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Functional Allocation VII

Here we are at blarticle number 7 on the unglamorous and boring topic of “Functional Allocation”. Once again, for a reference point of discussion, I present the hypothetical allocation tree below (your company does have a guidepost like this, doesn’t it?). In summary, product “shalls” are allocated to features, which are allocated to functions, which are allocated to subsystems, which are allocated to software and hardware modules. Depending on the size and complexity of the product to be built, one or more levels of abstraction can be skipped because the value added may not be worth the effort expended. For a simple software-only system that will run on Commercial-Off-The-Shelf (COTS) hardware, the only “allocation” work required to be performed is a shall-to-software module mapping.

Levels Of Abstraction

During the performance of any intellectually challenging human endeavor, mistakes will be made and learning will take place in real-time as the task is performed. That’s how fallible humans work, period. Thus for the output of such a task like “allocation” to be of high quality, an iterative and low latency feedback  loop approach should be executed. When one qualified person is involved, and there is only one “allocation” phase to be performed (e.g. shall-to-module), there isn’t a problem. All the mistake-making, learning, and looping activity takes place within a single mind at the speed of thought. For (hopefully) long periods of time, there are no distractions or external roadblocks to interrupt the performance of the task.

For a big and complex multi-technology product where multiple levels of “allocation” need to be performed and multiple people and/or specialized groups need to be involved, all kinds of socio-technical obstacles and roadblocks to downstream success will naturally emerge. The figure below shows an effective product development process where iteration and loop-based learning is unobstructed. Communication flows freely between the development groups and organizations to correct mistakes and converge on an effective solution . Everything turns out hunky dory and the customer gets a 5 star product that he/she/they want and the product meets all expectations.

Unobstructed Allocation

The figure below shows a dysfunctional product development process. For one reason or another, communication feedback from the developer org’s “allocation” groups is cut off from the customer organization. Since questions of understanding don’t get answered and mistakes/errors/ambiguities in the customer requirements go uncorrected, the end product delivered back to the customer underperforms and nobody ends up very happy. Bummer.

Inter-org Obstruction

The figure below illustrates the worst possible case for everybody involved – a real mess. Not only do the customer and developer orgs not communicate; the “allocation” groups within the developer org don’t, or are prohibited from, communicating effectively with each other. The product that emerges from such a sequential linear-think process is a real stinker, oink oink. The money’s gone. the time’s gone, and the damn thang may not even work, let alone perform marginally.

Obviously, this situation is a massive failure of corpo leadership and sadly, I assert that it is the norm across the land. It is the norm because almost all big customer and developer orgs are structured as hierarchies of rank and stature with “standard” processes in place that require all kinds and numbers of unqualified people to “be in the loop” and approve (disapprove?) of every little step forward – lest their egos be hurt. Can a systemic, pervasive, baked-in problem like this be solved? If so, who, if anybody, has the ability to solve it? Can a single person overcome the massive forces of nature that keep a hierarchical ecosystem like this viable?

Inter And Intra Obstruction

“The Biggest problem To Communication Is The Illusion That It Has Taken Place.” – George Bernard Shaw


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