3 Common Sense Org Design Principles to Bring Back from COVID Working

(If you’d like to check this out on video rather than read it – click here)

COVID working has seen some easily forgotten org design fundamentals come right to the surface. Here they are – don’t let heading back into the physical workplace see you lose the benefits of common sense ways of organising work.

Focus Until Done

The first one is focus until done.  We’ve seen this with remote working.  Before Covid, if your organisation is normal, you’ve had some sort of ‘flexible working’ thing happening for the last two years.  And it’s consisted mainly of reports and a small group with laptops somewhere, not much else.  This is not a competence issue.

What’s happened now?  Look at all the IT teams that were able to get most of their indoor workforce remote within a day or two!  They didn’t suddenly get 10 times more productive.  Instead, the organisation actually let them focus on this one thing until it was done before they went onto the next thing.

And…everyone actually let them have a reasonable quality expectation, which was… good enough.  Not perfect, just “get me going, and we’ll figure it out”.

We can take this back with us, just keep on focusing on things until they’re done before we do the next thing.  You can read more about how to do this here.

Organise Around the Work, not Functions

The second thing we want to take back with us is, to organise around the work, not around functions. This has always been a principle of how work works, but the ability to pull people in on video from wherever they may happen to be without the constraints of physical logistics has made it become more natural to say, “We need to get the advice and the input of these people. Let’s bring them on board.”

There’s no reason we can’t continue this approach. It’s simply a mindset change to choose to organise around the work. Our ‘function’ is where we go back to in between things. They are mates who do the same type of work, but the real work happens out on the field.

The functions are like the change rooms. The real work is out there actually being involved in projects, initiatives and work circles (BTW ‘work circles’ are how I help organisations get great operational results by getting engagement and improvement to happen naturally – you can read about how to do this here).

Limit WIP

Now, the third thing we want to bring back is limit WIP. WIP is ‘Work-In-Process’  (note, not ‘progress’ – we are talking about the work that is actually sitting and waiting for someone to do it now).   It works like this:

  1. Every system is going to have a point that determines how fast it goes.   So…
  2. For the system to go as fast as possible, we need that point to be going as fast as possible.  And because…
  3. People can’t go as fast as possible when everyone’s bothering them, this means that…
  4. We can increase throughput by limiting the amount of stuff that hits that point at any one time.

You would have seen previous videos and articles I’ve done called Don’t Bother the Barista (quick summary here). The COVID situation has forced that to happen physically by limiting the number of people that can be in a shop. It lets the people at the counter serve people faster.

You don’t need to be in retail for this to have an impact – the same principle applies in your workplace as well.

Things Fall Apart…It’s Scientific

Now, all three of these principles are actually common sense principles about work. What COVID has helped us do is bring these to the forefront without even realising we’re doing it, by creating the conditions where working this way becomes more natural.  By keeping these in mind when you head back into the physical workplace, we can ward off the natural forces that see work systems gradually lose sanity

Remember, if we don’t, we gradually work ways that just don’t make sense.  This is primarily because we’re all ultimately just hoping that we matter to someone and this alone drives all sorts of self-optimising behaviours, but that’s for another time.

In Summary

  1. Make sure we’re still focusing on things until they’re done. You don’t read 10 books by reading 10% of each book then reading the next. You read one book at a time.
  2. Let’s continue to organise around the work because customers do not care which functions are involved. They just want to see what comes out at the end of the system.
  3. And let’s continue limiting work in process, so those crucial few resources that set the pace of the whole system aren’t bothered by other people wondering where’s their stuff.

Bring these three things back into work. Work will be more enjoyable for your people involved and for your customers as they’ll get more of what they need at the quality required.

That’s all for now.  If you like this, please forward and share it. It’s always much appreciated.

And if you’d like some free information on how this can be applied in your organisation, just reply now if you’re reading this on email, or click here to send me a message.

Wait!  One More Thing!

Hey, one more thing. I can’t believe I forgot this. Maybe the most important thing of all, keep caring for each other.

People have been asking others, “how are you”, actually meaning it.  Asking “How are you going”?

Actually caring for each other. Let’s keep on doing that.  Of all things to bring back from COVID, possibly number one.


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