Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Apple and strategic capability development

I just finished reading Someone is coming to eat you by Rands in Repose.

It is is an interesting analysis of Apple's strategic stance. In particular, the comment about Tim Cook and the Apple operations team resonates particularly strongly with me.

Perhaps I am reading too much into it, but here I imagine that I can see an organization that, yes, has a legendary focus on product design, but also has the ability and the intelligence to stand back and design an organizational capability that acts as a strategic competitive differentiator.

I think that there are two complementary strands at work here. The first is simplicity. The organization acknowledges that simplicity is hard, and works hard to achieve it, not only in product design but in number of products and (presumably) also in organizational structure.

Having achieved that level of simplicity, the organization can then stand back from the coal face, and engineer itself into a better competitive condition by creating one, or possibly more, world-class capabilities as organizational differentiators.

In the article, the operations team is picked out as an example. To me, this has a little of the flavor of the discussion around "product line" engineering, but it feels much more fundamental, bigger in scope and goes far further into the heart of the company.

Initially prompted by Conway's law, many years ago, I am now becoming increasingly convinced that we need to think of the structure, organization and culture of the enterprise as being the foundation upon which the design of the products are laid, and that a single vision needs to shine through all of these aspects, from management and financial reporting, through organizational culture, and all to build a set of strategic capabilities that will set the enterprise apart.

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