The Identity Crisis of Many Companies

I often say that many companies are software or technology companies, but they just don’t know it. This crisis of identity causes them a lot of trouble. Simply stated, those who got their management stripes in a none-complex environment will struggle in, and of course hinder, a software development project. Continue reading

Authoritarian vs. Democratic Leadership

One thing we see throughout the finance industry is the success of the authoritarian leader. Why, since authoritarianism is frowned upon, does it pervade as a model for management? To understand this, we need to, I think, take the judgement out of the question and simply ask:

Why does the authoritarian manager succeed in the finance industry?

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First Things First

I must study politics and war, that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.
John Adams

I have seen managers and leaders in companies grow frustrated and even desperate at the lack of cooperation they got from the people who worked for them. I came to realise two things:

  1. The managers and leaders often had lofty needs, to do with legacies, creating centres of excellence, gaining the respect of their peers, etc.
  2. That the people working for such managers and leaders often had much more basic needs, to do with safety, systems that worked properly and continued employment. 

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That Pesky Industrial Mindset

This is a really funny RSA video but also tremendously sad. To us at Ugly Duckling, it is clear that the industrial mindset, with its standardisation, batch thinking, etc., eats at our very souls. I had not stopped, not really, to think that it eats at the souls of our children, too.

Compelling stuff this. Make you angry? I do hope so.

Occam's Razor

Occam said that when you have two competing hypothesis, one should always choose the one with the fewest assumptions.

Today, then, when Facebook and other social media sites exploded with footage of a UFO over the protests in Brazil, we are confronted with (at least) two competing theories:

  1. The object was a UFO.
  2. The object was a surveillance drone. 

Occam would tell us that the assumption that aliens exists is too great and it would be more rational to go with other theory, and this is especially true when we consider the evidence; Governments do sometimes survey their people but aliens have never landed.

This UFO story did get me thinking because during times of organisational change, which I am often right in the middle of, suspicions run high. Those at the top suppose a grass-roots conspiracy. Those at the bottom suspect a despotic leader. Occam would say, there is no great conspiracy, nor is there a despot, since the evidence doesn’t point to either. Rather, Occam would tell us that change is continually frustrated by foot-dragging, quiet sabotage, communications failures and of course stupidity.* **

In my experience of change, this is mainly right.

* I am shamelessly paraphrasing MacGregor Burns here, from his book, Leadership.

** I point no fingers here, I am not immune to bouts of stupidity.

The UFO

Fixes That Fail - The Great Housing Benefit Cock Up

In March I tried to explain on this blog how an attempt to cut costs can actually, and often does, increase them. In regards to the housing benefit cuts in the UK, I, like many others, said that the policy of moving people from one to two bedroom houses would fail because 1) there aren’t many one bedroom houses and 2) if there were not enough council houses, families would be moved to the private sector, which is more expensive.

Today the Observer reported that this is indeed what his happening. In Systems Thinking this is called a fix that fails.

You can read the article here: ‘Costs soar for wealthy councils as benefit cuts force families to quit homes’, Guardian Online, accessed on the 8th of June, 2013.

Lessons from History; Taylor and Shifting Responsibilities

In 1912, in a testimony to the House of Representatives Committee, Frederick Taylor said that the new, scientific way of management, brought new burdens and duties that

are so unusual and so great that they are to the men used to managing under the old school almost inconceivable.

The four new duties were: gathering knowledge of the work carried out; studying the nature and characteristics of the workmen; bringing the scientifically trained workmen together; and finally, sharing the work that used to be carried out solely by the workmen. Of this last duty, Taylor said,

First, the workman does something, and then a man on the management’s side does something, and then the workman does something; and under this intimate, close, personal cooperation between the two sides it becomes practically impossible to have a serious quarrel.

Fast forward one hundred and one years and we find managers looking for a new way of working. They see, for example, other companies with great results. That, they think, is what we want. However, great results come from a new system of management and a new system of management brings new burdens and duties. (Like Taylor’s managers, ours, too, must understand  the worker. And like Taylor’s managers, ours, too, must work in such a close manner that serious quarrels are close to impossible, or at least the cancerous un-spoken conflicts that typify our technical age are close to impossible.)

In my experience, many managers want their teams or companies to become high, or at least better, performers, but most don't grasp that this requires a change in duties. Hope lies, however, in the fact that when confronted with this, many managers are able to accept these new duties. Some, of course, see the price of better performance as too high - you can't blame them for that, and in some cases they may very well be right.

The Scientific Method with Feynman

This is an excellent video, given by a hero of mine, Richard Feynman, explaining why guessing is indeed scientific and key to the scientific method. In truth, you don't really understand lean (or agile) unless you really understand the scientific method.

Enjoy.

How You Perceive PDSA Will Dicate How You Succeed With It

The Plan-Do-Study-Act cycle lies at the heart of lean thinking. It arose from a need to systematically solve problems and make sure that once solved they would not arise again. I.e. PDSA is a way to make a system wide improvement.

Rooted in the scientific method, PDSA acknowledges that adults learn best by doing, and thus it encourages experimentation. The cycle is simple enough: we plan some work (which is actually a hypothesis); we do some work (run the experiment); we study the results (where we learn about the system we are experimenting against); and finally we take actions, making sure, for example, that if we’ve improved the system, we do not regress to a previous, dysfunctional state. Continue reading