And What Do You Do

And What Do You Do

As I have posted previously, Katie Ledger’s concept of ‘Portfolio Working’ is sort of the flip-side, supply-side version of ‘Dynamic Working’ but from the staff perspective. Dynamic Work looks at how a company is more flexible with its resources such as staff. Portfolio Work looks at how a person (staff) is more flexible with its incomes such as employment for a company. From the ‘SOA’ metaphor, Katie’s concepts are ‘loose coupling of compute resources’ in action in the human world of endeavour. Now Katie has teamed up with Barrie Hopson to structure, elaborate and colour this world that she has explored and lived for many years.

Corporates have long known the benefits of having multiple suppliers, securing diverse revenue streams and building a portfolio of assets that play to their strategic strengths. This book is a must read for people who want to apply these same principles to their personal lives for careers that are rewarding both financially and personally.

The official launch is 19th November in London which I won’t miss. If any of my readers are particularly interested in this area, I have access to a few invitations to the launch which I am happy to share out on a first come, first serve basis.

Power of Fluidity

Battle of Ulm

Some people discount ‘flexible working’ as some trendy new management fad or an earthy-flaky progressive approach for perhaps young or new organisations. Actually, the principles of flexible organisation and execution are considered one of the mainstays of perhaps the most rigidly controlled enterprise of all – military strategy.

Robert Greene’s excellent ‘The 33 Strategies of War’ examines it as strategy #6 – “Segment Your Forces: The Controlled Chaos Strategy”.

“The critical elements in war are speed and adaptability – the ability to move and make decisions faster than the enemy.”

And I have to include the following since no business guru piece is complete with out the obligatory Suntzu quote!…

Thus the army…moves for advantage, and changes through segmenting and reuniting. Thus its speed is like the wind…” – The Art of War, Sun-tzu (4th century BC)

Greene highlighted Mongol warrior philosophy (which practiced flexible organisation in hunting exercises…sort of a latter day ‘team building offsite’), and the German ‘Auftragstaktik’ strategy introduced by von Clausewitz (“their success culminated in the most devastating military victory in modern history: the 1940 blitzkrieg invasion of France and the Low Countries.”).

But the most dramatic illustration was the very heart of Napoleon’s whole approach to warfare (which in fact inspired the German ‘Auftragstaktik’ after they had suffered severely at the hands of Napoleon’s flexible prowess. He examined the Battle of Ulm where Napoleon’s 70,000 force defeated an alliance of Austria, England and Russia with a combined strength of 500,000 men.

“The key to the [Napoleon] system was the speed with which the corps could move…Little time was wasted with passing orders back and forth…Instead of a single army moving in a straight line, Napoleon could disperse and concentrate his corps in limitless patterns which to the enemy seemed chaotic and unreadable…In the end, fluidity will bring you far more power and control than petty domination.”

Ferrari of Hammers

Estwing Hammer 
The brass-tacks business case for Dynamic Work is pretty straight forward – save money on under-used, un-used and mis-used office space and the stuff that goes in it. The benefits to carbon footprint, employee lives, collaboration and productivity, to name a few, are all just bonuses.

An important driver to these savings largely derive from the notion of ‘Pareto Efficiency.’ Pareto centres on allocating the right resources to the right usage. Also, sometimes referred to as the ’80-20 Rule’ referring to the notion that 80% of the benefits come from 20% of the resources. In the case of productivity, 80% of the productivity comes from 20% of the tools. As a result, productivity improves and costs drop if you invest twice as much in that 20% of the tools add remove the other 80% (though more practically you make the other lesser used ‘80%’ tools available on an as-needed pool basis).

Applied to the business workplace, all too many companies equip their workers with the equivalent of a standard, generic toolkit with pretty much all of the tools that they might need. Desk, chair, file cabinet, credenza, coffee machine, stationery, meeting rooms, work spaces, etc. Because they have to equip everyone with such a range of tools, businesses generally opt for the lowest common denominator versions of all of these tools. Maybe not bargain basement, but certainly not top of the range. Pareto suggests that if someone is using a ‘hammer’ 80% of the day, then getting that person the ‘Ferrari of Hammers’, even at the expense of taking away all of the other tools in the extreme instance, not only provides greater productivity return to the business, but also in most cases provides greater satisfaction to the worker.

This allocation is the heart of the win-win that provides the opportunity to businesses with Dynamic Work. Businesses can equip their staff with the ‘Ferrari of Hammers’ and they are happier (having such a great, central tool), more productive and in the end less costly (as the business pools the other tools as part of the bargain).

One of the pitfalls of poorly executed workplace transformations is when the company focuses solely on cost savings though pooling and consolidation. That approach becomes a pure ‘loss’ to the staff (they ‘lose’ 80% of the tools even though they only use them 20% of the time). Successful implementation of Dynamic Work has to involve a direct investment in a higher standard of ‘core tools’ in exchange for the surrender of those used less.

This principle is illustrated in my story ‘First Kill All the Office Buildings.’ The ‘tool’ in this instance was ‘facility for face to face collaboration’. The trade off was to jettison infrequently and non-optimally used cubicles, cavern-like conference rooms and expensive round the clock space for an exquisite venue and experience for a set time periodically.

The principle of Pareto has been applied extensively in the workplaces for employees’ own ‘life tools’, ie. their ‘benefits’, under the notion of ‘flexi-benefits’. The day care that is an important investment for a single parent may demand more of the benefit allowance than it would for an active single person who prefers the gym membership.

The IT functions of larger organisations are very familiar with this notion applied in the area of ‘systems virtualisation’. This technology has taken the IT world by storm in recent years with its gigantic ROIs and cost savings. The leaders in the field are VMware with Microsoft who both have countless case studies of big costs taken out of costly datacentres in very short time period. Again, the principle of Pareto applies. Previously, many systems all had an array of antiquated, sub-optimal, dedicated processing power. Virtualisaton ‘trades in’ the dedicated ‘tools’ (CPU, storage, chassis, etc.) for a shared or virtual system of the highest standard (upgraded hardware, upgraded software, etc.).

Footnote. The consensus seems to be that the ‘Ferrari’ of hammers is an ‘Estwing’ pictured above. It costs $23 on Amazon ($47 RRP) versus $10 for a ‘standard’ Stanley model. $13 premium might seems like an extravagance of nearly double the price. But for a carpenter’s central tool that would last nearly a lifetime, the incremental costs is easily covered by doing without ‘owning’ a couple of lesser used tools. If the hammer lasts 10 years and is used 50% of the time, then that is an incremental costs of 1 cent per day.

Make Office Better

Make Office Better

I originally posted this a few months ago on the old blog, now all the more timely with the latest franchise release of new packaged technical innovation in the form of Windows 7 to hit the streets yesterday.  I first came upon from Steve’s post,

“I had a look at over the weekend and was actually a little surprised to see it go live today – basically a crowd sourcing site along the lines of Dell’s Ideastorm to solicit feedback on Microsoft Office. It’s not an official site but if this is what our Redmond bods can do in their spare time then I’m impressed.”

So, I had to add my long desired Dynamic Work enhancement (“Where We Are Available”) to Scheduling Assistant in Outlook to help determine not only ‘when’ people are free to meet, but also ‘where’ . Check out the submission “Add Geographic Proximity to Scheduling Assistant”.

If you like the idea, be sure to give it a ‘vote’ by clicking ‘+ me’ at bottom next to ‘people like this idea’ or give it a comment if you have some further reflections.

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The First Pitch

Washington Post Missing the First Pitch

The Washington Post carried a poignant illustration of the more subtle, but very palpable social costs fixed work schedules which not only constrain family coordination, but also concentrate use of shared community resources, namely roads. It described in detail the challenges of families sharing a simple activity of school sports.

“Late-arriving parents and coaches show up in suits instead of shorts, their hands clutching BlackBerrys instead of mitts. Kids, who wear their uniforms to school and can imagine nothing as terrible as a rainy day, are robbed of pregame practices and must wait to play until as late as 7:30 at night — almost a half-hour after the first pitch is thrown out for Nationals games at RFK Stadium. The children's games end at or past bedtime, leaving little room for homework and — worse to Little Leaguers — the traditional after-game trip for pizza or ice cream. And leagues struggle to sign up coaches, volunteers and umpires who can commit to arriving on time.”

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The Third Space

Starbucks Third Place

When I start to talk to people about reducing the fixed costs of fixed desks and fixed office space, the most common response is, “Oh, you mean home working…” Well, yes…and no. Part of the challenge of Dynamic Work is the too widely held view that the only two places in the work are home and work (and maybe a fun place you go on holiday once a year).

For a while now, Starbucks, these day often synonymous with out-of-office-out-off-home working, has coined a term for this extra geographic dimension – ‘The Third Place.’ Here are a few erudite commentaries on the appeal of this non-work/non-home workspace…

· Howard Schulz on the notion of the ‘Third Place’ – “You might say, 'OK, they're full of crap.' And you know, this is how we feel," says Schultz. "We're in the business of human connection and humanity, creating communities in a third place between home and work."

· Steve Clayton on “I get my best work done at Starbucks” – In fact my favourite spaces to get work done are well outside of the office – even the home office. I often wander down to a coffee shop or Shackology where there is free WiFi and a good vibe that doesn't stop me working. People think I'm joking when I say I'm going to the coffee shop to work but it's where I get a lot of good work done.”

· Katie Ledger on “My office is Starbucks” – “I don't spend long periods of time in coffee shops but it's just being able to do business ANYWHERE that makes it so exciting. Lots of new ideas coming out of this space at the mo.”

If anyone is passing through Marlow, give a shout for a ‘meeting’ at my local third place and location of an increasing proportion of my productivity

Energy Flows

Energy Flow Chart - small

The benefits to Dynamic Work are economic, ecological and social. One area of business that affects all three is transportation. Commuting and business travel cost money, cost carbon (and other environmental impacts) and cost time away from family. Showing both the scale and connection of the costs of transport in the overall economy is a truly stunning diagram by the Department for Business & Enterprise Regulatory Reform.

The left hand side shows the relative proportions of energy inputs to the UK economy with petroleum almost as large as the others combined. These are then ‘flowed’ to their respective uses with transport dominating in size. We can all switch-off lights at home and turn down the thermostats, but unless we change our commuting ways, we are not going to have much of a dent in our petroleum consumption. The more detailed chart below focusing just on the petroleum element underscores this with ‘Road’ usage of petroleum being more than all other uses combined. Lots of people are targeting the environmental costs of air travel, and this is certainly a cost, but it is a fraction of the petroleum consumed (and therefore the carbon released) versus road travel.

Petroleum Flow Chart - small



At the heart of Dynamic Work lies the notion that key resources (like office spaces and desks), need not be fixed, but are more efficient, accommodating and eco-friendly when flexible and…well…dynamic.

Part of what is driving the trend to Dynamic Work are changes in the consumer marketplace and lifestyle often introduced to the workplace by the Gen Yers. And one trend which completely reinforces the flexible approach to Dynamic Work is ‘Transuming.’

“Cassandra Smith spends $800 a month renting designer handbags and leases a luxury condo in downtown Miami. Environmentalist Zoe Turrill helped create a bike-sharing program at the University of Denver. Though they might seem to come from different ends of the consumption spectrum, they have something in common: They're not buying things. The rise of rental or borrowing services catering from everyone from fashionistas to environmentalists has even spawned a marketing buzzword: the ‘transumer’… in this global recession, people are warming to the idea of renting, and not buying, certain goods — because of cost, ease or space considerations.”

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E-Lance Economy

Modularization of the Work System

The Microsoft Netherlands joint research piece with Erasmus University also cited the seminal work of Thomas W. Malone Robert J. Laubacher’s coining the term E-Lance Economy over 10 years ago in their Harvard Business Review article, ‘The Dawn of the E-Lance Economy.’

“The fundamental unit of the e-lance economy is not the corporation but the individual. Tasks are not assigned and controlled by a stable chain of management but rather are carried out by autonomous or independent contractors. E-lancers connect into fluid and temporary networks to produce and sell goods and services. When the job is done, the networks dissolve again, whereas the e-lancers start seeking for new assignments. Of course, this view still applies to a small portion of the economy yet it is clear that larger parts are moving in this direction.”

One of the aspects to the new world of work that first drew me into the subject was the parallels between the ‘modularization of the work system’ and the modularisation of computer systems. In particular, the parallels with the trend of Services Oriented Architecture (SOA). The slide below is taken from one of my standard decks on SOA. Change a few words and labels and the concepts mirror the Malone/Laubacher chart very closely.

SOA Trend

Working Environments

Working Environments

One of the strongest points to the Microsoft New World of Work approach is its recognition of the diversity of work places, work roles, and workers themselves. The Microsoft Netherlands joint research piece with Erasmus University laid out a helpful grid to distinguish across 2 fundamental dimensions (see above). The report comments…

“Of course, mobile working is not a dichotomous variable. People work mobile to a greater or lesser degree. As we can learn from the mobile work quadrant below, telework is just one alternative. In the quadrant, different types of mobile working environments are distinguished based on two dimensions: frequency of changing worker location and location (fixed vs. multiple) (Schaffers et al, 2006).”