It’s said that blogging is just thinking out loud. Letting people see what’s going on in your head, and getting feedback from others – good and bad – that enables you to hone what it is you’re getting at and (hopefully) make more sense of it.
It’s certainly the reason I write now.
At the moment, my head is consumed with the idea of the ‘How of Work’. It’s been sitting in my head for about three years, but having had a lot of time sitting in hospital beds in the past year, I’ve had the capacity and wherewithal to actually get somewhere with it.
What really made it solidify as a concept in my head was documenting my own working practices and peering closely at the frameworks and methods I use to get stuff done for my clients. And it took me back to the reason I called my business Formation London and not Pattern London, or Repeatability London.
Back in 2013, I’d had an idea about how teams and organisations could go about their work in a different way. I just wasn’t able to fully articulate it. I’m still not. However, I’ve used the past three years as a sort of research period, and it’s finally coming together. I think. Much of this is down to work on this idea with Curtis at Fieldwork.
I’m certainly not the only person thinking about these things. As referenced the other day by Neil Perkin, our mutual friend, John Willshire, is doing similar thinking (and I have to say, is a lot further ahead than me. Luckily, it’s not a competition). Neil himself has also been doing work and thinking in this area, culminating in his excellent book, Building the Agile Business Through Digital Transformation, co-authored with Peter Abraham from We Are Crank.
I’ve also followed the work of the super smart Matt Ballantine for quite some time, too. Again, he touches on many aspects of the How of Work, yet I think he is more concerned with a related but different strand of this broad subject.
What is and what isn’t the How of Work?
This is not about process. There are already too many of these out there in the world, and they all look the same. Only the titles of each stage change.
Like a sausage machine, something is put in one end and after a given amount of time a thing is produced. As well as these processes being time-based, there is focus on reaching the end rather than whether that things is useful or not.
Having worked alongside John in the past, I’ve learned that time is something that often serves to muddy the waters. Obviously, nothing can take forever, but in some cases, time constraints forces people to work with poor structures, or to start somewhere they feel most comfortable.
From the outset of my work at Formation London, I’ve considered the idea of uncertainty to be a good place to start every project from. That way, I can’t leap to conclusions without some idea of what the challenge really is (and it’s rarely what the brief says). And while that makes some people think that every project has to be different, it’s not true. It’s simply that the point where one person feels most uncertain is not the same for another, and so their paths towards a more certain place will be different.
And so, the How of Work is about the practice – of individuals, teams, organisations. It’s about coaching each and all of these to work smarter, not harder. To move towards certainty, not begin there.
Of course, it involves a framework of my own devising (yeah, I know, obvious!)
However, this is not a quick journey. Every time I think I’ve got something right, I learn something new. So, to prevent myself going mad, I’m going to use blogging to unpack everything in my head, and then use a project to try and understand how to apply this thinking in different ways.
Digital inputs, digital outputs
The thing I’ve found most fascinating in many of the organisations with whom I’ve worked is the non-digital layer than seems to exist – that of the practice within that organisation.
Inputs tend to be digital (tools, data, etc) and outputs also tend towards digital (product, service, infrastructure and capabilities). Yet, the ‘how’ of understanding these inputs and outputs is still rooted in older methods and frameworks, causing a disconnect, a slowing down, or even a rush to move from input and output without really determining what it is that should be happening in-between. Disruption actually becomes destruction in the longer term, or inertia in the short-term. Neither are a good thing.
I think there’s something worth looking in to in this non-digital layer. And so I’ll be speaking to people who are using frameworks and references from other areas and applying them in new ways to their own practice. The hope is that I will uncover other ‘hows’ of work that I can feed into my thinking.
Already, in this early stage, some interesting ideas are forming. I’ll be sharing these initial results as soon as I possibly can. For now, it’s enough to write down what I’m doing, why I’m doing it, and what I think I may achieve.
I’ll be documenting it all. This is perhaps the most important piece right now. Thinking out loud. I may not be right; others may think what I’m doing is exactly what is required. Either opinion is valid. Constructive criticism is necessary. Knowing others are interested in this will help with momentum.
So, here’s the next few months of thinking.