Re: SERIOUS: Formal vs. informal organizations

Subject: Re: SERIOUS: Formal vs. informal organizations
From: Elna Tymes <etymes -at- LTS -dot- COM>
Date: Sun, 7 Mar 1999 20:32:07 -0800


> It seems to me, that some of the most productive and impressive
> organizations I have worked with, have little to no organization.
> When I worked at Microsoft a few years back, I was floored with the
> chaotic environment at first. No guides, no managers (in the
> traditional sense), no hierarchy, just a "get it done or we'll all
> die" attitude.

Andrew, Andrew, Andrew - so late in life you come upon the elementary
observation: in the work world, there are process people and there are product
people. And the two sets truly don't understand each other. Yet both are
necessary in well-functioning, productive organizations.

Product people are the kinds you describe as code cutters and and writers at
Microsoft. These are the ones generally there late at night or on weekends or
busting their buns to get something out the door on time. These are the ones
who have a "do what it takes" attitude toward pleasing a client. These are the
ones your contracting firm loves.

However, process people are the ones who sign the checks. And often the time
cards. Process people define the rules by which you determine whether you're
done. Process people can also be - and frequently are - quite political
because they understand the sometimes rather arcane rules by which a company or
a structure within a company defines "success." They are far more concerned
about the group in power feeling good about decisions, willing to bet their
careers on a particular vote. Not unreasonably, process people are often
marketeers (note: these are not the same thing as sales people) and senior
executives, the kind who talk to Big Customers and to stock market analysts,
who help create the environment in which buy decisions can be made.

> So, what does this little tale reveal? I think the key to successful
> organization is personal relationships and not organization. This
> seems to be an overwhelming reality I see in business, writing, just
> about everything. The closer and more friendly you are with people,
> the more productive you can be as a team. Excessive rules and
> regulations bog a team down.

No, my friend. The key to *productive* relationships is personal relations,
with a mimum of overlying organizational structure. However, the key to
*successful* organizations is something else again. And that depends on how
success is defined.

> People seem to work best when they have personal bonds between the
> members of the group. Email and phones encourage abstraction between
> people.

Actually I disagree with that. In my rather lengthy experience in this
industry, I find that personal relationships are important, but that email and
phone contact is a useful and extremely cost-effective way of augmenting those
personal relationships. We just delivered a project for a client under very
difficult conditions, compounded late in the project by the company president
chewing out the doc manager because of the state of one manual that had been
released to beta customers a month earlier. Because we'd been working on the
doc during the subsequent month, we were able to put out an udated draft within
a couple days of said chewing out, and within a week the company president was
getting positive comments from the same beta customers who'd complained the
week before. Part of that turnaround resulted from us bribing the development
crew with both lunch and some lightweight coercion until we got our questions
answered, but the writing team took that source material, scattered to their
respective home-offices and got their respective parts of the doc fixed and
reorganized in record time. Here we had a requirement that we sit the
developers down in the same room until they did the reviews they'd been
avoiding (this qualifies as 'personal relationships', I believe) but the whole
production effort was done by phone and email.

> Yet many organization and people preach the gospel of proactivity as a
> defense of bureaucracy and excessive planning: ?we have to be
> proactive in our approach to ensure we are properly using our
> resources.? The tyranny of ?proactivity? has turned people into
> analysis-paralyzed drones. In the race to account for everything,
> they accomplish nothing.

I don't agree. Planning done in advance of going somewhere ensures that you'll
get where you intended. Planning documents serve as reference information when
someone is trying to understand the context for a particular product. Granted,
overly detailed planning and minute accountability get in the way of actually
accomplishing something, but periodic meetings to assure you're on track lets
the various elements of the coordinating team see problems before they become
show-stoppers and lets resources get deployed to handle the unexpected. The
challenge is to use planning and guidelines as tools in the process of getting
something done right.

Elna Tymes
Los Trancos Systems

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