A Skeleton Architecture for a Sustainable Auxiliary Specialty Department
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A Skeleton Architecture for a Sustainable Auxiliary Specialty Department

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An "Auxiliary Specialty Department" provides non-essential support to the core business through capabilities requiring specialized expertise. Sustaining such a department has a number of inherent......

An "Auxiliary Specialty Department" provides non-essential support to the core business through capabilities requiring specialized expertise. Sustaining such a department has a number of inherent difficulties, chief among them being higher staff attrition rates. Here, a skeleton architecture proposed to address these difficulties.

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  • 1. Jeremy Chen
    A Skeleton Architecture for a Sustainable Auxiliary Specialty Department
  • 2. Preamble
    An “Auxiliary Specialty Department” (ASD)
    provides non-essential support to the core business
    through capabilities requiring specialized expertise.
    As a result, such departments are
    often limited in size relative to the parent firm,
    strongly knowledge and skill driven, and
    has to continually justify its relevance to the firm.
    Limitations in size, in turn, would result in
    limited internal advancement, and thus
    possibly frequent staff turnover (unless the working environment is especially attractive), a central difficulty of maintaining an effective ASD.
  • 3. Preamble
    Given its nature and limitations, the following goals are desirable.
    Sustainability: unless the department’s specialty becomes obsolete, its capabilities should be maintained (and continually upgraded) for it to continue providing useful support
    Growth: that is, in terms of scope of expertise, capabilities and efficiency in execution
    This presentation presents a proposal for a skeleton architecture of an ASD geared towards achieving these goals in the face of the aforementioned conditions.
    Members of an ASD might, in addition, have the objective of making their specialty part of the core business, and in doing so, raise their status within the organization as experts of a core domain, and throw off the limitations inherent in ASDs.
  • 4. A Knowledge-Oriented “Skeleton Architecture”
    Engagement with Core Business Expertise
    ASD
    Knowledge Base
    Staff
    Supporting Solutions
    Core Business Domain Knowledge
    Intra-department Sharing
    Specialty Knowledge
    Operational Skills
    New Hires
    Attrition
    Developments in Specialty Field
    Alumni
    In a short course on systems architecting I attended previously, my class was told, in no uncertain terms, that a Power Point slide with a diagram on it (complete with icons, labels and arrows) does not comprise an “architecture”. In presenting the skeleton of an architecture, I claim to not be ignoring the principle he so emphatically proclaimed.
  • 5. Staff Turnover and its Impact on Capabilities
    An ASD’s capabilities resides almost completely within the knowledge and skills of staff.
    The loss of a team member equates to the loss of ready capability
    As a hedge against loss of capabilities due to staff attrition,
    specialty knowledge,
    how it applies to the core business and
    how to apply it in the form of solutions
    should be captured in a knowledge base and be regularly shared within the department.
  • 6. Sustaining and Growing Capabilities
    In an ASD, a knowledge base may serve to
    Be a constant presence containing the fruits of the department’s experience and learning
    Enable new and existing staff to, given relevant backgrounds, pick up knowledge and skills under a reasonable learning curve
    Be the foundation upon which the ASD and its capabilities may be rebuilt after the loss of key staff
    Be a rising low-water mark representing growth in base-line expertise
    An effective knowledge base should
    Capture relevant information in appropriate detail
    Provide a body of (circumstance-based) precedent of the department’s operations
    Be regularly and diligently updated
  • 7. Sustaining and Growing Capabilities
    Regular internal sharing sessions may also serve to
    Broaden the skill bases of individuals, enabling greater ease in deploying staff to tasks
    Increase understanding among staff of each other’s sub-specialties
    Clarify knowledge, enabling high quality knowledge base updates
    Cultivate an atmosphere of learning
    Other “capability” items displayed in the “Architecture” diagram:
    Keeping up to date with (relevant) developments in the specialty field
    Regular engagement with the core business to increase core business domain knowledge
  • 8. Closing Remarks
    In conjunction with this knowledge-oriented architecture, one might consider regularly scheduling the following activities:
    Individual acquisition of knowledge and its operationalization
    Codification of knowledge (especially operationalized knowledge)
    Knowledge sharing
    Meetings with core-business experts to build domain knowledge and identify opportunities to add value
    Internal strategic planning for capability development
    In summary, the proposed architecture sustains and grows departmental capabilities by continually building on a knowledge base upon which (new) staff may “boot-strap” their individual capabilities.
  • 9. Closing Remarks
    As it is in the nature of ASDs to have higher staff attrition rates, and noting that a good ASD will develop highly competent staff that will be in demand elsewhere, it is my position that
    Staff in an ASD who are unable to progress further in the parent organization should be aided in finding good jobs in the field
    Alumni should be recognized for their contributions
    Alumni should be, where possible, engaged