Control Systems Don't Generate Speed

Control versus Speed

Control systems don’t generate speed. In fact, we know from fast organizations the opposite to be true. Then one would think that less control would be fast, like in a start-up which has very low management overhead. This is not always the case either. The trick to acceleration is finding the balance between speed and control. Let me explain.

Let’s take the environment where there are few controls in place. This tends to be slow due to the inefficiencies caused by the lack of planning, coordination, and structure.

As we move towards the use of more formal planning and tracking mechanisms, we see speed increase.

At some point a sweat-spot is reached where there is the right level of control; where interrupts are minimized and a maximum velocity has been achieved. This is true for any number of business situations such as the cycle-time reduction of new product development projects to business processes and general decision-making.

As we move to the right towards high control, we see a subsequent reduction in the speed at which things get done due to interrupts generated by “those seeking control” over the ones that “are doing” the work. These “information interrupts” tend to consume tremendous amounts of resource time. Efficiency is further eroded by controls placed on decisions to regulate spending. This is exacerbated in cost and risk adverse cultures where it is better not to make a bad decision than it is to risk making the right one, for fear that you might be wrong.

We see the speed problem in both low and high control settings. On the other hand, fast organizations find the balance between too much and too little control. In other words, they empower--without losing control.

The fundamental problem we observe though is when senior management says one thing, yet behaves in the opposite way. “I want world class speed, but you can’t spend more money to do it.” The antithesis of this is our best practice called, “Pay to save a day.” We observed many times that organizations must invest in speed. They “paid to save time” and rewarded teams that did this, while on the other hand those that failed, when properly funded in advance, paid the price of failure. We found this to be a much healthier environment than traditional passive-aggressive cultures that “say,” yet “do” differently.

The need for control overrides the desire to be fast. Yet we know from best practice research that the return on the “speed-investment” is gained back many times over what could be saved by controlling costs. Cost control usually means slowing things down. It has a psychological impact on line managers that have to plan and execute the faster processes. Continual dis-empowerment through cost restraint tends to stifle creative breakthrough thinking necessary to make things go faster. Of course, we are not arguing for no control or irrational spending, just the right levels of controls to enable speed. Pay to save a day.

What are the interrupts in your organization that present barriers to speed? Are the systemic or situational? How could you pay to save a day? What is the cost and what are the potential returns?