Monday, March 03, 2008

Management skeptic (post #1)

One of the best ways to think of skepticism is as an eternal game of hunt-the-value. When presented with a notion, we ask: is this valuable because it gives accurate predictions, or because it makes us feel good, or because it provides interesting questions, or what? And we don't appreciate being tricked into misclassifying a notion's value.

For example, in discussion with the Buddhist group I've been gatecrashing, one of the points that kept coming up was: does the value of meditation lie in simply sitting and breathing and focusing? Or does the Buddhist cosmology also make a difference? We had a rather lengthy rambling chat about this, after which I concluded that I wasn't going to pin these people down without bringing in a nailgun.

I feel the same about "management models" at the moment. A management model is a chunk of crystallised management philosophy, often described by flow diagrams. The simplest ones are very simple. For example, the management control loop can be represented by a circle with clockwise-pointing arrows round the edge and the words "think", "act", "evaluate", "decide" spaced round the edge.

In this case, the idea is that you should plan out what you want to do, figure out how to do it, and perform some sort of evaluation of how that approach worked for you. Once the results are in, you decide whether you need to adjust your goals, fine-tune your methodology, or simply accept that you're doing OK until the next round of evaluation comes up.

This is a very simple model, but it makes a great deal of sense. It explains, among other things, why so many New Year's Resolutions fail. People may decide what they want to achieve, and they may even work out how they're going to achieve it, but they rarely set themselves any sort of regular evaluation timetable to see how well they've done so far. Lacking an essential component of this management model, they dismally fail.

However, management models don't stop there. For example, a popular project management model called PRINCE2 actually can't be represented on anything smaller than A3. One of my managers has a placemat with it on, and it looks like Management Control Loop meets Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Given the enormous investment in time and money necessary to train as a PRINCE2 practitioner, the question becomes increasingly important: where does the value lie in this system?

To be continued

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