Diamond Structure – the one for professional services

Prefer to watch on video than read?  Click here – 3 mins with captions.

Traditional hierarchy looks like this – a pyramid (and BTW it’s a very appropriate organising principle for many, many situations, so don’t feel guilty if you’re running one or in one).

Work Levels

The hierarchy shows us which roles have the job of being accountable for other roles…but it also can be used to show us what Elliott Jaques discovered as different levels of work.  I’ve drawn them in here…

…and my messy green writing says:

Systems – the work here is about making sure the whole system runs like it should, now, and in the future.  Think a network of connections that all combine to create the finished stuff that’s shipped to the customer, time after time.  Or less often if it’s more complex stuff.

Unique problems – the work here is about bringing together learned knowledge and experience, applied to accumulated information to solve a problem where there is no obvious previous answer.  In other words, trial-and-error or off-the-shelf is not going to cut it. 

(And one of the common unique problems is deciding on the best way to lay out guidelines and procedures so the work can happen quickly and at quality, which takes us to….)

Pace & quality – the work here is about performing routine or predictable tasks.  Where there are guidelines, or instructions, or understanding, and the skill is about applying training and experience to get things done.  Think mechanic, draftsperson, call centre, retail sales….all that crucial work that actually makes the world work.

IMPORTANT NOTE: the above is about the nature of the work, and how it often gets organised.  Those making decisions at ‘unique problem’ would be foolish to not get the input of those who usually work in roles more about ‘pace & quality’ and so on. 

And modern-day agile setups group the ‘unique problem’ and the ‘pace & quality’ work together.

Professional Services can be different

For many organisations, the majority of the people are going to be working at pace & quality.  This is their ‘frontline’.  Professional services firms or departments, however, are often different, as their frontline is at the ‘unique problem’ level.

Take an architecture firm.  They will be asked to solve problems of meeting design requirements in a given space for a given budget.  For a standard house…this work can be performed by a draftsperson as there are numerous templates and examples that can be accessed and combined.  Know-how is still needed, but it’s about getting it done, at volume

A genuine architecture solution has no template.  It instead relies on a combination of knowledge gained, experience, and the accumulation of the unique aspects of this ‘case’ to arrive a unique solution for this particular problem.  In other words, it’s beyond procedure.

The Diamond Structure

This means that the traditional organisation shape will now change to…the diamond.

See how we now have the most numbers around that second level – the ‘unique problem’ work, because that is the type of work customers are paying for.

And…we still have work in the ‘pace & quality’ area, which is for both administration tasks, as well as for taking care of sections of the design that are in fact routine and can be done by following procedure.

(Don’t leave those in the ‘pace & quality’ area without a leader, that’s just mean.  If there’s someone they do a lot of work for, that person can take accountability for them.  Or it can be one person taking accountability for a group.  There are various options, just don’t leave people floundering.  It’s mean and wastes your salary budget too).

Bringing it home

The advantage of any hierarchy is that it provides clarity about who is accountable for who…and therefore has the job of actually caring about them.   This can be lost in professional services firms as the pyramid just doesn’t suit nature of the work.  But this pyramid is so synonymous with a work hierarchy that it can be difficult to see any other. 

The diamond structure gives us a way through that can give us both clarity of accountability, as well as acknowledging the nature of the work itself.

And…just might make a bit more sense to everyone.

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