Reversing the effects of bad workplace management

Alignment and collaboration are critical in undoing the damage of a company composed of competing silos -- here's a plan

Dear Bob ...

I read your posts regularly and appreciate your insights. Nevertheless, I get shocked by what our management teams are doing versus what seems to be simple common sense.

[ Bob Lewis offers a breakdown of different working environments in "Business as organism, mechanism, or ecosystem" | Get sage advice on IT careers and management from Bob Lewis in InfoWorld's Advice Line newsletter. ]

My question: How would you fix an organization that has turned into an ecosystem?

Some facts: I am working in a large company that recently went all out on outsourcing and offshoring. Today, more than 70 percent of our software R&D is done in China and India. IMHO, our management team is clueless about software development. They've been experimenting with offshoring, at the same time they've tried to motivate us by forming highly competent/empowered teams. It also seems the demand from above is to keep on reducing costs (mostly costs per hour, not total cost).

Data seems to point toward a failure of this strategy, because every offshoring project -- and, for that matter, every attempt to reduce costs by lowering the hourly rates -- has led to worse results and mediocre ROI.

In other words, there has been:

  1. A duality in the language coming from the management team, where they want highly efficient teams with strong software development skills, and at the same time saying these are too expensive and replaceable by teams located 5,000 miles away.
  2. A failure to achieve results with offshored low-cost-per-hour teams, which were supposed to produce more, as well as be more scalable and as adaptive as their more expensive counterparts.
  3. A cost explosion due to the number of managers needed to keep the cohesion/travel all around the world, a decrease in quality, and a marked increase in development times, as nothing is being coordinated anymore (basically, due to the ecosystem evolution, everyone is lying to preserve their power).
  4. The software itself is now utterly broken, with four different versions of the same product being delivered at the same time to different customers where even the architecture is completely and fundamentally different.

In short: Chaos.

How would you approach that problem? What would be, in your opinion, the first steps to start addressing the situation?

- Siloed

Dear Siloed ...

You don't tell me where you fit into the organization. From your description, I infer you're a staff member or manager relatively close to the action, not one of the decision makers who's in a position to do something useful to fix this.

In any case, the short answer to your question of how I would fix an organization like this (presumably, if I were in your position): I wouldn't even try. In your situation, my ability to influence the overall tone of the organization would be too limited for me to expend much effort trying to help my managers overcome the direction they're determined to set.

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