A flotilla of crafts

De Paul University had a problem – their IT department was not well respected and it was felt that they did not have a good understanding of the recently implemented ERP system. Their four divisions weren’t working together well and were often fighting amongst themselves rather that working to common aims.

The decision was taken to reorganise not just to deal with these problems but to look to reinvigorate the department, to improve employee commitment and productivity and to increase the number of projects the department could manage. The traditional models were considered but were rejected in favour of a “knowledge based” organisational design. This was based on two key concepts – crafts and projects. Crafts are discrete areas of expertise – I hope we all know what projects are! The heads the crafts units had responsibility for the vision of their area – to look where their technology is heading – and for the development of their team’s skills. This gave all heads of the craft sections some input to the planning process. The craft heads also had responsibility for ensuring the project work allocated to their unit was completed. There were fifteen craft units in total covering areas such as the call centre, web design, business continuity and portals. Projects and process management was also included as a discrete craft unit. It took time to define the skill sets included in each group and some switched crafts a number of times.

The units were overseen by five managing directors. Each director was allocated a number of craft for periods of six to eighteen months; at the end of their allotted time, individual craft were reallocated to another director. The effect of this was to keep all the directors fresh by giving them new challenges and new staff to work with. The directors acted as mentors for their craft leaders and were responsible for client management.

There was considerable investment in staff development and a third of the department went through leadership training. Lateral movement between units was encouraged; staff were allowed to have three month tasters working in other units to learn new skills. In addition, the department had a policy of “managed exits” where staff were given the skills that they would require for their target position. This helped buy loyalty from the staff and resulted in a more highly skilled workforce. Although there was no permanent hierarchy natural links between craft emerged through projects and operational processes. The new structure relied heavily on good communications. In addition to the links formed through processes, the craft leaders met weekly to discuss issues. The managing directors did likewise although their focus was more strategic.

The process was lengthy but resulted in an organisation where they had staff who were more passionate about their work, more skilled, were contributing to the planning process and as a consequence had bought into the department’s vision. As a result the department saved money as it needed less consultancy for its ERP work, project throughput increased whilst absorbing a 15% reduction in head count.

The approach would only work with large departments; De Paul’s IT department had a staff of 120. However, I felt the approach had much merit and certainly solved many of the problems associated with other organisational structures.


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One Response to “A flotilla of crafts”

  1. Graham Hill Says:

    Thank you for reminding me of the other blogs that have been happening around Educause. I found this one particularly interesting as we are having a discussion about “governance” today and this will be an interesting perspective.

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