Tag Archives: management

Book – Holacracy

HolacracyIk kwam een mooie samenvatting van het boek Holacracy van Brian J. Robertson tegen. Eerder schreef ik een review over Getting Teams Done. Waarin holacracy (en de variant Spark) beschreven wordt als een methode voor teamproductiviteit, net als GTD dat is voor individuele productiviteit. Mijn ervaringen met de holacracy variant Spark beschreef ik in deze post.

De case die vaak gegeven wordt als holacracy adoptie beschreven wordt is Zappos, maar er zijn veel meer cases beschreven.

Another interesting week for studying organisational culture

As expected reactions, stories and initiatives didn’t halt just a week after the NY Times published: Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace. This was just the beginning of an interesting study of the culture of high demanding organisations.

Julia Cheiffetz - studying organisational cultureLast days I was moved and impressed by Julia Cheiffetz story. The Executive Editor at HarperCollins Publishers wrote about here experience at Amazon: I Had a Baby and Cancer When I Worked at Amazon. This Is My Story. If you don’t have a Medium account and don’t want to get one check the coverage and quotes on GeekWire. Julia’s story shows both upsides and downsides from the culture she experienced at Amazon. It offers a strong perspective.

Given her experience at Amazon I think she gives great feedback to Jeff Bezos in a very strong way. Feedback he asked in a reaction on the NY Times article. Julia Cheiffetz:

You asked for direct feedback. Women power your retail engine. They buy diapers. They buy books. They buy socks for their husbands on Prime. On behalf of all the people who want to speak up but can’t: Please, make Amazon a more hospitable place for women and parents. Reevaluate your parental leave policies.

And on hiding behind numbers:

You can’t claim to be a data-driven company and not release more specific numbers on how many women and people of color apply, get hired and promoted, and stay on as employees. In the absence of meaningful public data — especially retention data — all we have are stories. This is mine.

The thing here is that culture is reflected in the way you act on a daily basis. If it doesn’t show there, it is just words…

Alternative leadership principles will change the culture

Another way of providing feedback requested by Jeff Bezos, was the launch of a blog called Amazonian Manifesto. The post were published by “A Concerned Amazonian“. The text suggests that there is some collective behind this avatar.

The blog publishes alternative leadership principles for Amazon. In short they are:

  1. Obsess about the Customer
  2. Obsess about the Employee
  3. Obsess about the Partner
  4. Hire and Develop the Best
  5. Own and Fix
  6. Invent and Simplify
  7. Deliver Results

It is clear that these principles are inspired by and based on Amazon’s current leadership principles. However new dimensions are added (focus on the employee, the partner, own and fix) that are ment to heal the flaws that could lead to an unhealthy work environment. It is clear that different guidelines and measurement will lead to different results…

What if Amazon studied culture at Zappos (it owns)

Delivering Happiness - studying organisational cultureAnd what would happen if Amazon started studying organisational culture at zappos.com, a shoe and clothing shop it acquired in 2009? Zappos was founded in 1999 by among others Tony Hsieh, who wrote Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose . A book that is described as:

The visionary CEO of Zappos explains how an emphasis on corporate culture can lead to unprecedented success

and features quotes like

I made a note to myself to make sure I never lost sight of the value of a tribe where people truly felt connected and cared about the well-being of one another. To me, connectedness—the number and depth of my relationships—was an important element of my happiness

Zappos culture is obsessed with customer happiness. And Tony Hsieh is for Zappos obsessed with creating a corporate culture based on connectedness and care. That creates different and great results. The book Delivering Happiness offers great insight on how to achieve this and what choices have to be made. It is a great read.

Theory of constraints

The Goal - Theory of ConstraintsThink it was back in 1993 I first read The Goal by Eliyahu Moshe Goldratt. The book was one of the first and most notable in the genre of business novels. The book – The Goal – introduces the theory of constraints (TOC) process for improving organisations. The book is set in a manufacturing company. However the book provides the context for a more generic approach to continuous improvement.

Theory of constraints

The theory of constraints is a paradigm that states that the output of a process is limited by a very small number of constraints. In a process there is always at least one constraint. TOC offers a process to determine the bottleneck/constraint and than restructure either the constraint or the work around it so the constraint can deliver it’s maximum output. Since the bottleneck’s output determines the output of the business process, other optimisation are local suboptimal interventions that do not generate any real business value.

The theory of constraints boils down to:

A chain is as strong as its weakest link.

More verbose: An organisation (especially a process or a business) is only as strong or powerful as its weakest activity or person. A group of associates is only as strong as its laziest member.

Constraint

A constraint is anything that prevents the system from achieving its goal. In TOC, the constraint is used as a focusing mechanism for management of the system. The concept of the constraint is analogue to the one in mathematical optimisation. In optimisation, the constraint is written into the mathematical expressions to limit the scope of the solution (X can be no greater than 5).

Types of (internal) constraints:

  • Equipment: The way equipment is currently used, is the limit to the ability of the system to produce more saleable goods/services.
  • People: Lack of skilled people limits the system. Mental models held by people can cause behaviour that becomes a constraint.
  • Policy: A written or unwritten policy prevents the system from creating more output.

Throughput

In general the throughput is seen as the movement of inputs and outputs through a production process. Bottomline it can described as the rate at which a system generates its products or services per unit of time.

In the theory of constraints throughput is the rate at which a system achieves its goal. Mostly this is a monetary revenue and not the items or volume created to be sold or kept as inventory.

Continuous improvement

Goldratt - on-going improvementAs said before the theory of constraints offers an approach for continuous improvement. Optimising the utilisation of the constraint is an important part of the process. Of course this could lead to the discovery that another resource became the constraint. So we continu the optimisation.

As Goldratt states in The Race:

In the midst of a competitive race we should not look for an improvement, we should look to implement a process of on-going improvement.

Beyond manufacturing

IT Operations

The Phoenix Project borrows both content and genre from The Goal. It is a business novel that explains how the theory of constraints can be applied to IT operations. The Phoenix Project describes the problems that almost every IT organisation faces, and then shows the practices (based on the Theory of Constraint, Lean and more) of how to solve these problems.

Interesting days for studying organisational culture

These are interesting days for those studying organisational culture or are just interested in this field. It all started this weekend when the NY Times published: Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace. The newspaper that won 117 Pulitzer Prices devoted two reporters for six months to this article that is very critical on the organisation culture at Amazon.com. The article was said to be based on interviews with more than 100 current and former Amazon employees.

A lot of reactions focussed on the bias of the NY Times article. An Amazonian posted a respons on LinkedIn . This post can be seen as a a point-by-point rebuttal.

Amazon is a big company, and gets referenced often. I’ve read many articles that describe us. Some are more accurate than others. Sadly, this isn’t one of them. This particular article, has so many inaccuracies (some clearly deliberate), that, as an Amazonian, and a proud one at that, I feel compelled to respond.

The NY Times gave room for the view of Jeff Bezos and other Amazonians as it published Jeff Bezos and Amazon Employees Join Debate Over Its Culture. And of course there is an internal memo from Jeff Bezos (that can be found at the end of this page and on Medium):

Jeff Bezos:

… The NYT article prominently features anecdotes describing shockingly callous management practices, including people being treated without empathy while enduring family tragedies and serious health problems. The article doesn’t describe the Amazon I know or the caring Amazonians I work with every day. But if you know of any stories like those reported, I want you to escalate to HR. You can also email me directly atjeff@amazon.com. Even if it’s rare or isolated, our tolerance for any such lack of empathy needs to be zero. …

The case study continues

That’s were our study of organisational culture continues: Where’s the truth? Is Amazon.com the hell in Seattle? How does this large influential company really behave and does it live up to it’s values. Since the company published its leadership principles we know what it uses to judge itself (or at least says it should use).

Several articles and posts tried to discover the point of view that is closest to the truth (if there is one). GeekWire spoke with a wide range (so probably not the over 100 that NY Times did) of current and former employees to get their take on the story and their insights into the company. It offers a more balanced view. And more and more it becomes clear that perception is everything.

Journalistic questions about The Times’ exposé

And there are other questions to be asked when looking into this matter. That is just what Jeff Jarvis (known by me for his book What would Google do?, but there is more) does in his article Hacking Through Amazon’s Jungle of Coverage.

  • The NY Times article isn’t transparant to what standard is Amazon being held.
  • Another problem to Jarvis is that The Times should have presented enough of conflicting evidence so that we could weigh evidence and decide for ourselves.
  • The Times did not say until halfway down its very long piece that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post, which some say is closing in on The Times.

And as Jarvis states:

… one starts to believe The Times might have an agenda, one is left trying to suss out what it might be: against Amazon and its owner, Bezos, who is a competitor; against technology, a direction too much of media is taking…

So the discussion moves to how well the NY Times did on this article and moves away from what should be the focus: issues that arise from high demanding work / work places.

And what did it show me?

Reading all the quotes and soundbites of former and current employees I once again realised that perception is everything. It is not just the NY Times that wasn’t clear to what standards Amazon.com is being judges, none of the employees are clear on this either. What are their expectations of their employer?
And I don’t have SMART criteria either. I tend to benchmark my current employer to previous ones and to my impression of how it is like to work at other organisations. Besides that I’ve been working for smaller companies, I think that I could quite easy come up with former colleagues that were let go that would either bash the work place and it’s culture or to some level agree that there wasn’t a good enough fit.

That leaves me with the question how to deal with the issues that could arise from high demanding work places? What are the issues (in specific cases)? Are there ways of organising or designing an organisation to deal with these? Could we train people to handle the issues we can’t find counter measures for? Please share your thought in the comments…

Book – The Phoenix Project

Book The Phoenix ProjectThe Phoenix Project: A Novel About IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win is written the by Gene Kim in the tradition of The Goal (1984, by Dr. Eliyahu M. Goldratt). The Goal is a management novel explaining the Theory of Constraints. This book, The Phoenix Project shows how the theory in The Goal works in an IT environment.

The Goal – Theory of Constraints

In simple terms the Theory of Constraints is about:

A chain is as strong as its weakest link.

In this theory the first step is to identify the constraint. Step 2 is to exploit the constraint. In other words, make sure that the constraint is not allowed to waste any time. Only by increasing flow through the constraint can overall throughput be increased. This to the extend that improving something anywhere not at the constraint is an illusion.

Because of the need for flow, work in process (WIP) is the silent killer. Therefore, one of the most critical mechanisms in the management of any plant is job and materials release. Without it, you can’t control WIP.

The Phoenix Project: A Novel About IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win

The Phoenix Project describes the problems that almost every IT organization faces, and then shows the practices (based on the Theory of Constraint, Lean and more) of how to solve the problems. The main character Bill, is thought how to deal with these problems using the Socratic Method. Each dialogue a question is posed to which in turn causes Bill to think and to talk to his colleagues to come up with a solution to their problem.

Bill starts to see that IT work has more in common with manufacturing plant work than he ever imagined. Leading to the application of the Theory of Constraints in terms like:

The First Way helps us understand how to create fast flow of work as it moves from Development into IT Operations, because that’s what’s between the business and the customer. The Second Way shows us how to shorten and amplify feedback loops, so we can fix quality at the source and avoid rework. And the Third Way shows us how to create a culture that simultaneously fosters experimentation, learning from failure, and understanding that repetition and practice are the prerequisites to mastery.

Work in process in IT perspective

Until code is in production, no value is actually being generated. It’s merely WIP stuck in the system. By reducing the batch size, you enable a faster feature flow. In part this is done by ensuring the proper environments are always available when they are needed. Another part is automating the build and deployment process. Here we recognize that infrastructure can be treated as code, just like the application that Development ships. This can enabled to create a one-step deploy procedure.

Besides the parts mentioned before this requires removing a unneeded (since no value is created) hand off between Development and Operations. For this to work the two have to be integrated, not separated.

Like in a manufacturing plant, in IT, it is crucial to manage the release of work to the shop floor / development and to track the work in process. There are a lot of visual aids available to support this, like Kanban or scrum boards. All have their origin in lean or agile ways of working.

No need to say that in the novel this all works out pretty well 😉 In real life we see that these principles work, however more iterations are needed to really improve things. These iterations at first look like failures because of the acceleration of entropy. They are needed in the learning process of people and organization. Reduce the feedback cycle and learn fast!

On the relation between business and IT

There are some interesting statements in the book, that are heard more often in the industry.

IT is not just a department. IT is a competency that we need to gain as an entire company.
We expect everyone we hire to have some mastery of IT. Understanding what technology can and can’t do has become a core competency that every part of this business must have. If any of my business managers are leading a team or a project without that skill, they will fail.

And:

In ten years, I’m certain every COO worth their salt will have come from IT. Any COO who doesn’t intimately understand the IT systems that actually run the business is just an empty suit, relying on someone else to do their job.

Personally i think they hold at least some value. Please share your ideas in the comments.