How to find greater value proposition in structures
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How to find greater value proposition in structures

How to find greater value proposition in structures

A well-designed knowledge production process is not a barrier to agility and nimbleness

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Defining what value creation is, for a knowledge worker, remains a challenging problem.

After all, a knowledge worker doesn’t produce cars or a washing machine, a physical gizmo or gadget, but they do produce deliverables that are of value to the organisation. If we use the language of manufacturing, then we are talking about an output of production – for a consulting firm this might be advice and reports for executives; for a HR team, a learning and development programme; for a marketing firm, a communications campaign for a client; and for a business school, courses for students.

If we can start to think about what we do as an output of production, then we can begin to focus not just on the people, but also the process of delivering this output. Today, what happens is that we leave the process of producing knowledge work to an informal ill-defined form of self-management.

The reason we like to avoid process is to allow people to think outside the box and be agile. However, a well-designed knowledge production process is not a barrier to agility and nimbleness. Every organisation will have a different flavour of how it coordinates or processes work. In consulting teams where I have worked, our raison d’être has been to solve a business problem for executives.

We have achieved this through a structured approach in which we undertake a piece of knowledge work. The key thing here I have found is that consultants must be committed to single tasking, doing one thing at a time, without distraction.

Tracking the process 
The process starts with defining the customer’s problem and agreeing on this with executive sponsors. This is followed by undertaking a scoping exercise, in which we understand the business and operating challenges facing the organisation, as well as understanding how they conduct business operations today.

Throughout this process, we upload our findings into a shared online site, such as Teams, or Trello, in which the raw information resides, consultants’ comments exist, the status of the work and any attachments related to this particular unit within the process are stored. As we move towards completion of a particular stage, we change the status from underway to review required, before finally to complete.

This then kicks off the next stage. We need to do things one at a time, because the first part of the process, scoping, then feeds into the second part, choices. We can’t make strategic choices, until we have a solid sense of the requirements and the current state. As a result, when we mobilise technical resources for the choices phase, in which we produce design blueprints, there is no ambiguity in what they are working on.

The scoping outputs have been clearly defined and so the techies can get to work, within the same shared online site where there are boards in which they can see their progress against the overall process. As they complete their design blueprints, and upload them into the boards, this will then be reviewed by the consultants who managed the first phase, to ensure they meet the requirements of the customer. If these are aligned, then a number of scenarios are modelled and each one is then prioritised with the customer based on strategic fit.

The final stage 
The final part of the process then moves the choices made into a financial model. Here, the cost inputs are obtained from a commercial team, scenarios forecast, a cash flow produced and finally, a set of recommendations made for the customer. All of the inputs can be loaded onto a shared MS Excel folder which is centrally hosted. We just need to ensure people input the data they own into the right fields.

This can at times cause some difficulty, which is why we sometimes lock the sheet and then when an owner is ready to provide the data, we work with them to input it.

Throughout the process, we would not have sent anything via email or IM. Our time is dedicated to actually doing the work we have been trained to do. As we often work with stakeholders from different parts of the business, we either provide them with access to our production process, or we use the old-fashioned email and IM to communicate and work with them. But for the core consulting team which owns the knowledge production process there is absolutely no need to resort to email or IM.

Creating value 
I have always encouraged members of my team to finish their day at the appointed hour or before if they get their work done. If it’s taking them longer to get things done, then its either one of two things: I am giving them too much to do, which I need to curtail; or they are working inefficiently, which is most likely down to how they process work.

Very rarely have I isolated the problem as being one where a team member didn’t know how to do the work, it was more often related to how they processed work. Value for knowledge workers is created by doing work, not processing work or talking about it.

Rehan Khan is a principal consultant for BT and a novelist

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