Friday, 18 April 2008

Organisation-wide spread plans need vision

With most groups I work spread seems, roughly, to fall into two categories: (a) spreading good practice across large geographic communities, involving multiple organisations, and (b) spread within a single organisation, managed by a single top team.

In the case of the single organisation spread effort, the aim is twofold (i) breath - getting the good practice to the further reaches and corners of the whole organisation, and (ii) depth - helping all the relevant individuals in the organisation through the change process of implementing the new practices.

Most organisations I've been working with recently have been struggling with developing the plans to achieve the breadth and depth they desire. In most cases they are working through what appears to me to be a technical, step by step planning project type mechanism. I feel this is helpful though for me there is a very important missing ingredient which might be best handled right at the start and before detailed plans are written up. Perhaps this is best explained through an analogy.

Imagine weaving a large tapestry; one of those you might have seen hanging on the wall in a museum. Large creations like these are usually participative activities. Now think what it would be like to be stitching part of the tapestry without knowing what the whole picture looked like. Yes, it would be helpful to know your own piece, but far more satisfying to know where you fit into the whole. Imagine now the activity you could undertake as a team in thinking through what your organisation will look and feel like when the whole organisation has adopted the new practices. And then how you might share this picture. This visioning and sharing process is important and there is an entire discipline dedicated to what is called "goal orientated behaviour" - in case you are interested in following this up.

Keeping with the tapestry image, we can extend it a bit further by thinking about the structures we need to put in place for a large and complex activity. How will we watch for the gaps? By answering this sort of question we might develop a different type of spread measurement system for the organisation; a measurement-by-exception attitude rather than a wearing down by a comprehensive performance monitoring system.

And the threads? How do we feel about them? Some may need to be left hanging as they will link to other projects and issues? How will we identify them? Can we "colour-code" them? How can we make sure that they are not the type of threads that when you pull on them the whole tapestry won't just unravel and we're left with nothing to show for our efforts? For me, this is about being aware as a project team. About seeing the spread of the good practice as part of a larger system.

I know project plans are important, however, I am perturbed by the predominance of the step-by-step guides that disconnect individuals and teams from the heart fo their work. The quickie fixit mentality may be leading organisations away from the breadth and depth they so desire.

It takes time to weave a tapestry.

2008 Fraser Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-No derivative Works

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