From the Leader’s Guide to Radical Management by Stephen Denning

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  Management as a traditional concept is obsolete!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!

About Brian Lucas

In his life, Brian Lucas has been a coach, farm worker, forester, health care advocate, life guard, general contractor, mechanic, mixologist, musician/singer (in a rock group), salesman and teacher. Brian has worked as a project manager, technical marketer, methodologist, manager, software architect, systems designer, data modeler, business analyst, systems programmer, software developer and creative writer. These efforts include over a hundred hi-tech initiatives in almost every business and industrial sector as well as government and military projects. Among them, he designed and developed a quality assurance system for the first transatlantic fiber optic communications network, a manufacturing system for a large computer manufacture’s seven manufacturing centers, a data mining system for steel production, an instrumentation system for cable systems, defined requirements for government’s information systems and designed and developed human performance management systems. Brian has educated and mentored many over the years, designing programs to discover and develop talent. He has also lectured extensively to a variety of audiences. Brian is currently devoting as much time as possible to the innovation of business agility and human capital management along with the next generation of agile software development. As an amateur theoretical physicist he is working on joining general relativity and quantum mechanics through a multidimensional time corollary on string theory and negating the uncertainty principle with Louis de Broglie’s wave/particle hypothesis. He is also an avid blue-water sailor and wilderness backpacker. He enjoys billiards, boxing, chess, cooking, famous battle reenactments and war gaming, fencing, flying, gardening, horseback riding, martial arts (particularly Ninjutsu), philosophy and psychology, playing musical instruments (7 so far), poker, rapid-fire target shooting, reading (he tries to read a new book every night), painting with oils, scuba diving, skiing and recently writing novels.
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26 Responses to From the Leader’s Guide to Radical Management by Stephen Denning

  1. George says:

    Nice review. Based on this I will buy the book since your analysis is logical and makes quite a bit of sense to me. I hope you post more about this kind of management change. In general this blog has impressed me with the variety of what you cover and simple sense you are bringing to the subject. Far too many blogs are run by complicated theorists or very narrow techno geeks or those who just express platitudes that are worthless. I like the fact that you provide practical advice.

    • Brian says:

      Thanks George! I try as often as possible to present something that is of immediate practical value and is implementable. -Brian

  2. Carol says:

    Interesting post! As a professional trainer, I have experienced these forces in management develop over the years. It is past time that management takes action to reinvent itself. Keep posting more on this subject please! -Carol

    • Brian says:

      Thanks Carol! Sometimes it is very difficult to convince managent of something if it is not their idea or contrary to their theory of control. That’s a very sad reality.

  3. Alex says:

    This is a great blog! It covers a lot of different subjects. Love the writing style. Mr. Lucas do you do webinars or have other blogs? There is a whole lot of sense here and it is understandable. Please post more!!!!

    • Brian says:

      Alex please call me Brian. Thanks for reading and commenting. I have done some webinars and will probably do others in the future. I am just limited by time constraints since I am doing this on my own time.

  4. Martin says:

    Brian – Thank you very much for your recommendation of “From the Leader’s Guide to Radical Management” by Stephen Denning. The quote from Mark Twain was what caught my eye and interested me enough to read the post. I followed my father into the I/T industry. He was always called a maverick and did things his own way bucking the system.
    I started in the industry in 1996 right out of college with a degree in electrical engineering, but was interested in software development. I was fortunate enough to find a progressive midsized company that had already embraced agile software development. Over the years we have been successful, but have made our share of mistakes. Mostly we have suffered from growing pains and the need to reorganize our business.
    Even within our company, which I feel is progressive; there is still the concept of the old guard that resists change. Since I have moved into senior management, this book has helped me put a sound strategy in place to deal with our customer’s demands for constant innovation. Your comparison to the agile development process was very apt. Thanks again. -Martin

    • Brian says:

      Martin – thanks for sharing! By all means the world of Toffler’s third wave belongs to the “Maverick Entrepreneurs”. -Brian

  5. Solidad says:

    I have read this book based on our recommendation and want to thank you. Having worked in both the United States and my home country, I believe there is more resistance to these ideas in America then elsewhere in the world. I would like to know what you think on that subject.

  6. Frankie says:

    This was a very enjoyable book. I suspect Brian, that you are also a radical manager based on the fact that you are recommending this book and the subjects of your posts. I would love to see a survey about who thinks they are a radical manager and who wants to be and is not. What do you think? -FM

  7. Megan says:

    Hi Brian! Anymore like this? I though it was a good read.

  8. DaleRobbie says:

    Hey man! Great book any more in this vein?

  9. Adam says:

    I read this book on your recommendation and thought it was a good read. Thanks. My question is how does the fit in with the other book you recently recommended on Management 3.0?

    • Brian Lucas says:

      They are complimentary one deals with the concept of agile and complex systems the other with the people aspect of managing in times of chaos.

  10. James McGavin says:

    This was an excellent book recommendation. What turned you on to it in the first place?

  11. Vicky Vail says:

    I agree this is a very good book. It changed my thinking as an executive.

  12. Brandie says:

    I saw this book touted on several other blogs, but you were the first to recommend it. I also saw snip-its of the arguments you made in several posts on other blogs, but again you were first. Obviously others are reading you and copying what you say which is good. They should be giving you credit though…

  13. Jack says:

    Just finished the book. It rattled my cage! I’ll be honest, I don’t know if or how I can adapt to this. I am going to try! Thanks Brian and thanks Stephen!

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