Tag Archives: silos

Where is Engineering?

“Where is engineering?” Sam repeated.

“They never come to this meeting,” Mary replied. “They said it wasn’t a good use of their time, that all we ever talk about is production schedules and complain about the status of our catch levers. They do send someone to this meeting about once a month, but they never say anything, except that they are working on the catch levers.”

Mark, from marketing spoke up. “I do remember them saying they had just about fixed the problem with the catch levers and wanted to talk to marketing about some new packaging, because the new catch levers are going to require a bigger box.”

Larry, from legal, piped in. Larry was always playing on his iPhone during these meetings. “I think I found the name of the company that is competing with our unit. They are located on the west coast, with a distribution hub about 50 miles from here. The Google map of their distribution hub looks like a warehouse with some trucks in the yard. Big trucks. No wonder we didn’t know about them. But, here’s the thing, they have a patent filing on…it looks like our unit, but without catch levers. Their patent is on a sealed unit that doesn’t open.”

Sam surveyed the room. “Thirty days ago, this company was hitting on all cylinders. Every department was spinning perfect. Our marketing click rates were up, sales were increasing, production throughput was stellar, inventory was moving, returns were normal. Every silo in this company was performing as designed. Except for the catch levers. How did we miss that? Where is engineering?”

Killing a Neighboring Function

“And operations does it absolutely perfect, every single time?” I asked.

Roberto exhaled like he was going to speak, but stopped. “Okay, you got me. I know it’s a trick question.”

“If operations does it absolutely perfect, every single time, then you have no need for Quality Control?” I smiled.

“We measure reject rates, but they have been pretty good, in fact, on a down trend,” Roberto replied.

“But your customer service call counts remain high. What’s up with that?” I wanted to know.

“That’s where we really put our energy. We get very high marks on our customer service. We put resources where we need them.”

“So, is there a correlation between low reject rate and high volume of customer service?”

“If you ask our department managers, they are very proud of their statistics. In fact, our customer service manager just asked for more budget because they are doing such a good job.” Robert’s turn to smile.

“There’s a connection,” I said. “When you look at integration inside a company, you can’t look at a high performing single function. You may find that a high performing single function is killing its neighboring function. And, you may find a problem in one function by looking at what’s happening in another function. You can get profitable by focusing on a single system, but you can’t scale until you look at all the functions together. It’s about total system throughput.”

The Danger of Healthy Competition

“It was worse than I thought,” Reggie stated flatly. “What I didn’t realize when I opened up this little fracas, was that the competition started long ago. I nosed around some of my sources. It’s been a dysfunctional fight for the past six months, with not only my three internal candidates, but two others. They are all spread across three departments, so I never saw it.”

“What’s been going on?” I asked.

“Mostly, it’s the subtle non-cooperation of one department with another. Convenient delays, rough hand-offs, missing information. Nothing malicious or brazen, but I have five people working against each other, working against the company.”

“Who’s the culprit?”

Reggie’s demeanor changed. He sat straight up in his chair. The nerve was struck. Chin down, looking over his glasses, furrowed brow, he finally spoke. “I’m the culprit. I tried to create a little healthy competition, but what I created was an environment where individual agendas were more important that teamwork. I created intense internal focus within each department, when I need cooperation between departments.”

“How do we fix it?”

“First, we have to start with the culprit,” Reggie shrugged. “And that would be me.”

Temper Tantrums Don’t Work

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

How do you overcome the obstacles of silos when the silos are the organizational culture and come from the top?

Whenever I look at organizational underperformance, total throughput, all crumbs lead to the top. The culture an organization has, is the culture the organization deserves. And, all crumbs still lead to the top.

But your question is “What to do?”

Temper tantrums don’t work. Parents know that. Most management consultants who think they have the answer are behaviorists who have no children.

Visually, we can draw pictures of it. Interruptions in workflow, rough hand-offs from one function to another, undiscovered defects blamed on another department. Some CEOs believe a little internal competition keeps everyone sharp, when the product of that strategy may be counter-productive.

But it works in sports? Yes, but sports are not organized to accomplish work. Sports are organized for entertainment.

Indeed, what to do? Comments?