This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

November 10, 2004 - scaling the organization

I do a lot of reading about technology. And philosophy. And management. They're all connected.

Take, for instance, Linux, the computer operating system. It began as the hobby of a Finnish college student. Linus Torvalds wanted to wring a little more work out of his new DOS-based computer, so tried to program a free clone of Unix. He launched this project on the Internet.

Today, Linux is a collaborative, truly international project. It runs the web servers of IBM, of Yahoo, of Google, and even of Microsoft.

But along the way, Linux ran into a couple of walls. The first was wholly human. One guy, Linus, just couldn't keep up with all the corrections (or "patches") people were submitting. Some important new features weren't being picked up or adequately tested. Linus seemed to have reach his administrative limit. He was getting cranky, too.

The second involved what was called "the scalability" of Linux. It was marvelously efficient at some tasks. But when those tasks got to a certain size or complexity suddenly there were unacceptable slow downs. To be successful in big business, Linux needed a redesign of some core functions -- and it looked like Linus wasn't up to it.

Same problem. Scalability of administration. Scalability of function.

The odds are good you've seen this in any organization you've ever belonged to. Strategies that work, well enough, in your own family, don't work in your church group. The communication style that was so efficient you didn't even have to think about it when your business was small ("hey, everybody, come here and look at this!") stopped working when you had people in four different locations, on three different shifts.

The library has had its challenges, too. I'm an intuitive manager, which worked great when our district was small. Then, some years back, in a period of rapid growth, I started dropping appointments and project details. I was becoming, in my own judgment, an organizational problem.

I had to sit down and retool. I took time and project management classes, read up on the topic, designed my own date book, and eventually moved to the Palm Pilot. I'm still an intuitive manager, but now I have a skill set, and some technologies, that help me keep up.

More recently, the library's administrative and communication structure -- the operating system of an organization -- started running into those unacceptable slowdowns and dysfunctions. Again, that's not a criticism of a previous model; it USED to work.

Over the past year, we've been working on addressing that. And I think we'll solve it -- for the period of time that such things can BE solved. (I don't believe in the perfect administrative structure. Things change.)

Linus, incidentally, did pull out of his funk. There was a slight reordering of the administrative structure -- with a little more trust and decision-making authority placed in the hands of a few subordinates. He also adopted some different software tools to manage the various versions of his kernel hacking.

And Linux is a big success.

As Linus said in a recent interview, "So start small, and think about the details. Don't think about some big picture and fancy design. If it doesn't solve some fairly immediate need, it's almost certainly over-designed." Wise words from a programmer -- and excellent management advice.

No comments:

Post a Comment