Shift #3: New coordination: From Bureaucracy to Dynamic Linkage

One of the great achievements of the modern firm was disciplined execution with scalability. Very large numbers of people could work together and achieve consistent results. Through the use of detailed plans, rules and processes, management specified both the goal and the methods for achieving that goal was to be achieved; progress was systematically tracked by reports to managers, so that any deviations could be identified and if necessary punished.

In today’s workplace, this leads to several major problems. First, bureaucracy is inherently demotivating, and in knowledge work, motivation is the key to productivity. Secondly, this way of working is not good for innovating in a world in which innovation is critical. Third, bureaucracy isn’t agile enough to delight clients, cope with social media or adjust to the quicksilver changes in today’s marketplace. As a result, efforts by firms to become more customer-­‐focused or to establish autonomous teams tend to come undone when they encounter the bureaucratic methods of coordination used by traditional management.

To mesh the efforts of autonomous teams and client focus while also achieving disciplined execution requires a set of measures that might be called “dynamic linking”. The method began in automotive design in Japan and has been developed most fully in software development with approaches known as “Agile” or “Scrum”.

“Dynamic linking” means that (a) the work is done in short cycles; (b) the management sets the goals of work in the cycle, based on what is known about what might delight the client; (c) decisions about how the work should be carried out to achieve those goals are largely the responsibility of those doing the work; (d) progress is measured (to the extent possible) by direct client feedback. The most complete articulation of the practices of dynamic linkage in software development are set out in Succeeding with Agile, and as applied to general management in The Leader’s Guide to Radical Management.

As The Power of Pull points out, one proceeds “by setting things up in short, consecutive waves of effort, iterations that foster deep, trust-­‐based relationships among the participants… Knowledge begins to flow and team begins to learn, innovate and perform better and faster.… Rather than trying to specify the activities in the processes in great detail.., specify what they want to come out of the process, providing more space for individual participants to experiment, improvise and innovate.”