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InfoQ Homepage News How Norway's Largest Bureaucracy Optimises for Fast Flow

How Norway's Largest Bureaucracy Optimises for Fast Flow

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To optimise for fast flow, the Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration has adopted a teams-first approach. High-performing teams need autonomy, and they also require direction and alignment. Solutions should be adopted by the teams within their context, abilities, and cognitive capacity.

Audun Fauchald Strand and Truls Jørgensen from the Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration (NAV) presented how they optimise for fast flow within a bureaucracy at QCon London 2022 and QCon Plus May 2022.

If you want to optimise for flow, you have to leave behind the idea that IT is a support function. Strand and Jørgensen mentioned that NAV decided to change their organisation from function into cross-functional teams to pave the road for flow improvement.

High-performance cross-functional teams demand autonomy. Strand and Jørgensen gave an example of an interdisciplinary team that has all competencies to deliver. The focus of the "sickness benefits" team is on establishing a sustainable system that’s adaptive to change, with efficient case handling, a more user-friendly service, and better compliance. All of these four perspectives are needed to be successful, they mentioned.

Strand and Jørgensen quoted Alberto Brandolini:

Software development is a learning process, working code is a side effect.

Teams are the most important part of the organisation and - because of Conway’s Law - also form the architecture, argued Strand and Jørgensen. They need to be cross-functional to unearth organisational knowledge. The surrounding organisation needs to support cross-functional teams. The hierarchy at NAV makes this difficult; it’s a bureaucracy that surrounds those teams, Strand and Jørgensen explained.

Alignment can enable autonomy, but you need a clear understanding of problems to solve. Strand and Jørgensen gave an example of using a wiki at NAV. Putting the principles on the wiki isn’t enough to increase the flow; people won’t automatically follow them. Instead, they proposed to visit each team and, with respect for their autonomy, make the team want to do it and provide helpful guidance. Teams will need specific solutions that are adapted to their context and abilities, which don’t exceed their cognitive capacity.

NAV uses a tech radar for teams to share what they use and what they have learned. Everything is allowed as long as it’s broadcasted to the whole company, we want transparency and openness, Strand and Jørgensen mentioned. The radar shows the tech landscape and creates alignment.

The team’s ability to change varies from team to team, as NAV is heterogeneous. It depends not only on the level of internal technical ownership, but also on how adaptive their software systems are to change, said Strand and Jørgensen. All teams have different starting and endpoints, and they encourage every team to move, they mentioned. They do this by spending time with each team to see what they can do, and guide them.

Strand and Jørgensen focus on four topics for technical direction when working with teams:

  • Data-driven
  • Techniques
  • Culture
  • Sociotechnical

In their discussions, they focus on the why. They maintain short feedback loops with all teams to hear about what works and what doesn’t. When they see pain points, they can look for other teams who have dealt with those to find solutions. Strand and Jørgensen mentioned that common pain points are also brought up to platform teams that look for solutions to make it easy for everyone to do the right thing.

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