This post picks up on Parts 1 to 9 and examines the ninth of Deming’s 14 Management Points, which urges:

Break down barriers between departments. People in research, design, sales, and production must work as a team, to foresee problems of production and in use that may be encountered with the product or service.

I’ve posted before on organizational silos (see Bustin’ Silos with the Role Bomb!), the inefficiencies they introduce and how silos tend to dampen the magic of innovation and collaboration.  “If only the left hand knew what the right hand was doing” is a familiar cry of woe!

The Promise of Business Process Reengineering

Deming’s 9th Point in many ways foreshadows the Business Process Reengineering (BPR) movement of the 1990’s with its end-to-end business processes (e.g., order-to-cash, hire-to-retire) and process management discipline cutting across traditional organizational boundaries.  BPR almost always leveraged information technology to gain efficiencies in terms of speed and resources – sometimes in innovative ways, often shifting work to the customer.

Unfortunately, in spite of the promise, there were quite a number of horrible BPR failures, especially in the early 1990’s.  Many early failures were associated with the so-called Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) monster software packages that often accompanies BPR efforts.  But, there have also been some spectacular successes and ERP together with at least some form of process management are invariably at the heart of them.

Matrix Management

Process Management led organizations (that were not already there) towards the discipline of matrix management.  For some organizations, having more than two “bosses” (over-simplifying the situation enormously) represents too great a culture shift.  As such, the inertia associated with traditional hierarchies, silo behaviors and limited collaboration tends to overwhelm moves towards cross-departmental or cross-geographical boundaries.   Some companies (J&J comes to mind) seem to manage really well with complex operating company and market structures.  For them, matrix management, while never without its frustrations as with any management system, works well and is effective.  They have established the tools and disciplines to ensure clear lines of accountability together with a reasonably entrepreneurial spirit.

Is Collaboration a Tool to Break Down Departmental Barriers?

Web 2.0 promises to take collaboration to new levels – both within the organization and across its ecosystem. The conundrum, however, is:

  • Web 2.0 tools and technologies can help break down organizational boundaries
  • Organizational silos inhibit the institutionalization of collaborative behaviors

In other words, organizations that are already collaborating well across organizational boundaries are better positioned to exploit Web 2.0 than those with strong organizational silos.  I believe some proficiency with matrix management is necessary for success with cross-enterprise collaboration.  Given that, and with a thoughtful deployment of Web 2.0 tools with clarity of the strategic intents for the collaboration initiative, I believe Dr. Deming would be delighted to see the possibilities inherent in the world of Web 2.0, and its potential for “breaking down barriers.”

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