Culture, a barrier to Digital
McKinsey concludes: “Leaders hoping to strike the right balance have two critical priorities… One is to embed a mind-set of risk taking and innovation through all ranks of the enterprise. The …
As the situation in Syria goes from worse to worser, the word “deconfliction” has reappeared in the press. On Friday, following a chemical attack on the Syrian population apparently by the Syrian government, the USA bombed a Syrian government airbase.
“Russian forces were notified in advance of the strike using the established deconfliction line. US military planners took precautions to minimize risk to Russian or Syrian personnel located at the airfield,” said a Pentagon spokesperson.
A few hours later, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced it was suspending the deconfliction agreement, accusing the Americans of “a gross, obvious and unwarranted violation of international law”.
The normal purpose of deconfliction is to avoid so-called “friendly fire”. But in the case of the deconfliction line in Syria, a more practical objective would be to avoid minor incidents that might escalate into major war. (Anne McElvoy quotes a senior former British commander in Iraq talking about the jeopardy of the next crucial months in Syria: “powers tripping over each other – or America hitting the Russians by accident”.) We might fondly imagine that the Pentagon and the Russian Foreign Ministry still share this objective, and will continue to share a limited amount of tactical information for that purpose, despite public disavowals of coordination. Deconfliction as minimum viable coordination.
Much less serious, and therefore more entertaining, is the “friendly fire” that has meanwhile broken out within the White House. Gun metaphors abound (cross-hairs, opened fire). Successful businessmen understand the need to establish clear division of responsibilities and loose coupling between different executives – otherwise everyone needs to consider everything, and nothing gets done. But this is not a simple matter – excessive division of responsibilities results in organizational silos. Large organizations need just enough coordination – in other words, deconfliction. It is not yet clear whether President Trump understands this, or whether he thinks he can follow President Roosevelt’s approach to “creative tension”.
Bethan McKernan, Syria air strikes: US ‘warned Russia ahead of airbase missile bombardment’ (Independent, 7 April 2017 11:42)
May Bulman, US air strikes in Syria: Russia suspends agreement preventing direct conflict with American forces (Independent, 7 April 2017 15:39)
Matt Gertz, Breitbart takes on Jared Kushner: Steve Bannon is shielded as Trump’s son-in-law is in the crosshairs (Salon, 6 April 2017)
Matt Gertz, To Defend Bannon, Breitbart Has Opened Fire On The President’s Son-In-Law (Media Matters, 6 April 2017)
Anne McElvoy, Washington is confused by Trump’s act. What became of America First? (Guardian, 9 April 2017)
Reuters, Kushner and Bannon agree to ‘bury the hatchet’ after White House peace talks (Guardian, 9 April 2017)
- Jay Greene, Steven Sinofsky: Microsoft’s controversial Mr. Windows 8 (CNET 21 October 2012)
- Jim Kerstetter, A tale of two execs: Microsoft’s Sinofsky and Apple’s Forstall (CNET 3 November 2012)
- Jay Greene, Shocked by exit of Microsoft’s Sinofsky? You shouldn’t be (CNET 12 November 2012)
Some pundits (e.g. ZDnet’s Larry Dignan) had predicted that Sinofsfy would survive if Windows 8 was a
commercial success. By letting him go immediately after Windows 8 went live rather than waiting,
Ballmer has clearly signalled that it is not about Windows 8 success but
about something else.
In pieces written in the weeks before Sinofsky’s departure, Greene and Kerstetter mention the following issues.
- Sinofsky successfully battled with Ray Ozzie for control of Windows Live Mesh. Ray Ozzie left Microsoft immediately after Ballmer folded Windows Live Mesh into Sinofsky’s organization.
- According to unnamed critics within Microsoft, Sinofsky created a rigid product development process that puts more control in
his hands and diminishes Microsoft’s ability to innovate.
- In a similar fashion to Scott Forstall at Apple (who also lost his job recently), Sinofsky zealously promoted his group’s work at the expense of the rest of the company.
- Manu Cornet’s cartoon of Microsoft’s organization chart is thought to be a reference to Sinofsky.
|Original cartoon by Manu Cornet|
But this story isn’t just about personality clashes and organizational politics. Sinofsky has championed an approach to organization structure, which he calls Functional Organization, and this is described in a book called “One Strategy: Organization, Planning, and Decision Making,” (2009) co-written with Harvard Business School professor Marco Iansiti.
The Functional Organization builds management reporting lines around job functions — such as
product management, development, software testing. This may be contrasted with a Product Organization where multi-disciplinary teams work on specific
feature sets together.
Sinofsky and Iansiti argue that functional
organizations create clearer road maps for workers to march toward a
final goal. However, critics within Microsoft disagree. Apparently referring to Sinofsky’s Functional Organization, Charlie Kindel, another ex-Microsoft executive is quoted as saying that “it represents a siloed perspective, it represents an us versus them perspective”. Another former senior executive (unnamed) has referred to the approach as “Soviet central-planning”, where tight control from the top squeezes out innovative thinking from below.
Announcing Sinofsky’s departure, and the appointment of Julie Larson-Green as his successor, Steve Ballmer wrote “The products and services we have
delivered to the market in
the past few months mark the launch of a new era at Microsoft. To
continue this success it is imperative that we continue
to drive alignment across all Microsoft teams, and have more integrated
and rapid development cycles for our offerings. … Her unique product and innovation perspective and proven ability to
effectively collaborate and drive a cross company agenda will serve us
well as she takes on this new leadership role”.
So is this the end of the Functional Organization in Microsoft? Martin Fowler talks about the oscillation between FunctionalStaffOrganization and
TechnicalStaffOrganization, essentially the same dynamics (he reckons) as drive the
boom-bust cycle of EnterpriseArchitecture. (PreferFunctionalStaffOrganization). So perhaps now the cross-company silo-busting agenda will have the ascendency for a little while.