Tag Archives: management

cutting management layers

Less management or less managing?

Do we need less management or less managing, when we change our organization to Agile or Super7 Operations? Modern organizations give autonomy to those who do the work, and move away from top-heavy management. Question is, can large organizations really function without management? Which elements of management can we do without, and which are crucial for success?

Recently, I attended an interesting seminar by Thom Verheggen, a Dutch organization expert who calls himself “de Ontmanager” in Dutch, which translates to The De-Manager. You can read more about Thom on his blog and in his book – only available in Dutch at this moment, however.

Thom states that we shouldn’t remove managers too rigorously. Instead, we should banish the habits of management that give organizations a false sense of control. He paints a picture of an organization where everybody moves in roughly the same direction, just because there are heavy controls and regulations preventing them to move in any other direction. As an alternative, he proposes an organization where everybody is intrinsically motivated towards a common goal, and no controls or regulations are necessary.

He also gives examples of detrimental habits of management. Being the middle man between two parties, for one. Managers trying to be the oil between the gears, but in fact preventing the two parties from working together. Another is the yearly cycle of individual target setting and performance evaluation, where emphasis tends to lie on what went wrong rather than on developing talent.

In my experience, for instance in Super7 organizations, managers do have their value. I’ll give two examples. In large complex organizations, autonomous teams can’t oversee the total complexity. Reducing complexity should be the top priority for managers. Next to that, managers should help with giving direction and ensuring alignment. In large organizations, managers need to support the small autonomous teams (e.g. Super7’s) by showing them the overall vision that all teams work towards. And they should help the teams to stay aligned with each other in their efforts towards this vision.

Less management? Sure, more autonomy is a good thing. Less Managing? Seems like a good idea, also. No management altogether? That may be a bridge too far for large complex organizations. We should think about which kind of managing is needed to keep things running, and then banish all other forms of managing. In following posts, I’ll give you examples of how this can work in practice.

Menno R. van Dijk.

Replace operations team managers with Super7 Coaches

As Super7 teams get more mature, it may be wise to assign Super7 Coaches and scale down even further on opertions managers.

More and more organizations are succesfully applying small, autonomous Lean teams – Super7 teams – within their operational departments. More autonomy, more employee engagement, better results. In this transition towards Super7 Operations, the role of the operational team manager has changed enormously.

Within the Netherlands, ING has been working with Super7 teams for almost 5 years now. As more experience is gained, new questions are raised. One in particular (thanks Ingrid and Jacqueline!) really made me think: should ING assign Super7 coaches, in parallel with the Agile coaches that are widely applied in Agile organizations?

The parallels between Super7 Operations and Agile are eminent. After all, both are based on very similar principles, derived from the same classical Lean production principles. So why not learn from the ‘management’ roles that Agile appies.

As you may know, Agile doesn’t use managers. Part of the of the old manager’s responibility is delegated towards the autonomous teams. The people/skills development part is now the responsibiltiy of the Chapter Lead. And Agile coaches are responsible for helping the team to become mature in autonomy and agility.

It may be wise to assign Super7 Coaches and scale down even further on opertions managers. Our experiency with Super7 teams shows that it is hard to maintain the momentum in team development. Some teams do fly, some teams reach a certain level and then developments seems to slow down or stop altogether. In theory, the team manager should help the Super7’s with their development towards maturity. But is this the best solution? Super7 coaches may be better equipped for this job.

But what would that mean for the oprations team managers? As with Agile, part of the old manager’s responisibility – planning, senior process knowledge, scheduling – has already been delegated to the Super7 teams. When Super7 coaches take over the responisibilty of coaching the team towards maturity, the role of the team manager becomes smaller again.

The team manager would still be responsible for the development and appraisal of individuale. And, he or she would still be the one that set the output targets for the teams, translated from the departmental goals.

To keep work load large enough, we would however need less managers – more direct reports per manager. This would mean that some of the team managers would lose their job, and I do understand that can be a dificult situation. However, a trend towards less management does seem fitting for an organization that works with autonomous team, don’t you think?

Menno R. van Dijk.




Do’s and don’ts of managing autonomous teams (or Super7’s) – part II

Managing autonomous teams, or Super7 teams, requires a different management style than managing regular teams. Here’s part two of the key do’s and don’ts from my practice as a Lean Super7 consultant. When your department introduces Super7 Operations, or other forms of autonomous teams, this may help you to adapt to the new situation you’ll face as a manager.

This week: protecting the boundaries of the team – with more than one different meaning of the word boundaries.

Do: actively manage the boundary conditions, keep optimizing

A manager can improve on performance by setting and adjusting the boundaries. As a manager, you are responsible for how much resources can be used to finish the task. You set the boundaries, for instance on how much flex-hours can be used this month. But don’t get complacent if everything keeps running smooth: too much green lights is also bad. Green lights tell you that everything is perfect, while there is always room for improvement.

Don’t: overload the system, prevent overburden (or in Japanese Lean-speak: Muri)

In many classical operations departments, managers used rigid controls, like hourly standardized work packages. These confine creativity and hinder team work, but they protect the employees also from over-burden. A Super7, or any autonomous team, won’t have this protective cage. Keeping the workload manageable is your responsibility as a manager. A team with performance that is up to par (i.e. 100% productivity in productive time and less than 20% unavailability) should be able to get the work done within the time they have. If they can’t finish on time day after day, you may have under-capacity. You as a manager should protect your team from overburden.

Do: Offer help by adding flex capacity from within the boundaries of Super7, rather than by adding extracting people from other Super7’s.

A recent study into Super7-effectiveness show that help by asking a team member to come back from home is better that help by asking a team member of another team to step in. Help from within their own team is appreciated more, and increases the team bond. With flexible (min/max) contracts, it is possible to increase available capacity without adding people to the group. An unexpected study result it may be, but it appears that a strong independent Super7 team is better than two Super7’s that work closely together.


Hope you enjoyed this part II – part III will follow shorty.
Menno R. van Dijk.

Less management through Super7 – autonomy reduces the need for management

Can you run a bank with less management? If you would remove one layer of management from a large financial service organization – let’s say a bank  – would that organization be less effective? And with two layers of management removed: would a bank need to be rescued with taxpayer’s money?  My recent experience with customer focused, autonomous Lean teams at a Dutch retail bank have taught me:  Super7 Operations (see my book: Super7 Operation – the Next Step for Lean in Financial Services) requires Less Management, More Delegating.  It may be too much to claim that two layers of management can be removed, perhaps not even one entire layer, but the span of control of one manager can dramatically be increased. And yes, that means a lot less managers. So why is that, what type of management tasks are eliminated by using small autonomous lean teams?

Less Capacity Planning

“Is it okay to take a day off next Tuesday?”.  In the old days, managers spent a lot of time planning the capacity of the team. Especially in preparation of the holiday season or in the summer period. An autonomous Lean team will take care of this planning themselves. And they make sure that they have sufficient capacity to get the forecasted amount of work done.

Less Management of Inventory

Prior to Super7, work needed to be booked in an inventory management system, and the age of the inventory (when did we receive the customer request?) needed to be monitored and compared to the Service Level Agreement (SLA). Then, if the system says ‘Orange light, i.e. ‘we’ve got only one day left within SLA’, priorities needed to be reshuffled urgently to prevent ‘Red Light’ the next day.

Less Management of Assigning Work

Because there is a lot of work in inventory, team managers attempted to get the ‘best work streams’ assigned to their team. The norms for each work stream differed; moreover, not all norms were set as accurate.

Less Management of skills

In the past, a Daily Production Meeting was held, in which the team managers, all together, determined which team would be doing which work streams the next day. In Super7’s, this whole circus isn’t needed. Each Super7 knows what work they will be doing: the same work every day, and all work that came in that day.

Less Management of Work In Progress

Before Super7, a manager needed to check the inventory system: is the work still waiting, or is it work-in-progress? A manager also needed to look in the report of the Daily Production meeting: where was the work assigned to? Finally, a request had to be distributed to the individual employees.

Let’s remove management layers!

Menno R. van Dijk.