About Productivity, Social Networks and everything else I'm interested in

strategy and organizational design


My recent piece, “Strategy IS Execution,” prompted quite a few reactions.  In it, I wrote about how it no longer makes sense to separate the value of strategy from the value of execution because execution is actually becoming strategy.  I’ve learned a lot from the ensuing comments and conversations. 

Perhaps the most enlightening was a discussion I had with Michael Lurie, Founder and CEO of Blue Mine Group, a consulting firm that helps design agile companies that leverage the economic power of specialization, innovation and collaboration to create sustainable value for all stakeholders.

As Michael took me through the approach he’s developed (based on his career which includes working for McKinsey, starting three companies, and consulting with over 150 companies in many different industries), I came to realize that there is an important distinction between strategy as manifested in traditional strategic planning and strategy as organizational design.

Plotting out annual strategies to increase market share or planning a multi-year product pipeline are activities which seem dated and fruitless, given the increasing rate of change and degree of disruption in today’s marketplace.  But, designing a business model and organization structure remain important tasks.

In some ways it’s like the difference between the way military wars used to be fought and the nimbleness and flexibility that’s required in modern warfare.   Instead of continuing to plot elaborate battle plans and sequential campaigns, the military must now ensure it’s got the right capabilities and the right tools to fight the unforeseeable moves of independent terrorist cells and forces under leaders of unstable governments.

So, strategy is less about plans and more about design.  As Michael put it to me, “Strategy is a design discipline.”

What follows are more thoughts Michael shared with me via email.  Of note, he points out that my original piece seemed to diminish the role of thinking vs. doing.  While that was not my intent, I recognize that my encouragement to move away from the traditional practice of strategy overlooked the importance of getting – and keeping — the right building blocks in place.  Michael’s comments are a long read but they’ve been helpful to me, so I thought I’d share them with you (emphases are mine).

I think the idea of design is of foundational importance, so I think the alternative to planning is more than just decision-making. Like any designer, company designers should have a vision of what they are trying to create, and be constantly experimenting to design and build a(n economic) system that brings that vision to life. Along the way, they’re making lots of decisions, but that’s not the emphasis. Much of the strategy literature (and many companies) get caught up in “making strategic decisions”, by which they normally mean spending large sums of money to do something that may be quite risky and will be difficult to undo. That is an industrial economy mindset that can pay off through luck today, but normally ends in grief. So I prefer to think of design, not just decision-making, as the approach to “strategy” companies need today.

There is a distinct difference between designing and implementing (in fact between designing, building and operating) the system. To that end, saying that strategy is execution may cause the “don’t think, just do it” crowd to believe their approach is the right one. In my view, both thinking and doing are needed, but they are distinct, though they may be experienced simultaneously. Some of [Daniel] Kahneman‘s work (e.g. Thinking, Fast and Slow) is relevant here – i.e. thinking that happens while we’re executing (in the heat of action) is different from the kind of thinking we do in thoughtful after action reviews. Both are important, and need to happen in parallel – that’s actually what experimentation is all about. I believe great designers both think deeply and execute brilliantly every day – but almost certainly doing one or the other, not both, at any point in time in the day.

Most executives in my experience would like and applaud your emphasis on assembling the right team and then focusing on execution, decision-making, discipline, action and results. All of that is critically important to bring designs to life, and suits the traditional “macho” approach that underlies much of traditional management. However I have worked with many star-studded teams doing all of these things who were brilliantly executing a flawed design. The result always will be failure.

I think we’re saying the same thing (you need to do both), but to me your article comes across as strongly favoring execution.  While most executives are aware that much of planning is a waste of time as you describe, I think they need to understand that the alternative is not just to execute as best you can on the path you happen to be on. It’s to go forth as a great designer, develop a compelling vision of how things could be, and then rapidly, iteratively and experimentally, but with great creative intent, evolve a living system that brings that vision into reality. To me, this is central to the uniqueness of being human.

One final thought – the quality of the design – the extent to which it creates value for all stakeholders and makes it easy for them to realize that value – has a huge impact on the quality of the execution. Much of the reason things don’t get executed is not because there wasn’t sufficient discipline, action etc.   It’s because of systemic barriers, mainly things like people feeling threatened, not valued, not adequately compensated, etc. In other words – it’s a design problem, not an execution problem. In my experience, many executives struggle to distinguish between these. At a current client, the executives are always complaining about how difficult it is to get the delivery function to execute despite clear goals, action plans, etc. – while continuing to provide inadequate tools and misaligned compensation to the folks in delivery.

It will be simple to solve the problem, but it requires a fundamental shift in their mental models. The reason the executives at this company aren’t willing to invest more in delivery is because of a couple of common problems (a) memory of doing so in the past when it came back to hurt them (what actually happened was they tried to invest in a flawed design) and (b) a conscious or subconscious zero sum, win-lose mentality. They need to learn through low risk, low cost experimentation – tangible, demonstrated experience – that if they pay people differently and give them better tools, execution will get better, and everyone will be better off. By doing so, and with the right coaching, the executives will come to recognize that their own mental models have been hampering their progress, and that by designing the system correctly (to avoid the mistakes of the past and reward all stakeholders) they will unleash a virtuous cycle that will enable execution to keep getting better and better, continually improving customer satisfaction, employee engagement and return to shareholders.


via denise lee yohn: brand as business bites™ http://deniseleeyohn.com/bites/2012/09/13/strategy-and-organizational-design/

Morning Advantage: The People-Profit Connection


If it’s good to treat CEOs as if they were owners, would it be even better to treat everyone that way? To begin answering that question, a trio of British researchers reporting in the European Business Review, compared the performance of 48 British employee-owned firms to 178 comparable traditionally structured businesses in good times (2004-2007) and (very) bad (2008-2009).

Traditional firms had the edge in the boom times, racking up average annual revenue increases of 12% compared with employee-owned firms’ 10%. But when the downturn hit, the bottom dropped out at the traditional firms, as revenue increases plummeted to 0.6%. Not so at the employee-owned firms, where average gains actually notched up, to 11%. Why? Even though profit per employee remained the same at both kinds of organizations (despite higher pay at the employee-owned firms), traditional firms shed workers (and apparently revenue with them) in the recession, while the employee owners hired more people, scooping up some of that profitable laid-off talent.


Growing Economies the Old-Fashioned Way (The Independent)

You might not know it to read most headlines, but Africa has been the world’s second fastest-growing region for 10 years now. Most of that growth is coming not from resource exploitation but in the same way it does in the U.S. and Europe — from domestic consumption. More than 90 million Africans now earn enough to spend half their income on something other than shelter and food, and McKinsey expects that figure to reach 128 million by 2020. Leading the way are South Africa, Mali, Lesotho, and perhaps surprisingly, Morocco and Egypt, which are both on track to create more new jobs than new entrants into the workforce.


The Wide World of Employee Benefits (Mercer)

Mercer’s new worldwide benefits report raises a harrowing specter for multinationals looking to keep up with the latest trends in non-cash compensation. In France, for instance, employees who’ve worked just 24 months can take 12 months off to start their own businesses. In Nigeria, companies provide home electricity generators, picking up the tab for maintenance. Workers in England get “Botox leave” — paid time off for cosmetic surgery — and Australians are commonly granted “eternity leave” — 13 weeks off after 15 years’ service, with another month off for every five years more worked thereafter.


Innovation and Its Discontents

Do You Need To Be a Jerk To Be a Successful Entrepreneur? (Tech Crunch)
The Difference Between Apple and Amazon in One Chart (ReadWriteWeb)
Five Ways To Break Through Innovation Bottlenecks (Strategy & Innovation)

via HBR.org http://blogs.hbr.org/morning-advantage/2012/09/morning-advantage-the-people-p.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+harvardbusiness+%28HBR.org%29

How DevOps Affects Enterprise Roles with ‘Who Moved My Cheese?’


DevOps is a savior for the entire IT industry as it is not only significant for the enterprise, but for their consumers as well. It helps deliver fast, while keeping the teams together and agile. But what else it can do? Can it transform the organizational culture? Can it help teams adapt to change? Yes!

Relating it to the successful book “Who Moved My Cheese?”, DevOps greatly affects enterprise roles by not only ensuring quality, but also increases enhances an organization’s ability to be lean and build agile infrastructure. Before DevOps was introduced, developers relied on old technologies, manual techniques with no management changes that gave them happiness – considered Cheese here. But as soon as the DevOps practices were adopted, the Cheese was moved, leading to redefined and remodeled enterprise environment. This affects several enterprise roles – including Release Engineer, Application Developer, Infrastructure Specialist, and Infrastructure Developer. Let’s find how.

Release Engineer, a person responsible with defining and managing the release plan. With DevOps, the role of a Release Engineer is extended to delivery process as well as the build itself. With DevOps inspired lifecycle process tools, they are now responsible for automating the release process and all aspects of build encoding & development.

Application Developer is conventionally responsible for development process, but lack understanding of the operational environment and how their role varies across the enterprise. With introduction of DevOps, there come several changes to the role of an Application Developer role across the organization, plus this expanded their knowledge of the operational environment, making them more open to learning and productive, leading to agile product development.

The role of an Infrastructure Specialist transforms into a more useful one to the business by providing services to request infrastructure on demand, and all this is possible by implementation of DevOps practices. Unlike traditional role of provisioning and configuring the infrastructure used for test and production environments, DevOps enables Infrastructure Specialists to increase their value to the business expanding their role in collaborating on the creation of standard virtual patterns to be used by the development teams.

Finally, DevOps has transformed the role of an Infrastructure Developer by making changing the dynamics and pairing an infrastructure specialist with an application developer, thus imparting skills to develop high quality infrastructure code. It brings a positive change, and is a driver of change and process improvement within an organization. It makes an enterprise agile, and hence the team.

via SiliconANGLE http://devopsangle.com/2012/09/12/how-devops-affects-enterprise-roles-with-who-moved-my-cheese/

M4 – Four Architectures for WaveMaker Deployment


WaveMaker 6.5.0 M4 is released! Get the milestone release from the community download page.

WaveMaker 6.5 provides more flexibility for the deployment architecture of your web and mobile applications. As the diagram shows, you can easily deploy:

  1. Traditional web application
  2. Mobile web application – tailored to a mobile device (smart phone, tablet)
  3. Mobile application that uses the same server as your web apps – a native iOS or Android application
  4. Mobile application that accesses your services directly – also a native iOS or Android app

Web applications
People have been using WaveMaker to build web applications for many years. The deployed applications use a traditional Java web stack, with a Spring server running in a Java container. The server delivers html, css, javascript, and json data to the web browser.

Mobile web app
The proliferation of mobile browsers has enabled WaveMaker applications to be deployed to more devices, using the same the application architecture as traditional web applicatons. WaveMaker 6.5 provides mobile templates, new widgets, and widget properties that simplify the development of mobile web applications, applications that are tailored to requirements of a mobile device. For more information on building mobile applications see Mobile Development.

Mobile apps that use traditional server
Often end-users prefer a mobile application that is installed on the phone or tablet (rather than a web application that is accessible via the device’s browser). Mobile apps are downloaded from stores (i.e. App Store or Google Play) and users access by selecting the app. WaveMaker 6.5 includes PhoneGap so you can deploy a WaveMaker application as a native application on various mobile OSs, including iOS and Android. For more information see Building a PhoneGap Application. The mobile application will access the WaveMaker server, processing the JSON results.

Mobile apps that directly access services
Since mobile applications are stored on the phone (rather than web pages, which are hosted in a server), mobile applications do not strictly require a host server. If your application only requires data from internet accessible services then the WaveMaker server is not required. WaveMaker 6.5 supports XHR services that directly call web services.

WaveMaker 6.5.0 M4 delivers all four deployment options so “M4″ isn’t just an abbreviation for “Milestone #4″ it also represents the 4 ways to deploy your mobile applications.

We have completed the new feature development for WaveMaker 6.5.0. Our next release will be the Release Candidate (RC) and we intend to move quickly to the final RELEASE. We are actively tracking Jira and the community forums very closely, with intentions to fix new bugs as quickly as possible to include in 6.5.0 RC.

As always, feedback is much appreciated.


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via WaveMaker Software http://dev.wavemaker.com/blog/2012/09/12/m4-four-architectures-for-wavemaker-deployment/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+WavemakerDevBlog+%28WaveMaker+Developer+Blog%29