Op Ed: Business Perspective on RIM’s Decline

Business and technology faculty at CTU have watched news reports involving Research in Motion (RIM) closely for lessons to share on leadership, management and innovation. As part of a two-part op ed series, we asked the University Dean of Business and Management, Dr. Emad Rahim, and the University Dean of IT, Computer Science and Engineering, Dr. Myles Vogel, to share their personal reactions to what caused RIM’s decline. Part one in the series, this is Emad’s response.

By Emad Rahim, DM, PMP
Executives at Blackberry and RIM (Research In Motion) could learn a few things from reading case examples from one of my favorite business books: “Why Smart Executives Fail: And What You Can Learn from Their Mistakes” by Sydney Finkelstein (2003). Rather than focusing only on successes, I believe we can learn a lot more from others’ mistakes. This book includes several insightful examples of how some of the world’s best business minds have failed to lead their company or venture forward during difficult times of change.

If you are unfamiliar with RIM, it is the company behind the BlackBerry product line. They were supposed to be the evolution of BlackBerry smartphones. But instead, repeated delays in launch dates, internal conflicts between business units, budget constraints and product malfunction are crippling the entire Blackberry brand and company. Instead of developing innovative and creative products that give Apple and Android devices a run for their money, Blackberry and RIM hand over market share and lose ground in the smartphone war quarter after quarter.

BlackberryNow, before you assume that I am talking trash about RIM because I am an Apple lover, I want to point out that I have been a longtime fan of Blackberry. I have owned several Blackberry devices since 2007 and even purchased the Verizon BlackBerry PlayBook; which resulted in constant email issues and problems uploading files. I have read reports that RIM’s business culture is very difficult to manage because of the company’s political environment. Bloggers have pointed out that the culture of BlackBerry is the exact opposite of RIM, citing RIM’s inability to get their products to market quickly and technology defects as major contributors to recent failures. Engineering and design may have some impact on Blackberry and RIM’s product problems, but I see many problems that tie directly back to leadership and project management.

When reviewing articles written on BlackBerry and RIM in the last few months, I notice similarities in the type of language used to describe the company’s failures. An environmental scan of articles and blogs reveals words and phrases like “schedule delays,” “missed deadlines,” “over budget,” “risk,” “quality defects” and “design flaws” used to describe their products or projects. It’s no coincidence that these are all project management buzz words. Words and phrases used to describe the company’s direction and structure like “unclear vision,” “strategy issues,” “business culture,” “dysfunctional work environment,” “management” and “communication barriers” point to major leadership problems.

Some of my favorite leaders dealt with similar workplace dynamics and market challenges. They were able to overcome these same challenges by first making sure the current organizational structure and environment were conducive to the type of change they were looking to implement. Regardless of how talented RIM is or how creative and innovative their employees are, the company will need to follow an organizational structure and process that fosters project management maturity and best practices. Executives at Blackberry need to show some transformational leadership to help RIM get back on track and organize. From where I sit, this is the only way BlackBerry and RIM will produce quality products that hit their target launch date. The strategy of BlackBerry will never be effectively implemented if the culture of the company has a history of resisting change; so it will take a visionary leader to examine the organization as a whole and identify opportunities to improve how the company operates.

BlackBerry leaders could learn a thing or two by reading “Why Smart Executives Fail: And What You Can Learn from Their Mistakes” by Sydney Finkelstein. 

See the technology perspective on RIM’s decline – view Dr. Myles Vogel's op ed post.

Dr. Emad Rahim is a PMI Certified Project Management Professional® and the University Dean of Business and Management at Colorado Technical University. Connect with him on Twitter @CTUBusiness or leave a comment below.

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