Span of Influence

October 13, 2010 § Leave a comment

Deming said this about problems and blame

“Most of the problems we encounter (perhaps 90%) are the result of multiple influences, they generally cannot be attributed to a single cause. Assigning blame for a problem to the last person involved is worse than counterproductive, it will probably make the bad situation worse.”

Sadly though most organizations don’t get this. Most organizations use the cover of Accountability to assign Blame when things go wrong. Imagine what this does to a team when they are supposed to collaborate to solve a problem. Paralysis of mind and action occurs because no one likes to be blamed for things going wrong. And worst still it creates silos within the organization. Silos that cause departments to say: The development team is responsible for Technical Success and The product managers are responsible for business success. Organizations forget that there is no such thing as “Technical Success” (Kent Beck, 2004).

The situation is exasperated by Management types that insist on focusing on short term goals and bottom line. This inevitably leads to individuals trying to control every aspect of team and organizational workings. Instead of letting go of control, they become control freaks. The difference is in the two philosophies Span of Control and Span of Influence (Mary Poppendieck):

Span of Control

Hold people accountable for what they can control

Measure at the individual level fosters competition


Span of Influence

Hold people accountable for what they can influence

Measure at the team level Fosters collaboration

You always want to see things from a point of “Span of Influence” if you ever want to achieve high performance and break down silos within your organization.


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