What makes a big organization work well?
Prior to my current job, my full-time working life was mostly in smaller companies. But working in a big company is a very different beast – making many teams and divisions move together is quite a task.
Some time ago, a friend pointed me to an interesting Wiki discussion on project management ideas. I followed a few threads there and stumbled on a fascinating book: Organizational Patterns of Agile Software Development by Coplien & Harrison.
It’s essentially a collection of ideas for improving organizations: building, healing, repair and growth. It’s written in a straightforward, browseable format: “if you have this problem, try this idea to fix it.” The book’s written for the software industry, but I feel most of the ideas are applicable in a wide range of fields.
Reading the book, what did I take away? At first, it was mostly just food for thought. There’s a bit of an “aha!” moment when I read a page and realized that my organization has exactly the problem being described. After that, I often reflected on past jobs and saw how other organizations did things differently. That doesn’t mean it’s necessarily easy to fix, but there’s a lot of value in just diagnosing problems.
I also find the book has good “labels” for different issues and solutions. The short, pithy names of the patterns are easy to remember, and can give a group of managers or staff a shared language to discuss organizing a team.
The book is divided into four groups of patterns:
- Project Management patterns
- Piecemeal Growth patterns
- Organizational Style patterns
- People and Code patterns (more software-focused)
I’ve put together a presentation giving an overview of the patterns that I found useful. I’ve selected some of the patterns that I found most interesting. The criteria are quite subjective, based mostly on what struck me personally and based on my current employer’s strengths/weaknesses; your mileage will vary. I’ve also left out most of the detail – read the book or the references below for more detail.
Here are a few overview slides, or view the full presentation.
- Coplien & Harrison, Organizational Patterns of Agile Software Development.
Draft version online as PDF
- Earlier draft available as web page
- Thoughts on how this relates to “scrums”: link 1 and link 2