Why do we need a Manifesto?
We’ve been talking about applying social tools inside business since 2006 or before and we are no where near realising the potential for real social collaboration to make business more effective. We need a roadmap to set us on the right course, we need to think differently and to change culture. The Agile Elephant Manifesto encapsulates our blueprint for making Social Business work in thirteen theses. This post is the third in a sequence of 13 which explains each thesis in sequence.
Why Social Business?
We don’t mean the Professor Muhammad Yunus definition of a business which has a social rather than financial objective. We do mean a business adopting social tools and a different, more open and collaborative approach. We’ve been using terms like Web 2.0, Office 2.0, Collaboration, Knowledge Management, Enterprise 2.0, Social Enterprise or Social Business. Social Business is probably the best term currently, but the language is of minor importance compared to the real objective of changing business culture to add value.
All businesses are different and evolve at different rates – our approach to helping them innovate, change and transform needs to be adaptable, an evolution not a revolution.
Businesses are different – a marketing consultancy is completely different in its ways of working, culture and systems compared to a high volume retailer or a high tech machinery manufacturer. The types of business problems they encounter and systems they use will differ, so it is very unlikely that social business technologies will be a one size fits all solution. Even if they use the same software systems – Oracle, SAP, Microsoft etc etc – they tend to be implemented differently, and have different workflows and processes, and business cultures. This is important, as most businesses are not startups and do have legacy systems. Unless the Social Business system is a specific point-of-use system, it needs to integrate with these other systems and processes in the business as they have a lot of the data and operational processing capability. Also, businesses and their industries are often in different lifestages. Some are expanding, some are downsizing. Some industries are cyclical, some are very event driven. These factors also change strategy, systems, skills and culture.
However, there are similarities between businesses, and lessons can be drawn from elsewhere. Businesses, and parts of businesses, in different fields may actually work in similar ways depending on how they produce their services. The diagram at the top of the page shows the good old Product-Process matrix, its still a good way of describing different types of business, or operations within a business. It ranges from project based operations, where everything is a one off bespoke product (top left), to dedicated continuous production (bottom right). An architectural design practice is an example of the one-off project type of enterprise, a design bureau is an example of an in-company department that works this way. In general, as product volumes increase, the processes become more and more standardised until at the opposite end the mass production operation exists, with everything dedicated to making one product only. A cement plant is an example of such an enterprise, a bank’s backoffice cheque processing unit is an example of an in-company mass production operation.
[About the white space areas in the diagram above – in general, operations making low variety products (i.e. commodities) with low volume processes (expensive to run) are economically inefficient – making bulk cement in an artisanal workshop for example – and don’t survive. Similarly, trying to make high variety, one off products on mass production equipment is operationally very hard. Try making artisanal bread in a huge industrial bakery for example. In general these sorts of operations don’t survive without changing their approach. While new technology – the social web as a market, home machining and 3D printing etc., may shift the limits at the margins here, by and large the concept remains true.]
An adaptable model is best for businesses starting to use social technologies. Recognise that although each business is different, there are some generic rules that apply in certain sorts of business type. Look for appropriate lessons and technologies from those sorts of businesses. A project based organisation uses project management systems whether it’s in architecture, accounting or aerospace. The sort of culture (knowledge workers dealing with complex one off projects) are similar, and appropriate social business systems will also probably have strong similarities. Similarly, a textile business working in cell workgroups making a variety of clothing has a similar set of processes to a telephone helpdesk operation structured in a number of small teams dealing with a variety of customer issues. Businesses in one very cyclical industry (say semiconductors) have lessons that another cyclical industry (say retail) can learn from. It is likely that Social Business systems will also be similar in these cases.
Our approach is to look at the current systems, look at the social systems that will be overlaying them, and understand where they need to integrate to achieve the businesses’ goals. That also gives the strongest indications about where cultures and processes need to change dramatically, and where not. At that point, and that point only, is it worth thinking about innovation and transformation, as you know then what your boundary conditions are and what the impact – good and bad – of any changes will be.
Revolutions are messy, Evolution is better. Most “revolutionary” business moves are value negative. Revolutions tend to spill a lot of blood, a lot of babies get thrown out with the bathwater, and it usually takes quite some time to get back on ones’ feet. Evolution is less drastic and more sustainable – a shifting of the organism to grow into new areas, adopt new habits, move out of old areas. Not dramatic nor the stuff that makes for hero CEO’s and front page headlines*, but much sounder strategically. This is true for social technology implementations as well. We think social technology favours an organic, not a mechanistic approach to operating a business. Implement, let it grow and find its niches, prune and fertilise judiciously.
* It is possible though – Steve Jobs was a past master at stealing headlines, even though Apple has had the same overall strategy for decades (enter poorly served market areas early, capture top 25% of spenders) and all its moves are evolutionary – though sometimes it does use evolutionary “jumps”, but that is the subject of another post.