performance is sometimes called ‘BIG P’. So, it is fitting to say that big projects require ‘BIG P’.
Small Potential is the limited success we can attain alone. BIG Potential is what we can achieve together…
Shawn Anchor (2)
When you have 24 months to take a new product to market or 16 months to implement a new system, then the sequential approach to interdepartmental co-operation may just get you there in time. But speed things up and there are going to be problems. That is unless people across the organization can effectively pool their ideas and skills and can collaborate in real time.
Big P isn’t easy however. Most leaders know that you cannot simply bring a group of high performers together and expect a high performing project team! Indeed, individual high performers face particular challenges when it comes to collaborating with others. So it is that developing high performing teams require a fundamentally different approach to the execution of strategic projects.
There is a structural as well a cultural dimension to collaborative performance and for many organizations it requires a new way of working.
Organizations based on the traditional top down functional silos are at a real disadvantage when it comes to delivering key projects:
With much of the work on BIG projects taking place outside the traditional organizational structure/silos, the transition from functional hierarchy to cross-functional matrix or network of teams is well underway.
To enable greater speed and agility in a fast-changing world the very shape of the modern organization is changing. Big projects are flattening the organizational structure – they are hierarchy with small ‘h’.
Big ‘P’ and small ‘h’ are key to greater speed and agility, as well as collaboration and innovation. They are part of what we call a new way of working that is vital to the success of critical projects and initiates.
New ways of working, cultural and even structural changes can sound scary, so it is important to put managers’ minds at rest. Critical projects are not business as usual. By definition they are about new systems, processes, products and so on. It is not surprising therefore that they require something beyond the traditional ways of working – the reporting structures, boundaries and so on.
Adding new agility & collaboration does not necessarily mean wholesale organizational transformation however. It does not mean changing those processes, structures and ways of working that have long served your business in the everyday running of its business. If it were to rely on a wholesale organizational transformation (change to structure or culture) the chances of success would likely be reduced greatly.
As with the pitstop approach, the ideal is to compliment existing approaches by adding agility at the edges of the organization, rather than at its core. In other words enabling those working on the project to collaborate more effectively as a team.
The solution is not to trash what we know and start over but instead to reintroduce, in an organic way, a second system— one which would be familiar to most successful entrepreneurs. The new system adds needed agility and speed while the old one, which keeps running, provides reliability and efficiency
John P. Kotter(3).
1. Jeff Sutherland, ‘Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time’, Currency 2014.
2. Shawn Anchor, Big Potential: How Transforming the Pursuit of Success Raises Our Achievement, Happiness, and Well-Being, Currency Publishing, 2018.
3. John P. Kotter, Accelerate: Building Strategic Agility for a Faster-Moving World Hardcover, HBR Press, 2014.