The best way to create cross-functional work is with the help of a fractal, scale-free network. This kind of an organization is fast and agile.
Cross-functional work (for example, projects, teams and management groups) are nowadays normal aspects of most operations. However, this was not the case when I started working in the early 1980’s.
Back then collaboration between different functions was handled by management and it wasn’t common even for engineers that had the same roles to talk about work with each other. Nonetheless, even at the time the complexity of the tasks was so great that managers were finding it difficult to handle collaboration effectively. The solution to this turned out to be projects.
Cross-functional Work and the Challenge of Decentralization
There is a saying that “yesterday’s solutions are today’s problems.” Projects led to faster and more effective communication between different groups (i.e., acquisitions, marketing or production), however, at the same time management lost influence and perspective of what was actually going on.
When we analyze different companies, we can see many new problems popping up: overload from taking on too many projects and tasks at the same time, lack of clarity in decision-making and unclear goals.
Project models of the 1990’s were built around standardized work-processes and push planning yet these created more problems than they solved. Every project is more or less unique and needs to create its own work methods based on the situation at hand. Projects are also much more effective when utilizing visual management (pull).
What was missing from the project models was what the network between people should look like. The networks became random, which made them unreliable and inefficient. However, these types of networks were the only known ones before the turn of the millennium. Then small world networks and scale-free networks were discovered and these changed everything.
Most of the time a scale-free network belongs to the small world network category. A small world network is a network in which the distance between people is short, regardless of a person’s function or position. We create a small world network through implementing Pulse as an agile network organization.
A problem within Pulse is never more than 2-3 steps (pulse meetings) from the managing director. A scale-free network is easy to adjust according to needs. A new project is added as a node in the network and is removed when finished. The same method assures us that any node can be added and removed without any taxing changes to the organization
What we refer to as nodes are different types of Pulse meetings that create permanent and temporary institutions. The network consists of the collaboration that happens between the different Pulse meetings where needs, decisions and results flow between them and a cross- functional work is created. Through a network of Pulse meetings a new formal organization with greater efficiency, shortened lead times and greater understanding is created and we call this an agile network organization (or agile organization).