Product Development

Product Development System Assessments: The Silo Mentality

17 January 2012 | Team EACPDS


When contemplating the idea of writing a blog, I challenged myself to justify why it would be both worth my time to write, and worth yours to read. The hope is that working through self-justification will result in a blog of greater interest and value.

Sharing the motives behind this blog through self-introduction seems the right place to start.  By self-introduction, I don’t mean telling you about myself — you can find all that on LinkedIn — but rather about EAC and our shared view of product development. EAC was founded and operates on a fundamental belief that the way we (you) execute product development is fundamentally flawed.  We further believe that this deteriorates America’s competitive position and unnecessarily, unacceptably demotivates the expert knowledge workers who operate within the functions critical to product success.

As an achievement-focused organization, EAC seeks first to understand the drivers and root causes of the positive and negative behaviors typical of product development environments. We then engage in the competition of ideas to produce an array of countermeasures to bring to common product development problems. One output of this internal collaboration is the Product Development Operating System (PDOS), a framework for the conduct of successful product development published on the EAC website.

An element of the PDOS gets to the heart of justifying this blog. In the PDOS, we use a maturity model to articulate an important aspect of improvement efforts within product development. Limited by flawed management habits many companies become trapped at what we call Level 2 operation, “Silo’ed”. During the maturation of a product development system, the gap from Level 2 to Level 3, “Systematic”, is the most difficult to bridge. It is EAC’s mission to help product development organizations, to borrow a phrase, cross this chasm.

Siloes are interesting. In companies, they are at first a sign of progress. The generalist of entrepreneurship reforms into specialized functional areas, enabling further growth and maturation.  But they eventually become a barrier to further organizational progress. That’s not surprising; Peter Senge tells us in the first law of systems thinking that “today’s problems come from yesterday’s solutions”. For these maturing companies, getting beyond the silo mentality is one important key to progress.

Earlier in my career, I spent several years working in Japan at a global manufacturing company.   Japan during the course of its history had periodically shut itself off from the rest of the world. The Japanese talked about their resulting global naivety — knowing and caring about only what happened within their limited domain – as ‘ii no kaeru’, a ‘frog in a well’. A well is just an upside down silo. For functional groups, understanding their own bigger picture – the landscape in which the well or silo exists – is the first step in the work of connecting the silos and fostering systematic operation.

EAC conducts Voice-of-Customer interviews, performs Product Development System Assessments, and provides consulting services. During these events, when we visit prospects and customers, it is startling to see how hungry each company’s product development thought leaders are for stimulating and informative ideas and discussions about what can be done to improve product development operation. And that is how we justify this blog. To all of you who from time to time feel like a frog, this blog is aimed at letting you know what’s going on outside of your well.