Is This How Your Organisation Is Run?

Is This How Your Organisation Is Run?

From what I’ve seen, almost all knowledge-based and high-tech organisations, no matter what sector or business they are in, operate in broadly the same way.

In a typical organisation here’s what happens. At the beginning of the year, the owners or shareholders or board or powers-that-be decide that they want to do ‘more’ business as usual. They say they want to capture X per cent more customers or market share, increase revenue by Y or profit by Z, sell such and such a per cent more widgets, improve certain business metrics e.g. reduce waiting times by so much, and so on. They also want to do some brand new things – new products, services, initiatives, take new directions.

The management team takes this mission and launches a bunch of projects designed to make sure that both of these major thrusts (business as usual and new initiatives) are realised.

Everybody in the organisation now has (a) usually a day job and (b) almost certainly, a project-related workload. Most management teams expect everybody to undertake this workload so that planning becomes somewhat secondary. Indeed planning can come to be viewed as something of a problem. After all, we don’t want plans showing us that the things we are trying to do are impossible, now do we?

Because plans are non-existent or inadequate, there is no real measure of whether there are enough people to do all the work. Invariably this means that there aren’t. But it doesn’t matter – because somehow, the view is, we’ll find a way. In reality, that ‘somehow’ is generally pretty obvious and well known to everybody. If there aren’t enough people to do all the work, then the existing people can just work harder. And this is exactly what happens – the troops begin to work harder and harder, longer and longer hours – 10-16 hours a day over sustained periods of time.

Despite this, something – either a project or some business as usual thing – starts to drift. (This is inevitable if there aren’t enough people to do all the work.) Eventually – it’s usually as late as possible because nobody wants to be the bearer of bad news – somebody realises that there’s a problem.

When this happens there’s a bit of a stink. Some senior manager or customer begins to jump up and down about ‘their’ thing. If they shout loud enough people are switched onto that thing and the thing that lost the people is told to work even harder. You then get the phenomenon known as ‘constantly changing priorities’.

Those people do work harder – but it doesn’t make any difference. That or some other thing now starts to drift, despite the long hours being worked. And the thing to which people were moved doesn’t necessarily speed up. There are learning curves and people need to come up to speed and they make mistakes that people who were already familiar with the thing had stopped making ages ago

Life carries on like this until management realises that something else is drifting. The same events occur – a stink, jumping up and down, people being moved from one thing to another, the progress on more and more things not being what was expected. And so the year unfolds.

Eventually the end of the year comes round – it’s the Christmas party. Some things have been done, a lot haven’t. Many things have come in late and / or over-budget. Right up to the last minute it’s not been a hundred per cent clear which things – out of all the things we set out to do at the beginning of the year – were going to end up being done and which were going to be left undone. Projects have been completed with huge effort and overtime. Some projects have not been completed at all or have gone badly astray. There is a sense that there has been a lot of wasted time, effort, resources and money. There is also a permanent backlog which never seems to get cleared.

As for the people – well – some people are burnt out and leave. Pressure and stress are so severe that they may have affected people’s health.   Work / life balance may feel like a thing of the past. At best, everybody thinks it’s been a tough year and that they worked really hard. There is a sense of having triumphed in the face of adversity. We sure earned our salaries and bonuses this year, we think. Yep – we did one hell of a job.

And there is a feeling that while the way we do things at the moment may not be perfect, it’s the best way there is – that this is just ‘the culture of the organisation’.

You may think that you – the management – are running the organisation but are you really? Were the things that got done the things that mattered most? Maybe. But maybe not. In the end there was little conscious decision making about this. It wasn’t really the management that decided. It was decided more by the series of events that unfolded.

In other words – Fate / luck / chance decided.


It doesn’t have to be like this.

Say hello to Capacity Planning.

What is it?

Well, imagine you run a small car repair / servicing shop.  The shop employs two mechanics and there is a rule of thumb that each mechanic can service two cars a day. Obviously this is a rough rule – cars can take longer or shorter and sometimes big jobs have to be done which can last several days. But, in general, the two cars a day rule of thumb works pretty well. It even allows some time for those inevitable walk-in clients or emergencies. Knowing this it’s possible to accurately schedule jobs and tell customers when their car will be ready.

That’s capacity planning.

Capacity planning is figuring out how much stuff you have to do (which in turn means sizing projects accurately) and then whether you have enough people to do all that stuff. In a little operation like the car repair shop above it could well be possible to do all this on paper – in some kind of book or diary, perhaps – or even in your head.

For most organisations – a group / department / division / company – you need a computer. You can start in Excel and I’ve seen people do some pretty remarkable things there. But in the end, Excel becomes too cumbersome and time-consuming and restrictive and you want to do things it can’t do.

You should probably cut to the chase and get your hands on some capacity planning software. You’ll find it won’t be that expensive. It’ll be a good investment and you’ll be amazed at the number of problems it will solve.

Capacity planning.

If you’re not doing it you need to get on it.


Where do I get it?