Editorial Note: I originally wrote this post for the SmartBear blog. You can check out the original, here, at their site. While you’re there, take a look at their product offering and blog posts by their various authors.
I’ve spent enough time walking the halls of large-ish to massive organizations to have formed some opinions and made some observations. If I had to characterize the motor that drives these beasts, I’d say it is comprised of two main components: intense risk aversion and an obsession with waste elimination that sits somewhere on a spectrum between neurotic and quixotic.
Let me explain.
Large organizations all started as small organizations, and all of them survived organizational accretion, besting competitors, dodging bad breaks, and successfully scaling to the point where they have a whole lot to lose. It is this last concern that drives the risk aversion; upstarts are constantly trying to unseat them and rent-seekers trying to sue them because they’re sitting on a pretty nice pot of gold. It is the scaling that motivates the waste elimination. Nothing scales perfectly and few things scale well, so organizations have to become insanely efficient in a number of ways to combat the natural downturns in efficiency caused by scale.
Risk Minimizing and Process Efficiency
With risk minimizing and waste elimination as near-universal goals, organizations tend to do some fairly predictable and recognizable things. Risk elimination takes the form of checks and balances, with pockets of “need to know” being created to isolate problems. For instance, a “security compliance” group may be created to review work product independently from the people producing the work, and it may even go so far as to seek outside certification. This sort of orthogonality and redundancy make it less likely the organization will be sued or compromised.
Unfortunately, though, redundancy exacerbates the other struggle, which is to eliminate waste in the name of efficiency. It’s not exactly efficient to have two separate groups spend time going over the same product and doing the same things, but with slightly altered focus. The organization compensates for this with hyper-specialty and process.