Friday, August 29, 2008

Eye-opener: Why we DO need management

The last two weeks we have been working long and hard on producing a big proposal for a European procurement. With 5 people on the team, 4 from our company and 1 from another, work had to be allocated, managed and then merged back together to form one consistent document.

Sounds simple enough - unfortunately it wasn't. It proved to be really hard to get everybody clear on what had to be done, get overview on who was doing what, when and how, come up with clear outlines on when things would be done and people kept over-communicating with each other. Needless to say, we all had very late nights as a result.

During the whole process I asked myself: "How is this possible? How can we keep finding ourselves confused and disorganized? We have 5 capable and knowledgeable people on this team, everybody is working their butts off, but still chaos ensues!" Two days ago I found my answer.

And I read it in the first chapter of Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky.

The eye-opener however was that it made me realize that my question was a micro-version of: why is there a need for management?

Take a look at this graphic:
It's easy to imagine the two figures here are two people working on the same project which needs to get done. They do their things and occasionally come together to check with each other: "Are we ok? Are we still on the right track?" Only one agreement needs to be made between two people in this case. You will get excellent results this way: two people are putting in their effort and with the occasional checks, "two see more than one" holds true.

Now let's take a look at this graphic:

What worked well for two people working together, is becoming detrimental when more people enter the stage. Where two people only had to come to one agreement, 3 people need 3, 4 people need 6 and 5 people need to come to 10 agreements before there is complete consensus, a complete: "Are we still ok?". And it is for this reason that management is needed. Management is there to eliminate many of these agreements, or better put: the costly transactions (in time/money/resources) of coming to complete consensus, by making the process hierarchical:
With management installed, the structure inverts itself. Instead of having everybody asking "Are we ok?" to everybody, a manager instead asks: "Are you ok?" to everybody. Agreements are made through management, eliminating the need of the exponential transaction costs of coming to a complete agreement within a group.

With our proposal we clearly stayed in the ever going cycle of coming to agreements without management. I am coming to believe that having 5 really good people on the team, probably made it worse, because there was something valuable in everything that everybody had to say about everything!

With this in mind, you can also avoid the trap of thinking that more people on a project will get it done faster. Every member in a team demands an extra agreement, even with management ("Are you ok?") With no solid management in place, every new member in a team adds exponential transaction costs, making the process in most cases even slower and more cumbersome than it already was.

Group-dynamics: what a wonderful world.

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