I love acronyms and jargon… because I love ideas and I love frameworks, perspectives or methods being summarised into a short word or acronym. One of my favourites is HOWWIP, which is short for HOw Will it Work In Practice, pronounced “How Wip”. Now, I’ll grant you that this probably isn’t the most elegant word and yes, we (Giles Slinger and I) invented it. So yes, it is perhaps a bit rich of me to say it is one of my favourites. That is a bit like every parent thinking their baby is beautiful and extremely cute… far cuter than normal by some margin.
Putting all that aside, the central question on everyone’s lips is, “How will it really work?”. The design process is theoretical. It is a construct of the mind. It needs conversion. That is what the HOWWIP is all about.
So what does HOWWIP really mean and why is it useful in the context of organisation design?
1) What does it really mean?
It is what it says on the tin. How will the organisation really work… really work in practice? When we say really, we mean REALLY REALLY… like on a Tuesday morning when x, y, or z happens.
2) Why is it useful
A large part of Making the design (it) Real (MiR) is getting everyone’s head around what the design really means to them personally. How will they be impacted and how will it work. Part of this is about the interface design. How items of work will be handed from one person to another. Another is bringing tangible clarity to what can be seem pretty theoretical. To see a decision matrix with a set of acronyms such as RAS (Responsible; Approve; Support) is one thing. To understand what “Approve” or “Support” really means in the context of that decision is another. For example, “Approve” the recruiting plan might have the Finance Director, HRD and Business Director with “As”. The HOWWIP is a face-to-face brain storming session on the practicalities of delivery. It anticipates issues and deals with them once spotted. That they need to get a hire form filled in by the second Tuesday of the month… or that all roles must be in the budget that is signed off annually by those same people. However, if there is an exception mid-way through the year, then the MD must approve and…
The HOWWIP is about thinking through exceptions and issues. It is thinking through the sorts of things that will trip the design up. This doesn’t mean it has to be exhaustive. By its very nature, it just can’t be exhaustive. So really don’t try. Just try to be representative. What it gives is a set of case examples which should be helpful in sorting other issues as they inevitably arise. It is almost like a form of “Case Law”.
The HOWWIP question log
It is a good practice to list all HOWWIP questions in a “HOWWIP Question Log”. Every time some asks, “How will that work”, document it and see if you have the answers. These are the sorts of things that would often appear in a FAQ. They double as a test of the “implementability” of the design.
- Take one sub-process that involves interaction at many points within the business – e.g. recruitment, L&D or appraisals
- Think and talk through the process. Aim to understand it:
- Define where the process starts and finishes
- Identify the points where there are hand-offs
- Define in the Inputs; Activities; Outputs at each stage plus any decisions
- Test that the process will work and that it is clear:
- List a set of questions as to how the process will work
- Have a group stand-up in a small circle with each person in the circle “acting” one (or more if more roles than people in the circle, but always being clear what role you are “playing” at any time) of the roles. Start with the first step and then pass a “who’s got the monkey” juggling ball to the person who acts next.
- At each step, say: what it is you needed, what you will do and what the outcome will be.
What you need (Input)? What you will do (Activity)? What the outcome will be (Output)?
- Write up any orphans (activities or decisions that don’t have an owner), gaps, issues and questions on a flip charts/white board and then into Excel/OrgVue/Word/PPT…
- Review after the completion of an area to understand the amount of workload that was missing from the original description. Debate and resolve the issues
- Use the HOWWIP Question Log as the place to document the outcomes
The pros and cons of Level 2 design
Level 0 is a summary map; Level 1 is the processes depicted more as steps and then the activities; decision; deliverables as bullet point lists below each process (or sub process). The processes are hierarchical in nature… Level 2 is a swim lane with owners and icons representing various actions such as decision; activity; sub-process; output… (I will publish another blog in due course to explain the differences in more detail)
A “swim lane level 2 process map” is a form of a HOWWIP. It details how a process should work. My experience is that these have their time & place, but are not the full answer and should be started with caution. They can be confusing; they are idealistic; they can be hard to follow; they take lots of time to generate… So don’t try to define everything as a level 2 process map. Just do it where there are lots of hand-offs; when a fairly strict process should be followed; where there are loops and complexities… the key is to define them and then aim to improve them. Count the number of hand-offs and asks whether that is workable. The number of times that I have seen 15+ hand-offs within a single process (once the process has been documented) is pretty remarkable (in a bad way).
What about employee engagement? The politics? What’s in it for me?
In our approach, these crucial questions are dealt with as part of the Making it Real (MiR) stage in the process. They are all crucial questions and are major topics in their own right. HOWWIP is about how it will work pure and simple. During the design process, it can get all a little too theoretical. There are hundreds of really simple questions that need answering. Not all those questions can be answered during the design phase, but the HOWWIP aims to address the ‘nitty-gritty’ of how things will really work. That is it. Nothing more and nothing less.
Embrace the HOWWIP. Embrace making things real and thinking through how stuff will really work. My experience is, it is only at the HOWWIP stage that you know whether the design will really work. It is the place where you will get the “Oh sh*t” and “we really need to work that one out” moments as well as the “an-ha” and “yes, I can finally see how this is actually going to work”. It is where it all starts to become real. Enjoy those moments.
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