Always on the lookout for useful or clever analogies that facilitate understanding of complex systems or ideas, some discoveries are made with great pleasure and some disappoint. The law of averages demands it.
The jigsaw puzzle is no stranger to analogy-building. One example appeared earlier this year in Plant Services’ “Human Capital” column (“The Jigsaw Puzzle of Reliability,” March 2019). Unfortunately, this is one that left me underwhelmed. Perhaps space limitations precluded full development of the analogy; the author’s forthcoming book may correct this. In any case, this installment of “The Third Degree” is my attempt to redeem the venerable jigsaw puzzle analogy.
The analogy I will now construct uses the jigsaw puzzle to describe how an organization – manufacturing or service business, non-profit, government agency, etc. – is managed. Few organizations, if any, are simple enough to be adequately described by a flat 2D image, though portions of them may be. Therefore, considering each layer of an organization (think onion) as a 2D puzzle and the whole as a 3D puzzle may be most instructive.
A typical jigsaw puzzle comes in a cardboard box with a full-size image of the desired result emblazoned on top. Your puzzle, however, comes with no such image; you must create it! The image you create is your future state map, vision statement, or other definition of the organization that you strive to develop, in whatever format you choose.
The image you create can include any or all aspects of the organization. A business may set targets for revenue growth, geographic coverage, or net promoter score (NPS). A non-profit may pursue a fund-raising goal, ratio of administrative costs to philanthropic expenditures, or a number of celebrity endorsements. Government agencies may define objectives for wait times, processing times, or budgetary performance. The combination of factors, and levels of those factors, must be customized for each organization; there is no standard formula!
The pieces of the puzzle are the resources at your disposal with which you can create the future state. They represent all of the tangible assets and intangible characteristics of the organization. These include:
Arranging the pieces according to common characteristics facilitates creation of the future state. Sky blue pieces are gathered together, as are tree-top green pieces, red barn pieces, and so on. In an organization, this may mean creating functional departments – accounting, engineering, marketing, etc. – or business units focused on specific product lines or customer segments. Grouped pieces are fitted together in a relatively homogeneous subset of the future state image.
Just as each piece in the group interlocks to form a subset, the entire group must interface with the other groups to complete the image. All departments or business units must function as a cohesive network to achieve organizational objectives. Extending this part of the analogy to 3D, hierarchical or functional layers of the organization must also integrate – operate at multiple levels – in order to reach the desired future state. For maximum performance, each group and layer should augment and complement one another.
Jigsaw puzzles are typically started by establishing its boundaries; assembly of all “border” pieces accomplishes this. The puzzle’s border or bounding box represents the “rules” by which the organization is governed. These include laws and regulations, codes of conduct, acceptable competitive practices, minimum ROI projects must attain to secure funding, HR policies, quality management systems, and so on. Any standard that influences executive decision-making is part of the bounding box. Consistency is more difficult to maintain for self-imposed standards than for legal obligations, but it is critical to the organization to do so. A standard inconsistently applied is no standard at all. This is one scenario where it is advisable to think inside the box!
Of course, the jigsaw puzzle analogy cannot account for every consideration relevant to managing an organization. When you dump the pieces out of a box, you can be confident that everything you need to create the desired future state has been provided. When it comes to your organization, however, you must assess each piece; some difficult decisions may be necessary. Do you need more pieces? How will you get them? Do you need different pieces than you currently have?
Also, unlike a jigsaw puzzle, there may be more than one way to arrange the pieces of your organization to achieve defined objectives. Pieces of a jigsaw puzzle are not adaptable, but most people are. Many machines can also serve multiple purposes. This provides you the flexibility to transform your tree-top green pieces to sky blue pieces when you need to climb a little higher.
For help building your jigsaw puzzle, contact JayWink Solutions. We also work on crosswords and Sudoku!
Jody W. Phelps, MSc, PMP®, MBA
JayWink Solutions, LLC
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