Someone sent me an article that says that 'any public sector organisations developing digital services are guilty of reinventing the wheel missing important opportunities to reduce costs and speed up delivery'. Although it's about digital services what the author points out is applicable to organisational activity in general. As he says 'Almost all systems have some aspect of duplication that can be avoided. Without reuse, we all repeatedly reinvent the wheel, causing massive duplication and waste.'
By 're-use' he means identifying similar stuff that is done in many different ways or parts of the organisation when it could be done more efficiently and effectively in one way if only people would agree to do it in the one way and the organisation was designed to encourage and support this 're-use'.
How much of the activity going on in your organisation could be re-used? Look around. Do you have multiple communications teams, or several systems for collecting data (all of which have difficulty 'talking to' each other), or reports being generated with minor tweaks that mean multiple different versions of the same thing because different compliance/governance bodies require different formats, or several teams of people being asked to do the same task because there is no cross-organisation transparency on what is going on? All of these are ripe for seeing if they are re-usable i.e. being done in the same way – or even once.
But isn't the concept of 're-use' a bit like 're-cycling' – we know it's the right thing to do we just don't do it. Most organisations have recycling bins but how many of us diligently put our stuff in the right bin and/or consciously think how we could re-cycle physical stuff more and better? We get the idea, we just don't action it that well.
What stands in the way of process and system re-use in organisations? There are multiple reasons. Five that I've noticed are:
1. Many organisations work in vertical structures where each function and/or product and service unit is effectively independent of the other and there are few incentives or mechanisms for encouraging horizontal (lateral) collaboration.
2. Lack of clear executive ownership, accountability and proactive executive 'voice' in support of organisational re-use as a way of optimizing savings, efficiencies, and delivery.
3. Political and vested interests in keeping things the way they are. In moving towards re-use the owners of the various systems and processes have to find and agree that collective benefit of a single way is more important than the individual BU benefit of doing it 'my way'. Mentioned in a forthcoming book is a finding from research conducted at the University of Westminster in 2013 that the top three reasons given for lack of organisation design success – which invariably includes streamlining and making efficiency/savings gains – were protecting political vested interests (20%), incomplete strategy (18%), lack of vision of future organisation (16%).
4. Low levels of risk appetite to explore the benefits of re-use because there is often a dearth of data driven evidence that more savings can be achieved through streamlining, configuring differently, and planning for technology enhancements involving re-use that are not yet on stream.
5. Insufficient organisational capability and skill to 'look across' the organisation in order to learn from each other and identify opportunities for re-use. I used to work for 'Silosmashers' – the aim of this consultancy is all about increasing the capability and expertise in ways of bursting through the vertical silos and getting the benefits of synergies and re-use across the organisation.
How good is re-use in your organisation and how do you encourage it? Let me know.