A business is a complex organism. With healthy components, it can flourish. When systems begin to fail, issues can spread and create more significant problems throughout the organization. This can quickly become any company’s worst nightmare.
I believe that most seasoned leaders and managers have had to deal with these large-scale problems at some point.
The book The Phoenix Project is an instructional novel about large-scale failings in an organization. One of the main characters in the book finds himself in a challenging situation with the business collapsing around him. With help of a mentor, he manages to understand the Three Ways philosophy and recover the business.
When I read this book, I was struck by its relevance and similarities to my experience at the beginning of my career as a manager. In my current role as CEO of Amasty, I’ve had the pleasure of putting the principles of the Three Ways into practice.
I’d like to share with you my main takeaways from the book and how you can implement them in your company.
The Three Ways
• The First Way is about building a workflow or the optimal route to take the task from concept to end user.
• The Second Way develops a path to improvement by implementing feedback loops.
• The Third Way promotes a culture of constant experimentation with trial and error to allow people or processes to grow and develop.
The First Way: Visualize The Work
It’s hard to have control over things that you don’t know exist. That’s why the first step is to sort your work into the following groups:
• Business projects: Work that creates value for the end user and/or a competitive advantage for the organization.
• Changes: As business goals change and new laws, practices and technologies develop, changes in the current business flow tend to arise.
• Technical debt or service projects: Business projects are sometimes implemented with a lack of best practices and standards. With some projects entering the market too early, failure can happen. It’s crucial to focus on restructuring hastily made yet important business projects. Otherwise, the infrastructure can become a house of cards, generating the fourth type of work.
• Unplanned work: When there are issues with the previous three types of work, unplanned work can cast its dark shadow. It will often appear after a need for urgent changes and can interrupt the flow of planned work.
Ask your employees to create a task for each and every activity. This approach can help reveal the flow of unplanned work and changes.
Here’s where you need to document all operations performed by an individual, a department or an organization to determine the required steps in each operation. Imagine organizing this work in an assembly line. Determine what products your line produces, what materials are needed and what machines or operations are required. This approach is also called process mapping.
In modern factories, you can easily track the progress and direction of production with identifiable colored lines on the floor. You can trace a particular color from the finished product warehouse back through the production facilities and the original materials warehouse. With this approach, bottlenecks can become apparent. When it comes to developing and implementing information technologies, it can be difficult to map out the process since, in some cases, one person can be responsible for multiple inconsistencies and belong to different lines.
I recommend a kanban board for process mapping. To discover bottlenecks, identify the various constraints on tasks on a control chart. Both tools are available in most current project management software.
Large numbers of tasks in progress not only indicate the existence of constraints, but they also increase time spent on work. There are two approaches to take here: Reduce the number of new jobs that would add to the constraint or expand the workforce dedicated to the constraints. The attributes of each constraint are machines, people, methods of work and measurements. Gather more information about the specific constraint and try expanding on the one most available to you.
Avoid making improvements to the systems outside of the immediate constraint. This gives the illusion of progress but does not get at the real issue. I tend to begin solving constraints with the first method. I find it more effective to test first if the main constraint is identified properly before starting to expand the efforts on it.
The Second Way: Feedback
Feedback — even end-user feedback — is essential to the Second Way. It’s critical to understand who the stakeholders are in a particular task and assess satisfactory results. There’s no point in adding to a constraint if the product is not prepared to bring good results. The quicker the feedback, the easier it is to make changes.
In my experience, customer support teams gather valuable insight. Keeping your support team in the loop about upcoming changes to a system can allow them to track patterns or anomalies in the calls and tickets received and reported by them.
The Third Way: Experimentation
The development of technology and globalization has opened up new business opportunities. Today, a small startup from Israel or Belarus can compete for an audience with a grant from the United States or European Union. The end user has become more educated and selective while competitors have remained attentive. If you’re satisfied with your organization’s progress, then you can begin to excel over the competition. Experimentation is the foundation for development. As Thomas Edison put it, “Every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.” The more a company embraces experimentation, the more likely it is to find a new approach to increasing its audience and monetizing it. This is the key to the Third Way.
I’ve found the transition to the Third Way to be the most difficult. Methodically developing a culture of innovation is easier said than done. The key is to not focus on people’s mistakes but to encourage their initiatives and responsibilities.