I recently found an HBR article by Roger Martin, a Business Strategy and Management Advisor and thought leader who writes that we should run all organizations like professional services companies.
“Most companies make two big mistakes in managing knowledge workers. The first is to think that they should structure this workforce as they do a manual workforce—with each employee doing the same tasks day in and day out. The second (which derives in part from the first) is to assume that knowledge is necessarily bundled with the workers and, unlike manual labor, can’t readily be codified and transferred to others.”
“The key… is to use the project rather than the job as the organizing principle. In this model, full-time employees are seen not as tethered to certain specified functions but as flowing to projects where their capabilities are needed.”
If you work in a professional services organization, this must sound very familiar. Most work is already organized in projects, with flexible teams to work on them. But, as Martin points out, most other types of organizations are not structured this way and he suggests that they take some pointers from the professional service industry.
Work is a series of projects - not a list of daily tasks
There is another reason why more and more companies are restructuring around projects: the speed of technological change.
To respond to this speed of change, organizations need to provide instant strategy. For an organization to be agile enough to do that, they are focusing more on outcomes and dynamic projects made up of integrated, cross-functional teams. They can’t afford to have singular disciplines working independently within their own phases of the project. Constant learning is essential to the structure, by collecting and sharing the learnings from one project into the next.
So, how do we enable our teams to work fluidly from project to project? What level of structure is needed? And how much should we invest in developing soft skills like project management, critical thinking, and problem-solving to enable this dynamic way of working?
Here are a handful of resources to help us explore this idea further:
- Rethinking the Decision Factory (HBR)
- Are All Employees Knowledge Workers? (HBR)
- How To Transform Your Teams And Your Business To Thrive In Ambiguity (Forbes)
- Tesla’s Elon Musk is raising an important question about job titles (Quartz at Work)
- What the Hollywood Model Can Teach Us About the Future of Work (New York Times)