star framework drawingIn our last post we described how the star framework is used in a graduate organizational analysis and design course. Again, Shandon Fernandes, a prior student, joins me to show how the framework is used in practice.

Star Framework Basics

  • People – Psych 101 material. How do people behave? (Whether or not they are in an organizational setting.) People generally like rewards and don’t like punishments. Different generations may have different preferences.
  • Process – This dimension allows for an evaluation of organizational policies. Hiring, performance, pay, training, any policy or procedure, big or small.
  • Technology – Technology forms a crucial and inevitable part of the star framework. Technology has not only transformed the nature of work, but offers organizations an effective tool to evaluate and transform operations. Technology ranges from the kind of office furniture you have, to electronic communication, to robots and artificial intelligence.
  • Structure – Structure lays out the location of decision-making and authority. This is where team-based strategies and org charts are considered.
  • Context -- Context is the linking point to many other MBA courses. Is this an international business or a local one? Is the market trending up or down?

Shandon's Example

I recently paid a visit to a large Federal government organization, herein referred to as FGO, for a routine task. On the surface of it, the staff were very customer focused, very helpful, pleasant, and made us feel welcome. That said, I was there long enough to see some STAR dynamics play out in ways that suggest opportunities for improvement. It’s hard to know the specific strategic goals the organization has, but customer service, efficiency, and effectiveness are likely candidates.
As is very usual with these type of organizations, large lines are typical. Security is always a priority (context) and people are carefully checked. The security officers are the first point of contact (process). The FGO has one line given their single security scanning device (technology). When people with appointments show up they are allowed to cut in front of the others (process). This had significant impact on my satisfaction as six time people moved into the line ahead of me. I recalled the better flow at the California Department of Motor Vehicles where appointments have a separate line (context - customers’ expectations given their past experiences). 
But to continue with the specific case. An elderly woman was in line with her walker (people and technology dimensions linked). She had to empty her walker’s basket of about 20 different recyclable bags as each needed to be scanned separately (technology). In addition, she required a special escort (process) up to the relevant floor as she had no identification, which she said she had forgotten (people). When finally reached the service counter, she was told that no service could be provided given she didn’t have her identification (process).

Crafting a Solution

Terri adds: A Fishbone Analysis could be helpful at this point, but for a light-weight analysis, I  generally just ask participants for the biggest or fastest lever -- where is there the most or quickest opportunity to make a pilot improvement? For long range planning, we would try several different lead levers. We could also do the analysis from the perspective of a variety of different stakeholders.
Back to Shandon: The woman could have been turned away before getting in the line for security screening. This would have saved her time, the time of the other people in line, and the time taken at each of the different steps. Ideally, there would be a way to signal that she needed her identification before she left home, but that is a longer discussion.
Through its design, the star framework reminds us to “never change just one thing.” A process change where security officers would check for identification before asking a customer to join the line would require increased customer engagement from the security officers. Since security officers are from a private security firm (structure), we would need to assess the legal ramifications (context) of them turning away a customer who requires service from the FGO. Given the increased customer service interaction, we would also need to see about additional selection or training requirements for the security officers (process). There could also be context issues if the security officers are unionized.  We might need to move the security station and change signage (technology).

Tools in Your Kit

Terri: For many of us, a visual representation of the options is a help. Using a template like the one shown here, we can keep track of the main change (when identification is checked in this example) and the supporting adjustments. The 0 to 10 rating is a simple signal of the power or severity of the issue. Higher scoring items might receive the greatest attention as the change is considered.

The template might also trigger ideas around possible tradeoffs. (For example, the possibility of hiring a valet to check identification and help people manage the overall visit - perhaps a smaller hit to the budget if the task is moved to the security officers.)

To take the next step, I suggest thinking of the change process as a negotiation with all the related stakeholder analysis, issue identification, and creativity around finding valuable solutions. I cover the approach in Chapter 4 of my book, The Plugged-In Manager: Get in Tune with Your People, Technology, and Organization to Thrive. You can also see a short discussion of negotiated change in this post from a while back.

End of Part Two, But The Start of A Discussion...

Tackle your next organizational decision using the star framework. Where did come up against uncertainty? Were you able to see how the different dimensions could be thought of as the issues of a negotiation -- even if you were negotiating with yourself?


In Part One, Terri and MBA student Shandon Fernandes describe the basic structures of the STAR model and its foundations in Jay Galbraith’s work (Galbraith Star Model), Nadler and Tushman’s “Mapping organizational Terrain” and the “open systems model.”

Shandon Fernandes is pursuing an MBA at Santa Clara University and is specializing in Leading Innovative Organizations. A Political Science graduate, Shandon has always had an interest in the structure and functioning of government organizations. She has previously served as a Research Officer for a Diplomatic Mission in Mumbai.