Collaboration fails without Organizational Learning

Updated: Dec 17, 2021

I do a lot of reading, not everything makes it into the course content. Here are some articles that I find interesting, and a short tidbit as to why:

Positive vs. Negative Organizational Learning


As projects move forward, late changes become increasingly expensive. Requirements Management and most Systems Engineering methods look to fully define the project at the beginning, such that late changes do not occur.


This, however, does not provide the opportunity for Collective Learning. In this article, the author looks at very large projects and compares/contrasts big-bang versus modular approaches in projects like hydroelectric dams, subway systems, and nuclear power plants.(The Monju nuclear power plant in Japan required 30 years to construct, another 30 to decommission, and produced only one hour of viable power.)


Make Megaprojects More Modular (hbr.org)

Summary: In conventional business and government megaprojects—such as hydroelectric dams, chemical-processing plants, or big-bang enterprise-resource-planning systems—the standard approach is to build something monolithic and customized. Such projects must be 100% complete before they can deliver benefits: Even when it’s 95% complete, a nuclear reactor is of no use....but the author has found two factors that play a critical role in determining success or failure: replicable modularity in design and speed in iteration. The article examines those factors by looking at well-known megaprojects, both successful ones and cautionary tales.



PLM, Work-From-Home and Organizational Learning at Ericsson

I find these two articles interesting in the contrast between two IT projects in a single organization. This article was written in May 2019 and says the following:

Telecom Giant Ericsson Halts Its PLM Project with Dassault’s 3DEXPERIENCE | Engineering.com

"The revolution devours its own children," once claimed the French revolutionary leader Danton when he was sent to the guillotine by a 1794 tribunal he helped to set up. This applies not only to major social upheavals, but can symbolically represent major PLM decisions. If you fail to land a big PLM bet, the response tends to "eat" those who were responsible.

For Swedish telecom giant Ericsson, that image has become a reality today: virtually everyone who had responsibility for the company’s 2016 decision to invest in (their PLM implementation) has resigned, been fired or switched jobs. The installation is, globally, one of the largest in the PLM area and impacts around 25,000 users.

But the following discusses how the Ericsson, just one year later, adapted to a work-from-home model due to the COVID-19 pandemic:

How to Do Hybrid Right (hbr.org)

The Ericsson management team team engaged employees in “jams” that were conducted virtually during a 72-hour period and supported by a team of facilitators, who subsequently analyzed the conversational threads. One of these jams, launched in late April 2020, played a crucial role in giving Ericsson employees a platform to talk about how hybrid ways of working during the pandemic might affect the company culture. More than 17,000 people from 132 countries participated in this virtual conversation. Participants made some 28,000 comments, addressing how working during the pandemic had created both challenges (such as lack of social contact) and benefits (such as increased productivity through reduced distraction). Senior leaders developed a more nuanced understanding of the issues and priorities they need to take into account as they design hybrid work arrangements. Change, they realized, is bound to create feelings of unfairness and inequity, and the best way to address that problem is to ensure that as many employees as possible are involved in the design process. They need to have their voices heard, to hear from others, and to know that the changes being made are not just the result of individual managers’ whims and sensibilities.


Introducing new PLM technology to help 25,000 product developers collaborate failed to the point that all of the early decision-makers left their roles, yet moving 17,000 people from their offices to their homes in the midst of a world-wide crisis worked rather well. While the latter article doesn't refer to the technology used to implement work-from-home, we can certainly imagine WFH technology being similar to PLM tech; with email, Zoom, Slack, and other collaboration tools. Why the failure in 2019, and yet the success in 2020?


My point being... if we want better products, we need to focus on culture. Possible Ericsson learned from the issues found in the failed PLM implementation just a year earlier, and were willing to try something new. But will your next PLM team learn from the WFH experience?