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Anatomy of Agile Enterprise

Janne J. Korhonen

How to Make Work Take Off?

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In his best seller book Getting Things Done, David Allen identifies six vertically arrayed perspectives from which to define work. Using an aerospace analogy, he recognizes the following "altitudes":

  • 50,000+ feet: Life
  • 40,000 feet: Vision
  • 30,000 feet: Goals
  • 20,000 feet: Areas of responsibility
  • 10,000 feet: Current projects
  • Runway: Current actions

Each of the levels enhances and aligns with the ones above it. According to Allen, the key to stress-free productivity is to manage all the levels in a balanced fashion. "Getting things done, and feeling good about it, means being willing to recognize, acknowledge, and appropriately manage all the things that have your consciousness engaged." Allen suggests working from the bottom up: getting the lower levels in order frees up attention and resources to focus on the more meaningful goals and visions of the higher levels.

In today's high-pressure work environment, it is often hard to even get off the runway. Daily chores mount up, unnecessary disruptions prevail and priorities are muddled. People are rushing about and fighting fires, too busy to engage in positive change, or they are paralyzed altogether in the face of overwhelming information overload. To take off, argues Allen, one needs to capture and organize all of the incomplete, undecided and unorganized "stuff" that occupies the mind, get it all out of the head and into an objective collection tool.

Information technology bears great potential to clean the runway. Tools such as workflow management systems, adaptive case management systems, issue tracking systems, and even e-mail help getting the mundane tasks in control and thus freeing up capacity to focus on value-add activities that require more discretion and judgment.

Once one is off the ground, it is possible to relax thinking for longer intervals: what are the existing, relatively short-term projects that will require more than one action to get done? An objective, up-to-date inventory of these commitments provides a basis for deciding what to do with discretionary time to move important things forward. This list of projects gives a framework for prioritizing actions one level down.

These explicit and implicit commitments are largely determined by the areas of responsibility, four to seven key areas within which one wants to achieve results and maintain standards in work, e.g. market research, customer service. Personal life includes a similar number of focus areas: health, family, finances, etc.

In the workplace setting, much is to be gained by specifying the roles and responsibilities and keeping them in current. When understanding of mutual expectations is thus established, people are more clear about what they should be doing and can proactively add projects and define next actions in their areas of focus.

The next level of defining work deals with near future goals: what are the motivators in one's current reality and what are the yet-to-come goals one wishes to accomplish. This is where the job focus often shifts and new areas of responsibility emerge.

Even higher in altitude, projections farther into the future are about vision for one's career and personal life: bigger categories such as strategies, trends, transitive circumstances and other long-term considerations. "Decisions at this altitude could easily change what your work might look like on many levels."

The highest level is the "big picture" view of the very purpose of work: Why does the company exist? What is one's life purpose? All the lower level categories derive from this purpose and aim at maximizing its expression.

An organization is only as good as its people. In order to be agile, the organization must be proactive and constantly align its goals with the changing circumstances. To this end, not only do people need to be self-authoring to start with, but also their "psychic decks" must be clear enough to allow their creative attention to focus on the goals, visions and purpose of both the organization and themselves.

Deliberate measures to improve people's daily working conditions pay off. By providing them with appropriate means and tools to specify and take control of actions, commitments, and roles and responsibilities at the lower levels, the organization enables its people to fly above the clouds that shadow the vistas of the future.

Janne J. Korhonen provides insights into how information technology can be applied strategically to catalyze organizational change and responsiveness. Drawing from both theory and practice, he discusses agile enterprise and its governance.

Janne J. Korhonen

Janne J. Korhonen is an independent business and IT consultant,specializing in enterprise architecture, business process management,service-oriented architecture and pertinent governance models. He has over ten years of experience as an architect and consultant in a variety of extensive and mission-critical IT projects. With strong theoretical underpinnings, his consulting encompasses systemic co-development of business, organization and information technology.

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