Category Archives: management

The smooth introduction into Lean

 Ever since the groundbreaking book “The Machine that changed the World” by Womack et al the application field of Lean Manufacturing has been growing steadily. In software a sister movement has arisen, the Agile movement, and it too has been steadily growing for years. This being Financial Agile we are quite interested in Agile and its origins in automotive manufacturing.

Rather than distilling the origins from academic literature, as would be our normal approach, we considered an alternative. reading a series of business novels. These novels all focus on the importance of listening to and valuing the people doing the actual work. I found the entire journey back to the routes of Agile so inspiring that I wanted to share it here with you. Continue reading

Empowerment – A Good Thing… Isn’t It?

We speak about empowerment all the time, don’t we? Actually, at work, we are always dead proud about how we helped so-and-so to facilitate a meeting. But step back, for a moment, and you’ll see that there is something abhorrent about the word empowerment…

If you are a manager or a middle manager and you are in a position to empower, that’s to say you are in a position to give power to someone below you – below you! – in the hierarchy, then your real problem is revealed: you work in a hierarchy. Continue reading

Why Should We Go and See?

Consultants often tell a manager to ‘go and see’ or they tell them about ‘the gemba’ – which is Japanese for ‘scene of the action’. I actually saw, only the other week, a Power Point from a large consultancy that instructed the managers to use ‘Genchi Genbutsu’ – which is Japanese for ‘go and see’. The large consultancy couldn’t spell ‘Genchi Genbutsu’ nor could they explain why it was important. This was proof to me that they were peddling dogma.

There are at least two reasons why my large consultancy friends won’t tell their customers why they need to go and see. The first one is that they simply don’t know; they are peddling dogma. The second reason is because telling a manager why he has to go and see is tantamount to telling him that he runs an organisation that is political, dysfunctional and full of lies and deceit. Honesty, in any form, is not the way of large consultancies. That honour falls to us, the little guys. Continue reading

Transactional vs. Transformational Leadership

I am going through a paper from 1987. It’s entitled ‘Context and Action in the Transformation of the Firm’ and was written by A.M. Pettigrew.

In the literature review of the paper Pettigrew mentions Burns, saying:

To Burns, leadership and followership are inextricably linked. Transactional leadership he sees as an exchange relationship between leader and follower whereby compliance is agreed, explicitly or implicitly, through reciprocal exchange. Transformational leadership is a more uplifting process with higher order goals. Here the leader looks for potential motives in followers, seeks to satisfy higher order needs so that through a process of mutual stimulation they ‘unite in the pursuit of higher goals, the realization of which is tested by achievement of significant change’. (Burns, Leadership, 1975, p. 425) [My emphasis.]

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How Does a Manager Use Temporal Structures to Make Their Life Easier

Many managers, no matter how talented, don’t understand how structures create behaviour.  Churchill said something like the following: we shape our buildings and then our buildings shape us.  It’s the same for the static and temporal structures in our offices.  We - or someone - at first shapes them and they in turn shape us.  Getting the design of structures right, then, is a skill that many managers need to understand.  When they understand it, their lives get easier.  The question I want to answer today is: how does a temporal structure aid a manager in his day job? In order to answer that question, I have to first answer these two:

-                What is a manager?
-                What is a temporal structure?

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In Pursuit of an Acceptance of Human Nature

In 1980, Geert Hofstede published a book called Culture’s Consequences.  He had been lucky enough to gain access to a huge survey that IBM had carried out against its employees.  Hofstede was able to draw some conclusions about different countries, including the distance between ‘the man on the street’ and a member of the ruling class.  He called this the Power Distance and compared countries to each other in what he called the Power Distance Index.  This is what he had to say about leaders from different countries:

In low PDI countries, power is something of which power holders are almost ashamed and which they will try to underplay.  I heard a Swedish university official state that in order to exercise power, he tries not to look powerful.  This theory definitely does not hold in Belgium or France.  I once met the Dutch prime minister with his caravan on a camping site in Portugal; I could not very well see his French or Italian colleague in that situation. (Culture's Consquences, 2nd Edition, p. 97.)

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If You Could Visualise Incompetence; Or, Cretan Reflections, Part 1

All over Agia Palagia, like all over the rest of Crete, there are houses that are not finished.  The state of disrepair ranges.  Sometimes the house is complete but the carport is a concrete shell.  Other times there is only the skeleton which, as the sun sets, casts shadows across itself and so has the appearance of a painting by Escher. Continue reading


There have been some shaky collaborations throughout history: lesbians and gays and coal-miners; peasants and the ruling classes; and in the last note we saw how eel-grabbers and socialists teamed up to fight the police in Amsterdam’s Jordaan district. Eric Hobsbawm:

[the] bizarre alliance of liberal capitalism and communism in self-defence against this challenger saved democracy, for the victory over Hitler’s Germany was essentially won, and could only have been won, by the Red Army. (The Age of Extremes)

It’s ironic, to me, that it was communism that saved capitalism. Symbiotic relationships, by definition, are mutually beneficial, but are not always comfortable. The relationship that ties my last two notes together is the one between priests and their followers. Unlike the other shaky relationships, however, there can be no priests without followers, just as there can’t be ‘Radical Management’ without its pantomime bad guy, Taylorism. (But there could have been, for example, lesbians without miners). Priests and followers are defined only in terms of each other – there simply cannot be one without the other. This is where my final attentions now turn. Continue reading

Agile Rules and Procedures: Just Do It

In my last post I argued that priests and parasites were a side-effect of trade and specialisation.  In this post I will explain why.

In 2005 I moved to one of the big consultancies, which was organised around a partnership model.  The partners sat on top of a pyramid with senior managers, managers, analysts, etc., all sat beneath them.  It wasn’t just that the people at the top enjoyed the power, the people at the bottom liked relinquishing it, too.  The submission of power to the hierarchy was therefore sadomasochistic - it was both mutual and enjoyable.  The army, university fraternities and certain software organisations, with their hierarchies of certified this and that, employ the same trick.  The result is conformity. Continue reading

The End of An Epoch: A Story in Retrospect

Off-sites are what we call them in Holland, but in other parts of the world they may be called a retrospective.  But, they are not an agile retrospective, taking only an hour or so, but a full-on, Norm Kerth, let’s-make-some-magic sort of retrospective1

Since our own off-sites are just like the ones we would run for our clients, and of course because we think they work well, I wanted to share our experiences.  Last week, we came back from our latest off-site armed with new goals and a fresh understanding of how we operate.  We also looked again at what makes a good retrospective.  Here is the short story of our retro with some tips thrown in for good measure. Continue reading


  1. Norm Kerth is probably the man most responsible for popularising the retrospective.  However, as of late, the ‘new’ authors and speakers are more read.  But, Kerth’s work is still important.