Parallel vs Linear Handling

Or, Reaction Speed

Parallel versus linear handling describes the speed in how nonprofits process new ideas, information, problems, and opportunities.


Today's marketplaces are coercing nonprofits, NGOs and charities to speed up the way they process everything happening around them. Most strategic challenges must involve all departments to cross silos, meet, and design the way forward. Read the Skylance entry on Systems Thinking and Outcomes Awareness.

What we also know is that many strategic issues are not isolated issues that just one or two people know the answer to: They're multi-faceted and stemming across all parts of the organization.

In the past, it was fine for organizations to pass off ideas and suggestions from one person to another until there was consenus to meet. This is linear handling.

Linear handling assumes that it can only tackle one issue at a time and data flows from one silo to another until an actual meeting takes place, usually within months.

Parallel handling assumes multiple challenges are occuring and are actually moving targets. Relevant parties must meet to capture data, insights and create opportunities to move forward.

The major driving justification for moving nonprofits into a parallel handling operation is this: It's impossible to have enough or complete information to make perfect decisions in a world of rapid flux.

Linear Processing

Makes these assumptions:

  • The world is static; doesn't change that much
  • Only one issue or challenge can be handled once
  • Ideas, data, and information travels in a single pipeline throughout the entire organization.

Parallel Processing

Makes these assumptions:

  • Observes challenges as moving targets and part of a rapidly shifting ecosystem
  • Complete information doesn't exist
  • Relevant parties must convene ASAP to capture new data, insights, and facts so that new opportunities can be created.

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