Although a great deal of effort goes into making many management systems intelligible to their users, many still suffer from a degree of opacity that follows from the way in which most systems are constructed: either by the ad hoc inclusion and generalisation of local practices or through the more or less mechanical incorporation of external ideas and structures such as public standards and guru-derived ‘concepts’. This makes for management systems that are not only hard to use but that would not work well even if they were used correctly.
To counter this a little, there are two general principles all management systems should implement: recursion and iteration.
Recursion means that the same process is used at all levels of a given activity. For example:
- To ensure that we all mean the same thing when we speak of ‘management’, the same principles and generic process should govern management at every level of the organisation, from strategic direction to day-to-day operations.
- If a manager needs to define local processes in more detail, it should be possible to re-apply the main process recursively (ie, to its own components).
(If, like me, you like that sort of thing, the best definition of recursion of which I am aware was given by an early Smalltalk dictionary, whose entire entry for ‘recursion’ consisted of the words ‘see “Recursion”‘.)
Iteration means that the same process is used across all parts of the organisation. For example:
- To ensure that the integrity of all processes and management activity is maintained, change-related processes such as change, issue or risk management should be designed so that they consist of the recursive application the standard generic process, not a special (and probably anomalous) processes of their own.
- However special they may feel that their work is, all specialist groups (such as legal departments and supplier management) should adhere to the same principles and generic processes as the groups responsible for the ‘main process’.
These principles are combined for managing individual assignments. To ensure that managers are empowered without increasing the risks inherent in allowing local groups to make critical decisions, the management system should consist of ‘black boxes’, within which the local managers can structure activity as they see fit, so long as the local management system adheres to the Lattice Methodology and they process the required inputs into the required outputs. This approach would also enhance local commitment to and involvement in system improvement.