Product development as an adaptive walk

Product development as an adaptive walk

Product development as an adaptive walk is a new way to manage uncertainty. Predictions far into the future are highly uncertain. Pulse support short lead time.

Nonlinear Systems

Nonlinear systems contain 3 actors or more that interact in a nontrivial way. The actors exchange energy, information, decisions and resources. A nonlinear system is not equal to the sum of its parts , it will always be less or more. A nonlinear system can have sudden changes and threshold transitions, but it can also be very resistant over a long period of time. People that interact in a company will form nonlinear systems internally and with the surrounding market.

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Book review: Exponential organizations

ExOExponential Organizations ExO achieve creative destruction using disruptive technology. This book gives an insight in how to become an ExO. 

In the book Exponential Organizations IsmailMalonevan Geest and Diamandis discuss the phenomenon of exponentially growing markets and the companies that drive the market. An exponential development means a 100 percent increase at regular intervals. An example mentioned in the book is the mobile market. The number of sold telephones doubled between 2002 and 2004. The same thing happened between 2004 and 2006. And again from 2006 to 2008. Many operators have the bad habit of (not?) understanding the consequences of exponential growth, which is one of the points made by the author. They try to show with successive examples what happens and demonstrate how exponential growth is underestimated. In the year 2002, various analysts such as Garner Group and McKinsey assessed that the mobile market would increase by approximately 35 percent, showing linear growth. However, the increase was 100 percent. After this miscalculation, the forecast was cut significantly for the coming two years, and thus miscalculated again. The same thing was repeated in 2006, and then they agreed to an even lower forecast than before. After failing three times in a row they again made a linear growth forecast of 25-30 percent over the coming two years. And they were wrong again, the market doubled.

Another example showing exponential growth is the Human Genome Project. It started in 1990 in order to map the complete human genome. The budget was $3 billion, and the estimated time 15 years. Halfway through the project, one percent of the human genome had been mapped. External experts spoke about fiasco and that it would take 700 years to finish. The team said that they now where halfway. What they knew, but everyone else missed, was that they doubled the amount of mapped genome every year. One percent doubled seven times equals 100 percent. The project was completed in 2001, prior to the time plan and on a smaller budget. The so-called experts failed the end date with 696 years.

An example not mentioned by the authors, but still actual is the growth of wind energy in Sweden. In 2002, approximately 0,5 TWh was produced. Three years later, the production was doubled to 1 TWh. In 2007 it was doubled again to two, in 2010, 4 were achieved and in 2013, 8 TWh were reached. Now, everything indicates that 16 TWh will be reached during 2016. But after this, the forecasters estimate that the development will become linear. Why is that? Wind energy is a typical example of a product that through long series shows decreasing prices and increased performance on a rapidly growing market. The improvement effects become exponential. At present, the production of nuclear energy has reached 64 TWh, a level to be reached by wind energy in 2021 at the current speed. The nuclear power plants and other types of energy produced as one-piece products do not have the possibility to meet the competition from long series, where the development cost can be divided into many units. The energy companies in Europe have entirely miscalculated the development rate and are now losing enormous amounts of money.

Vattenfall and other energy companies are not the only ones to not keep up the development pace. At the end of the 1980s, Motorola estimated that the mobile market was the future. It was entirely correct, but then there was an error. In the 1980s the costs for pylons were very high. And the telephones were bulky. Therefore, Motorola came up with the idea that a net of satellites would be better. They launched and implemented the Iridium project. This was a fiasco. The costs of the pylons fell sharply and at the same time mobiles became increasingly smaller. Motorola’s mistake was to believe that development is linear and not exponential. Motorola had also locked the business plan for 12 years before the system was taken into operation.

According to the authors, when something grows exponentially, it is about disruptive technology. Or as Schumpeter called it, creative destruction. The number of sectors exposed to creative destruction will increase since information systems create new conditions, argue the authors. Uber changes the taxi market through an app and an entirely new way to solve the transportation problem, Airbnb changes the arena for the hotel market in a similar way. These are examples of companies growing more than ten times faster than the traditional companies in the sector. These companies are therefore called exponential organizations, ExO.

The book’s second and main aim is devoted to describing what it is that makes a company an ExO and how to become one. The authors emphasize that today’s line and matrix organizations were developed in order to create stability in a linear world. In order to achieve exponential growth, organizations able to create instability and creative destruction are required. Even if it is the organization’s own activity to be attacked. The authors describe how today’s organizations, on the contrary, are attacking everything that are menacing the current business model and products. They call this the organization’s immune system. In the example I mentioned about the energy companies, Eon tried to solve the problem of the immune system by dividing the company in two: Eon and Uniper. While Uniper receives all old types of energy, Eon will develop new solutions which, in the long run, will be ousting Uniper. More dynamic companies, such as Amazon have the capacity to develop new solutions cannibalizing on the old activity. For example, Amazon has Kindle, which is hitting against its own book trade. So how is this done?

If you want all the tips you are recommended to buy the book (available as an e-book on, for instance, Google Play). I will show you some examples. The main subject is to reach the organizational structure. To have steep drainpipe-like development organizations is not a success factor, according to the authors. The development work needs to take place in networks with shifting participants, and in different locations. A part of the development work should possibly take place openly in different communities. One must dare to experiment and to have short development cycles with an (what I call) agile approach. The work teams will be self-organized and multidisciplinary with decentralized authorities. Where the information arises, the decisions will be made. One will not need to search for information, it will flow to you.

The above pieces of advice, as well as many others, are good. But if you start out with Puls, important things are missing, I think. How do you build an organization that is as agile as the authors request? The same thing regards how to lead a dynamic and changing company. A management with focus and ability to handle the difficulties that inevitably will appear is required to achieve a massive transformation.

Many of the arguments in the book, as I have illustrated above, are remembered from the research results of the past 50 years. Different researchers, through their results, have repeatedly recommended agile (organic) organizations. Industrial leaders have refused to listen and instead created linear bureaucracies. The result is as Phelps and Sjöö have shown, permanently sinking innovations. The message from Exponential Organizations is, however, that disruptive technology is actually arriving on a broad front. In that case, the market changes very quickly and very dramatically.

The book Exponential Organizations is worth reading and it is full with advice. In particular, it is good for companies with Puls, since an agile platform is in place to which apply the advice.


The image is processed using material from Bruno Gilli / ESO CC BY 4.0 and Staffan Engström CC BY-SA 4.0 from Wikipedia.

Jan Wallander

Jan Wallander old office Sundsvallsbanken

From Vängåvan to Kungsträdgården by Jan Wallander is more than ever on top of the agenda in view of the need for new agile organizational forms to be developed and disseminated.

From Vängåvan to Kungsträdgården: Decentralisation – Ideals and Reality by Jan Wallander was published in 1991. It is perhaps a bit late to make a review, however, the thoughts and ideas of Wallander are more important than ever. Companies with top-down management and hierarchical business culture are no longer competitive. It is necessary to develop and disseminate new and more agile and dynamic organizational forms.

Jan Wallander (born 1920) was the CEO of the Swedish bank Sundsvallsbanken in the 1960s, he was the CEO of the Swedish bank Handelsbanken in 1970-78 and then he was the Chairman of the Board until his retirement in 1991. Today it seems that few people know who Wallander is, and even fewer know of the results he achieved in Handelsbanken, at least outside the banking world. This is a pity since the way Wallander organized a company has been shown to be highly successful. It is above all Handelsbanken’s performance through the years which has demonstrated that Wallander achieved something special. While other banks had great difficulties during the real estate crisis in 1990-1994 and during the finance crisis in 2007-2008, Handelsbanken was doing all right. Frequently, the Toyota Way is highlighted as an example on how to organize a business activity. And there is a lot to learn from Taiichi Ohno’s methods for daily guidance and decentralisation of problem solution. But, many valuable lessons can also be drawn from the bank Svenska Handelsbanken. In the book From Vängåvan to Kungsträdgården, Jan Wallander tells us about his way of organizing an activity and how this agile organizational form emerged.

Vängåvan is a small park in the town of Sundsvall, Sweden, which extends in front of a palace-like building, formerly the central office of the bank Sundsvallsbanken. On taking up his duties as the CEO of Handelsbanken, Wallander had no experience in banking. He had to take a distance course for bankers when he started working. A course that all future bank employees were supposed to pass. Maybe this was the reason that he chose other solutions than the usual. Without preconceived ideas it may be easier to perceive the actual needs in the activities.

An example of Jan Wallander’s independence is the organizational chart he developed. When he detected that Sundsvallsbanken lacked these charts, he believed that introducing them would be an appropriate measure. Everyone else has organizational charts and they are basic in all management literature. But when he discussed this matter with different persons, and in particular, with his predecessor Erik Huss, he was discouraged. Firstly, the bank functioned well without charts. And to draw a chart would cause problems in the future. If the organization were to be modified, the chart would have to be redrawn and there would probably be individuals who would feel to have been put in an inferior position and to have lost face. If there is no chart, changes can be implemented gradually. Wallander listened to the advice, and this caused both Sundsvallsbanken and Handelsbanken to be more flexible when changes were introduced. When there is an organizational chart, every change becomes a painful experience often expressed by many employees. Stories about the last change and how difficult everything turned out because of this, has been expressed by a lot of people. A lot of energy is lost due precisely to the organizational chart, a chart which in reality describes very little of how the business activity actually functions with its informal channels. As Wallander pointed out, the telephone directory can be used to obtain all necessary information about who the manager is for a specific unit.

One of the most important interventions to make a bank profitable and with a minimum of credit losses is, according to Wallander, to place the responsibility for granting credits on the employees in the branches. When Jan Wallander implemented this, it was a revolutionary way of thinking. The view was that complex decisions always should be made by experts. At Handelsbanken there were a lot of experts at the central office in Stockholm. All important matters should therefore be submitted for analysis to the expert, then the management made the decision at the general assembly. This way of thinking was high fashion then and perhaps still is in some companies.

Wallander affirms that decentralisation is the basis of the success of Handelsbanken. So did also Taiichi Ohno, the author of Lean. To work in teams and to organize the work in order for the operators themselves to solve issues arising due to discrepancies is fundamental in Lean. As several researchers noted, in particular, the European industry has difficulty in delegating to the employees. When making decisions in the branches, a higher bandwidth is achieved in the decision-making. Over time, this bandwidth is increasingly difficult for the competitors to handle. While a decentralized company can go through several decision turns in, for instance, the contacts with a customer, a top-down company may have time for one. Wallander also notes this difference. This is what we also can observe in companies with agile organizations. Matters are solved much faster and more accurately. Accuracy is achieved through being close both to the problem and to those affected by the problem. A situated learning is created. An expert, independently of how well-trained and smart he is, cannot match the loops of learning of those in contact with the problem.

However, in a decentralized organization matters requiring a higher level also arise. Wallander describes the effect of decentralisation on the granting of credits to the branches. The years before he took office as CEO there were 725 matters handled by the central board. Twenty years later, the number was down to 50-60 a year. The matters actually handled by the central office in a decentralized organization are the truly complex matters requiring strategic competence. We have the same solution in Puls. Matters are constantly upgraded from the projects to strategic Puls meetings. But few matters require this kind of attention, which is why there is the time and possibility to work them thoroughly.

Wallander was during his time at Handelsbanken most well-known for abolishing the budget process. The only thing done in  the budget process is to project the history on the future. This says nothing about what will happen in the future. To plan in the form of budget processes risks locking up the company in the past. What is needed is a structure allowing the company to create its own future. How Wallander solved this is unfortunately not specified neither in this book nor in the follow-up book “With Human Nature – not Against! To Organize and Lead Companies. But as Wallander writes in the book reviewed here, he does not disclose all secrets on how to successfully organize a decentralized business.

Not all secrets of Handelsbanken are disclosed, but despite this, I recommend all managers and others interested in organizations to read Jan Wallander’s books. There is a lot of food for thought, in particular now when hierarchical company culture is increasingly questioned.

The problem with the economy in the Western world

StephensonWhat is the problem with the economy in the Western world? Jobs are disappearing and exclusion is increasing.

The past weeks backward economic development in Europe and America is observed both by researchers and journalists. Stefan Fölster wrote a debate article in the Swedish newspaper Dagens Industri (Today’s industry) on 10 September arguing that the Swedish industrial production fell by 10 percent in the past five years. The day after, this was discussed in the editorial “Defensive Large Companies Suffocate Innovation” of the same newspaper. The editorial makes references to, for instance, an article in The New York Review of Books called What is Wrong with the West’s Economies? by Edmund Phelps.

In the past I have written about the problems of the Swedish industry in, for instance, Sweden Loses Export Shares and The Decrease of Innovation. In the latter, I discuss a study by Karolin Sjöö about the decline in innovations in Sweden from the 1980s. In the article What’s Wrong… Phelps discusses the same issue, but applied to the Western world as a whole. Briefly, Phelps is of the opinion that our attitude towards innovations and changes has gone through a major transformation lately. In particular, during the nineteenth century there was a great deal of enthusiasm for finding new solutions to old problems. In those days, entrepreneurs and engineers, such as George Stephenson, could develop entirely new transport solutions (the railway) that essentially changed the world.

Stephenson was born of poor parents and all lacked education. But he was a proficient inventor who soon received support from investors and politicians. His biggest achievement was perhaps that he succeeded in building the first railway line in the world. The double lined railway between Liverpool and Manchester. Stephenson, as well as many other entrepreneurs and engineers, was able to achieve huge changes, despite the fact that he was not part of the elite. Many were not even able to read. But, of course, there were also well-trained individuals who achieved a lot. The mathematician and statistician Florence Nightingale fundamentally changed health care through her research. Her proposals were accepted despite the fact that she was woman in a society dominated by men.

As Phelps points out, this type of innovations and changes are uncommon today. Today’s society and the way it is described is based on the perception of the human being as a machine, a robot acting according to a program. They are cogs in the machinery. When these robots are on vacation they are expected to be “recharging the batteries”. To imagine new solutions is almost considered improper. Phelps shows, by using statistics, that in the 1960s America started to decline from the innovation peak. Europe followed a few decades later. This is entirely in accordance with Karolin Sjöö’s results.

The problem with a decaying economy is that exclusion increases, Phelps points out. Unskilled jobs disappear through globalisation and productivity improvements. No new jobs are developed. It is therefore the lack of innovations and changes that lead to the lack of unskilled jobs The frequently acclaimed Silicon Valley is only responsible for 3 percent of America’s economy. It is not too much of Silicon Valley, but too little. Despite the lack of innovations and change, many are nevertheless disturbed by “all” the new products from companies such as Apple. So what is causing this reluctance to change? Phelps does not have the answer. Ken Robinson, on the other hand, proposed an answer. We need creativity and imagination to imagine new things, says Robinson. We all have this as children. But where does the creativity go after that? Adults seem not to have it, says Robinson, and Phelps agrees. We are trained to lose it, says Robinson. It is interesting to note that countries with major investments in science, technology and mathematics do not have more innovations.

I believe we are a product of the same society we are creating. This applies both when we speak about Sweden as a society or an enterprise. We see society as a machine. The many machines we use every day have made us believe that the whole world is a machinery in which we all have predefined tasks, like cogwheels. In order for us to break free from this view, we need to accept that social systems should be dynamic (agile) in order to be able to adapt to changing circumstances. To remain idle is not an eligible possibility. The lack of adaptation in the form of innovations leads to an economy in decline. This leads to exclusion which in turn leads to crime and social unrest.

It is time for innovations and changes in the way we organize society and companies.

Is Tesla disruptive?

Tesla

In an article that attracted much attention in Harvard Business Review the question was posed on how disruptive Tesla actually is. The reply was, not at all.

The concept of disruptive technology was coined by Clayton Christensen in the book The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail. In the book, Christensen shows how new technology often starts off as a “poorer” and cheaper alternative to the existing solution. However, the new technology is getting better over time, and as prices are lowered, the existing companies are overthrown. An often repeated example on disruptive technology is how the mainframe was substituted by the minicomputers, which then in turn was ousted by the PC.

Christensen was not the first to observe this, Joseph Schumpeter discussed the phenomenon already in the 1930s. He called it creative destruction. I am of the opinion that Christensen’s definition is too narrow. Disruptive technology does not need to begin with a product that is poorer and cheaper. Smartphones rapidly killed off Nokia’s and Sony Ericsson’s products which resulted in closures and layoffs. A smartphone is not, as the name implies, a smart mobile telephone. It is a computer packed in a mobile phone shell – also used as a phone! It is not poorer or cheaper. We, the customers, have adapted quickly, a smartphone creates added value for us users. I view smartphones as an example of how disruptive technology essentially transforms the market.

Companies have difficulty to handle changes. They are often stuck in today’s product and business model through their line organization. In these organizations, information and knowledge are power. To make changes in the line organization is not simple, since power is linked to position. In agile organizations, such as Puls, power is to be able to share information and knowledge. Then it is much easier to make changes.

In order to return to Tesla, is Tesla disruptive? Does this change anything for us customers? Is this a threat to the leading manufacturers, Toyota, VW and GM? Tom Bartman, among others, answers no in Harvard Business Review. Christian Sandström followed up with an article in MIT Technology Review in which he answers yes. Sandström argues that Tesla has built an organization that fits the new product, while the established companies are permanently stuck in an organization adapted to the old product.

It is notoriously difficult to anticipate what will lead to creative destruction and important changes in people’s behaviour. Considering the present situation, I perceive Tesla as a new car manufacturer, exactly as said in the HBR article. Moreover, Tesla is part of a major change in the energy market. Operators such as BP, Exxon and Statoil have as much to fear from Tesla, as GM, VW and Toyota. Wind energy, solar energy and batteries are all examples of technologies that, compared to existing technology, were (are?) inferior. In the area of energy, an ongoing classic example on exponential growth and creative destruction is, for example, how Vattenfall is watching its assets being erased at an increasingly rapid pace.

I believe, as does Sandström, that the automotive industry may undergo a fundamental change due to Tesla. Manufacturers stagnated in the diesel technology are in danger of extinction. This is due to a better organization, according to the reasoning of Sandström. Traditional line organizations tend to cement old solutions and business models.

Currently there is new technology under way from Google and Apple that may transform how we perceive cars: driverless cars in urban traffic. Today we see cars as a possession and something we ourselves drive. It should be possible to manufacture a simpler and less expensive car than the cars of today. Basically, the majority of the car buyers want fast and easy transportation. A smartcar that not only can find the fastest route between A and B, but also does it fast and inexpensively might be a winning concept. Today, it is very expensive to own a car that most of the time is stationary. If it was possible to reserve transportation from A and B using an app, and a smartcar arrives a few minutes later, maybe a disruptive technology has seen the light of day. The technology development is under way in this direction. Tesla is contributing to this.

One thing is for certain: changes seldom turn out as intended.

Innovations on the Decline

Innovation-Sjoo-2014

According to new research from Lund University, research and development innovations are declining and productivity within Sweden’s technology companies is slowing.

An innovation is created when a new product comes on the market and changes a particular pattern. A smartphone is an example of an innovation which changed the market for mobile phones and which is currently leading to change within many other markets. This important difference shows how an innovation isn’t the same as an invention. You might be able to say that Ericsson and Nokia invented the smartphone yet Apple was responsible for the smartphone innovation because they understood how the invention could be commercialized.

Innovations vs. Inventions

Joseph Schumpeter was responsible for defining the terms innovation and invention in the beginning of the 19th century. Innovations create new companies, new jobs and economic growth. However, an innovation isn’t solely a creative process – it is also a destructive one. For example, when Apple or Google’s Android developed smartphones, new jobs and huge profits were made for those companies. At the same time, the mobile phone industry in the Nordic countries was practically eliminated. Schumpeter referred to this phenomenon as creative destruction.

Fewer Innovations

New research from Karolin Sjöö and others at Lund University shows that Swedish industry has become less innovative since the 1980’s (as demonstrated by the red line in the graph above). Even more concerning is the fact that productivity within research and development has declined sharply within the same time period (as demonstrated by the blue line). Swedish companies invest more but get less out of it. According to Business Sweden, Sweden’s share of international exports has also declined. Researchers at Lund University have several theories for why innovations have been on the decline but none of them are completely convincing. However, there is other research that, together with our own research, points to an very important factor: projects.

Projects as Isolated Islands

At the end of the 1980’s and beginning of the 1990’s, Sweden’s industry increasingly used projects. Projects were described as the solution to every problem. There were early warning signs and many who paid attention to these signs. Companies that had started working in project form early on (such as Toyota, which started working with projects in the 1950’s), noticed an increasing degree of sub-optimization. Projects and project managers were singled out as the reason. American research in the 1980’s named autonomous projects as a problem. Even Swedish research in the 1990’s warned of this phenomena. A project can’t be seen as an isolated island, as Mats Engwall and Anna Jerbrant determined in their respective research. In all the companies we have studied there are significant problems with methods for managing research and development when using projects. All of these companies have significant problems with productivity. There are problems determining how much work is actually going on and there are complaints about the lack of resources when what is actually lacking is control and focus.

Bureaucratic Project Models

The project was promoted as a modern form of working based on cross-functional work. In reality, projects are bureaucratic monsters that create greater distance between people. Process-based development models (see stage-gate models, waterfall models), suppress creativity and, counter to their intentions, create a slightly chaotic business.

Popular definitions of projects maintain that a project has a clear goal yet reality tells us differently. Our studies shows that no one really knows the goal of the project or that there are many differing opinions about the goal of the project.

An Agile Network Organization

Road to an agile network organisation
Road to an agile network organisation

The solution to the inherent problems with projects is not to stop using them altogether. Rather, the solution is to implement a structure that allows management to prioritize and re-focus the organization. The solution is also to work with R&D at a strategic level, sometimes called a multi-project level. Toyota reformed their organization during 1991-1992 in order to have a more coordinated collaboration. These reforms were led by Takeshi Uchiyamada. As Chief Engineer within the new Pulse agile organization he developed a whole new kind of car: the Prius. He managed to accomplish this in record time – just 3 years. As Chief Engineer in the new organization he was a part of strategy-focused management. This differed from the old organization in that the different projects didn’t have to compete with each other for everything from resources to clients.

While working on the Prius, Uchiyamada continued to develop his multi-project solution by holding daily stand-up meetings in an Obeya. We call these Pulse meetings in a Pulse room. Scrum has developed a similar solution for project management that makes it possible to replace bureaucratic models with agile solutions.

As you just read, I outlined what Toyota did: they continued to develop their team-based approach while at the same time introducing a concept that made it possible to work strategically. Operations need to be decentralized when using projects yet at the same time they also need to be coordinated. In the entry “The Handlesbanken Way” you can find information about what being decentralized yet still being under the control of management entails. Thanks to agile multi-project organization, Toyota starting using a tool that enabled them to be both inventive and develop new technologies (including hybrid-drift and fuel cells), while at the same time being able to commercialize these inventions and thereby produce innovations. This might have been a more important step for Toyota than lean production. Just how important it has been is indicated by Uchiyamada’s career: after his role in the development of the Prius he has occupied several top posts, including head of development. Today he is the Chairman of the Board at Toyota Motor Corporation.

Increase Innovations!

The pulseroom where different teams has daily stand-up meetings.
The Pulse room, where different teams hold daily stand-up meetings.

There are some very frightening statistics that the researchers at Lund University are presenting today yet they come as no surprise to us. We know what the problem is. There are solutions that work and we know how to implement these solutions. Most companies have realized that they have a problem and during the past ten years, many companies  have taken the same steps as Toyota and implemented an agile network organization. It’s high time for the latecomers to upgrade their organizations because if they don’t there is a risk that Nordic inventions, like the smartphone, will become lucrative innovations somewhere else in the world.

The Handelsbanken Way

Handelsbanken has for several decades been Sweden’s most profitable bank. What makes The Handelsbanken Way so successful?

The Handelsbanken Way

Volumes have been written in Sweden about Toyota and The Toyota Way. Employees at Japanese Toyota have developed interesting methods to handle uncertainty. However, Handelsbanken in Sweden has developed its own method: The Handelsbanken Way.

Jan Wallander

Jan Wallander was headhunted by Handelsbanken in 1970 and appointed CEO. When he first joined the bank it was facing big problems. The problems were so great that Wallander’s task was to save the bank.

Wallander’s background was as a researcher and he was used to formulating theories, performing experiments to test his theories and drawing conclusions from the results. You have to be able to prove that the theory works in practice or the theory falls apart. There’s nothing strange about this but this kind of science-based approached is uncommon in business management. Instead, companies often copy each other because they believe that what everyone else does can’t be wrong. What Wallander realized is that everyone else can be wrong.

The Handelsbanken Way

Wallander and Handelsbanken developed an approach that in many ways differs from what is seen as the “correct” way to lead and manage a business. “Real” businesses have a budget but this is not the case at Handelsbanken. “Real” businesses have organization schedules yet Handelsbanken doesn’t. Furthermore, “real” businesses have a long-term strategy; Handelsbanken doesn’t.

In the book titled Decentralisation: The Why and How to Make it Work: The Handelsbanken Way, Wallanders writes about how he developed his own unique way to work. Budgets and long-term planning are just forecasts, Wallander explains. A forecast is built on projecting historical patterns into the future. The only thing that can accomplish is encouraging your employees to continue with the same work they are already doing. However, reaching that conclusion has entailed a lot of unnecessary work. Wallander reaches the conclusion that you should instead use the time and work on actions that create value for the business and the employees agree. To quote Wallander, “Now one could finally put this to the side with a sigh of relief and return to working the same way one always has.” What would be really helpful would be to foresee major changes and events such as the real estate crisis in the 90’s or the financial crisis that followed 20 years later but this isn’t possible.

The argument Wallander proposes regarding uncertainty is the same that practitioners such as Karl von Clasuwitz and Taichi Ohno have proposed and the same as scientist and meteorologist Edward Lorentz studied and explained: it’s not possible to create forecasts that are both useful and long-term (read more in my previous post).

Organization Charts

Wallander provides an interesting discussion on organization charts. At Handelsbanken everyone has a clear understanding of who their boss is as well as what responsibilities and authority one has. The problem with drawing up an organization chart, according to Wallander, is that when the chart changes the whole company is informed about someone’s promotion, demotion or transfer and this makes changes in the organization unnecessarily painful. Additionally, organization charts don’t fully describe how the work is done, as it would be to complicated. Therefore Handelsbanken found out that it’s better to not have an organization chart. If you need to know where someone works you can just look it up in the company phone-book.

Decentralization

Wallander’s guiding principle is decentralization. He writes that it’s easy to centralize but difficult to decentralize because of the many pitfalls. In order to decentralize an operation it’s necessary to have an infrastructure with resources that pull the whole operation in the same direction. To develop this infrastructure for a business is a challenge and requires stamina. Wallander mentions that some measures took almost 20 years to develop at Handelsbanken. Handelsbanken wasn’t the first company to develop semi-autonomous units; in fact, Wallander points out GM and DuPont as predecessors. These companies invented the concept of coordination of decentralized units as early as the 1920’s.

There are plenty of examples of decentralized companies being more successful than centralized ones. Wallander mentions ICA and Konsum as examples. Decentralized ICA, with the individual store manager in control, is very profitable while the centralized Konsum loses money year after year.

I can warmly recommend Jan Wallander’s book about the Handelsbanken Way to anyone interested in leadership and organization. Wallander’s ideas might seem radical but they are in line with today’s research.

What is Agile Product Development?

Agile product development is the ability to impact the market, utilize this impact and to have the ability to make use of new opportunities appearing in the marketplace.

In this article I will define agile product development. I will start with a definition of product development, followed by a short history of the term agile. Finally I’ll describe how the different strands of development of agile converge in Pulse.

The Definition of Product Development

Product development is the transformation of an opportunity on the marketplace into a product in the client’s hands. The opportunity may have been created by the company through analysis, campaigns, technology development, collaboration or other measures. A company can also make use of an opportunity that has appeared on the marketplace. Product development presupposes the ability to (1) create business models, (2) establish cooperation between clients, suppliers, distributors as well as other stakeholders, and (3) develop and nurture products and production systems.

The History of Agile – War

Agile/agility is a term that came into use among military researchers at the end of the 1970’s to describe the need for more agile military operations. A deciding factor of success in military operations is the ability to acquire information about current events, create an understanding of the situation, choose a plan of action and to implement that plan.

The first military strategist to discuss agility was the Prussian general Carl von Clausewitz in the beginning of the 19th century. After a life-long career in the military he drew the conclusion that a battle contained so much uncertainty that the plans quickly turned obsolete once faced with reality. His solution was quite unconventional: instead of creating even more intricate plans (which many still presume to do today), he told the soldiers what the ultimate goal was. Clausewitz’s idea was to let the soldiers solve the challenges as they appeared. It was an idea that a lot of people had trouble accepting. Despite this opposition, this agile philosophy was partially used in the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871) with great success.

By World War I the Germans had forgotten about this success and once more relied on top-down detailed management with well-known results. After World War I the Germans introduced what came to be called mission command (auftragstaktik) and control freedom (truppenführung). When these were implemented in the German army they realized the importance of keeping the generals at the front –  not to micromanage but to better put what happened on the battlefield in a strategic context. The German army was initially very successful (1939-1944). However, when the war dragged on the British could make use of their agile abilities on a political level. Nazi Germany never understood the purpose of democracy. Their political system was based on strong leaders with overlapping responsibilities and where information was power. In the democratic United Kingdom the power came from the work involved in acquiring and sharing information.

From the military we can learn three things. 1) There is great insecurity in detailed plans  and control needs to be given in small steps as it happens. This step-by-step planning and control is preferably done by the people who have to perform the task. 2) There is a need for a “general” at the front who can put events at an operative level in a strategic context. Overall strategic plans must be able to be adjusted as the situation changes. 3) Superiority in the battlefield is not enough to win a war. One must also be superior at a political level within the highest leadership.

The History of Agile – Car Manufacturing and Lean

The fact that plans become obsolete the moment they face reality is something that Taiichi Ohno, the product engineer of a car company, realized in the 1950’s. His solution was to replace top-down planning with day-to-day control out in the production line. He developed a method that made it possible for the operator in the production line to order more materials as they were being used. This method is known as just-in-time. By working in this manner he decreased the uncertainty involved in planning and management. With just-in-time there is considerable less material in circulation and faults and flaws become more visible. He complimented the just-in-time principle with jidoka, a method to take control of the problem at the source. With these methods, the operators were given the mandate to identify and solve problems themselves. Just-in-time and jidoka created an almost magical increase in both productivity and quality, which were consequences of reduced uncertainty. Much later on these principles came to be referred to as lean.

Visuell styrning sänker osäkerheten.
Visual management reduces uncertainty, which leads to increased productivity.

From lean we can learn that day-to-day management, just-in-time, reduces uncertainty when it comes to planning. We can also learn that management and problem solving at the source improve a company’s ability to make decisions.

The History of Agile – IT Projects

In the 1980’s and 1990’s many companies introduced decidedly more bureaucratic models for product development. These models led to a decline in productivity and quality. As early as the 1960’s, researchers demonstrated that bureaucratic models lead to stagnation. Eventually there was a counter-reaction against the bureaucratic models, particularly among the developers themselves. In the 1990’s Sutherland and Schwaber produced a development model that utilized short planning cycles. They called their model Scrum. Within Scrum the project manager was removed and instead it’s the team that is in charge of planning and solving problems as they come up. A decisive role in this model is that of the product owner, who has a responsibility to put the project work in a strategic context. In Scrum there are few roles and the model is so simple that it can be explained using a few sentences.

Scrum was inspired by research. One example of this is the article The New New Product Development Game in which the rugby term Scrum is used. Scrum is one of the few models that conforms to the Agile Manifesto which was first published in 2001.

From Scrum we can learn lessons about reduced uncertainty through iterative planning, teamwork, how just a few roles are necessary and the importance of an increased role for the product owner.

The History of Agile – Research in Complexity

Wikimol. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lorenz_attractor_yb.svg. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
Wikimol. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lorenz_attractor_yb.svg.
This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Complexity research has helped organization theory explain basic phenomenon. From Edward Lorenz we’ve learned that in complex systems only short-term plans or forecasts are possible. Lorenz was a meteorologist and studied weather patterns. He discovered that weather forecasts are impossible to make for periods longer than a few days ahead. It’s the same mechanics that make it impossible to plan projects in detail. Complexity research also shows us how normal abnormal events are. Each abnormal event by itself is rare but put together they form a major part of the managing product development. This is what causes development models and process models such as PROPS to create more problems than they solve.

Complexity research also show that groups in which people work together and share information have a superior ability to solve complex problems. A team can generate more versatility and more inner complexity, which is necessary for understanding increased complexity in the surrounding world. This explains why mission tactics, teamwork, and other decentralized working methods are better than top-down efforts such as order management and target management.

The History of Agile Product Development – Pulse

Pulsrummet där människor möts i olika grupper.
The Pulse room, where people meet in different groups.

Scrum is a model for managing projects. Pulse is a model for managing an organization. At Pulse we’ve built on earlier, pragmatically developed methods. We’ve advanced the development of these methods and complemented them with new methods based on research in complexity. Pulse is based on day-to-day management, just-in-time. We work in teams in which information is shared through work. The shape of the company’s policy and direction is formed dynamically by company management. Strategies are formed with the aim of creating an impact on the market, and based on the possibility of new opportunities. This happens through a network of daily “pulse meetings.” The strategies are implemented in the form of projects related to, among others, marketing and R&D. We have few roles, namely vice-president, marketing director, development director, program director, mission director and Pulse project manager. The program director is the equivalent of a product owner within Scrum and general in mission command.

At Pulse, the network of Pulse meetings determine the organizational structure. Information is shared at Pulse meetings, in workshops and at demonstrations. By using this network of organization, Pulse builds agility. Pulse is a model for agile product development.

The Agile Product Development Process

Agile Product Development ProcessThe agile product development process is based on a combination of iterative work and strategic positioning. The process is determined by the demands of each particular situation.

According to the current norms it’s necessary to have a product development process. An online search results in several images of what one may look like and all of them are noticeably similar: product development is depicted as a conveyor belt in which every step of the process is defined in advance. Why?

Process as a Noun

Organizational theorists have long championed an events-based approach. However, language is a hindrance to that. Languages are based around nouns – things you can touch. Events are verbs – something one does, change, a process. One of the first pioneers for an events-based approach was Mary Parker Follett in the 1920’s. She pointed out that decision are a result of the work of many people. Decisions should therefore be seen as processes rather than things. However, the images describing so-called processes aren’t verbs – they’re nouns. The fact that we can turn a verb into a noun is a side-effect of our noun-centric language. We can change something living into something dead.

The pictures of processes, oftentimes drawn, all have origins in the 1960’s along with depictions of strategic planning. When strategic planning, together with the conveyor belt principle, had been tested all over the world, heavy criticism from researchers and practitioners emerged. One notable critic was Jan Wallander at Handelsbanken, who claimed that the plans said more about the past than the present.

Process as a Verb

When organization researchers such as Parker Follett talk about processes it’s so we can understand that it’s what we do that’s important. They use terms such as strategizing instead of strategies and processes instead of plans.

When we at Pulse use iterative means to work with visual management instead of a plan, it’s a shift from a noun to a verb. Through people’s work and interaction at daily stand-up meetings and workshops a dynamic process is created. It’s important to understand that the development process can’t be determined in advance. However, it’s possible to plan and to organize but only as long as it’s about planning and organizing. That is to say that one works with the issues all the time, daily and continuously.

Agile Product Development Process

In the picture below the company is portrayed as a network of interacting groups, such as management groups, project groups and working groups. A company that uses their whole organization to understand the world at large can make decisions with far-reaching understanding in their strategies. They can home into the signals of the world at large early, process the information internally and implement the necessary measures. When management works using Pulse meetings in a Pulse room, we refer to it as an agile network organization.

Pulse room (obeya)
Pulse room (obeya)

The images seen on Pulse boards are a real-time image of the ongoing process. The image is always in flux. Because there is a collective image that represents reality, the management and others in the company can supervise what is happening and they can act on the company’s needs, just-in-time. Management can’t micromanage what the groups will do, and in that sense they don’t have control of every little detail. However, management exercises leadership through daily stand-up-meetings with full transparency about what is happening. Through their work, management creates strategizing in line with the company’s vision and mission statement. This makes the company agile and it has an agile product development process.

Adaptation

Companies that are successful have the ability to quickly adapt to changes. A company that has the ability to create changes in the market and can exploit new opportunities  has the potential to become very successful.

To adapt is a verb. You can observe the feedback that comes from the market through salespeople, service technicians and other channels. You can make yourself familiar with your current situation and find different possibilities for action. You can choose a course of action. And finally, you can act. This iteration is repeated all the time but the situation is always different. Each time you act the world at large changes. Also, you are not the only one changing the world around you.

Important factors for success include the ability to receive information and understand the world at large, to be able to show an internal versatility and the ability to get things done. A company that demonstrates a low degree of adaptation is low-dimensional. One example of low-dimensional companies are the businesses that work using detailed static process images. These companies risk being put out of  business.

Adaptation

So why do companies try to work using process descriptions? Because there is a notion that companies must have them. Images are powerful. It might be easier to bankrupt a company than to remove the process images.

What is Pulse? A Short Introduction

What is Pulse? Pulse has daily stand-up meetings, visual management and planned demonstrations that give feedback. Pulse encompasses the whole organization.

If you visit a company that works with Pulse you will find a Pulse room where the walls are covered with white boards filled with information, referred to as Pulse boards. If you look closer at these boards you’ll see that several of the boards look alike. These are the Pulse project boards. There are also a lot of boards that stand out. On first impression, the Pulse room might seem messy. In addition to printed plans there are post-its, colored magnets and handwritten documents.

What is Pulse?

Vad är puls?
Pulse meeting in session

If you spend the morning in the Pulse room you’ll notice people gathering by the Pulse boards every so often for short Pulse meetings. During these short meetings they discuss what has been completed, what work is currently in progress and what needs to be done next. At the same time they update their board. The meeting participants use the post-its during the meeting. By moving them between different headlines they can show which tasks need to be done, are being worked on or are completed. The groups work together well and are alert. Everyone participates in the discussions and helps update the information on the board. After a couple of minutes they leave. Some people return for other meetings but no one participates in all of the meetings.

If you were to return on Friday morning you would also see Pulse meeting but it would be a different kind of Pulse meeting. Now it’s the management of the organization and the project managers that take center stage. During several subsequent Pulse meetings they deal with the serious problems that have been encountered within the projects, plan resource distribution for the upcoming week and discuss strategic issues. Pulse boards are also used during these meetings and are kept updated throughout the meetings. The meetings are short and information is kept flowing between the meetings through the participants and the use of post-its.

It becomes clear that the Pulse room is a kind of central dispatch where the organization as a whole can coordinate and decisions are made to keep the company running. The information on the walls also helps the participants interact. The Pulse boards create transparency so that everyone can see how the other teams are doing as well as the status of the organization as a whole. The Pulse boards also demonstrate the impressive number of projects which are completed every year.

What Isn’t Visible Using Pusle?

Will putting up some white boards in order to complete projects at a faster pace increase the pulse of an organization? There are some ingredients in Pulse that are not visible from the outside.

Projects and tasks are started in order to realize a strategy. Exploring which projects to begin in order to realize reach long-term and short-term goals is an ongoing process which is achieved using groups of commercial and technical executives that hold daily Pulse meetings. They give the outlines of the results that the projects are supposed to deliver and by doing so determine the direction of the organization’s development.

The groups are self-organized. This means that they are expected to act within their own authority. The outline of the project is made up of the goals that have been agreed upon. The project’s overreaching plan is developed by the people who will be doing the actual work and be a part of the project group. It’s an important prerequisite in order for the team to be self-organized and able to effectively work together during the Pulse meetings. The plan shows which results will be turned over during the project and the displays will guarantee that the goals have been reached.

Results Are Attained Through Interaction

The more people interact, the more obstacles and problems are discovered. A majority of these the issues can take care of themselves during the Pulse meetings. However, some are outside the scope of the projects’ authorities and need to be taken up at the coordinating weekly Pulse meetings. The pace of the projects is dependent on the knowledge that problems outside their authority can be handled quickly by the management of the organization. It’s here that the coordinated weekly Friday Pulse meetings play a vital role.

Producing results is more important than having a lot going on. If you start too many projects and small assignments at the same time then work will slow down, which will decrease output and increase development times. It’s important to know how many projects the company has the capacity to maintain and the rest will have to wait.

Further Reading

Learn more at This is Pulse. Also, see the Agile Pulse, a simplified version of the Pulse guide.