Re: Summarizing LO1303

john mills (
Fri, 19 May 1995 13:14:35 +0000

Replying to LO1231 --

I thought it might be useful to describe an example of summarizing common
to any reasonable size organization.

We observe, as have many others, that an organization's strategy is
usually a summary of what the organization is trying to achieve
(objectives) and how, in general terms, it may achieve those objectives.
In many organizations, however, a strategy is not explicit. When it is
explicit it is generally held on 1 to 3 slides in big letters and it may
be broken down into short term,long term, visions, missions... It's a
summary and it's for a particular audience.

We've tried to demonstrate that this is not altogether a useful way of
either describing or communicating a strategy. We do this by charting over
time the events that senior (usually) members of the organization consider
important. The events get categorised by actions in different decision
areas (Human resource development, organization structure, quality
policies, new product introduction...). This categorisation may be one
'transform' of the data, as Jim put it. Another is the visual method used
to display these events so that patterns can be seen over time and events
that were concerned with thinking about or formulating strategy (eg a
project to investigate x) are separated from events concerned with
implementing a change (eg training courses given to y on z). It is the
latter that are or will become the implemented strategy.

Whenever we try to summarize the chart produced we can't ( same problem as
Jim - what to leave out); we and our collaborators give up - the strategy
is the pattern from the past combined with what is planned to be changed,
added or deleted in the future. The chart may show events promoted by
senior members, events created by an unusual sales order that leads the
organization in a new direction, events created by a chance encounter at a
conference, events begun by a not so senior member's good idea and then
promoted widely in the organization by senior members. All in all it shows
strands of strategy evolving and interacting over time - it is a 'complex'
picture. Yet looked at over time strategy is in some ways more
understandable, more accessible and more real than those 1 to 3 slides
which left out the past actions and the constraints that those actions

In practice, after such a chart is completed presentational / political
factors can begin to intrude - should we display this widely? Perhaps we
should delete those events? Isn't this too complicated? How can we
summarize? For some it's back to the slides but some do display the chart
and continue to update it.

So: 'Complex' situations in organizations will have developed over time
(where else ?) - they emerged and likely interacted or interact with
elements of their contexts both internal and external. Maybe members of
organizations (doesn't have to be senior members) need to put themselves
in a position to notice patterns / repeated symbols, events, tokens and so
on. It seems to me they might do that by keeping a regular handle on their
evolving history and then reflecting and learning from it.

And maybe summarizing doesn't simplify, though it may mystify

(Acknowledgements due to Mintzberg among others)

Jim Michmerhuizen wrote
[...snipped by your host...]
>Suppose we say: we're trying to shorten the distance between the information
>and the action. Like a sort of tribe: the one who notices, responds. (As
>opposed to the one who notices calls the boss over, who runs to the office
>to fill out a funny-stuff report, so that ... well you know the story.) And
>suppose we succeed. If we succeed, we notice right away that people don't
>have to spend as much time making reports or reading them any more. Somehow
>the information flow is altered; seems like there's a lot less need for all
>those elaborate presentations that we used to have...

John Mills,                             
Dept of Engineering                               TEL 01223 338075

University of Cambridge, FAX 01223 338076 Mill Lane, Cambridge CB2 1RX England -