The 4Ps of organisational design

In a context of great uncertainty, we can identify some characteristics of those organisations that will lead the future.

In any organisation, a system implementation must respond to policies or strategies established by the management. To a certain extent, the ‘system’ consists of a commitment to action, a way of working that characterises both the organisation and the people who work in it. We can be sure that every organisation has a specific culture or system which defines it, even those companies which have not adopted any particular organisational model. In short, the culture of an organisation is a characteristic shaped over time, as all the staff become immersed in it, share it and, finally, act individually according to the parameters of that culture. It is an aspect where management must intervene and act as an example in order to ensure that all staff share common company values.

For this reason, before the implementation of a system based on a specific model, it is necessary for the management to carry out an internal evaluation or reflection to determine whether the values defended by the model to be implemented are in line with the company’s own culture.

Admittedly, few companies today still carry out this initial review prior to the implementation of a working model. In the real world, and despite the countless failures in the implementation of organisational systems, it is common to adopt one model or another depending on what management hears about each of them: if the model is well publicised, it is implemented in the expectation of the promised results. Unfortunately, we all know that these benefits only come if the whole organisation (from management to outsourced staff) shares the values of the model and works in the same direction to implement it. In this sense, the company which makes the decision to adopt a work system based purely on the results that others have achieved with it, is very likely to end up failing in this implementation process, so that after months of suffering tensions among collaborators, some manager will decide to bury the model arguing that it does not generate the expected benefits, and then move on to the implementation of another model which may be more ‘fashionable’ at the moment.

The 4 dimensions of organisational design

In this case, the values defended by lean management can be summarised in the four concepts explained below: ‘purpose’, ‘process’, ‘people’ and ‘problem solving’:

  • The first of these values seems obvious, but few organisations at all levels share a clear definition of the organisation’s ‘purpose’, the company’s raison d’être. All staff must share and understand this purpose. At every level of the organisation, everyone must have responsibility for their own work and, at the same time, the authority to take action to deliver value to the client in pursuit of that purpose. All employees must have the information they need to make decisions and, in turn, must have free access to the communication systems in place to provide suggestions.

  • The second value is key to associate the ‘work done by each of our collaborators’ with the ‘generation of value for the client’. There needs to be an unambiguous definition of the ‘processes’ necessary to deliver value according to the organisation’s purpose. Everyone must be able to identify those operations which are not necessary to achieve the company’s purpose and, consequently, determine actions to eliminate them, while focusing on those operations that have the greatest impact on client satisfaction. In short, personnel must have the tools for continuous improvement and, at the same time, have sufficient autonomy to act, either by creating new processes or by modifying existing ones, at all levels of the organisation. Continuous improvement is everyone’s business.

  • Finally, the third value is key to organisational improvement. In this sense, ‘people’ must have the necessary training, information and autonomy to continuously improve processes in order to optimise them according to the organisation’s purpose. A clear commitment from each of our employees to the purpose of the company is necessary. People are the key resource in the system’s development: if we get them involved in the implementation, it is very likely that the results will come in the short term.

  • When it comes to ‘problem solving’, continuous improvement states unequivocally that this is a way of thinking which must permeate the entire organisation and should never be treated solely as an improvement tool. Toyota’s mantra is clear in this respect: «before building things, we must develop people» (monozukuri wa hitozukuri”).

It is likely that the reader who is at least minimally familiar with the lean system or directly with the Toyota Production System will be surprised to find that in defining the system’s «values» we have never spoken of any of the tools structuring the system that Toyota configured in its day. Indeed, we believe that it is essential to insist on the importance of the continuous improvement culture before we start talking about specific tools, for two reasons. On the one hand, it is this culture that will lead us to progress, generating better products and services that will result in greater client satisfaction, our ultimate goal. We may know each of the tools to perfection technically, but the implementation success depends more on the structure that supports this implementation than on this technical knowledge. On the other hand, we must admit that in recent years we have seen many organisations using lean tools, but not so many have a shared culture of continuous improvement implementation at all levels.

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Our Action Plan will help you plan all your actions and projects. Respecting all the steps of the action plan is key to achieve high impact results.

Cultural evolution

This preliminary step of studying the system and defining values is therefore necessary in order to move on to the second phase of strategic implementation planning. It is in this second step, after management has checked that the values of a certain model are in line with the company’s culture, when a ‘deployment plan’ for the system can be defined. Depending on the characteristics of each organisation (personnel, technologies, resources, centres, activities, etc.), it is necessary to adapt a plan or roadmap and provide it with the necessary resources. Of course, each organisation is different, so there is no single formula to ensure successful implementation. However, it is possible to determine some basic steps or criteria to be respected in all implementations to ensure the correct deployment of the system:

  • Design the system and confirm the reasons for change. All plans should initially include a first group of activities in which the company’s management designs the system. This design consists of defining the policies and commitments, the objectives and pace of implementation, the main improvement tools to be applied, the standard training that all staff will receive, the human organisation in charge of the implementation as well as the communication system and the process for monitoring the results. In this first phase, management must decide on some of the strategic implementation aspects.

  • Communicate the purpose of the change. It is necessary to explain the purpose of the change and to initiate a training and awareness plan for staff (internal trainers, coordinators, improvement indicators, etc.). Usually, the first training groups will be made up of those people who will assume the role of improvement activity leaders or who will act as internal trainers for other groups.

  • Evaluate the current state. In order to define an implementation plan that responding to the needs of processes and clients, it is advisable to establish a benchmark to evaluate how healthy the system is in each area or process.

  • Determine a future state. In order to define an action plan, it is necessary to define a target for each area or process. The future state of each process will be determined according to the contribution that the process concerned can make to the overall result of the organisation.

  • Select and prioritise the implementation of some tools. Although all the tools are necessary to optimise management processes, if we try to implement them all at the same time, we are likely to confuse our collaborators in excessively technical aspects. Initially, it is better to dedicate efforts to transmitting the culture of continuous improvement than to the tools themselves. It is advisable for the organisation to define which tools to implement and when they will be deployed (in terms of deadlines and intensity).

  • Back to the first phase… Improvement is a never-ending iterative process which requires multiple iterations.

Plan your actions!

Our Action Plan format will help you to plan all your improvement actions and projects. Respecting and following all the steps of the action plan is key to achieve high impact results.

The roadmap for change

It should be noted that there is no set of critical activities determining the transition from the ‘system definition’ phase to the ‘activity development’ one, nor is there even a point in time from which the organisation considers this change. It is simply a gradual and progressive evolution that each section or department undertakes as it acquires training and maturity in the use of these implementation tools. Of course, all this work to define the system must be quickly translated into concrete applications at the level of each of the company’s processes, otherwise this philosophy will not be transformed into visible results. Ultimately, the aim of all this work boils down to ensuring that ‘people’ are trained properly, are involved and act in coordinated teams to optimise ‘processes’ in order to ‘solve problems’ and create increasingly direct paths to reach the company’s ‘purpose’.

Finally, when the entire organisation has participated in improvement activities, we can say that the system moves to the final phase of exploring new opportunities, a third phase in which we continue to seek process excellence, but in which many of the activities consist of reviews and updates of activities already carried out in previous stages. We should note that many of the processes are evaluated more than once and, in each of these evaluations, contributors identify new opportunities for improvement. This is mainly due to the changing nature of our clients and markets that require us to continuously review and update our operations to be competitive.

Only by acting on the four levers will your teams be able to respond to the most ambitious challenges facing your organisation by generating the routines needed to turn goals into actions and actions into results in a sustainable way.