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Pawel Brodzinski on Software Project Management

What Is the Point of Reorganizations?

Coffee

This is the old story you heard a number of times if you worked for a big company: we’re doing poorly so let’s reorganize things a bit thus solve our problems. And then, a year later, let’s do it again as it surprisingly appears that we aren’t doing any better.

Well, if you believe in this pattern I have a bad news for you: coffee doesn’t become sweeter just because you’re stirring.

Reorganization itself is exactly like that: stirring. If you don’t have right ingredients in the cup stirring won’t cause any change. No need to expect anything else. And this is basically the point which most big organizations fail at.

Do I try to say that reorganizing things is evil, should be prohibited and people doing that should be forbidden to drink beer? Um, no, not exactly. First of all, I believe in continuous improvement which is just a series of tiny reorganizations and changes implemented to make our lives easy, pleasant and generally much better. Well, at least better from the hell we see around every day.

But then, when I say reorganization you don’t think continuous improvement and small changes. Or do you? You see big-ass change which makes everyone feeling insecure, long months of chaos, conflicts of interests etc.

So maybe the size matters indeed? Small change is good but big one is not? As a short guy I have to say that: small is generally better. But then, sometimes small steps aren’t enough. If the whole thing is screwed big time what you need is a big gun – The Big Change.

It’s like with a cup of coffee. Of course you can wait until sugar itself dissolves in your coffee but then you have sweet, but cold coffee. Fixed one issue; introduced another. What you need is some stirring. Reorganization.

So if you think about reorganizations think about content – do you have everything in your cup, just in the wrong order? If so, lucky you. If not, focus on finding right content and not about reorganizing things. Your cup is your organization and people are your content.

And this is exactly the point of reorganization. Fast change in the order so right people can find their way to right places. From this perspective the change is just an enabler to overcome status quo and it isn’t such an important thing what exactly you’re reorganizing and how. It also means that as long as you don’t have right people at hand you will fail, no matter how well-crafted your plan was.

You have to pour sugar into the coffee before you start stirring. Otherwise the only effect you can see is the pain in your hand.

in: software development

5 comments… add one

  • jfbauer October 21, 2010, 12:15 pm

    Enjoyable read … joke related to re-orgs I’ve always enjoyed in large corporate shops: don’t spend any time trying to figure out the logic (illogic?) behind the current re-org because the next re-org is just around the corner.

  • Pawel Brodzinski October 21, 2010, 12:20 pm

    This is sick of course, but I’ve seen a number of times when those illogical re-orgs helped a few leaders to pop up. If on the one end of scale is corporate-like constant reorganization, on the other is stalled status quo which can’t be changed, no matter how hard you try.

    Either one sucks, but the more you are on one end of scale, the more you need methods from the other.

  • Andrew Fuqua October 26, 2010, 10:37 am

    I used to have a theory that underlying most reorgs were communication problems. We organize, after all, to achieve some form of efficiency. Great communication paths are formed within a team over time. Paths leading into or out from the team are weak and get weaker over time. The typical solution? Reorg. Go from a functional org to an product/service/divisional structure. Or vice versa, depending on where you are. I find organizations oscillating back and forth.

    While I still think there is a lot of truth in that, you make me think more about missing ingredients. Nice article Pawel.

  • Andrew Fuqua October 26, 2010, 10:41 am

    My prior comment was incomplete: The reorg tosses everything in disarray, yes, but that change forces new communication paths to form, deriving new value. The org is soon better off, at least that’s the hope, but it’s only for a time. Old communication paths begin to fade. And the cycle repeats.

  • Pawel Brodzinski October 27, 2010, 1:07 am

    I’m not sure if communication paths fade away in healthy organizations. Having said that they do in many companies.

    But often the motivation is different. Making company culture uniform, limiting pain of leaders’ changing, being a part of something bigger (e.g. business-driven change), etc are all situations I’ve seen. Since sometimes reorganizations did the job I can’t say they’re pure evil. What more, sometimes it is the only way to change status quo.

    But then, I think we’re overusing reorganizations heavily. Sometimes companies treat them as panacea for every problem they have.

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