Two org charts

17.36, Wednesday 14 Mar 2012

Apple’s org chart under Steve Jobs can be seen in Adam Lashinsky’s Fortune article Inside Apple (as Kindle Single), and in low resolution here. Lashinsky’s book version of Inside Apple includes an updated org chart centred on the new CEO, Tim Cook.

I won’t pretend to understand how large companies work, but in my understanding an org chart is a part map and part blueprint of a large variety of connections:

  • hierarchic responsibility for areas of the business
  • sensibility. I mean both a grouping of people in similar disciplines (“design”, “engineering”, “finance”) and similar rhythms or mindsets: launch focused, continuous development focused, hackers, bureaucrats, and so on
  • ease of influence, for example when a CEO and a product design group are directly connected, we can assume that there is a flow of values and insight that goes both ways. It might be more appropriate to call this “close coupling”

What interests when I look at such charts is trying to find “the tail that wags the dog.”

Let me explain. I am curious as to how products are invented – how is the genuinely original incepted into an organisation, and how does this idea because real? I look for two clues in the structure of the org chart:

  • a flow downstream - a path of least resistance - from a concept toward a machine that manufactures, sells, and improves a product. The concept has to be in a form which has a tendency towards improving and not eroding as it moves down the gradient.
  • since the flow downstream takes most of the company (I believe), I look for a tail that wags the dog: a source of uniqueness; a harnessed singularity producing negentropy; a small enough group that invention can truly occur, but large enough that a sizeable number of information/possibility streams can be collided, and close enough to business strategy that the whole business can orient around the new ideas. Some parts of the company are intended just to feed this small group.

The group in Apple’s case is said to be Jonathan Ive’s product design group – a dozen or so people who invent new products. The gradient from this group spelt out in a playbook called the ANPP. From the book Inside Apple:

Once the design is under way, the rest of the company kicks into gear. The two organizations that will be responsible for the product are the supply-chain team and the engineering corps. Thus begins the Apple New Product Process, or ANPP. The ANPP is the step-by-step playbook spelling out everything that needs to get done to make the product. The ANPP wasn’t always unique to Apple. Xerox, HP, and others used a similar playbook in the late 1970s and early 1980s. A former Apple engineer described Apple’s process, which began as a manufacturing aid aid for the Macintosh, as part art, part science. The goal of the ANPP “is to automate the science part so you can focus on the art,” said this engineer. The process elaborately maps out the stages a products creation will follow, who touches it, how responsibilities will be assigned across functions, and when assignments will be completed.

(The passage that follows this gives more details from the ANPP. Two managers take over the product: one from supply chain, and the other from engineering. I don’t know where software comes in, but I understand - from reading around - is that it’s when the hardware features are more-or-less finalised. What little of the process that is public is fascinating, and I recommend the book.)

You could, I suspect, draw the ANPP atop the org chart - perpendicular to many of the lines of responsibility - and map out the gradient a product moves along on its route to market.

Now I don’t completely buy Lashinsky’s description. The iPod had a very different origin, where the market opportunity was spotted by one party, the project left dormant until another party spotted a technological opportunity in a new miniaturised hard drive appearing in the supply chain, the novel UI was spotted by marketing, and the person bringing the project at least halfway from invention to reality didn’t join the project until many of these seeds were in place. The organisation which Apple has become isn’t the organisation that created the iPod: there is no guarantee that its current form will be a true codification of previous success.

But still, interesting food for thought.

Disney’s 1943 org chart is also fascinating, primarily because it maps out exactly the gradient: Walt, to story, to direction which coordinates a network of parties - the direction of flow here is wonderfully mapped - and finally the production flow narrows and the picture goes to market.

It’s a lovely diagram and again, who knows how it well it describes the “at play” network of Walk Disney Studios. In particular the roles of marketing and technology are not well described – but maybe this was unnecessary: perhaps innovation in the technology of animation was done in a sideways fashion, by running particular innovation pictures (such as Fantastia) that would introduce novel processes into these departments; and maybe product-market fit was part of Walt’s genius and so it didn’t need to be introduced elsewhere in the machine.

But to see the gradient by which an idea can be “plussed” and not corrupted as it moves towards market, well that’s fascinating.