Organizing for continuous delivery: redefining the role of a functional specialist lead

Power struggles are bad for business. Organization design should try to minimize power struggles. One way to do so is to have one power center per business outcome. Let’s say the business outcome is the success of a software product. We put one person in charge - say we call her the product manager. We make this person accountable for product leadership (quality, innovation, relevance), market leadership (revenue, mindshare) and customer satisfaction (support, training).
We don’t want to create multiple power centers in the form of specialist leads e.g VP of sales, head of marketing, director of engineering etc. in addition to the product manager. Yes, we need leadership in multiple specializations but that’s more about autonomy (influence) than about authority (power). As this pithy HBR post points out:

Managers create circles of power while leaders create circles of influence.
This ties in well with what I said at devopsdays Berlin in May this year. Continuous delivery needs cross-functional teams. But a matrix org with many functional specialist heads has too much potential for territorial power struggles to deliver effective cross functional teams. On the other hand, subordinating all functional specialist leads to the product manager robs them of their autonomy (and motivation). 
I suggest that we let the functional specialist leads retain autonomy but take away their authority (control over resources). Have specialist leaders by all means. Make sure they sit on the same level in the org hierarchy as product managers. But let the hierarchy be one of power/influence rather than just power. The product managers control resources - team and budget. It is an unconventional set up - one that tries to retain the autonomy/influencer attributes of specialist leads without the risk of devolution into non-collaborative, empire building behaviors.


Jason Yip said...

Note that matrix structures are designed specifically to expose conflict which can then be resolved, though most organisations both don't realise this nor establish the appropriate conflict resolution approach to deal with it. See Developing Matrix Organizations that work.

sriram said...

Thanks for the book tip. I'm not sure that matrix structures are designed specifically to expose conflict. The prime motivation is efficient utilization of specialist skills which is no longer the most important objective from a time-to-market perspective. (responsiveness over efficiency)
The other motivation for functional verticals is the desire to nurture the said competency but optimizing for this over the business outcome puts the cart before the horse.

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