#60 Managing Organizational Structure in a Traditional Company: Can You Have Two Solid Lines – Data Innovation Summit Takeover Interview w/ Daniel Engberg

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This episode is part of the Data Innovation Summit Takeover week of Data Mesh Radio.

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Scott interviewed Daniel Engberg, Head of AI, Data, and Platforms at Scandinavian Airlines. Daniel will be presenting on “Structuring an Enterprise-Wide Data Organization” on May 6th in track M4.

A key point Daniel made right away was that organizational structure should be tailored to accomplishing your goals – so we have to know what those goals are first. What are the capabilities we need to meet those goals? “Traditional” companies are often locked into their structure – silos by competence; so data engineering in one silo, marketing in another, sales in another, and so on. Daniel is interested in figuring out how we can split up the competencies to create cross-functional, cross competency teams but not cause chaos to the organization as a whole.

Daniel gave an example of creating a cross functional team early in the pandemic as there were some very big threats to the business – being an airline when no flights are happening is a scary place. The cross-functional team was able to move so much more quickly than the way the company tackles challenges when it is business-as-usual, achieving their goals in a few days instead of what typically would have taken months. This cross-functional work also created new information sharing connections across the entire company which continues to create additional value.

What Daniel learned from that experience, he is trying to replicate as best he can to make it the new business-as-usual instead of a one-off. As the head of AI, Data, and Platforms, he is working to infuse members from his team directly into more projects so they can be part of the teams and decisions instead of handling requests after decisions are made. It also gives his team members the ability to rationalize goals so there is a better ability to do maybe 80% of what would be requested with only 20% of the work in a month instead of the whole 100% in 6+ months – where is the value cut-off? Negotiate instead of take requests.

For Daniel, product owners must start working to gather the competencies they need on their own cross-functional teams. But that can cause issues when domains start to hire when they lack strong knowledge in that competency. E.g. domains hiring data scientists when they have no idea how to find a good data scientist whose capabilities match their needs and goals. Or do they even want a data scientist instead of a data analyst? Then the career growth aspect gets challenging too – does a product owner need to know how to grow the career of 10 different types of widely varying roles.

We talked about the challenges of dotted lines versus solid lines between a functional manager and a competency manager – who do you listen to? Can we have two solid lines for reporting structure? Daniel believes people want managers who understand their day-to-day work.

As stated, hiring into domain teams directly is very tough. Competency Leads need to ensure the company has the right talent and the right amount of talent in their competency and then work with the domains to place resources into those domains.

Per Daniel, there is also the natural resistance to change with changing responsibilities. Employees end up worried – a new way of working always causes some amount of fear. Daniel and Scandinavian Airlines are currently trying to do this type of change with some of their competencies.

One tip Daniel gave for making change a little easier to accept is to very explicitly lay out expectations – heavily communicate and clarify so we can take the fear of change head on. What will it mean for job security? How people work together? Be clear how you want it to work so people can adjust to meet the goals, not the implied structure.

Daniel finished up by talking about how data governance is still a major challenge in traditional organizations. They are looking to make the data governance as close to the product teams as possible – the decisions should be owned by the product teams wherever possible. When turning over those responsibilities to the domains, it is important to give them good decision frameworks and also let them know they have a backstop if they need help.

Data Mesh Radio is hosted by Scott Hirleman. If you want to connect with Scott, reach out to him on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/scotthirleman/

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