White space (management)

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White space is a process management concept described by Geary A. Rummler and Alan P. Brache in 1991 as the area between the boxes in an organizational chart—where, very often, no one is in charge. It is where important handoffs between functions happen and it is where an organization has the greatest potential for improvement as things often "fall between the cracks" or "disappear into black holes", resulting in misunderstandings and delays. Managing white space entails improving an organization's process performance.

In a March 2001 Harvard Business Review article, Maletz and Nohria describes "white space" as an area within a company where the existing corporate culture does not apply, somewhat like a skunk works. They wrote, "white space exists in all companies...where rules are vague, authority is fuzzy, budgets are nonexistent, and strategy is unclear". If white space is undefined, then the rest of the corporation operates in what they call "black space". The study completed by the authors analyzed entrepreneurial activity in the white space area of corporations. The four key challenges to successful white space management requires establishing legitimacy, mobilizing resources, building momentum, and measuring results.

Noted business consultant and columnist for Forbes and CIO magazine Adam Hartung describes “white space” in his 2008 book, Create Marketplace Disruption: How to Stay Ahead of the Competition as a place that "provides a location for new thinking, testing and learning". He cites examples of companies that used the white space to evolve new formula for business success free from the existing "defend and extend" culture.

In the 2010 book, Seizing the White Space, Mark Johnson makes the case for businesses becoming adept at creating new business models, emphasizing the four-box business model. New product offerings can be "adjacencies", which are extensions of the current customer and product set, or they can be targeted at new customers which is a white space. Johnson also suggests two additional "white spaces" for a total of three—white space within (the business), a white space between (business units), and white space beyond (existing customers and products).


  • Rummler, Geary A.; Alan P. Brache (1995). Improving Performance: How to Manage the White Space in the Organization Chart. Jossey Bass Business and Management Series. Jossey-Bass. ISBN 978-0-7879-0090-8. 
  • Maletz, Mark C.; Nitin Nohria (2001). "Managing White Space". Harvard Business Review. 
  • Czerniawska, Fiona (2002). Value Based Consulting. Palgrave, Macmillan. ISBN 0-333-97113-2. 
  • Czerniawska, Fiona (2002). Management Consultancy: What next?. Palgrave, Macmillan. ISBN 0-333-97112-4. 
  • Hartung, Adam (2008). Create Marketplace Disruption: How to Stay Ahead of the Competition. Financial Times Press. ISBN 0-13-234391-6. 
  • Johnson, Mark (2010). Seizing the White Space: Business Model Innovation for Growth and Renewal. Harvard Business Press. ISBN 1-4221-2481-9. 

External links[edit]

  • [1] HBR 2001 Article on White Space
  • [2] Hartung's website on Phoenix Principle
  • [3] White Space web service for consultants