Lean Adaptive Management

Some organizations work in a simple, stable business environment with simple, stable and consistent business goals. Other organizations have to deal with a complex, fast changing business environment where business goals may be contingent or even contradictory. Our current models for improvement are well equipped for simple and stable business environments but fail to cope with the complexities of today’s fast changing business. We need to move beyond the current single- and multi-model improvement theory that – in practice – fails to go beyond local one-shot point improvement. Current improvement theory fails in practice for various reasons:

  1. it leads to local optimizations where upstream and downstream stakeholders (and ultimately the customers and users) are not involved;
  2. it is based on one-size-fits-all processes that only fit the needs of “average” projects and teams but no single project or team in particular
  3. it is built on few successes that are build on a graveyard of failures because improvement is either exclusively driven from the top or does not move beyond champion teams.

In order to tackle the above issues organizations need to work on three fronts at the same time:

  1. End-to-end flow: Use lean principles and practices to create flow in the end-to-end value stream starting from initial ideas up until actual implementation. The end-to-end-flow needs to take into account both value discovery (understanding the value) and value delivery (delivering the value).
  2. Tailored project management: Use adaptive principles and practices to differentiate between developments where the value is clear enough to go almost directly from value discovery into value delivery (linear flow), and developments where the value uncertainty mandates iteration between value discovery and value delivery (iterative flow).
  3. Organizational maturity: Create a management culture that works both bottom-up and top-down. Create a continuous improvement and high-maturity culture from the bottom-up. Use models and model appraisals as a yardstick to measure organizational progress top-down in order to avoid that local improvements get stuck locally. And most of all, use tailored project management to simultaneously manage bottom-up and top-down improvements to match complex business goals.

The concepts of end-to-end flow, tailored project management and organizational maturity interweave into a power trio that is adapted to tackle the most complex business challenges.

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