8 Useful Management Improvment Resources
I’m hosting this edition of Jon Hunter’s Curious Cat Management Improvement Carnival. It’s been published three times a month since 2006. Here’s my round-up of interesting management-related posts from the last month with a focus on the psychology of change and software development philosophies.
Change Artist Challenge #7: Being Fully Absent by Gerald Weinberg
For managers who want to create systems that allow people to do great work, one solid test is to see if the systems works without you there:
Your challenge is to take a week away from work, and when you get back, notice what changed without you being there. … Do you think you can’t do this? Then you have a different assignment … “If you’re going on a week-long vacation and feel the project cannot do without you, then take a two-week vacation.”
Forecasting misunderstood by David M. Kasprzak
David writes well about understanding the purpose of forecasting and reporting to avoid counter-productive fire-fighting management behaviour:
Forecasting has to do with long-term vision and strategy, measurement, and learning. Focusing on reporting without planning leads to delayed information and chronic “hot buttons” that require immediate attention.
When this occurs, the PDCA cycle is simply broken. The end result is a system where the people in the organization are in a constant state of “Do!” and “Act!” without any sense of why they are doing anything, or if their efforts have actually caused an improvement.
Matt Damon does it again by Ben Decker
One of the challenges for managers is how to present their views in a persuasive way. Ben Decker analyses the techniques Matt Damon used in a recent presentation to a rally against standardised test-score based funding for schools:
[Damon uses a story -] he weaves the point of his speech around his experiences in public schools. This personalizes the message, gives him credibility, and is memorable. When listing out all the growth he experienced in school, he brought it back to the point by saying, “None of these qualities that have made me who I am can be tested.”
This links in my mind with W. Edwards Deming’s statement that “the most important figures that one needs for management are unknown or unknowable …, but successful managers must nevertheless take account of them”
Is Thinking Allowed? by Tobias Fors
Continuing the theme of managers focussing on what is easy to see, and not what is important, Tobias writes about a manager challenging him for not typing (even though typing is not the bottleneck):
When we sit and think, it looks like we’re doing nothing. This makes it hard to think in many organizations.
Doing is what it takes to change the world, but if we don’t think a little first, how can we know if we’re about to change it for the better or the worse?
Leadership Coaching Tip: A Process for Change by Barbara Alexander
Starting with a reference to Deming’s famous quote “It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory”, Barbara writes a summary of the work of Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey including their focus on uncovering the competing commitments and underlying assumptions which keep us “immune from change”:
One example from Immunity To Change that many of us may relate to is the leader whose goal is to be more receptive to new ideas. As you might imagine the behaviors he’s doing instead of his goal include talking too much, not asking open-ended questions and using a curt tone when an employee makes a suggestion. His hidden competing commitments? You guessed it . . . to have things done his way and to maintain his sense of self as a super problem solver
Why progress matters: 6 questions for Harvard’s Teresa Amabile by Daniel H. Pink
Dan Pink reports on research behind “The Progress Principle” (affiliate link) which finds that “people’s ‘inner work lives’ matter profoundly to their performance – and what motivates people the most day-to-day is making progress on meaningful work”. The research showed that support for making progress is more potent than other motivators (incentives, recognition, clear goals, interpersonal support) although surveys have found that it isn’t rated highly by most managers.
Why Is Failure Key to Lean Success? by Michael Balle
In contrast to the support for making progress, Michael Balle defends Lean Sensei’s who leave teams feeling let down by focussing on more on what was not achieved than celebrating what was. Balle talks about improvements made without challenging underlying assumptions (similar to single-loop learning) represent “pretending to learning” and not “real learning (acknowledging and understanding why we were wrong about something)” (similar to double-loop learning). I’m hopeful that a “sensei” could learn to act in ways that could help teams meet the desired higher-order learning without having the potentially de-motivating impact described.
Agile Vs. Lean Startup by Joshua Kerievsky
Whilst the “X vs Y” style is unnecessarily combative, Joshua has done
an interesting job contrasting the different practices and approaches
between Agile Software Development and the Lean Startup approach (which
uses Agile Software Development approaches to “build things right”
alongside the Customer Development process focussed on finding what the
“right thing to build” is).