First question – does your organization model knowledge work in some way? If not, then you have a clean slate and that’s probably a great place to start to improve how your organization works!
Second question – assuming your organization DOES model knowledge work in some way, is it based entirely on “activities”, i.e. the type that business process flowcharts are created from?
If the answer to the last question is yes, then let’s conduct some thought experiments…
- Take a service, any service, within your organization that involves some degree of thinking. Ask yourself – how does my organization represent “thinking” as an activity within a flow chart?
- Now, look at a service involving customers (external is better, but internal customers/employees are fine).
Does that collection of “activities” make sense to the customer / employee, or indeed many of the other participants involved in delivering that service?
- Finally, imagine you are the CEO of the organization, interested in ALL of the services that your organization provides.
Now roll ALL of those services up into one giant sphere, comprised entirely of those individual activities, almost like an imaginary planet. Ask yourself, is that how you really envisage your organization, i.e. a giant collection of loosely coupled activities, performed by your employees on behalf of your customers…?
I would suggest that the reason many have struggled with knowledge work for so long is because of the approach we have used to define knowledge work.
Organizations have used a vanilla “activity modelling” approach, derived from manufacturing assembly and “Work of the Hands”, when in reality we should have shifted towards an approach more appropriate for “Work of the Head”, relevant in our modern era.
The Role of Outcomes
I would suggest that what we have been missing from our tool-box is the concept of “Outcomes”. This is not something radical, or newly invented, no, this is something that has been around for a long time. So why have we never thought of this?
In part, I guess, its because we’ve never stopped to think about how good (or bad) a model entirely based on activities was working for us! “Activities” were the hammer of the “hammer and nail” duo that we know so well. And who really stops to look back at techniques, derived over a hundred years ago, for an entirely different purpose?
Outcomes have a unique set of benefits for how we define knowledge work.
Outcomes are :-
- tangible (whether they are physical or not)
- stable over time
- valuable to one or more participants
- method agnostic (e.g. irrespective of people, technology, channel, outsourcing…)
I would suggest that Outcomes are unique in that they provide alignment between customers, employees, and indeed the organization as a whole.
Now re-visit some of those earlier thought experiments :-
- Thinking is definitely more oriented towards producing an outcome, rather than the “activity of thinking” itself
- Outcomes are visible, and recognisable to the participants within any service, and undoubtedly justifiable in their existence
- Finally, as a fictional CEO, re-imagine your enterprise as a system of connected Outcomes, linking your customers, your employees and your organization as a whole.
At NolijWork, we are re-imagining knowledge work, through a framework that is more pertinent for “Work of the Head”. We recognize that defining more suitable models are a critical stepping stone for successful and productive knowledge work. We believe that “Outcomes” are one of the critical ingredients in that recipe.