What watchmaking taught us about organizations – Part 2

Understanding “what time it is” within the organization.

Story category: Organization

Story tags: Organization, Creative thinking



A broken or warn out part of a watch can ruin the oh-so desired precision of the device, or even bring the entire mechanism to a hold. In organizations blockages are either created by physical limitations or by mental constraints. The physical limitations are often easy to spot; capacity sources are either up (functioning) or down (out of commission), and we can look at the utilization rate of a capacity source and see if the source is utilized above its capacity to spot possible bottlenecks. Mental limitations or constraints are often harder to spot as they are not always in the open. Proxies for mental constraints are found in documented policies and procedures, decisions, actions, and inactions. To limit blockages alignment is an important factor.


A watchmaker turns raw elements like steel and brass into precision time keeping devices. Craftsmanship is used to create a perfect fit between the parts that make up the time keeping device. Any unalignment and the watch will not function, or it will function, but without being precise. In organizations the same applies; organizations are made up out of parts that have to function together in order to produce output. Unalignment frustrates interaction, and it is through interaction that the output is produced. Frequently interaction is increased by having department managers compete with each other or have them set and optimize goals which they set from their own department perspective; intensified by KPI’s who drive and secure unalignment. 


A watch needs periodic maintenance to keep it running; periodic maintenance to keep it running precise and smooth, and repair which is done after a problem has occurred (an external shock has affected the watch, seawater has entered the movement, etc.). Organizational maintenance is needed to keep an organization running smoothly. This is needed because over time the organization changes, processes are adjusted (steps are modified, shortcuts are introduced, etc.), people come and go, the strategy to which the organization has been developed changes, and the environment to which the strategy was formed evolves. 

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