By Brian Lucas
“The radical of one century is the conservative of the next. The radical invents the views. When he has worn them out, the conservative adopts them.” -Mark Twain
The Leader’s Guide to Radical Management by Stephen Denning is a very interesting and useful book. I recommend you add it to your agile reading list. The concepts of radical management are taken right from the heart of agile’s manifesto. Unfortunately for traditional managers, the very basis of management has failed. The outmoded idea of the perceived order and harmony of the business hive mentality actually leads to economic death. In an enterprise environment where executive management deem themselves wise and make all the important decisions; timely adaptation cannot occur. As I wrote in my blog article, “Why CEO’s Fail in Today’s Agile Business Environment”, the rate of return is down 75% from the mid-sixties and the life expectancy of a non-financial Fortune 500 company has fallen to less than 20 years. Employee morale is at an all-time low. Company boards of directors are swapping out CEOs like relief pitchers. Management as a traditional concept is obsolete!
Traditional management practices, particularly those revolving around the concepts of hierarchical command and control, have to be jettisoned from the enterprise ship in favor of a latticed structure that creates continuous innovation and customer enthusiasm through employee empowerment. Not only does the management have to change – RADICALLY, but the workplace must also evolve into a more comfortable and livable environment. These demands are being generated not only from the customer’s need of immediate satisfaction, quality and cost control, but also the employment base which is continually shifting from the semi-skilled worker of yesterday to the skilled knowledge worker.
I would like to focus on one aspect of radical management here; the seven basic principles of continuous innovation as seen in the figure below.
The first principle is based on a major power shift from the seller to the buy. Instead of the seller having an attitude of limiting the customer to that which the enterprise produces and generating need, the buyer now expects the seller to understand their problems and create solutions specifically for those problems.
The second principle is based on the increased abilities of the knowledge worker. The management role has changed from being a controller to a facilitator. In fact, the change in the role of project manager to scrum master can be seen as a microcosm of the change required by all management.
The third principle is one familiar to all agilists, working in small, rapid client-driven iterations that focus on the 20% of the most important client needs.
The fourth principle of delivering a demonstrable value to clients with each iteration is a vital part of keeping on tract. If you put something in people’s hands frequently, before you invest excessive amounts of time into it you can not only avoid wasted time and effort, but also make your customers part of the solution. A customer will almost enthusiastically embrace a deliverable that they had an integral part in designing.
The fifth principle can be the most difficult – honesty about impediments. This is particularly dicey when it comes to personnel and the political aspects of cronyism and nepotism. If the workforce is not allowed to express their frustration with people or processes that inhibit or don’t provide value add, then their motivation will be limited at best.
The sixth principle of creating a context for self-improvement by the team really deals with concept of teams being the fundamental organization unit that accomplishes work in the enterprise. As W. L. Gore writes in his work on lattice structures; this is the mechanism that accomplishes useful work in all enterprises. It makes sense therefore to restructure the enterprise along these lines.
The seventh principle is one the blankets the other six and either enables their success or prevents it. Communications must change from a command to a conversation. Just as scrum masters don’t assign work to a team as project managers normally do; work flow should happen through two-way communication.
Radical change is painful to most people. The change to a radical management formula that Denning writes about is the antithesis of bureaucracy. Denning eloquently states that, “The vast and somber edifices of the traditional corporation still stand. Grim and impregnable, they … seem destined to last forever. Yet they are … rotting from within: the return on their assets is only a quarter of what it was just a few decades ago. Their life expectancy is already startlingly brief—now around fifteen years and heading towards five years, unless something changes. The despotic management practices that are causing the decline are anachronisms from a former era. It is only a matter of time before they come to be seen as uneconomic and intolerable as despotism in the political sphere. “
So let’s hear how eloquent you can be about radical change and till next time – keep agile!