Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Am I now a starfish?

In his book, Management 3.0, Jurgen Appelo makes a startling comparison between starfish and managers.

"For example, the ancestors of brainless starfish had a brain. But starfish don’t, and nobody knows why…. (Some believe the same applies to managers.)"

While he was probably just trying to make a joke, my experience suggests that the best jokes are generally ones based in reality.  When I look at my personal career, I am fortunate enough to boast that I have had mostly good managers.  I have been able to relate to my managers.  Most of them have put some effort into my personal and professional development.  They have always been able to provide timely advice and guide me in the right direction (or maybe in their self-image?). 

During all this time, however, my view of management has always been along a singular theme, the theme of the starfish.  How do these people get into these positions?  Why don't they use their brains?  Why does everything seem so dis-jointed? Why are they not addressing the problems that really matter?

Reading this book has caused me to spend a fair bit of time self-reflecting.  When I look back at years past, I always wanted things to be orderly.  I wanted to be able to explain what was going on in simple terms.  After all, if you can't break down a problem into simple components, then you don't really understand it… right?  The book would classify what I was attempting to do as reductionism.

"The approach of deconstructing systems into their parts and analyzing how these parts interact to make up the whole is called reductionism".

What I learned is that while these concepts are good to understand how an airplane works, it does little to help explain how complex systems such as corporates work.  Things are really not that simple, and can't always be explained in simple terms.

In a lot of ways, I am really, REALLY glad that the author took the time to write this book.  He approaches the concepts of management like I would (or at least, would hope to).  He spends a lot of time talking about systems theory, explaining just enough of the core concepts to get his point across.  He relates management of people to that of complex systems.  And luckily, work has been done over the years into how to describe, manage, and interact with complex systems.  So why not try and apply those concepts to management?

The application of those concepts, combined with years of experience I'm sure, has led to what is termed the "Management 3.0 model".  There 6 views to this model.

  1. Align Constraints
  2. Develop Competence
  3. Empower Teams
  4. Grow Structure
  5. Energize People
  6. Improve Everything

The last chapter is really the icing on the cake for this book, and probably puts it among the top of ones that I have read.  The author goes out of his way to claim that his model is probably incorrect.  The point, ultimately, is that there is no one way to view/manage complex systems.  The system functions as a will, all you can do, as management, is hope to contribute a little to its direction.  If you adopt agile approaches, focus on using appropriate (for your environment) tools and processes, and have a little bit of luck, you might just be successful at it!

As always, I highly recommend you check out this book.  You can start at the authors website.

Recently, I have been promoted to Manager of the Application Infrastructure group at Hitachi Solutions Canada.  I look forward to the new challenge.