What’s a management plug-in?
In 1998 a university vice-chancellor told us how he saw our company: as a ‘management plug-in’ for work-shopping ideas, building the business case to pursue a new opportunity; and then helping execute the capture of the opportunity.
We learned a lot working with this client, and we’re still applying many of those lessons.
At one point we tried using the phrase ‘management plug-in’ to describe how WHH can create value for its clients. We found that we needed to explain the metaphor.
In software design a plug-in is a discrete piece of software that enables users to add new functions they require to a host software application. A plug-in strategy enables ‘lean’ design of the host application. The alternative strategy is to add many extended functions only a few users need – also known as ‘fat’ application design.
Few large organisations are designed to be fat. Some have got fat and aspire to be lean. Small agile businesses like WHH can be useful plug-ins for large lean organisations. A management plug-in can mesh with the host organisation’s internal processes to
- mobilise a response to an emerging opportunity or threat
- build and manage an external network that delivers a continuing, important, but non-core function
In either case, in-house and external personnel may work together in integrated project or program teams. Well-managed large, lean organisations don’t ‘throw problems over the fence’; they work closely with partner organisations.
Beyond delivering an output, management plug-ins can be configured to drive different organisational development outcomes. The arc of possibilities includes:
- skill and supply network transfers that enable in-house staff to manage new functions internally when an innovation beds in
- a flexible, cost-effective, externally-managed program that assures both performance and accountability for value-adding, non-core functions
- development of burden-sharing, cost-recovery and mutual accountability arrangements with allied organisations.