How Norway’s Biggest Bureaucracy Optimizes for Fast Flow

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To optimize a fast flow, the Norwegian Labor and Welfare Administration has adopted a team-based approach. Successful teams need autonomy, and they also need direction and alignment. The solutions must be adopted by the teams according to their context, their capacities and their cognitive capacity.

Audun Fauchald Strand and Truls Jørgensen from the Norwegian Administration of Labor and Welfare (NAV) presented how they optimize for fast flow through a bureaucracy to QCon London 2022 and QCon Plus May 2022.

If you want to optimize flows, you have to let go of the idea that IT is a support function. Strand and Jørgensen mentioned that NAV decided to change its function organization to cross-functional teams to pave the way for improved flows.

Successful cross-functional teams require autonomy. Strand and Jørgensen gave the example of an interdisciplinary team that has all the skills to provide. The Sick Pay team is focused on building a sustainable system that adapts to change, with efficient case management, friendlier service and better compliance. These four perspectives are necessary for success, 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 organization and – due to Conway’s law – also form the architecture, Strand and Jørgensen explained. They must be cross-functional to uncover organizational knowledge. The surrounding organization must support cross-functional teams. The hierarchy at NAV makes this difficult; it’s a bureaucracy that surrounds these teams, Strand and Jørgensen explained.

Alignment can enable autonomy, but you need a clear understanding of the issues to be addressed. Strand and Jørgensen gave an example of using a wiki at NAV. Putting the principles on the wiki is not enough to increase the flow; people will not automatically follow them. Instead, they offered to visit each team and, respecting their autonomy, inspire the team to do so and provide helpful advice. Teams will need specific solutions tailored to their context and capabilities, which do not exceed their cognitive abilities.

NAV uses radar technology for teams to share what they are using and what they have learned. Anything goes as long as it’s broadcast to the whole company, we want transparency and openness, mentioned Strand and Jørgensen. The radar shows the technological landscape and creates an alignment.

The ability to evolve the team varies from one team to another, the NAV being heterogeneous. This depends not only on the level of internal technical ownership, but also on the adaptability of their software systems to change, Strand and Jørgensen said. All teams have different starting and finishing points, and they encourage each team to move, they mentioned. To do this, they spend 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
  • Socio-technical

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

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