Collaboration

I know I’m going to get in trouble for this one.  I’ve been holding my tongue.  But it is just too good.  It’s fiction.  Not to say it wasn’t inspired by bits and pieces of reality…

Two organizations enter a room to discuss collaborating.   Org A is a moderate sized business.  Org B is the proverbial 8000 pound gorilla business.

Org B tells Org A that they’ll be happy to collaborate as long as Org A is part of Org B’s planning process, conforms with Org B’s development practices, and ships on Org B’s schedule.  Further, Org B won’t accept any work from Org A nor do anything for Org A unless it is part of the priorities and scenarios that have been identified as the release priorities for Org B’s business.  Org B isn’t budged by pleas that Org A’s business needs their help.  Instead Org B suggests it is ok not to collaborate, as they make the shape of a gun with their hand and gesture it towards Org A.  Org A realizes that this is slavery, not collaboration.

Org A is feeling pretty bad about this slavery thing but it is about to get worse.  They go next door to another conference room where Org C, another 8000 pound gorilla, is waiting to talk about collaboration.  Org C says they’ll be happy to collaborate as long as Org A is part of Org C’s planning process, conforms with Org C’s development practices, and ships on Org C’s schedule.  Further Org C won’t accept any work from Org A nor do anything for Org A unless it is part of the priorities and scenarios that have been identified as the release priorities for Org C’s business.  Org C isn’t budged by pleas that Org A’s business needs their help.  Instead Org C suggests it is ok not to collaborate, as they make the shape of a gun with their hand and gesture it towards Org A.  Org A leaves the meeting, heads for the nearest bar, and orders up a shot glass of Hemlock.

Meanwhile Org B and Org C go into a conference room to discuss collaboration.  I don’t know what they say to one another, but whatever they come up with looks a lot like Office 2013 on Windows 8.

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17 Responses to Collaboration

  1. Sumit says:

    I guess in the last paragraph you mean Org B and Org A go into a conference room…

    Awesome work of ‘Fiction’…

  2. JOhn Mitas says:

    OrgA – Entertainment/Devices (Windows Phone),
    OrgB – Windows ,
    OrgC – Office

  3. Amit says:

    “All organisations appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or resigned, is purely coincidental.” ;-)

    Enjoyable read Hal :-)

  4. Brian says:

    This somehow reminds me of something that happened when I was working at Microsoft (in the early 2000s). My customer was one of the very largest software vendors on Windows (Microsoft was number 1, these guys weren’t very far behind).

    When I got the account, my predecessor said “if you ask the customer, getting Excel to make this reasonably simple change would be their customers’ biggest wish – and as a result, their biggest wish”. My predecessor had tried escalating this change up through the Office org twice before without success.

    So, I started a third time. The escalation was tedious and took 6-8 months. I eventually got in touch with someone who was very senior in the Office org. He emailed me back about a week later, telling me he had good news. The news included a fix to the current shipping version of Excel (that was about to be going into a soon-to-be-released SP) and a promise to include it in the upcoming v.Next.

    “Wow, you fixed it! What did I say to get you to do this?” His reply was “oh, it was an easy fix and PowerPoint wanted it.” I never told my customer that last part.

    • halberenson says:

      Opposite case 1990s story here. The SQL Server team asked Windows for a solution to the high costs of context switching etc. and got nowhere. Several months later Oracle made the same request and Fibers were born.

      After that every time Windows pushed back on a request we joked about calling friends at Oracle or another competitor and asking them to make it for us.

  5. Pete says:

    Problem is that contribution to a project is limited to an organization and organization changes are often disruptive to the team.

    This could be intentional because Orgs B & C got bit in the past by taking a dependency on a team that flaked out and pushed out the schedule, or could be a power play to subsume Org A.

    Regardless, lack of a nimble org structure and minimal trust between orgs seems problematic.

    • halberenson says:

      It’s very true that cross-organization collaboration is hard. And most collaboration doesn’t require one side to contribute to the other’s “bits”. But actually my biggest problem with what I describe is not with requirements to participate in various organizations processes, which is a necessity if you are contributing bits, it is in neither Org B or Org C being particularly receptive to the business needs of Org A.

  6. halberenson says:

    You can plug any number of organizations into these roles, at Microsoft or at any other company. Anyone who has done software at a hardware company, for example, will have had a similar experience at some point in time. That’s why I labled this as fiction. Yes if you go to members of many “Org A” types of groups at Microsoft they may tell you this is how they felt it worked over the last few years. In some cases maybe it did, and in other cases maybe it only seemed to be this way.

    There are plenty of people at Microsoft who could probably recall instances in which I made them feel like SQL Server was playing the bad gorilla role (and I’m talking about back in the 90s, before SQL Server actually was a gorilla). I’m super receptive to anything an org I’m running can do to help out another business or group, but I still have to draw the line at requests that would derail a release, are technically flawed (and need more time at the drawing board), or are counter-strategic. Where my philosophy differs from that of the in-vogue systems is that I want my processes to always be able to consider those requests, even if they are outside of the scope of my other release priorities. Recent planning processes automatically dismiss those requests if they don’t fall into one of the themes or scenarios for the release. They lack a “help others succeed” theme.

    I was particularly amused by one comment that Org A was Windows Phone. Terry Myerson has a way of being the 8000 pound gorilla even when his org actually only carries 800 pounds of weight (and I say that with admiration). So discussions between Windows Phone and Windows were probably more like an Org B to Org C collaboration negotiation.

    There is a tendency for dominant organizations to say “we love collaboration, as long as it’s on our terms”. But their terms do not attempt to accomodate the needs of the organizations they are collaborating with. You can’t have real collaboration under those conditions.

    • john mitas says:

      I make mention of WP vs Windows based on what Charlie Kindle says about his dealings with Synofsky..

      “Near the end of his run at Microsoft, Kindel worked to bring independent software developers to the Windows Phone platform, a significant challenge in a business where Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android operating system are the entrenched leaders. Kindel was invited to discuss the Windows Phone 7 application platform with the team building the application platform for Windows 8 in the fall of 2009. But two days before he was to give the presentation, Kindel got word from his bosses that the presentation was off. Kindel said he believes Sinofsky personally shot it down.’

      http://news.cnet.com/8301-10805_3-57536905-75/steven-sinofsky-microsofts-controversial-mr-windows-8/

      • halberenson says:

        My point exactly. When you put two 8000 pound gorillas in a room they can’t force each other to do anything. Windows couldn’t force Windows Phone to abandon its app model, but neither could Windows Phone influence Windows’ app model.

        • JOhn Mitas says:

          true that … I guess I never pictured WP being a 8000 pound gorilla! I can see your perspective now!

  7. Dave says:

    Msft has had a dysfunctional cross group collaboration system for decades. The same brinkmanship delivered Office & Win95, Office & NT, Office & XP, with innumerable smaller orgs between the two including Ole, SQL, Exchange, and Developer. Fundamental innovations like Ole, new hardware, new UI, new 32 and 64 but programming models were introduced despite the hard priorities.

    I wonder what makes deeper collaboration more difficult now?

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