Manufacturing guy-at-large.

Looking sideways

Added on by Spencer Wright.

Nobel Laureate and longtime bell Labs researcher Arno Penzias, in an excerpt from his book "Harmony." The focus here is organizational change at Bell Labs, presumably in the 1990s. Emphasis is mine.

The change didn't take place overnight, but over time our behavior has changed radically. Today about half our researchers work full-time in partnership with colleagues from other parts of AT&T. Similar changes have taken place in management as well. While most research managers have kept their titles and the trappings of office, their jobs have undergone 90-degree turns. Instead of looking up and down, so to speak, they now spend most of their time looking sideways.

For example, each research director now works with one of AT&T's business units, making sure that its needs get attention. The directors also make sure that Bell's researchers have access to potential customers for their work. These directors work not just for the sake of the people in their own organizations but rather for the research operation as a whole. With organizational roles now more clearly defined on the basis of function rather than scientific discipline, management's primary attention has shifted to external interactions.

Recasting first-level management roles has proved the most challenging undertaking. Experienced researchers themselves, managers had worked hard to ensure the best possible research in their departments. But "best" as they defined it. In one particular case, this meant producing the world's most powerful laser diode--a record-breaking experiment. It won the "best paper" award at a major professional conference. While certainly not unworthy, this internally generated pursuit of excellence paid insufficient attention to the priorities of potential customers. While colleagues in our Lightwave Business Unit sought more powerful lasers, they might have preferred to trade some of that device's performance for compatibility with their existing fabrication methods.