Over the past couple of years, we noticed that the classic functional organizational design has many limitations for Awell:
It oversimplifies: there’s no notion of relationships, collaborations, and cross-functional interactions. All of these are key at Awell.
It’s rigid and inflexible: almost all initiatives at Awell require cross-functional teams that work together on a dedicated project for a defined period of time. These 'structures' can not be reflected in a functional organizational design. This hurts agility and adaptability, two traits that have proven crucial to the survival of Awell.
Silo mentality: functional organizations and their organigrams create “us vs. them” dynamics as staff defaults to focusing on specific roles and reporting lines.
Risk for loss of context and nuance: while we’re still small, there is good osmosis. But given we are a distributed team, as we will grow it will become a very hard challenge to make sure the right context is shared to the right functions in a functional organizational design.
Perception of hierarchy and status: we’re all in this together and prefer to work together, not for someone else. There hasn’t been a formal hierarchical organization at Awell and if we can keep it that way it’s our preference.
What are Value streams?
Value streams are teams of at least two people that aim to realize specific outcomes that are aligned to the overall company objectives. By default, Value streams are not functional but revolve around a customer segment / Job-To-Be-Done (JTBD) or a company-level challenge.
The existence of a Value stream is always time-bound, ideally 6-9 months. Setting targets and objectives allows ending a Value stream and spinning up another one with a new objective and the same team or freeing up the resources so they can transition into other Value streams.
There are two crucial aspects to this setup. Each Value stream is 1) expected to realize meaningful value and 2) is empowered to do so.
This means a Value stream has:
Ownership: this is bigger than just objectives. It sets the scope of each Value stream’s full responsibilities around how to get to the desired outcome with the resources that are available. It’s important that the boundaries of these responsibilities are clear for each Value stream and that there is minimal to no overlap with other Value streams.
Autonomy: a significant degree of freedom to solve problems and find the best solutions to deliver the intended value. Autonomy doesn’t mean there are no dependencies on others, nor is it a free for all. At the very least we strive to make dependencies explicit and clear and to formally decide whether to keep or remove them.
Alignment: when alignment is high, more things get done faster. Alignment needs to exist inside the Value stream but also with regard to the larger strategic context. It should be clear how a Value stream’s objectives contribute to the company’s objectives.
This also means that each Value stream has its own mission, subculture, and way of execution. Mission, objectives, and targets are set jointly with the Turtle Pond but culture and way of execution are expected to be formulated bottom-up.
High level, Turtle Pond has 3 jobs to be done: 1) define the company direction (incl. the Value streams), 2) create the best possible teams and 3) create the best possible environment.
Turtle Pond is responsible for setting long-term flags such as our https://awellhealth.atlassian.net/wiki/spaces/AH/pages/3499655169 and https://awellhealth.atlassian.net/wiki/spaces/AH/pages/3503783957, helping our teams translate these into a strategy, and defining Value streams to execute that strategy. As such, Turtle Pond is in service of all Value streams and provides guidance, help, and resources where needed, removing obstacles and bottlenecks, anticipating resource needs, reducing complexity and cognitive load, and providing services and products so that Value streams can easily be launched on top of it and focus on becoming successful.
There is a two-way interaction between Value Streams and Turtle Pond. A Value stream can reach out to Turtle Pond and request resources, advice, or help in decision-making. Turtle Pond is there to set ambitious goals, coach, guide Value streams, and allocate additional resources.
Why Turtle Pond? In a boring world, this would have been called “Platform” but Awell has a thing with Turtles, and the name Turtle Pond bubbled up as we were shaping this organizational structure.