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Wardley Mapping Mondays – Operations Doctrine

Happy Mapping Monday! Today’s #mappingmondays video continues the series on Doctrine looking at the seven principles of Operations. If you’re interested in finding out how to apply this to your organization, don’t hesitate to reach out via Twitter or email hello at coryfoy dot com!



Happy Monday! I’m Cory Foy, and welcome to this week’s Mapping Monday where we’re in the middle of exploring Simon Wardley’s Doctrine. So far we’ve looked at two categories of Doctrine covering principles and patterns of Communication and Development including things like Focusing on High Situational Awareness, Using Appropriate Methods and Challenging Assumptions, and I’ve linked to those videos in the blog post with this video, so be sure to check them out!

For our third category we want to look at how we operate as an organization. That means looking at 7 doctrine principles: Managing Inertia, Optimizing Flow, Thinking Small to know the details, Focusing on Effectiveness over Efficiency, Doing Better with Less, Setting Exceptional Standards, and Managing Failure. Let’s dive in!

Our first doctrine principle is Managing Inertia. Imagine you’re a business owner. You’ve developed a successful business – one that has grown and employs hundreds or thousands of people in a specific space. You’ve been in business for a while and seen all kinds of people try to get into the same space, all thinking they have a unique approach. But you know that they’re all underestimating what it takes to really be successful in this line of business, and so when yet another startup enters the space you don’t think anything of it. Suddenly, 2 years later, it seems like you can’t go 2 hours without hearing about more business loss to this startup. What happened?

We got comfortable. Wardley lists three climatic patterns which explain: Success Breeds Inertia, Inertia increases the more successful the past model is, and Inertia can kill an organization. In short, success makes us comfortable, and we lose the methods of evaluation that got us where we are. We don’t want to panic about every new entry, but we should have a method for evaluating what they bring, and understanding what threat they represent – maybe allowing us to acquire or block them if they really are a threat.

Inertia is a fascinating topic, and Wardley identifies 16 types of inertia as shown here, and linked to in the article with this video.

Interestingly, when a business finds themselves like our friends above, there’s typically people in the organization it’s not a surprise for. In fact, they may have been trying to raise the alarm about what they saw, but found themselves tied up in organizational politics, red tape, or bottlenecks, so the information couldn’t get where it needed to go. These flows of information are critical, and we want to optimize them. Our second principle – optimize flow – tends to bring up ideas of Kanban and the flow of software development, but there are many flows of capital in an organization – including information, risk, development, financial and many others. We want to ruthlessly find the bottlenecks which prevent us from driving towards the key value for our users – and clear them out. I recently did a video on Value Stream Mapping which shows a reduction of 10 months in a development process we got by visualizing the key processes and then clearing them out, which I’ll link to below.

Optimizing Flow goes hand in hand with our next principle about Thinking in the Small to know the details of what is going on. As we grow and become successful, we tend to trust our downstream processes without fully understanding them. This can lead to waste and delays. This doesn’t mean that as a leader you have to micromanage! Instead think about a line of sight – when you have a question, there should be a clear line of sight from the lowest levels to the high level strategy that is inspectable. And you should inspect it every now and then. Not only do you learn things, but you can inspire confidence and pride from your teams as they show you what great things they’re doing.

However if you’re going to inspect, your focus should be on effectiveness over efficiency. In other words, don’t optimize ineffective processes! As an example from fire rescue, when we have a large fire, we need some sort of an external water source. Hopefully this means there is a fire hydrant nearby. In training, we may see that firefighters have an inefficient way of pulling the supply hose off of the truck to drag it to the hydrant, and you work with them that lets them pull it off 40% faster. But then your chief comes along and has them simply stop at a hydrant on the way in, hook the hose to it without turning it on, and then drive to the fire, cutting a 7 minute process to 45 seconds with a higher level of effectiveness.

Back to business, one of the counterintuitive things I show my clients is that if you want to go faster, work on less things at once, and reduce the delays between the steps. We don’t have to actually improve the steps themselves to see significant improvement. We want to do better with less – and that means a culture of Kaizen – not just continuous improvement, but a ruthless focus on it. We need measurement, transparency, openness – as well as trust and safety. And the continuous is critical here – we can’t just do a single “blame session” and think we’ll get the same benefits as a cadenced reflection. We should be open to experimentation – and failure.

Which brings us to the last two principles – Setting Exceptional Standards and Managing Failure. You are what you prioritize, and you set the tone for your employees. This means setting the bar at the very best that can be achieved – not burnout, not overachieving, but sustainable, innovative, amazing people. And along the way we’re going to be trying new things, entering uncharted waters. We’re going to be making bets on unproven gameplays. Our maps will be wrong. So be prepared to have a culture where failure is planned and designed for. Distribute risks to reduce impact. Try things like “Pre-spectives” where we talk about what could go wrong before we do something.

So those are Wardley’s doctrine principles of Operations: Managing Inertia, Optimizing Flow, Thinking Small to know the details, Focusing on Effectiveness over Efficiency, Doing Better with Less, Setting Exceptional Standards, and Managing Failure. Take a look at your organization this week. What things do you not know the details of? What things are inefficient? What things are at risk? And – what can we do about it? Maybe – start with a map! I’d be delighted to hope on a 30 minute video call to help you get started. And if you have any other questions or just want to let me know how it’s going reach out on Twitter at @cory_foy or via email at hello at coryfoy dot com. Until next week, let’s get moving!

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