Stratechery 2013 Year Review Just read them All…

Stratechery 2013 Year Review

Just read them. All of them.

Uncanny Valley of a Functional Organization

“Functional organizations are unusually reliant on a visionary leader. …

Everything is tied together at the CEO-level, which means communication channels must be excellent, both from the bottom up and also across functions. Moreover, the vast majority of employees only ever see a piece of the product; it’s up to the CEO to set the broad vision and ensure that it is being followed.

The upside is a holistic and integrated quality to the resultant products that is truly extraordinary. People talk about how the iPhone integrated hardware and software, but that is just a crude approximation for what is effectively a single vision of what a phone should be, down to the tiniest detail.

Pulled part of this particular article out because it illustrates a challenge that many organizations have making technology shifts. As an example, let’s consider the Blizzard’s WoW Armory app. It has a bunch of WoW specific features and one which is cross-game, namely chat. However, they don’t call it that. Instead it’s WoW guild chat and channel restricted.

Imagine instead if they had done what Facebook did, namely break their Messenger app into a completely separate app from their standard Facebook client. The net result is a base-line functional experience in the main app, with a specific app with chat features galore. That, combined with their single sign-on mechanism, results in a really great overall user experience.

Blizzard has already done the hard work of ensuring cross-game chat. Yet there’s no mobile app to take advantage of that. And that’s the nut of the challenge presented by technology transitions. I guarantee you someplace inside of Blizzard, someone is made the argument that it’s not worth the resource allocation to build it, because there isn’t enough user uptake. Yet there isn’t enough user uptake, because the app they would use most doesn’t exist.

Pop quiz, for all Blizzard games what’s the #1 thing people do aside from actually gameplay?

Answer: Chat with each other.

(Note that’s not to diminish the other features of the WoW Armory app. As a player, I use the calendar features for example.)

Why can’t I chat across games via the mobile app like I can in game?

Why not do the base-line feature for all games and then do deep-dive features on a per game basis?

I just don’t know what I’m missing, but it feels like something related to how their functional organization is deterring priorities/allocating resources causing shearing because of inadequate communication.

I do know that in a matrix organization, like NASA/JPL, they do strive to address this problem. Early on, I got to work on several space probes as a user interface programmer. As a UI programmer there were a series of first principals that were reinforced by my peer group of other UI programmers (i.e. use Motif) and were outside of the influence of the project team. That worked for a while, until I subverted the process and went “functional,” got stuck to a project which did control 100% of my work, and never returned to my matrix group.

I essentially went “native.”