Management of Sun Microsystems
Sun has become synonymous with intelligent, rapid innovation and the ability to translate complex requirements into financially successful products, which is what Oracle found so valuable in acquiring the company in 2010 (Veverka, 2010). The culture of Sun Microsystems is highly engineering-centric, and as a result, senior management, engineering, product development, sales and service all rely heavily on quantify performance for each process and strategy implemented. The key success factors for Sun Microsystems’ products and services divisions have traditionally focused on attracting, retaining and growing key engineering and development professionals as the primary priority. Second, Sun continually pursues greater agility and speed of innovation with extensions to existing products and the development of entirely new ones. Third, Sun’s direction in software development continues to be much longer-term than a traditional enterprise software company, as evidenced by the high levels of investment in Java (Veverka, 2010). This difference in perspective on the viability of Java as a source of revenue continues to be a point of contention between Oracle’s senior management and the team of executives from Sun Microsystems who joined Oracle after the merger.
The merger between Oracle and Sun Microsystems continues to ironically strengthen the core leadership, organizational culture and values. The leadership within any technology company needs to be hybrid in scope and approach, supporting transformational and transactionally-based approaches to ensure clarity and consistency of communication and measurable results (Van Fleet, Griffin, 2006). The merger has also brought to the forefront how diverse the needs are across the combined companies, with application development, user interface customization, software testing and quality assurance, investments in the time and costs for ongoing support all becoming sources of conflict over time. The two organizations, Oracle and Sun Microsystems, still struggle to orchestrate departments across massive projects, which many executives and senior managers take as a sign of lack of trust throughout the organizations of each other. The most critical element that can unify and strengthen merged companies or create high levels of dysfunction is trust or the lack thereof (Goldman, 2008). As Sun Microsystems is a highly engineering-centric company and Oracle is as well, executive management has taken to using many of the concepts, frameworks, key performance indicators (KPIs) and metrics that have been discussed throughout our course and presented in the text. Throughout this analysis, those concepts, frameworks, KPIs and metrics will be used to further illustrate the progression Sun’s core teams continue to make as part of the larger and more complex management structure of Oracle. As an employee of Sun, it is readily apparently how the pressure to produce consistently measurable results can at times make simple problems become very complex from a technology management standpoint. As a result of this observation, both the functional and dysfunctional control systems are also analyzed as part of this paper. The overall objective of this analysis is to evaluate how the functional and dysfunctional control systems within Sun and Oracle are impacting the long-term effects on company growth. The extensive use of KPIs, metrics, benchmarking and a multitude of quality management techniques and systems are also explained as part of this analysis. As the merged companies compete in the computer and peripherals manufacturing industry, the cost pressures are turbulent, as previous analyses in this course have showed. These market forces accentuate the stress in the company.
Sun Microsystems Development, Engineering and Quality Management
The many processes used for producing enterprise hardware and software systems encompasses design, engineering and coding of both applications and operating systems so the finished system meets the greatest number of potential company’s needs. Within Oracle and Sun there are a myriad of applications and systems for managing the software development process, ensuring that deadlines and critical path issues are resolved. It is immediately apparent how skilled a leader is in keeping a complex, operating-system level project moving forward by how their benchmarks and KPIs are reported on the dashboards on company intranet and project management sites.
Of the many development tools and platforms available, the departments I work in at Oracle/Sun have relied on one of the most popular from a software engineering standpoint. The Agile Development Environment and platform is well-suited to managing a project by assigning only the most well-skilled and senior person to each task. It also has a series of metrics and KPIs that can be used for goal setting, continual control over the development process, and real-time reporting as to the status of each action item and task on the critical path. Agile has proven to be invaluable in reporting back resource conflicts between Oracle and Sun Microsystems teams globally, creating a very high level of tension and conflict on tight schedules. The crux or catalyst of the leadership challenges pertaining to Agile begin with the wide variation in how the Indian development teams perceive time and its use for accomplishing goals relative to the U.S. And European teams. The Indian teams like to rush through all their deadlines, in fact “gaming” the Agile system to show tremendous speed and accomplishment. The reason for this is that the Indian programmers are paid on deadlines, not on quality. They push themselves to work seven days a week, twelve to fifteen hours a day at times, to quickly move through their segments of a project. While this has at times led to projects being ahead of schedule, it has just as often led to entire segments of code and in one instance, a block of Java Virtual Machine code (a very larger component of an operating system) having to be completely re-done. Since Oracle has taken over Sun software engineering there continues to be a push to have the Six Sigma DMIAC methodology rigorously enforced across all development centers precisely due to this type of situation occurring. It is as if the Indian perception of time itself on projects is vastly accelerated compared to all other development units, and literally efficiency itself seems to be their customer, who they serve. Re-work often happens on the Indian coding projects that have the highest efficiency ratings, as these development teams take only a rudimentary understanding of customer requirements and continue to work with them. An essential element of any managerial framework is creating and reinforcing a common vision of a project, even if global in scope, with the customers’ needs at the center to ensure consistency and common direction (Van Fleet, Griffin, 2006). Our leaders, many of them transactional in their skill sets in that they only have control over immediate rewards and punishments (Camps, Rodriguez, 2011). What is needed is a more transformational leadership style that can combine the intensity to meet or exceed deadlines the Indians have, with the obsession and pride in quality the European and American development teams have. Indian developers are extremely efficient, yet los effectiveness by not stopping to fully collaborate and make sure they completely understands the full scope of customer requirements. As up to 35% of their total salaries are defined by metrics and KPIs measuring deadlines met, clearly the compensation and in some cases, reporting structures of the teams working with and in India needs a drastic change. This shift however will require a leader more transformational, less transactional in scope, capable of getting all development teams onto a common set of performance and bonus incentive programs. The ability of a transformational leader to traverse cultural boundaries and create shared meaning and accountability on key projects is essential for progress to be made on highly integrated, long-term, complex projects over time (Camps, Rodriguez, 2011).
Where this effort needs to begin is in the area of user interface design for the Sun Microsystems operating components running within Oracle software. This is the one area of the enterprise applications where industry analysts, prospective customers, and the industry media all look for clues as to how effective the merger is going. This also sets the foundation for an interesting application of the frameworks discussed throughout the course and presented in the text. As both have pointed out, it is common for one department or division to compete with another. It is up to the leadership of these development teams to keep the competition focused on the overarching goal of delivering an exceptional product or superior user experience (Camps, Rodriguez, 2011). A new user interface has been designed to unify both Oracle and Sun software components, and senior management wants it to be evidence to the outside world (analysts, media, potential customers, existing customers) of how well the companies are working together. Oracle’s development teams insist on running the program in Agile, and the Sun team comply., As the weeks of the initial project get underway, the prototype quickly takes shape yet the Oracle team is starting to pull away and rush three, four even five milestones deep without waiting for software quality assurance, user testing, audits of usability or regression testing. All of these factors are critical for the success of this highly visible component. The Oracle teams eventually turn the competition into one they can win however, using milestone accomplishment alone during software reviews to push the Sun side to compromise the more technically complex features to meet their part of the deadline. Agile has transitioned from being a development tool to a means to compete and drive another team into conformance with a competing team’s agenda. This is a prime example of how product development environments can turn into a dysfunctional control system. As senior management, above the project leaders, looks at a literally seventy to one hundred projects a month in reviews, all they have time to see are the critical path factors, Agile-based metrics and KPIs on accomplishment. The immediate reaction of senior management is that the coding for the main part of the application is going extremely well and the more complex, engineering-centric features that Sun is so well-known for is slowing down the process. What needs to happens is that a stronger leader needs to step in and place equal weight of project performance and quality of coding based on customer requirements, including adherence to the Marketing Requirements Document (MRD) and Technical Requirements Documents (TRDs). Transformational leadership is a critical skill set for alleviating systemic conflicts in the attainment of complex, challenging projects and initiatives (Camps, Rodriguez, 2011). The continuous use of the Agile development system as a means to initiate unhealthy competition and one-upmanship is the most toxic and dysfunctional area of the company today. When project management and measurement methodologies are used for deliberately initiating conflict between organizations, leaders must step in and work to end the dysfunctional use of these and get projects back on focus towards common shared goals and objectives (Goldman, 2008). Transformational leadership needs to concentrate on creating enough shared task ownership and outcomes so that toxic and dysfunctional competition that only delays projects and costs companies millions of dollars doesn’t occur (Camps, Rodriguez, 2011).
The second high profile and heavily relied upon control system is the new product development process that is gradually being transitioned to Sig Sigma and DMAIC-based methodologies globally throughout Oracle. As Oracle and many other enterprise software companies derive up to 30% of all revenues during the initial first 18 months of them being available, this system gets much focus internally (Veverka, 2010). Oracle is aggressively pursuing adoption of the Six Sigma methodology called DMAIC (Design, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control) to alleviate the disconnects in each phase of the new product development process that are occurring in the areas of the merged companies. Executive management, many of them having spent their careers in software and hardware engineering, are moving quickly to implement Six Sigma-based frameworks around the global development workflows and processes where they see problems starting to occur in speed vs. quality trade-offs. Six Sigma in general and the DMAIC methodology specifically are used throughout product development projects to increase their efficiency and focus on customer requirements (Grant, Mergen, 2009). This is exactly why Oracle’s senior management wants to get this control system engrained into the Sun and Oracle development teams ways of working. Oracle has long standardized on a custom-designed form of Six Sigma complete with a DMAIC-based methodology for managing more complex projects including the development of the Oracle 11i platform. The adoption of this specific form of Six Sigma into all areas affected by the merger continues on, and shows the potential to alleviate the dysfunctional aspects of the first control system discussed in this analysis. Six Sigma and DMAIC methodologies also will allow team leaders to drastically reduce the dysfunctional aspects of previous systems by measuring quality of coding and programming, in addition to just efficiency. The multidimensional aspects of Six Sigma as a methodology for managing projects are well-proven for alleviating conflicts inherent in resource constraints and perceptions of user requirements (Grant, Mergen, 2009). Using a balanced scorecard approach to track and report on these metrics and KPIs will give the combined Oracle and Sun Microsystems management teams greater visibility into which areas of projects are being sacrificed to just make the performance measures look good. In order words, Six Sigma will make it possible for the engineering management teams to evaluate the true performance of project plans to actual customer-driven goals, not just rely on a single perspective on programming efficiency alone (Goldman, 2008). The Agile system continues to perpetuate conflicts in performance analysis based on completion of deadlines, not the quality of the work or how well orchestrated it is to customer requirements. The Six Sigma DMAIC platform will alleviate this.
Using this approach to measuring performance will also mitigate conflict and the use of pre-existing systems and platforms as a means to compete against each other. There continues to be an understandable level of anxiety as to which programming team is superior, and in some situations, which would be the ones most likely to hold onto their jobs in a lay-off. When discussion of headcount reductions begin, Agile-based metrics of performance typically spike to nearly unrealistic levels, ironically becoming a metric measuring the level of miscommunication throughout the company instead of one measuring true performance to the actual goals and objectives overall.
Studies indicate that cognitive and perceptually-based biases are the foundation of entire systems becoming dysfunctional over time (Amason, 1996). As is the case with the development teams globally now united by the merger of Oracle and Sun, this is certainly the case with how metrics and KPIs of performance regarding new product development and testing are carried out. The lessons learned from this course in class and from the text underscore that Oracle needs to make significant changes to their new product development process and work to create a more unified culture that captures the best of what Sun has to offer and builds on the development strengths Oracle has.
From a personal standpoint, this study continues to be extremely valuable from a learning and leadership perspective. Mergers between corporations are never easy, and if metrics and KPIs that measure real results, not just efficiency or speed can be used, the combine efforts of both companies will be far more effective over time. The focus of this study has been on the Agile development system and use of Six Sigma and DMAIC methodologies for guiding development. These two systems have promising potential, yet have also been used fort dysfunctional purposes as well. Oracle’s acquisition of Sun brought in a series of skill sets that are very engineering-centric, highly trained and focused on depth of quality at times over speed of delivery., Oracle’s culture is also highly engineering-centric with a focus also on quality, but with speed winning out. Intermediating the differences between these two companies will require many of the concepts, frameworks and lessons learned from this course.
Amason, Allen C. (1996). Distinguishing the effects of functional and dysfunctional conflict on strategic decision-making: Resolving a paradox for top management teams. Academy of Management Journal, 39(1), 123.
Joaquin Camps, & Hannia Rodriguez. (2011). Transformational leadership, learning, and employability. Personnel Review, 40(4), 423-442.
Charpentier, Claes, & Samuelson, Lars A. (1996). Effects of new control systems in Swedish health care organizations. Financial Accountability & Management, 12(2), 157.
Grant, D., & Mergen, A.. (2009). Towards the use of Six Sigma in software development. Total Quality Management & Business Excellence, 20(7), 705.
Goldman, A.. (2008). Company on the Couch: Unveiling Toxic Behavior in Dysfunctional Organizations. Journal of Management Inquiry, 17(3), 226.
Merchant, Kenneth A.. (1990). The Effects of Financial Controls on Data Manipulation and Management Myopia. Accounting, Organizations and Society, 15(4), 297.
David D. Van Fleet, Arizona State University, Arizona, USA, & Ricky W. Griffin, Arizona State University, Arizona, USA. (2006). Dysfunctional organization culture: The role of leadership in motivating dysfunctional work behaviors. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 21(8), 698.
Veverka, M.. (2010, May). Software’s New Code: Buy. Barron’s, 90(20), 31.
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