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Napoleon as Organizational Designer (2009) [pdf] (dtic.mil)
43 points by nucatus 7 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 15 comments

This is probably easier to follow if you have read Clausewitz, and understand the pressures pertaining to an on-foot army. E.g. the references to "foraging" would today probably be called "looting".

The central organisational challenge was: how to march 250,000 men on foot across a continent with no motor transport for supplies nor radio communications? It was more effective to spread out, but this required delegating authority down the hierarchy. Effectively the Grand Armee was a set of smaller micro-armies that allowed it to overcome the scaling challenge.

Adding more “micro army” pods would exponentially increase the coordination costs / communication overhead. If communication is the main challenge then decentralizing power would lead to more org ineffectiveness (centralized/command-control structures would be better).

Anyway, as I commented earlier: I think the authors miss the central innovation that enabled org innovation — which is all the tech Napoleon developed around messaging!

He also, however, managed to reduce the coordination costs by that eternal go-to - finding subordinates he could trust, who would grok his plans well enough to DTRT even without a lot of communication. The Napoleonic armies had an enormous number of talented generals aside from the Great Man himself.

The authors don’t do enough to sell the basic org design framework well. Then they use this (somewhat weak) framework to analyze Napolean’s org design. Makes it a v confusing paper. (Also, the hero worship throughout the paper makes it seem like everything Neapolean did, fits their beautiful theory. Too much fitting going on :))

“Strategy should utilize the five basic principles of organizational design: division of labor, unity of command, authority and responsibility, spans of control, and contingency factors.”

What!? No one designs orgs like this. Orgs are designed around:

A) “Axis of Excellence” (Eg if you want functional excellence in your org - ie the best salesperson to lead sales, the best marketer to lead marketing - then you organize around functions likes Sales, Marketing, Engineeing etc). OR,

B) “Max{Collaborative Output} and Min{Communication Overhead}” needs - Eg if people across functions need to collaborate closely to produce a business result then one create those units accordingly - they could be line of business units ( eg textile: spinning, packaging etc) or geo-based units.

Looking at the framework they use makes me wonder what useless theories are being taught in MBA schools :-)

The most interesting bit in the paper is about messaging. Seems like Napoleon invented HipChat/Slack of his day to make his orgs work more smoothly. That was quite cool!

“Napoleon utilized the existing technology of the Chappe’s semaphore telegraph to improve his message traffic. He maximized its potential by constructing towers across Europe creating a communications web that would cover his expanding empire (Elting, 1988). When messages were too long or not as important to use Chappe’s telegraph, Napoleon relied on the European postal system. He made improvements by creating an express courier service. Messages were carried in a lock box with a logbook that showed the date and time of arrivals and departures of couriers to each post house”

Your critique of the analytical framework is based on the assumption that this is a business school paper. It isn't. It's from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, and uses specifically military terminology and design considerations.

In military organizational design, "unity of command" [1] is absolutely a central tenet, given the need for precise coordination and the high costs of momentary lapses thereof; "authority and responsibility" is a closely related concept, since unity of authority without responsibility, or unity of responsibility without authority, produces all kinds of perverse organizational incentives. "Contingency factors" [2] are also an organizational principle especially important to military operations given the time-sensitive nature of their activities and the adversarial nature of their obstacles.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unity_of_command

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contingency_theory

Some notable people ended up on the faculty there iirc Gary Kildall (cp/m) and Richard Hamming for example.

I don't see why you'd need to minimize communication overhead when maximizing collaborative output is already stated as an explicit goal. I'd think the only reason to minimize the former is to make it easier to maximize the latter, in which case the former would be redundant. A rude interpretation is that the dual goals are there for the self-serving reason that you maybe don't like to talk to people.

“Don’t like to talk to people” is probably isomorphic to; unable to communicate securely or reliably ie both characteristics of military operations.

You'd expect a "Post-grad" to spell it right:

"Grande Armée"

So the Grande Armee was more like Distributed Systems?


(Trop Long; Pas Lu?)

Why is this MSc based material? Which hypothesis does he wants to accept or reject? Just a description is not worth a dissertation on uni equal level. At least not in Europe...

My thoughts exactly. This is a 40 page high school essay.

welcome to the military

As an American I vividly remember having to write a similar essay in high school (15 year old) only it was 30 instead of 40 pages. I have no idea how this is dissertation level material

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