The Value of a Good Organization-as-System Map
Last week I worked on two organizational design related proposals. In both, I used the Organization-as-System (OAS) Map as an important analytical tool and it started me thinking about how useful a conceptual approach it has been over the years.
Originally created by Geary Rummler as tool to envision an organization as a flow of inputs and valued outputs across functional groups, it was designed for use as a precursor to organizational and process improvement efforts. The best overview is available from his book “Improving Performance”. I have also found it to be an indispensable tool for understanding, modeling and communicating organizations.
Most organization re-design efforts typically start with an organization chart, a data flow (for IT related change management) or dive immediately into detailed processes documentation as they analyze the current situation. The Rummler mapping method created a way to visually represent an organization as a system of inputs and valued outputs that was meant to guide detailed improvement efforts. He called it a Relationship Map and later, Super-System Map. I like to call them OAS Maps (Organization-as-System).
Here’s an example of an OAS Map I did a while ago for the sales and service arm arm of a global manufacturer (click to enlarge):
Preparing a map like this requires an interview process to identify key inputs, outputs, measures and business units. In the process you learn how work flows through an organization, often better than your client (or at least more holistically).
During this project I realized that this high level system view of the company would be very useful way to introduce new employees to the company and their role in it. I built an on-boarding program with animated workflows that followed a customer order though the entire company with stops at each function to learn what that function does and how they add value. It was a rudimentary simulation of the organization written and visually designed for a new employee to understand their place in the organization and how their job contributes to the whole. It was a very successful program based on an unintended use of the OAS Map. Many Business Process Modeling tools (like ProVision and others) allow you to fully simulate an organization starting from an good OAS map. We should be taking greater advantage of the ability to simulate organizations for training and informal learning purposes.
Here’s another example, this time mapping a training function. It was prepared as the first stage of a consolidation and improvement effort for the training group. We were trying to integrate planning and analysis methods that were bubbling up from learning professionals in the group (click to enlarge).
This last example example was used as part of a “training needs assessment” (performance consulting in disguise) to locate subpar performance in a systems engineering group at an aerospace company. The map allowed me to raise the level of the conversation from training to department performance and move away from the “communications training” initially requested to more substantial process re-design and performance management system implementation (click to enlarge).
How to Prepare an OAS Map
Developing an OAS Map requires good interviewing skills, systems thinking, a visual sensibility and a solid understanding of the system dynamics of a company. The processes will typically follow this pattern:
- Think of the organization you are analyzing as a black box and identify the outputs (tangible products and services)
- Identify the customers for those products and services
- Identify the inputs (resources, information and upstream products and services) that the organization processes into valued outputs
- Identify who provides those inputs (internal organizations and external suppliers)
- Identify the internal units, department and groups and the internal workflow
Some Current and Future Uses of the OAS Map
Probably the most powerful “ah ha” OAS maps have allowed me to achieve with clients is the understanding that since all units (sub-systems) of an organization are interconnected, tinkering with independent parts of an (training, sales methods, engineering methods) can have the effect of sub-optimizing the whole. To manage a company more effectively, or to re-design we need to visualize it more as a cross functional network of interrelated, not independent, components. This viewpoint is a great staring point for many types of organization effectiveness efforts.
Here are some ways that I have used OAS maps. I’d love to hear about others.
- Understand and communicate your clients business better than they do themselves
- Identify functional disconnects and variances at a system level
- Put training and skills issues in the context of the larger organization system
- Identify organizational level performance problems and opportunities
- Make knowledge work visible
- Design a process based measurement system (vs. functional measures)
- Design an improved feedback system
- Analyze the current state of an organization issues and opportunities
- Design a future state workflow and organization
- Defining boundaries for a process improvement or redesign effort
- Establish alternative ways to group functions and establish new reporting relationships
- Employee on-boarding programs
- Create organizational workflow simulations for both training and organization improvement purposes