Monthly Archives: September 2011

VIDEO – Scrum Explained in 4 minutes

In keeping with Scrum’s philosophy anchored in efficiency, it’s good to see the whole methodology described in just 4 minutes:

Making Change Stick

Change management is a one of the most demanding aspects of project management, in part because it’s intertwined with human psychology which can prove even more daunting than mapping dependencies on a Gantt chart.

Previously, I highlighted a project that made change fun, such as changing stairs into piano keys to encourage people to use the healthier option rather than taking the escalator, and books such as Switch remind us that change has both an emotional and rational element to it.

Hear are two new examples of change management, one innovative and one that ultimately fizzled out.

Idea Submission At Technicolor

First the bad, as highlighted in the HBR blog at a Technicolor Plant in Michigan things started off great and got better, in asking for submissions from front line employees in 2003 then got 3,000 ideas in 2006 they got 20,000. Fantastic success, but it all happened because managers made it a priority, when the incentives for managers to focus on process improvement ended the ideas weren’t captured and it stopped. There’s never been any shortage of front line ideas, but when the management incentives changed, the submissions stopped.

Reusable Boxes At eBay

Second, in the Sloan Review an idea that has more promise (and incidentally was crowdsourced). eBay have redesigned their boxes to make reuse easier. There’s a clear alignment of incentives here, reuse is easier, helping the planet and customers, but the boxes are branded, reinforcing the eBay brand.

We shall see if it sticks, but it looks promising so far.

So, a good reminder on some of the helpful aspects of change management.

1. The incentives need to be in place, once these stopped at Technicolor, so did the change.

2. Make it fun, whether piano stairs or colorful boxes, fun is one of the best motivational tools.


The false choice between process and agility

Now Starbucks print warnings on their straws. “Not recommended for use in hot beverages.”


Relentless rules, caveats and documentation are not likely to feed agile processes and innovation.

Agility trumps process. But there a third element that determines both – scale.

Heavy process is seldom chosen, it’s a by-product of scale. You can be agile the first time, the tenth time, but the hundredth time, the thousanth? Whether it’s coffee shops, construction projects or customers the logic is inescapable and the weight of process bears down on you.

You don’t chose process, but you do want to achieve scale, and process is the baggage that comes with repetition.

Netflix embrace agility, but will they still be able to do so when they are the main player in entertainment rather than the upstart competitor?

Book Review – The Lords of Strategy

Walter Kiechel III in the Lords of Strategy writes about two topics one narrow and uninteresting the second engaging. The first topic is a history of management consulting and the people involved in it. It’s not terribly interesting. Firstly the people aren’t explored in much depth beyond their educational backgrounds and mentors and the history of McKinsey, Bain and BCG is a rather esoteric subject anyway, unless perhaps you happen to work for one of those firms. The goal is to paint consultants as pioneering thought leaders in crafting the discipline of strategy, but it feels forced and the case is hard to defend anyway, as the formative years of BCG seem the only evidence of a consultancy truly advancing academic thought around business, and in fact, later in the book those ideas are shown to be fairly simplistic, bankrupting many of the clients who used them.

Fortunately the second topic the salvages the book. It is a history of the evolution of thinking on corporate strategy and this is interesting, obejctive and well charted. Starting with the experience curve and the portfolio strategy and moving on through Porter’s models, core competencies and change management. Also, fortunately, though the focus on management consultants is overdone, the ideas they propose are analyzed objectively. Even here the premise of the book is little off – the claim is corporate strategy originated with the rise of management consultants, yet the ideas of Adam Smith (late 1700s) , Frederick Winslow Taylor (late 1800s), Peter Drucker (1940s) Alfred Chandler (1960s) are all identified as key tenets of the thinking so the claim is hard to defend even with the book’s own reasoning.

Net if you’re looking for a good summary of the history of thinking on corporate strategy, this is not a bad place to look, especially since, as the book itself argues, academic synthesis on the topic is uncommon. You do have to put up with the repeated and painful insertion of the history of McKinsey, Bain and BCG throughout which takes up space rather than contributing, but seeing the progression of thinking on corporate strategy will likely further your understanding of the overall topic.

The Key To Personal Improvement

There’s a lot of thinking at the moment around using agile methods, quick prototyping, seeing what works and rejecting what doesn’t. In all sort of  circumstances this is a valuable approach.

However, there’s one problem at the personal level. Our memory, or perhaps more accurately, our decision making processes, aren’t up it.

In essence the decisions we have made in the past can shape our perceptions of the future, and most importantly, we may not even be aware of it.

It turns out there’s a fairly simple solution to this issue. Namely, keeping a diary. And now, with tools like  Skydrive or Dropbox it’s much easier for a diary to follow us around, assuming the presence of an internet connection.
The goal is not to document your deepest feelings, just to document what you were trying to achieve – before you know the outcome of the decision – ideally right after the decision occurs, hence before bias can be introduced.
Doing this avoids the unhelpful tricks memory plays on you and ultimately will make you a better decision maker. Peter Drucker is a strong proponent of this style of documented decision making to improve learning.