New: Book Report: DEC is Dead, Long Live DEC

This is a book about DEC, Digital Equipment Corporation, a start up that grew big. The author argues that some of the things that made it a great start-up, a great place to work... these things also were the seeds of DEC's destruction. The company believed in innovation and shipped many products. But it never had a good way to figure out which of these products made money and which were a drain. And there were plenty of drains. Similarly, the company trusted its people to do great work and didn't waste time trying to monitor people. But there were some people who weren't doing great work and some people working on useless things. There was no way to detect these people. The company used the honor system, and it's quicker+easier to get a picture of what the company is doing if you trust the reports of a few managers instead of putting a lot of effort into cross-checking. But once some manager started distorting facts, trust backfired.

While the company did well, these problems weren't serious. The products that did well financed the others. But as microcomputers chased out DEC's minicomputers and the company needed to change, these problems became more important. The lack of clarity about which parts of the company were doing well made it difficult to steer the company towards survival.

This was a discouraging book. It suggests that a company that grows past a certain point runs into some awful problems--problems whose solutions are only mildly better than the problems. I work at a big company. I don't want to spend a lot of time reporting on what I do; just to help fact-check. I don't want to be limited to projects that fit a certain mold so that higher-ups have an easier time keeping track of what the company overall is doing. This book suggests that my attitude might doom my company. I hope it's wrong.

Labels: , ,

Posted 2008-12-10