As more organizations are embracing agile methodology as an operating system, very few are able to implement it throughout the entire organization.
But it probably doesn’t have to. Agile is not necessary for every function, including those that are straightforward and task-driven functions of the business. However, for teams that must continuously tackle complex problems where solutions aren’t readily available, or project requirements shift rapidly, agile methodology is highly superior to command-and-control. It’s not that the vertical hierarchy needs to go away, but rather the fact that it needs to support the horizontal process of the business—because the other way around is what’s hindering progress in the first place.
So before embarking on an agile journey, it’s important to understand what went right and what went wrong when companies tried to implement Total Quality Management (TQM) as a management approach operating system in the 80s and 90s.
Having lived through the implementation of TQM, Paula Martin, CEO and Chief Creative Officer of the Matrix Management Institute recalls that it was a technique originally imported from Japan, mainly from the Japanese automobile companies such as Toyota.
“It was actually introduced to Japan by a couple of Americans and Japan put it to use in streamlining and optimizing their manufacturing processes,” she said. “They wanted to make their manufacturing processes more streamlined or efficient, but also more effective – and that’s where the quality ideas came into play. They were focused on providing quality outputs to customers, in order to compete.”
Martin opines that American companies weren’t focused yet on integrated processes across the organization. “They had processes all chopped up by functions and each function was trying to be efficient. There was very little focus on quality or effectiveness. And so, the result was no one was really focused on the customer, except sales.”
Efficiency was measured within the function and not across the whole process. Workers were blamed for defects (and there were lots of them). “In comes TQM, which focused on the value chain and listening to the voice of the customer and getting waste and defects out of the process. This was the beginning of recognizing that a horizontal dimension existed.”
Martin further notes that the Japanese also used teams to run their manufacturing processes, but primarily because they were a team-based culture in the first place where the individual doesn’t really exist –it’s all about the collective.
“This culture difference made importing the team-based elements of the system difficult in the US,” she said “although a number of companies tried creating self-directed work teams and it caught on slowly. But because most work was still done by individuals, directed by supervisors and not as a part of teams.”
And this is the big shift that modern companies need to make as well when it comes to implementing agile, a new management approach. It works differently than the vertical management because agile teams are largely self-governing where leadership is telling people where to innovate, but not how.
In this issue, we’ve provided several articles that help with that transition, the first being “A Three-Stage Process Toward Agile Transformation” where Cathy Cassidy speaks directly to the differences between agile methodology and organizational agility.
The second is “Maximizing Organizational Productivity Requires Prioritization” which talks about the importance of training that focuses on organizational and team prioritization, versus maximizing individual productivity, where most training programs still reside.
In the article “The Demise of Nokia—A Cautionary Tale of Restructuring Gone Wrong,” Managing Editor Mistina Picciano tells the all too often story about how companies try to fix problems by restructuring because they can only see the solution through the lens of vertical management as opposed to operationalizing their horizontal.
And lastly, be sure to check out “How Game-Based Learning Support Change Management” where Paula Martin talks about the emergence of gamification in recruiting and training to dramatically enhance the learning process.