I think that I have rhythm, I can play the guitar and I dance around the kitchen a lot. In my youth I masqueraded in a band and went to a lot of dance music events. I used to dance a lot and I recall at least one other person saying that I had rhythm.
I looked up a dictionary definition of rhythm and found the following:
‘A strong regular repeated pattern of movement or sound.’
‘A particular type of pattern formed by rhythm.’
What I did not find in the dictionary was:
‘A management approach to maintaining relationships and performance’
It seems though that over the past ten years management has been systematically (if not rhythmically) stealing my rhythm and molding it into their management speak, operating rhythm.
‘Who are these villains?’ I hear you cry. Well I asked Google and returned about 11,000 results. That didn’t help so I tried to find who coined the phrase but no joy there either. What I did find though was interesting, it seems that before management operating rhythm there was manufacturing operating rhythm.
MOR has its basis in lean and the benefits of sharing. So MOR is defined as the sharing of information collaboration and cyclical or systematic communication. I think that we can all agree on the importance of these aims, collaboration, sharing and communication and we would agree that doing these things at a regular interval would be potentially transformational for a lot of organizations.
It still doesn’t explain the fact that management has stolen my rhythm but I’m starting to see the what is meant by an operating rhythm. Before I endorse it though what about the benefits? How about:
- Innovation and creativity
- Trust and belief leading to controlled risk taking
- Support linked to people, capability and product development
- Faster time to market through better, more informed decision-making
Really, all of those things? Well consider the barriers to any of the four benefits listed above:
- Lack of trust
- Poor insight
Do you remember the Kodak funsaver? It was launched in 1989 way before lean and agile became trendy and way before operating rhythm was pinched from me. I would say that the funsaver, the first disposable camera was a game changer. It proved to be a dramatic strategic vehicle for Kodak and it changed the way in which consumers used cameras. Canon, Konica and Nikon all filled into a market that was to camera’s what the iphone was to mobile phones.
What is interesting about the development of the Kodak Camera can be found shuffled into a French business magazine, published last year. It throws light on the methods that were used to develop this radical technology in a short (6 months) period of time. It started with the creation of a laboratory, physical as well as metaphorical. Bright representatives from different areas of Kodak were brought together with the brief to ‘create something new’. The article author refers to this as a mini organization within the larger organization, we might refer to it as an autonomous project team. There was a ceo a developer a scientist a customer representative and marketing representative and a technical engineer. In scenes that agile practitioners would recognize this team would meet on a Monday and discuss what they would do that week. Following on from that meeting they would work closely together over the course of a week, developing the concept until Friday when they would review and make recommendations for the next week. It seems both far fetched and idyllic but the outcome was and is spectacular.
If I refer back to the four benefits I listed earlier, one could summarise that innovation, creativity, trust, belief, support , decision making and speed to market were all evident in this autonomous project team.
So I’m still not happy about the word but an operating rhythm seems to be useful, beneficial, radical maybe even game changing … it’s also really common sense. My friend Alan at RBS talks about it a lot and he’s seen it implemented lots of times, sadly he’s also seen it fail lots of times. So here are my five ingredients to implement and to maintain a good operating rhythm.
- Identify the things (competences, values) that need to be done on a regular basis to develop the kind of behaviors and performance that are required for business success (communication, sharing, collaboration, creativity, people development)
- Break down number one into repeatable practical activities that can beset up easily, carried out quickly and maintained imply on a regular basis (morning meeting, weekly catch-up, joke of the day, idea of the week a coffee race, the more fun the more engaging and lasting)
- Get the team involved. Find ways to enfranchise them into the outcomes, benefits and activities so that they themselves own it, drive it and want it. (Seek idea’s, influence, sell, delegate, engage)
- Agree a plan (our plan) to start and implement the practical activities that make up your operating rhythm.
- Agree and constantly review the practice, the application, the benefit and the engagement of the rhythm.
With the absence of some sets of trance music, one of the exciting things about dance music is that the beat stays the same but the accompanying sounds and melody change. It becomes hypnotic but inspiring. If you like music you’ll find that occasionally (often for me) it’s important to change the CD, the vinyl or the play list. The same thing applies to a management operating rhythm. Please, keep the beat but make sure the tune changes and remains inspiring.