Friday, October 14, 2011

Apple's corporate innovation? The 'directly responsible individual'

Now that Steve Jobs has gone on to his reward, the negative stories are coming out about him. I found this story about a failed product launch at Apple to be fairly interesting:
Shortly after the launch event, he summoned the MobileMe team, gathering them in the Town Hall auditorium in Building 4 of Apple's campus, the venue the company uses for intimate product unveilings for journalists. According to a participant in the meeting, Jobs walked in, clad in his trademark black mock turtleneck and blue jeans, clasped his hands together, and asked a simple question: "Can anyone tell me what MobileMe is supposed to do?" Having received a satisfactory answer, he continued, "So why the f--- doesn't it do that?" 
For the next half-hour Jobs berated the group. "You've tarnished Apple's reputation," he told them. "You should hate each other for having let each other down." The public humiliation particularly infuriated Jobs. Walt Mossberg, the influential Wall Street Journal gadget columnist, had panned MobileMe. "Mossberg, our friend, is no longer writing good things about us," Jobs said. On the spot, Jobs named a new executive to run the group.
My favorite defense blogger, Tom Ricks, find this to be actually a good thing ("In fact, what Jobs did strikes me as simply enforcing accountability -- which is what leaders should do.")

I'm of two minds about this and its relatability to the pharma/chemical world. First of all, nobody likes failure and Ricks is right -- someone needs to be held accountable when there are large failures. Relieving the executive in charge seems like accountability that doesn't seem to happen in the pharma world very often (or, at least, in my short time, I haven't seen it yet.) But Apple and other software companies control the horizontal and the vertical to a much greater extent than a pharma exec. Apple's software and tech products are subject to a man-made environment, while successful drug launches are subject to biological complexities that can stymie the best of plans.

But there's one thing coming out of Apple that I find extraordinary, and something that I hope catches on everywhere -- the Directly Responsible Individual:
The accountability mindset extends down the ranks. At Apple there is never any confusion as to who is responsible for what. Internal Applespeak even has a name for it, the "DRI," or directly responsible individual. Often the DRI's name will appear on an agenda for a meeting, so everybody knows who is responsible. "Any effective meeting at Apple will have an action list," says a former employee. "Next to each action item will be the DRI." A common phrase heard around Apple when someone is trying to learn the right contact on a project: "Who's the DRI on that?"
Obviously, this is equally subject to gaming and politics, like anything else in life. But it's a good idea, nonetheless. 

1 comment:

  1. It is very rare to see an executive take a fall, that stuff usually rolls downhill. It makes some sense, since these guys get paid the big bucks.

    ReplyDelete