Kaizen, Nietzsche, and the Fly Lady

November 21, 2008

As I was driving into the office yesterday morning listening to local talk radio, the host mentioned ‘creative destruction’ in a segment on the need for government to retool and purge itself of outdated ideas (and legislation). Creative destruction is a term made popular by economist Joseph Schumpeter to describe the creativity that springs forth from the continuous cycle of destruction and rebirth.  The philosopher Nietzsche also used this idea in his writings, but with an existentialist (and slightly less 200px-FWNietzscheSiebe optimistic) perspective. I was familiar with the concept, but it got me thinking — about both my own team, and Microsoft at large. Creative destruction is, in management terms, the process of innovating over bad design. Or less efficient design. This is, as the Japanese refer to it, Kaizen: the act of continual improvement.

The concept is simple enough: every product or process has a lifecycle. An idea is formed, a prototype is created, it is introduced to the market, it grows and matures, it goes into decline, and then…

Well, if it’s a policy or process that we’re all used to because “that’s the way things have always been done,” then nothing usually happens at the logical end of its life. Occasionally someone brings out a can of fresh paint and spruces up that old process with a fresh coat, but it’s still outdated.

Think about how you are managing your team, and whether this describes your modus operandi. Are you throwing fresh paint on a tired process or bad habit? Or are you constantly throwing away what clearly doesn’t work, looking for incremental improvements? Are you taking time in team meetings or in your 1 on 1 sessions to get some real feedback about what you or your team are doing right, areas where you can improve, and processes that you can retire?

Jumping to the third item in my cryptic post title: my mother in law introduced my wife and I to the Fly Lady a few years back. I don’t flylady_toonexpect many people reading this to have heard of this self-help system for de-cluttering your home, but my wife and I really took to it (we are HUGE fans of the control binder). Something that I have incorporated into my professional life, in a way, is the concept of “de-cluttering”: simplifying your life one baby step at a time, identifying and ridding your house/office/life of clutter. The idea is that once a week you find 27 items to throw or give away. I don’t know the magic behind the number 27…..so find the right number for you, and just do it. Make a conscious effort to simplify your life, your team processes, and your product solutions.

Hopefully you can see how these things all fold together. At least they did in my mind in the short time it took for me to turn from Novelty Hill onto Avondale while driving toward the end of 520.

Find what is broken, what has stopped working, what has no value and get rid of it. Embrace the creative destruction, find your inner Fly Lady, and maybe get a little existentialist.

And I’ll try to focus more on the road next time…


Addressing Economic Woes through Management Innovation

October 22, 2008

One need not read this post to understand the breadth and depth of the economic crisis upon us all. Banks are failing, Wall Street is crumbling, and companies all over the world are evaluating new ways to deal with long term economic hardship.

Gallup polls over the last few years have indicated that approximately 30% of employees are disengaged, with 15% of those, “actively disengaged”.

In 2007, Gary Hamel published a great book titled, “The Future of Management“, which asserts that while technology, employee talent levels, and market diversity, have changed dramatically over the last 100+ years, management techniques have not, and that management, as a discipline, is a ripe area for innovation.

Typically, in hard times, managers will try to squeeze that extra 1% out of inventory, or layoff 10% of the workforce to reduce costs. Rarely do we hear about new management techniques being deployed to extract effort from the 15% who are “actively disengaged”.

If a manager were to experiment with rewards tied to earnings, self managing teams, and innovative ways to reach the Gen X or Gen Y worker, would it lead to a greater economic efficiency than squeezing any more “fat” from the production process, or reducing pay for long time employees?

Often, in times of stress, people revert to what’s worked in the past, but it’s hard to believe that last year companies were running their production lines with a bunch of extra fat, or that they truly employed too many workers or were paying people too much.

Perhaps, instead, it’s time to look at that big, juicy 30% of disengaged workers as a target for improving the economics of the firm.

And guess what, if managers turn things around and engage the disengaged, people will be having more fun too. Work will be a more pleasant place to be, and earnings and morale will rise. As Adrian Gostick, one of the authors of “The Levity Effect” says, “If you’re demanding, you can drive people for a short period, but if you’re fun, you have them for the long haul.”

The Great Place to Work Institute has consistently found that companies that are classified as “great” score unusually high marks from employees on the question “Are you working in a fun environment?” Great companies scored 81% on this, compared to 62% for companies ranked “good”.

If managers can innovate to improve the lives of the managed, then the “fallout” should be a reduction in the percentage of disengaged workers, leading directly to increased productivity, reduced costs, and improved earnings. If all of a sudden, 30% of the workforce starts doing more work, then that must have a positive impact.

It’s at least something to consider instead of the knee-jerk reaction to squeeze harder. Successful companies don’t cost-cut their way to greatness.

The Management Innovation Lab, an offshoot of Hamel’s efforts, defines management innovation as “anything that substantially alters the way in which the work of management is carried out, or significantly modifies customary organizational forms, and, by so doing, advances organisational goals.”

There is a lot of room for interpretation and experimentation. Could Alfred Sloan have predicted the pervasive use of IM (instant messaging) – or when Henry Ford introduced the assembly line, did he anticipate the use of wikis as a way of sharing information between workers? How about texting, YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, Sharepoint, Twitter, etc? All these new school techniques facilitate more rapid and deeper communication, much in the same way the “organizational memo” of the 1950’s did in that era.

Wouldn’t it be impossible for management styles NOT to be impacted by a change in communication styles and techniques?

Wouldn’t extending an olive branch to these disengaged workers through the application of new and improved management capabilities be a great way to initiate positive change in a challenging economic climate?


The Purpose of Management

September 25, 2008

Stealing a great post from my good friend and ex-Microsoftie David Weiss, who left the MacBu after many many years to go back to school, and who often shares bits of wisdom on management and product development on his blog:

I just found this great quote by Dee Hock, founder and CEO of VISA:

“I ask each person to describe the single most important responsibility of any manager. The incredibly diverse responses always have one thing in common. All are downward looking. Management inevitably has to do with exercise of authority — with selecting employees, motivating them, training them, appraising them, organizing them, directing them, controlling them. That perception is mistaken.

“The first and paramount responsibility of anyone who purports to manage is to manage self, one’s own integrity, character, ethics, knowledge, wisdom, temperament, words, and acts. It is a complex, never-ending, incredibly difficult, oft-shunned task. Management of self is something at which we spend little time and rarely excel precisely because it is so much more difficult than prescribing and controlling the behavior of others. Without management of self, no one is fit for authority, no matter how much they acquire. The more authority they acquire the more dangerous they become. It is the management of self that should have half of our time and the best of our ability. And when we do, the ethical, moral, and spiritual elements of managing self are inescapable.

“Asked to identify the second responsibility of any manager, again people produce a bewildering variety of opinions, again downward-looking. Another mistake. The second responsibility is to manage those who have authority over us: bosses, supervisors, directors, regulators, ad infinitum. In an organized world, there are always people with authority over us. Without their consent and support, how can we follow conviction, exercise judgment, use creative ability, achieve constructive results, or create conditions by which others can do the same? Managing superiors is essential. Devoting a quarter of our time and ability to that effort is not too much.

“Asked for the third responsibility, people become a bit uneasy and uncertain. Yet, their thoughts remain on subordinates. Mistaken again. The third responsibility is to manage one’s peers — those over whom we have no authority and who have no authority over us — associates, competitors, suppliers, customers — the entire environment, if you will. Without their support, respect, and confidence, little or nothing can be accomplished. Peers can make a small heaven or hell of our life. Is it not wise to devote at least a fifth of our time, energy, and ingenuity to managing peers?

“Asked for the fourth responsibility, people have difficulty coming up with an answer, for they are now troubled by thinking downward. However, if one has attended to self, superiors, and peers, there is little else left. The fourth responsibility is to manage those over whom we have authority.

“The common response is that all one’s time will be consumed managing self, superiors, and peers. There will be no time to manage subordinates. Exactly! One need only select decent people, introduce them to the concept, induce them to practice it, and enjoy the process. If those over whom we have authority properly manage themselves, manage us, manage their peers, and replicate the process with those they employ, what is there to do but see they are properly recognized, rewarded, and stay out of their way? It is not making better people of others that management is about. It’s about making a better person of self. Income, power, and titles have nothing to do with that.”

Your example can be your greatest method of influence. Sadly, for some, you may be doing all of these things and find very little appreciation from those you manage. That’s okay. They may think, “What does my manager do?”, but it doesn’t matter that they fully understand, unless you are preparing someone to take your place. Your job is not to prove your worth to those you manage. If your team is feeling individually appreciated, inspired, free to explore and get things done, then you are largely doing right by them. Still, your team will likely fail if you don’t manage your superiors, peers and yourself properly, which is to say, I agree whole heartedly with Dee Hock’s comments above.

Thoughts on Innovation

September 23, 2008

A friend passed along a post by Gabe Rijpma from an internal DL that I really wanted to share, as many of the points mentioned have come up in various MEC conversations, including our discussion with Steve Smith last week. Gabe works in the Health and Human Services Operations space over in Singapore. I am including his post in its entirety:

I had a very interesting and informative breakfast meeting this morning in Singapore with Prof. John Seely Brown (http://www.johnseelybrown.com/), many of you may know him as the former Chief Scientist at Xerox Corporation and Director of PARC. The topic focused around Innovation and what things individuals and companies need to do to drive on an ongoing culture of innovation. Since we are in the business of innovation ourselves and in my view do it very well I thought some of the discussion this morning was relevant to us and made some notes of the salient points I thought we could challenge ourselves with.

idea_bulbThey are just notes and the thought process I went through in the discussion, they are not meant as a critique of what we do and don’t do well. They are here just to provide us an opportunity to brainstorm innovation and how that might apply to MS. I think some of the things like reverse mentoring are ideas that could be effective for us and I am sure some groups are already leveraging that.

Things Innovative Companies Need to Do

Innovation is easy, getting organisations to move and give up old ideas is the hardest. Are we getting out of tune with the market? Perhaps the biggest obstacle to innovation is wisdom because it’s wisdom that says “we have tried that before and it doesn’t work”. Well the world moves on and the landscape changes and perhaps that past wisdom is now actually a blocker to our ability to think and innovate for what is needed now. How do you build an organisation that is well attuned to removing organisational blockers to trying things again?

Customer as a source of innovation

Is the age of customer research and market sampling to drive product strategy useful when it comes to technology innovation? Are customers really able to provide effective and useful data into a product planning process when they may not actually know what they want or can imagine what might work? Is it better to find new ways of getting iterative feedback through the development and production process and allowing that to prioritise the innovation? He provides examples of the way Amazon and Google build products with little research and see how they stick and then drive improvements to the ones that show potential rapidly while allowing others to deprecate. Online platforms lending themselves well to trial and error and direct customer feedback. In short customers need to be captured in the build process more often than just doing pre market research for product planning.

Innovation from the bottom up

This type of innovation is catching on incredibly quickly, mashups using Google Maps to help with Hurricane Katrina combined with SMS and Mobile Phones, Disease monitoring applications to map common cold and flu break outs in cities. How do the platform pieces of web 2.0 facilitate a whole new level of innovation from the bottom up? The value of a platform to make this easy and to tool it in a way that allows almost anyone to build solutions against that in a global manner offers tremendous opportunity. Similar to the way Windows is a platform for bottoms up innovation and how drag and drop development with VB and Access made it possible for anyone to build out the applications they needed, the Internet offers an incredible platform for new and groundbreaking bottoms up innovation. The people who develop and invent the tools that make it easy for anyone to leverage these services and build new classes of services and applications will facilitate a whole new era of innovation…. Google, Facebook etc cited as strong examples.

A willingness to fail

Are organisations willing enough to fail, at Xerox 75% of most research projects failed, having a willingness to fail allows for risk taking and exploration, vital to driving innovation. Some cultures are more comfortable with failure than others and it often has a direct correlation to innovation.

Where and how do you bootstrap talent – Youth as a source of innovation

Are we leveraging enough of the young and highly energetic talent in the organisation to drive innovation or is innovation being steered by mature, experienced and wise individuals? Are we allowing enough individual expression in the organisation to capture the raw talent and generational understanding that comes from our young? Example Google (young workforce very tapped into the current generational thinking)

Reverse Mentorship

Do we have processes in place that encourages reverse mentoring, we are very good at mentoring from senior people in the organisation to more junior people but are we effectively doing it the other way round as to drive an understanding of the world through our younger people and the innovation and world they would like to see? Should we have a reverse mentoring role in place to help drive product and innovation strategy? Are we doing that effectively today? Example provided was P&G and what they are doing with this process to drive product development…. I thought this would be very good at MS.

Teach Less Learn More

How do we build models of education that don’t just drive a teach and absorb model? How do we encourage learning that is peer based (that’s where the fun is), how do Social Networks play a role in that, do Social Networks allow us to drive innovation not just from the brain but also from the emotional connections we build? How does one learn more through that social fabric be it virtual or physical? How do we build new models of learning or deliver tools that courage self learning leveraging the content on the Internet? What kinds of tools and technologies would aid in that discover of knowledge?

All up a very interesting morning, would love to hear others thoughts on some of the topics above. A lot of the things discussed we do at MS and we have a very keen understanding of platforms. We have been arguably the most successful platform ever. Taking that expertise to the Internet is to me the frontier that we need to solve, it’s about developers but even more so it’s about empowering end users to create and innovate leveraging the services on the Internet.

Two points here really resonate with me, during my short tenure (2.5 years) here at Microsoft: our difficulty in allowing people to learn from failure (it must be done right the first time), and the gap between customer-facing teams and the influence (or lack thereof) they sometimes have ino the product development process.

I’d love to hear some feedback on what we, as managers, can do to address the points made above, both within the Management Excellence community and within our own teams.

Thanks for the great post, Gabe!


September 13, 2008

Welcome to ChannelMEC, a blog for Microsoft managers.

The goal of this site is to provide another outlet for Microsoft managers to discuss Management Excellence – in a very transparent way – and what we can do to improve the community here inside the company. I’d like to see a conversationbetween managers and individual contributors, pointing out areas where we are succeeding as well as where we are failing to meet expectations. There will also be plenty of content, links, podcasts, and other relevant content from the Management Excellence Leadership Team (MELT), so please bookmark this site and participate in the dialog.