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© 2024 N. Dean Meyer and Associates Inc.
Excerpt from www.NDMA.COM, © 2024 N. Dean Meyer and Associates Inc.

Analysis: Plan-Build-Run

an organization designed to quell innovation

by N. Dean Meyer

[excerpt from the book, Principle-based Organizational Structure]

A CIO was dissatisfied with the pace of innovation in his organization. It seemed his staff didn't have time to look into emerging technologies, strategic applications of IT to the business, or new methods of delivery.

This lack of time was a resource-governance problem. But he tried to solve it with structure, by forming a Planning group as part of a "Plan-Build-Run" structure. He noted that others in his industry had similar functions, sometimes calling them "Emerging Technologies," "Innovation," or "Research" groups.

The Planning group, managed by Bonnie, was responsible for client relationships, analysis of requirements, emerging-technology research, business planning, and innovation in all its forms.

The Build group, under Dennis, was responsible for developing the systems that Bonnie planned.

The Run group reporting to Rob was responsible for operations.

Under the CIO were the following groups:

  • Bonnie, planning and innovation (plan)
  • Dennis, development (build)
  • Rob, operations (run)

Bonnie's Planning group was supposed to put more emphasis on innovation. But it produced the opposite effect. Here's what actually happened....

Impossible Jobs

Bonnie's Planning group was supposed to be aware of the latest developments in all the many domains of information technologies (every branch of Engineering), knowledgable about clients and their business strategies (Sales), and also experts in methods of business planning (Coordinator).

But people can't be real experts in more than one thing at a time; and Bonnie couldn't afford to hire an expert in every IT discipline. Instead, she recruited a few very bright (and expensive) people.

They tried to keep up with trends. But there's no way her staff, however bright they may have been, could have kept up with emerging technologies across the entire spectrum of IT.

Bonnie was faced with the choice of offering mediocre quality over a wide range of technologies and planning tasks, or excellence in a subset of her duties. She chose the latter, and focused only on analyzing business requirements for traditional IT applications.

With all the thinking about the future funneled through her small group, Bonnie actually became a bottleneck for innovation.

The Ivory Tower

This structure splits the Engineering line of business into "thinking" (Bonnie) and "doing" (Dennis).

Bonnie had authority over systems designs, but not accountability for delivering projects. This induced an "ivory tower" perspective among her staff. They felt free to advocate new technologies without regard for their practicality.

Morale Suffered

Meanwhile, Dennis' developers were accountable for the delivery of projects, but they didn't have a say over the design of those systems. They were disempowered (the mirror of Bonnie's authority without accountability). Of course, morale suffered.

Strife Undermined Teamwork

Feeling like second-class citizens, Dennis' developers resented Bonnie's group, which took away from them all the fun, strategic thinking -- the most interesting and motivational challenges. This resentment undermined teamwork.

Because of internal jealousies, strife, and the resulting lack of collaboration, what little research that was done in the Planning group was not always put into practice. At times, Dennis' staff even attempted to prove that Bonnie's group was wrong, to show that the people who disempowered them weren't really needed.

Wasted Minds

Meanwhile, lots of talent (in Dennis' group) was wasted. Again, innovation was impeded.

And with the learning component removed from their jobs, their skills became obsolete; their productivity and the quality of their work diminished; and their sense of professionalism deteriorated into a production-line atmosphere.

Bottom Line

This is an example of an overly simplistic theory of structure that doesn't work well.

In a healthy organization, everybody both delivers today's work and thinks about the future, within their lines of business.

To give everybody time for innovation, address your resource-governance processes, not structure.


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