In the modern workplace, much effort is irrelevant to the goals espoused by the organization — so much, in fact, that exploring the causes of useless work is worthwhile. In this part of our exploration, we focus on examples of deck-chair-rearranging pertaining to strategic decision making. See for a discussion of obvious waste, and for a discussion of task duration.
- Insupportably detailed plans
- Adequate planning is critical to the success of any complex project, but planning in detail not justified by current knowledge is wasteful. It can even threaten success, because it limits flexibility and closes our minds to alternatives. (More on lock-in) By contrast, "just-in-time" planning, the essence of agile development, tends to preserve flexibility.
- Excessively detailed planning can be viewed as scope creep in the planning process; or as a manifestation of perfectionism; or as a result of hoarding of the planning budget or schedule or both. More
- Preoccupation with efficiency over effectiveness
- In manufacturing, efficiency is effectiveness, but in knowledge work, distinguishing the two is essential. About 30 years ago, management theorists came to recognize that efficiency relates to using resources wisely, given an objective, while effectiveness relates to selecting objectives wisely, given a set of resources.
- In knowledge work, emphasizing efficiency over effectiveness risks engaging in deck-chair-rearranging behavior. In meetings, for example, we sometimes debate how to discuss an issue, without considering whether that issue is worth discussing at all.
- Impulsively changing strategy
- Sometimes we must change strategy — at times, suddenly. When it's appropriate, we call this behavior flexibility. But a pattern of sudden, inappropriate changes is something else: impulsiveness. Impulsiveness can arise along with the urge to hoard, or to expand scope, or to plan in excessive detail.
- For example, In knowledge work, emphasizing
efficiency over effectiveness
risks engaging in deck-chair-
rearranging behaviorwhen a strategy "threatens" to succeed, and deck-chair-rearrangers fear the result of task completion, they can feel an urge to change strategy. Conversely, when things aren't going well, deck-chair-rearrangers can impulsively adopt a new strategy, rather than addressing and learning from the issues that have arisen.
- Rigid adherence to failing strategies
- Ironically, rigid adherence to failing strategies can also be part of the deck-chair pattern. Rigid adherence can arise when, instead of focusing on organizational goals, we focus on proving that we were right, and that the strategy we adopted can succeed.
- Unlike other examples of the deck-chair pattern, rigid adherence to failed strategies is evident even to distant observers. Unfortunately, when they intervene, they usually terminate or reassign a single individual, rather than addressing the deck-chair pattern, which is often systemic.
Although your organization might be free of strategic deck-chair behavior, individuals might still advocate for it, albeit unwittingly. Can you think of anyone you know who might be doing it now? First in this series Top Next Issue
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For more about scope creep, see "Ground Level Sources of Scope Creep," Point Lookout for July 18, 2012; "The Perils of Political Praise," Point Lookout for May 19, 2010; "More Indicators of Scopemonging," Point Lookout for August 29, 2007; "Scopemonging: When Scope Creep Is Intentional," Point Lookout for August 22, 2007; "Some Causes of Scope Creep," Point Lookout for September 4, 2002; and "The Deck Chairs of the Titanic: Task Duration," Point Lookout for June 22, 2011.
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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
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- To take the risks that learning and practicing new ways require, we all need a sense that trial-and-error approaches are safe. Organizations seeking to improve processes would do well to begin by assessing their level of psychological safety. Available here and by RSS on December 13.
- And on December 20: Contrary Indicators of Psychological Safety: II
- When we begin using new tools or processes, we make mistakes. Practice is the cure, but practice can be scary if the grace period for early mistakes is too short. For teams adopting new methods, psychological safety is a fundamental component of success. Available here and by RSS on December 20.
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