Operations Management

Hail the Maintainers

by Limbic on December 25, 2016

I am finally clearing out some old Instapaper articles. One that I really enjoyed was Andrew Russell’s examination of our civilizational obsession with “innovation” at the expense of maintenance and sustainable operability.

This is something we in cloud services learned fairly recently. Features are increasingly table stakes, fundamentals (e.g. availability, supportability, security, privacy, operability, maintainability, etc.) are the crucial differentiators.

Hail the Maintainers 




Elliot Jaques and Requisite Organisation

by Limbic on June 15, 2009

From the Economist’s Guru section article on Elliott Jaques:

Jaques (1917-2003) decided that jobs could be defined in terms of their time horizon. For example, a director of marketing might be worried about marketing campaigns for next year, while a salesman on the road is worried about reaching his targets for the week. Jaques also believed that people had a “boss” and a “real boss”. The boss was the person to whom they were nominally responsible, while the real boss was the person to whom they turned to get decisions crucial to the continuation of their work.

The sales manager in charge of a salesforce would not have a longer time horizon than the people in his salesforce. So when a salesman wanted a decision on something affecting his ability to deliver to his clients, he would go over the head of the sales manager for that decision. Jaques called this “level skipping”, and identified it as a dangerous pathology in any hierarchy.

He then looked at the time horizons of people, their bosses and their real bosses, and he found that people with a time horizon of less than three months treated those with a horizon of 3–12 months as their real bosses, and so on up the scale. He identified seven different time horizons, from three months to 20 years, and argued that organisations, no matter how complex, should have seven levels of hierarchy, each corresponding to a different managerial time horizon. Jaques’s theory has come to be known as RO (requisite organisation).

This reminds me of the Tolstoy quotation from C.S. Lewis’s “The Inner Ring”:

“When Boris entered the room, Prince Andrey was listening to an old general, wearing his decorations, who was reporting something to Prince Andrey, with an expression of soldierly servility on his purple face. “Alright. Please wait!” he said to the general, speaking in Russian with the French accent, which he used when he spoke with contempt. The moment he noticed Boris he stopped listening to the general who trotted imploringly after him and begged to be heard, while Prince Andrey turned to Boris with a cheerful smile and a nod of the head. Boris now clearly understood-what he had already guessed-that side by side with the system of discipline and subordination which were laid down in the Army Regulations, there existed a different and a more real system-the system which compelled a tightly laced general with a purple face to wait respectfully for his turn while a mere captain like Prince Andrey chatted with a mere second lieutenant like Boris, Boris decided at once that he would be guided not by the official system but by this other unwritten system.”


In an recent article for Future Changes, Bill Arconati – Confluence Product Marketing Manager at Atlassian – argues that Enterprise Wikis are much better than contemporary e-mail culture , creating what he calls an opt-in culture:

“In an opt-in culture, employees contribute to conversations where they gain the most satisfaction and have the largest impact. They look beyond their tiny fiefdoms and seek out situations where they can add value and offer their expertise.” – Wikis, “Opt-in Culture” Contribute to a Healthy Organization

Her contrast opt-in culture with its opposite – the opt-out e-mail culture – that completely dominates the business world:

Perhaps the best way to understand and appreciate an opt-in culture is by contrasting it to an opt-OUT culture like email. Have you ever left work at the end of the day and thought to yourself, “All I did today was respond to emails?” In email-based companies you frequently spend your days knocking down emails like a bad game of Whac-A-Mole.

The main problem with email is that you have little control over what lands in your inbox. Most emails are either (i) people asking you to do something or (ii) conversations between two or three people (frequently executives) with a dozen innocent bystanders in the cc line. The only way to shut out the noise in an email culture is to opt-out and say “Take me off this thread!”

Even if you successfully filter out mail you don’t want, there’s little you can do about the email you’re NOT receiving. Important management decisions are made every day on your corporate email server without the input of your company’s most interested and qualified employees. For example, I’m in marketing but I’ve worked in product development and corporate finance in past roles. I’d like to think I have something to offer to conversations about product development and financial analysis even though they’re technically outside of my designated role. But in an email culture, I wouldn’t be cc’d on those emails and hence not part of the conversation simply because I’m a marketing guy. Much of the knowledge and experience that I bring to the organization would be completely wasted in an email-based culture.

He is right, there is terrible waste in the fire-and-forget e-mail culture, with massive numbers of hours lost to simply cheking that mails can be safely discarded.

Bill ends by explaining how to use wiki’s to develop an opt-in culture:

  1. Communities of interest – deploy a wiki that lets you create a separate space for every area of interest.
  2. Comments and Discussions – deploy a wiki where conversations can naturally evolve out of content.
  3. Subscriptions – deploy a wiki where users can opt-in to conversations happening in the wiki either by subscribing via email or via RSS. With email and RSS notifications, users can actually monitor and participate in conversations happening all across the company.
  4. Openness – Consider a wiki where openness is the default.

Read on: http://www.ikiw.org/2009/03/04/wikis-opt-in-culture-contribute-to-a-healthy-organization/


F*ck the Cloud

by Limbic on January 23, 2009

Jason Scott savages Cloud Computing in an entertaining if an little bit angry rant/manifesto