I keep making notes for writing a series of essays about alignment, the management concept, and it's somewhere in between a blog post and a book, so maybe I'll make it a series of blog posts. This is the introduction.
Alignment is this kind of abstract thing that happens when you have more than one entity (a person, working group, or team) working on a project (building or doing something). Leaving aside, for a moment, "entity" and "project," when efforts well aligned in that all of the effort is in persuit of the same goal and collaborators do work in support of each other. When efforts are out of alignment, collaborators can easily undermine eachother or persue work that doesn't support the larger goal.
Being well aligned sounds pretty great, you may think, "why wouldn't you always just want to be aligned?" And I think deep down people want to be aligned, but it's not obvious: as organizations grow and the problems that the organizations address become bigger (and are thus broken down into smaller parts,) it's easy for part of a team to fall out of alignment with the larger team. It's also the case that two parts of an organization may have needs or concerns that appear to be at odds with each other which can cause them to fall out of alignment.
Consider building a piece of software, as I often do: you often have a group of people who are building features and fixing bugs (engineers), and another group of people who support and interact with the people who are using the software (e.g. support, sale, or product management depending). The former group wants to build the product and make sure that it works, and the later group wants to get (potential) users using the software. While their goals are aligned in the broad sense, in practice there is often tension either between engineers who want things to be correct and complete before shipping them and product people who want to ship sooner or conversely between engineers who want to ship software early and product people who want to make sure the product actually works before it sees use. In short, while the two teams might be aligned on the larger goal, these teams often struggle to find alignment on narrower issues. The tension between stability and velocity is perennial and teams must work together to find alignment on this (and other issues.)
While teams and collaborators want to be in alignment, there are lots of reasons why a collaborator might fall out of alignment. The first and most common reason is that managers/leaders forget to build alignment: collaborators don't know what the larger goals are or don't know how the larger goals connect to the work that they're doing (or should be doing!) If there's redundancy in the organization that isn't addressed', collaborators might end up compeating against eachother or defending their spheres or fifedomes. This is exacerbated if two collaborators or groups have overlapping areas of responsibility. Also, when the businesses falter and leaders don't have a plan, collaborators can fall out of alignment to protect their own projects and jobs. It's also the case that collaborators interests change over time, and they may find themselves aligned in general, but not to the part of the project that they're working on. When identified, particularly, early, there are positive solutions to all these problems.
Alignment, when you have it feels great: the friction of collaboration often falls away because you can work independently while trusting that your collaborators are working toward the same goal. Strong alignment promotes prioritization, so you can be confident that you're always working on the parts of the problem that are the most important.
Saying "we should strive to be aligned," is not enough of a solution, and this series of posts that I'm cooking up addresses different angles of alignment: how to build it, how to tell when you're missing alignment, what alignment looks like between different kinds of collaborators (individuals, teams, groups, companies,) and how alignment interacts with other areas and concepts in organizational infrastructure (responsibility, delegation, trust, planning.)