The Myths with Alignment

At the moment there is lot of talk within in our great company of the need to align ways of working and tools across the organization.  Alignment is the new black, always political correct to argue. I think it comes from the desire to become a great systems thinking company that makes us scream for alignment. But is alignment a step in right direction? How is alignment really used?

It’s time to look closer at alignments, here are what I like to call “The Alignment Myths”

The Alignment Myths
    • Alignment Translates to “same way”
    • Alignment of Processes Save Costs
    • Alignment Makes Organizational Hand-overs More Efficient
    • Alignment of Tools Saves Costs
    • Alignment Gives Flexibility
    • Alignment Makes All to Work in the Best Way
    • Alignment Makes Control and Decision Easier

Myth: Alignment Means “same way”
Not that much a myth as it is an interpretation issue. Alignment wouldn’t be bad if it meant “make things work together”. Quite common though, is the interpretation that aligning ways of working means working in the same way, not working in different ways and align those. Alignment of tools interprets as using less number of tools, not that many tools shall work smoothly with each other.

Those myths exists mainly because the interpretation Alignment = “decide on ONE process and ONE tool”.

Myth: Alignment of Processes and Way of Working (WoW) Saves Costs
It might, but the real question should be “Does alignment create value?”

What we are learning (slowly) from the lean industry is that optimizing on value and performance (speed, throughput) have a greater meaning than optimizing on costs. At least both cost and value must be taken into account.

To illustrate:

The simple Alignment Justification Formula 

Product A is best developed with method X and creates value as AX
Product B is best developed with method Y and creates value as BY 
Coordination cost of this two different methods is Z 

Letting Product A be developed with method Y (AY) gives 
less value than AX (similar for product B) 

The calculation needed to justify an alignment:      
          AX+BY-Z < AY+BY (or AX+BX)

In words; If the coordination cost is less than the in-efficiency for using a non-tailor made process – Don’t align!

Too often this calculation is ignored and it is assumed that if Z is minimized it is beneficial.

Myth: Alignment Makes Organizational Hand-overs More Efficient
This is partly right, the hand-over may be more efficient but will we create more value? What makes this a myth is the assumption that an efficient hand-over will lead to an efficient development. This is often argued when several flows goes across two (or more) organizations. If everything coming into an organization does that in a similar way it will be more efficient to handle.

The receiving organization (Org.2) sees a great benefit if all flows in the previous step is looking the same as it will be easier to understand and structure the own work. That is correct, it will be easier for the organization, but as the structure above is according to the resource view, it will be an optimization on resources over value creation. In worst case all products may suffer but management of Org2 will sense a gain of efficiency.  Again, check the alignment justification formula!

Myth: Alignment of Tools Saves Costs
If we all can use just one tool we just have to buy one license. Here again we are looking at costs without reflecting on the value a tool is creating. Everybody understands that it’s probably substantial more than one tool required so usually the aim is to reduce number of tools. Let’s look at it from another angle: If it still is a lot of manual work in daily operations then we probably have too few tools. Why not aim to add some?

Myth: Alignment Gives Flexibility
If all teams are working in the same way with the same tools it will be easy to move people around.
Well, if we move people between teams, what will the real issue with performance be? Most likely will the impact from establishment two new teams (“moving from team” and “moving to team”)  overrule the impact from having different tools and methods. If you are a professional in what you are doing you will adapt to processes and tools faster than adapting to your new teams culture and personality. In practice you don’t have more flexibility as it isn’t the bottleneck – team and people are.

Further more is alignment preventing flexibility for making adaptations in processes and ways of working as they need to be hand shaken with several practitioners, often with another view on good adaptation. This myth is not just false it is even exactly the other way around – Alignment prevents flexibility

Myth: Alignment Makes All to Work in the Best Way
This assumes there is one best way of doing things. Most likely what’s best for one situation or product is not necessary best for another. A best way is that it is not necessary a good way, it’s just best.
If we believe in the lean way of improving, there is always a better way and the crucial thing is to have the system for systematic improvements (Kaizen) in place to iterate into a good way.
It is a high risk that the iterations will take longer time when all adaptations and changes must be aligned with all operations – Alignment may slows down continuous improvements

Myth: Alignment makes control and decision easier
A reason mentioned is that steering boards and control function must understand and be able to compare the different operations within the company. As alignment implicates that instead of working in exactly the way a certain work stream requires, it is working according to a trade-off suitable for several work streams. To make it easy and smooth for the management of the work streams but more complicated and inefficient for the people in the work stream. This is optimizing on the support function instead of the value added main flow.

Is it more important that daily life is easy for management or easy for the people working in the value creating flows?

Alignment of values and principles
Well, that’s the alignment that probably makes sense!


  • Alignment in the meaning of making all different ways of working and tools to work together is good
  • Alignment in the meaning of working in the same way, using the same tools is madness
  • Consider value creation, not only cost savings to avoid complete madness. (simple alignment formula)

Picture by tamara

About Johan (Welund) Westerlund

Coach, Mentor and Trainer of Teams, Leaders and Organizations in Lean/Agile Values, Principles, Methods and Tools. Founder of Uniqa Team AB
This entry was posted in Agile Thinking, Change, Coaching, Framework, Leadership, Lean, Myths, Organizaition, Processes, Transformation, Way if Working and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The Myths with Alignment

  1. Nice : )
    As a Software Craftsman I approve of this message. Many people live with the delusion that you should force developers to use the same Editor to write code – a prime example of misinformation. Now – some people might react and believe that I will not test different alternatives and give them a chance. Which I of course do. Let the competent developers chose their own tools and master them! Who tells the master carpenters which Hammers they shall use?

    • Johan (Welund) Westerlund says:

      Much so, tools for the ones producing real value seems like a bad idea to align. We can invest around 1.3 MSEK per developer per year and try to save a few kSek by forcing tools that not match the individuals preferences. What happens to value creation?

  2. andreas says:

    Interesting area Johan. We should discuss this at next opportunity since I think some of it could evolv to something more and could maybe be expressed in less Words.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s