In our society there are numerous examples of how someone, typically an interest group, prefers an organization to be structured . The fault is in setting up goals for parts of the system, rather than looking at the whole picture. Incentives for striving towards a common improved situation, not just the short-term situation for yourself or the people you represent, are necessary. There are many aspects of this issue, and below I will deal with a few of those.
The first person I heard emphasizing the importance of optimizing the whole was, if I remember correctly, Mary Poppendieck. It was during some days of seminars which were hosted by Softhouse about 10 years ago. Looking back, the optimizing of a certain moment through time studies was commenced within the workshop industry in the beginning of the 20th century. Actually, it has become popular nowadays as well, however in a more modern form.
To me it makes sense that, initially, perfecting certain tasks was profitable since a lot of time could be saved. However, the industry gradually realized the importance of working towards an optimization of the whole.
In my mind, I tend to compare with the world of sports, and there was a specific event in the Swedish male football team which I’ve pondered a lot over during the years. It was 2010 when I read about how Hamrén and Zlatan had talked for many hours about football and how they both aimed for medals in the grand championships. This is what Swedish website “Fotbollskanalen” writes:
“In May 2010 Hamrén came to an agreement with Rosenborg, stating that from the 1st of June and onward, he would be the full-time coach for the Swedish football team. Shortly after, he received some marvelous news: Zlatan Ibrahimovic declared he would continue in the national football team. Erik Hamrén had visited Malmö to meet Zlatan, and agree on a cooperation. Ibrahimovic was promised he would be the captain, responsible for the younger players and the key in a 4-3-3-system.
-Erik is in this to win, he has the same mentality as me, he has even promised me a medal. A new journey begins and I want to be a part of it from the beginning. The game system has a more international touch than the Swedish 4-4-2, and I personally benefit from 4-3-3, since I play that way in Barcelona, as well as in Ajax, Zlatan said.”
I suppose this was a realistic objective, being that Sweden as recently as 1994 had won the bronze medal in the US, and with Zlatan, an internationally successful player, in the team. However, things didn’t turn out as planned, and numerous discussions concerning Zlatan’s role in the national team has arised. Critics suggest good results also have been attained at times when Zlatan did not play, and some even claim the team would have been more successful without him.
We can’t change history, nevertheless I believe Hamrén wasted Zlatan’s best years in the national team due to an incorrect mindset concerning the organization and choice of game system. Hamrén was too influenced by how the most successful teams were playing, not to mention how Zlatan improved international teams simply with his presence and technique.
The problem is, Hamrén attempted building his team on the condition that he had access to the types and qualities of players that had been part of Zlatan’s various international clubs. Instead his choice of game system should have been based on the accessible player sources. Then again, he may have tried but not reached success. Personally, I would probably promote a combination of Lagerbäck’s focus on the team, which may not have utilized Zlatan’s abilities completely, and Hamrén’s focus on Zlatan.
So why this example from the world of sports? Well, because there are similarities to society’s and companies’ way of thinking; Hamrén aimed for an optimized utilization of Zlatan’s qualities, but forgot to look at the whole picture. Likewise, management consultants scrutinize companies from a business point of view, designing an optimal organization which usually looks very compelling. However, they overlook the limitations of reality, both from a technical (will come back with examples) and an economical point of view.
Likewise, independent associations watch the corporation from their members’ perspective, thereupon focusing the spotlight on the members and making them a scarce resource. Here we have an example from the world of school, where the Association of Teachers has, in my opinion, accomplished two things: first, they made sure you must be a teacher in order to do most of the tasks in school. Second, a law was recently applied requiring qualified teachers, i.e. a teacher’s certificate. In other words, the association has regulated the market, creating a shortage of qualified teachers, consequently increasing the salaries. Nevertheless, in my opinion, also worsening the school and tearing out teachers. Furthermore, the unemployment rate in Sweden is high, hence society would benefit from work opportunities for all inhabitants. Bringing matters to a head, all positions should only be occupied by higher educated individuals in order to maximize the quality in each moment, however it will become a struggle finding employees that are “educated enough”.
To put it differently, I promote a more flexible approach on how we organize in society as well as in corporations. Surely an optimal team exists in theory, however it is probably impossible to assemble in reality. For instance, I recall some years ago when Malmö FF in collaboration with a radio station set out to select the best line-up of all times. People could call or email their suggestions. I can’t remember the result, however a specific proposal consisted of 10 Bosse Larssons. The anchorman asked “Why not 11 players?”, and the reply was quick: with 10 Bosse Larssons you won’t need any goalkeeper. Of course we all realize it’s impossible to find 10 Bosse Larssons, and laugh it away. Nevertheless, various types of organizations are built according to this mindset. Within software, Agile methods has been applied for more than ten years. A thought I’ve heard several times, but can’t find any reference to, is that anyone in a team should be able to do a certain task. On the one hand, this might be possible provided that the productivity of an expert is not expected, but on the other hand it becomes quite obvious: we are constantly searching for the perfect resource who can do anything. Within SCRUM, it’s clear that a team can’t only consist of generalists, and after all a team with a wide competence within the area in question is of highest importance.
A clear picture of how we should organize is a good start. Then again, I believe considering the accessible resources, concerning both tools, machines and employees, thereupon optimizing the whole, is even more essential. A few examples: the next years, numerous tasks will be automatized, making new resources available. Consequently, we must find a way to utilize these resources, otherwise we have simply optimized a certain detail in society, leaving the whole picture in a mess. There is a shortage of nurses and teachers, maybe by changing our mindset we can prevent burnout due to overloading, at the same time increasing productivity within school and health care.
Within software management, methods and processes should be understood as utopias, keeping principles as Agile Manifesto as a guiding-star when facing a new situation. Moreover, the significance of adjusting processes to reality is emphasized more than 20 years ago, still it is often forgotten and replaced by comments as “it actually says this is how it should be done”.
Start from the resources available and organize accordingly. Recruit to increase productivity by recognizing the most problematic area of the team and what opportunities you have. A Swedish club team can’t possibly compete with the grand european clubs. Instead, they must find less expensive players, also suiting the team, and then meet the challenge by utilizing available abilities more effectively. Optimize the whole, the team, don’t just insert the best (most expensive) player at all positions. Select someone who is passionate about the club, not only considering the task as a step-stone in their personal career, and who is able to cooperate with the rest of the team. When a Swedish club team or national team accomplishes this, the whole usually becomes superior to other all-star teams.