March 17, 2017

Fences, not silos

Good fences make good neighbors.


It is always fashionable to talk about getting rid of the silos in software development. Silos are inefficient! They’re frustrating! Everyone hates silos. 

But what is a silo, anyway? Why do they come into being everywhere, when everyone hates them so much? And how do we deal with them? 

Silos are a product of oversimplification of organizational boundaries. Necessary, valuable constraints give way to unnecessary and often counterproductive constraints. It starts with not thinking clearly about why we have organizational boundaries in the first place, and what those boundaries should and should not do. 

As an alternative, I suggest thinking of organizational boundaries as fences. Fences limit mobility, but permit visibility. Fences keep the goats out of the vegetables, but still allow neighbors to talk with each other, share, and learn.

Responsibility, access, and visibility

Organizational boundaries usually form around areas of responsibility. This team is responsible for managing this system, that team manages that system. This implies both a positive and a negative - it means that other teams should not be messing with that system, altering that data or producing that output.

And that’s that.