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Getting Things Done

Life in the Projects

Fast Company, May 1999, Tom Peters

 Distinguished project work is the future of work—for the simple reason that more than 90% of white-collar jobs are in jeopardy today. They are in the process of being transformed beyond identification—or completely eliminated.  “WOW” projects add value and leave a legacy (and make you a star.)

 “Will we be bragging about this project five years from now? If the odds are low, what can we do right now to turn up the heat?” Draft people as if you’re an NBA general manager – get the hottest people you can. And pick projects like a venture capitalist: bet on cool people who have demonstrated their capacity to deliver cool projects.

 Point of the exercise is not to do a good job; it’s to use every project opportunity that you can get your hands on to create surprising new ways of looking at old problems.

 never accept a project as given. That’s someone else’s way of conceptualizing the project!

  1. everyone focuses on the tangibles but the intangibles (i.e. emotion) are what matters.
  2. embrace the confusion: “when we launched this project, we thought we knew what we were doing. Now we know that we don’t know what we’re doing—but the things that we’re confused about are much more important.”
  3. be your own firm within a firm.
  4. think diversity.
  5. project management is emotion management.


 Reengineering by Mike Hammer (See HBR '89). Managing, or administering, businesses doesn't work today. What a retched work--administer. It conjures up the image of a bureaucrat.

 The apotheosis of mid-20th-century administrator was Robert McNamara at Ford. McNamara didn't know anything about cars. He knew nothing about making cars, nothing about selling cars. He was a financial analyst. He had a deep, unspoken assumption that work didn't matter.


Reengineering means radically changing how we do our work. Work is the way in which we create value for customers, how we design, invent, and make products, how we sell them, how we serve customers. Reengineering means radically rethinking and redesigning those processes by which we create value and do work.

 Titles: I would rip out VP/marketing and replace it with "process owner of finding and keeping customers."

 In a reengineered company you have to leave behind this single-function mentality and wear more than one hat. You need to do whatever it takes to keep the customer coming back. Managers are not value-added. A customer never buys a product because of the caliber of management. Less is better. One of the goals is to minimize the necessary amount of management.

 If you are designing a business for a world of stable growth, then you want the Adam Smith, Frederick Taylor, Henry Ford model. Trouble is, stable growth does not characterize our environment today.

 "Folks, we're going on a journey. On this journey, we'll carry our wounded and shoot the dissenters."

 A worker is someone who cares about a task, about getting things done, and is basically working for the wage at the time. We don't need workers in our company. We need professionals. A professional is someone who focuses on the result, on the customers rather than on tasks. Professionals need coaches and leaders.



London: What do you think about all the talk today about "re- engineering the organization." One word I've heard you use is not "re- engineering" but "de-engineering."

Wheatley: Yes, I put that word out to the world. We really have to "de-engineer" our thinking, which means that we have to examine how mechanistically we are oriented -- even in our treatment of one another. This is especially true in corporations. We believe that we can best manage people by making assumptions more fitting to machines than people. So we assume that, like good machines, we have no desire, no heart, no spirit, no compassion, no real intelligence -- because machines don't have any of that. The great dream of machines is that if you give them a set of instructions, they will follow it.

I see the history of management as an effort to perfect the instructions that you hope someone will follow this time -- even though they have never followed directions in their whole life.

How is the world going to be different because you and I are working together?


A Simpler Way

  Author: Margaret Wheatley and Myron Kellner-Rogers in A Simpler Way

There is a simpler way to organize human endeavor.
It requires a new way of being in the world.
It requires being in the world without fear.
Being in the world with play and creativity.
Seeking after what's possible.
Being willing to learn and be surprised.

This simpler way to organize human endeavor
requires a belief that the world is inherently orderly.
The world seeks organization.
It does not need us humans to organize it.

This simpler way summons forth what is best about us.
It asks us to understand human nature differently,
more optimistically.
It identifies us as creative.
It acknowledges that we seek after meaning.
It asks us to be less serious, yet more purposeful,
about our work and our lives.
It does not separate play from the nature of being.

The world of a simpler way is a world we already know.
We may not have seen it clearly,
but we have been living in it all our lives.
It is a world that is more welcoming,
more hospitable to our humanness.
Who we are and what is best about us can more easily flourish.

The world of a simpler way has a natural and spontaneous
tendency toward organization.
It seeks order.
Whatever chaos is present at the start,
when elements combine, systems of organization appear.
Life is attracted to order --
order gained through wandering explorations
into new relationships and new possibilities.

OLD ways die hard. Amid all the evidence that our world is radically changing, we cling to what has worked in the past. We still think of organizations in mechanistic terms, as collections of replaceable parts capable of being reengineered. We act as if even people were machines, redesigning their jobs as we would prepare an engineering diagram, expecting them to perform to specifications with machinelike obedience. Over the years, our ideas of leadership have supported this metaphoric myth. We sought prediction and control, and also charged leaders with providing everything that was absent from the machine: vision, inspiration, intelligence, and courage. They alone had to provide the energy and direction to move their rusting vehicles of organization into the future.

 Michael Crichton: In recent decades, many American companies have undergone a wrenching, painful restructuring to produce high-quality products. We all know what this requires: Flattening the corporate hierarchy. Moving critical information from the bottom up instead of the top down. Empowering workers. Changing the system, not just the focus of the corporation. And relentlessly driving toward a quality product. because improved quality demands a change in the corporate culture. A radical change.



the first constant in the job of management is to make human strength effective and human weaknesses irrelevant. That's the purpose of any organization, the one thing an organization does that individuals can't do better.


managers are accountable for results, period. They are not being paid to be philosophers; they are not even being paid for their knowledge. They are paid for results.


 These are the factors stressed by GE in its new management process:

                        focus on customers

                       resist bureaucracy

                       think imaginatively

                       invigorate others

  Reinventing Government: How the Entrepreneurial Spirit is

 Transforming the Public Sector -- from Schoolhouse to

 Statehouse, City Hall to the Pentagon, David Osborne and Ted

 Gaebler, Addison-Wesley, 1992, ISBN: 0-201-52394-9.

  The introduction is subtitled: An American Perestroika.

  The jacket says: Osborne and Gaebler isolate and describe ten

 principles around which entrepreneurial public organizations

 are built. They: 

 1) steer more than they row

 2) empower communities rather than simply deliver services

 3) encourage competition rather than monopoly

 4) are driven by their missions, not their rules

 5) fund outcomes rather than inputs

 6) meet the needs of the customer, not the bureaucracy

 7) concentrate on earning, not just spending

 8) invest in prevention rather than cure

 9) decentralize authority

 10) solve problems by leveraging the marketplace, rather than

 simply creating public programs.


 Here are a few more relevant quotes from the intro:


 "Few Americans would really want government to act just like a

 business--making quick decisions behind closed doors for

 private profit.  If it did, democracy would be the first

 casualty.  But most Americans would like government to be less



 "Governance is the process by which we collectively solve our

 problems and meet society's needs.  Government is the

 instrument we use.  The instrument is outdated, and the

 process of reinvention has begun.  We do not need another New

 Deal, nor another Reagan Revolution.  We need an American


Dee Hock on Management and Organizations

Dee Hock on Management


An organization, no matter how well designed, is only as good as the people who live and work in it. Ultimately what determines the organization's performance is the approach to management its leaders take. Some of Dee Hock's management principles, in his own words:

 PhD in Leadership, Short Course: Make a careful list of all things done to you that you abhorred. Don't do them to others, ever. Make another list of things done for you that you loved. Do them for others, always.

 Associates: Hire and promote first on the basis of integrity; second, motivation; third, capacity; fourth, understanding; fifth, knowledge; and last and least, experience. Without integrity, motivation is dangerous; without motivation, capacity is impotent; without capacity, understanding is limited; without understanding, knowledge is meaningless; without knowledge, experience is blind. Experience is easy to provide and quickly put to good use by people with all the other qualities.

 Employing Yourself: Never hire or promote in your own image. It is foolish to replicate your strength. It is idiotic to replicate your weakness. It is essential to employ, trust, and reward those whose perspective, ability, and judgment are radically different from yours. It is also rare, for it requires uncommon humility, tolerance, and wisdom.

 Compensation: Money motivates neither the best people, nor the best in people. It can move the body and influence the mind, but it cannot touch the heart or move the spirit; that is reserved for belief, principle, and morality. As Napoleon observed, "No amount of money will induce someone to lay down their life, but they will gladly do so for a bit of yellow ribbon."

 Form and Substance: Substance is enduring, form is ephemeral. Failure to distinguish clearly between the two is ruinous. Success follows those adept at preserving the substance of the past by clothing it in the forms of the future. Preserve substance; modify form; know the difference. The closest thing to a law of nature in business is that form has an affinity for expense, while substance has an affinity for income.


Creativity: The problem is never how to get new, innovative thoughts into your mind, but how to get old ones out. Every mind is a room packed with archaic furniture. You must get the old furniture of what you know, think, and believe out before anything new can get in. Make an empty space in any corner of your mind, and creativity will instantly fill it.

 Leadership: Here is the very heart and soul of the matter. If you look to lead, invest at least 40% of your time managing yourself--your ethics, character, principles, purpose, motivation, and conduct. Invest at least 30% managing those with authority over you, and 15% managing your peers. Use the remainder to induce those you "work for" to understand and practice the theory. I use the terms "work for" advisedly, for if you don't understand that you should be working for your mislabeled "subordinates," you haven't understood anything. Lead yourself, lead your superiors, lead your peers, and free your people to do the same. All else is trivia.


Dee Hock on Organizations


Whenever Dee Hock talks to people about chaordic organizations, someone always wants to know, "Where's the plan? How do we implement it?" But that's the wrong question, he says, because an organization isn't a machine that can be built according to a blueprint.

 "All organizations are merely conceptual embodiments of a very old, very basic idea--the idea of community. They can be no more or less than the sum of the beliefs of the people drawn to them; of their character, judgments, acts, and efforts," Hock says. "An organization's success has enormously more to do with clarity of a shared purpose, common principles and strength of belief in them than to assets, expertise, operating ability, or management competence, important as they may be."

 Some principles that worked for Visa:

 The organization must be adaptable and responsive to changing conditions, while preserving overall cohesion and unity of purpose. This is the fundamental paradox facing businesses, governments, and societies alike, says Hock--not to mention living cells, brains, immune systems, ant colonies, and most of the rest of the natural world. Adaptability requires that the individual components of the system be in competition. And yet cohesion requires that those same individuals cooperate with each other, thereby giving up at least some of their freedom to compete.

 The trick is to find the delicate balance that allows the system to avoid turf fights and back-stabbing on the one hand, and authoritarian micromanagement on the other. "Neither competition nor cooperation can rise to its highest potential unless both are seamlessly blended," says Hock. "Either without the other swiftly becomes dangerous and destructive."

 The organization must cultivate equity, autonomy, and individual opportunity. "Given the right circumstances," says Hock, "from no more than dreams, determination, and the liberty to try, quite ordinary people consistently do extraordinary things."

 The organization's governing structure must distribute power and function to the lowest level possible. "No function should be performed by any part of the whole that could reasonably be done by any more peripheral part," says Hock, "and no power should be vested in any part that might reasonably be exercised by any lesser part."

 The governing structure must not be a chain of command, but rather a framework for dialogue, deliberation, and coordination among equals. Authority, in other words, comes from the bottom up, not the top down. The U. S. federal system is designed so authority rises from the people to local, state, and federal governments; in Visa, which contains elements of the federal system, the member banks send representatives to a system of national, regional, and international boards. While the system appears to be hierarchical, the Visa hierarchy is not a chain of command. Instead, each board is supposed to serve as a forum for members to raise common issues, debate them, and reach some kind of consensus and resolution.

 From Harvard Mgt Update 4/99



A company’s ability to seize an opportunity often depends on how fast it can field a team of talented individuals, wherever they may be. That puts a big premium on the skills of virtual management-the ability to run a team
whose members aren’t in the same location, don’t report to you, and may
not even work for your organization.

So far, savvy virtual managers are rare. “I’d be surprised if anyone has it figured out yet,” says Tom Kunz, a principal with Shell Oil Co.’s Network Learning and Support Center in Houston, a unit that supports the corporation’s virtual projects.

But though the skills are still scarce, the subject is being well studied; in fact, there’s already a body of research on the keys to successful virtual management. Among the lessons:

Companies often forget that someone who can’t manage a conventional team effectively probably can’t handle a virtual one, either. You’ve got to “do successful teaming in your own house first,” says Bill Hanson, a former VP of manufacturing at Digital Equipment Corporation who now is industry codirector of the Leaders for Manufacturing program at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Success with any team means learning to make team members a top priority.

A virtual team needs a clear mission. The team must flesh out exactly what it will accomplish and how it will do so. The process works best when everyone gets involved-which often means getting together for a kickoff meeting.

You have to test assumptions about everything: how the team will communicate, what terms such as “quality” mean in practice, even whether the schedule means the same thing to everybody.

Once a project is underway, the manager has to keep team members from becoming isolated. That could mean sending e-mail, posting to a project Web site, sending faxes, or making phone calls. The manager should also
encourage team members to keep in touch with one another, even when there’s no pressing need to do so. Familiarity breeds trust, and people who trust one another will inevitably produce more.

A common problem with virtual teams: members often work on more than one team at a time, so you may be competing with others for an individual’s time. Ken Campbell, a senior consultant with Genesis Consulting in Ridgefield, Conn., who has served on several virtual teams, suggests
getting an “executive sponsor.” Suppose you need the company’s legal department-500 miles away-to lend you a day of a researcher’s time. You may need an alliance with someone high enough in the organization to go to the
executive running that department and request help on your behalf. Be aware, though, that you’re asking the higher-up for a real commitment.

In a team including people from different companies, chances are that
compensation will be tied to project success. Campbell suggests basing
incentives on both project and personal performance (see “How to Compensate Teams,” HMU, November 1997). Above all, be prepared to answer the question, ”If I turn in excellent work on time and ahead of schedule but the project still fails, will I get a bonus?”

Conflict is inevitable, in virtual teams as well as in conventional ones. If you have an e-mail archive, check it daily for disagreements among team members. If you find any, call them in person.

Phone conversations are a good time to probe for potential problems. “You have to have a sensitive ear and be very precise with the questions you ask people,” says Genesis vice president Hal Tragash. It can be hard to hear a cry for help from an overburdened team member, and if you miss it, you could have problems down the line.

Kunz, of Shell, has begun doing detailed postmortems of the teams he works with. “We try to bring all the parts together so everyone can see the
value of their individual pieces,” he says. The goal: better performance next
time around.

Done well, in fact, virtual teaming can be a constant source of learning. And the lessons go beyond the virtual.

Article excerpt (The Art of Managing Virtual Teams: Eight Key Lessons, By Charles Wardell) from the November 1998 issue of HARVARD MANAGEMENT UPDATE.

 useful concepts… homeostasis, cybernetics, self-organization


in a small-group breakout, writing imaginary newspaper headlines inspired by the Disciplined Society. In futurist terms, they're "incasting" - assuming that a major transition has taken place and working backward to deduce the events that might have led to it. Incasting is different from forecasting - looking at current events and speculating on where they might lead. It's also different from predicting - which, as any real futurist will tell you, is nearly impossible.

homeostasis - the tendency of living things to maintain equilibrium in changing conditions. For example, when we are hot, we sweat and the condensing liquid cools us down, when we are hungry, we eat, when we are cold, we shiver, which warms us up and so on. Our biological selves show many examples of homeostasis. However, the concept is taken further, namely into the realms of psychology where many psychologists assume that we have an innate need to keep all our beliefs, desires, values etc. in a state of equilibrium, i.e. internally consistent


cybernetics in which the notion of biological homeostasis is generalized to include all systems which maintain variables within limits. Thus cybernetics is much concerned with feedback systems which permit such self-regulation. A simple example would be a central-heating system, which uses a thermostat to monitor the temperature and turn the boiler on or off accordingly.

 paradigm shift - a term associated with T Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions, in which he proposes that science conforms for some time to a dominant paradigm which then reaches a crisis and is consequently replaced by a new paradigm. For example, the replacement of Aristotelian physics by the new Galilean/Newtonian variety represents a pradigm shift, as does the subsequent replacemnt of Newtonian physics by relativity theory and quantum mechanics.

 self-organization is the term used to refer to the spontaneous organization of a system's elements into coherent new patterns and structures. For example atoms 'seek' a minimum energy state by forming chemical bonds with other atoms, thereby creating molecules, individual organisms organize into 'societies' of organisms which interact with other 'societies' to produce an ecosystem, human beings try to satisfy their material needs in their interactions with one another, which gives rise to markets and economies. These patterns are not planned, they just emerge. An excellent example of such 'emergent behaviour' is provided by Craig Reynolds simulation of the flocking behaviour of birds and a variety of animals and fish. His simulaton requires that each 'boid' on his computer screen follow three simple rules:


maintain a minimum distance from other objects, including other 'boids'

try to match velocities with other boids in its neighbourhood

try to move towards the perceived centre of the mass of boids in its

 These three simple rules, however many boids there are and whatever their starting positions, produce the extraordinarily complex behaviour of real flocks of birds or shoals of fish, despite the fact that each rule is entirely local (i.e. to a single boid) in its application.

Research into self-organization and its application to the structure and management of organizations is currently being conducted world-wide. When I know more about it, I'll add something here.


Five Conditions for High-Performance Cultures

W. Mathew Juechter, Caroline Fisher, and Randall J. Alford


Most companies have tried a lot of ways to increase work performance-such as TQM, 360 feedback, and restructuring-only to fail to see the results they wanted and expected. This article argues that the key to positive lasting change and high performance lies in an organization's culture-along with five critical conditions.


A high-performing organization must have a strategic focus, a clear view of reality, employees' commitment rather than compliance, and aligned behavior. The five essential conditions for cultural transformation are (1) a relevant focus, (2) top-driven but fueled throughout change, (3) leaders' commitment, (4) comprehensive involvement, and (5) external coaches. Successful change initiative requires a broad cultural framework and systemic support. Leaders must confront the "messy business" of their human systems to become the architects of resilient, responsive, and high-performance cultures.


Software Development


Large-system programming, as Frederick Brooks has so eloquently pointed out, is a tar pit in which many great and powerful beasts have thrashed. "Most have emerged with running systems--few have met goals, schedules, and budgets. Large and small, massive or wiry, team after team has become entangled in the tar."


Dealing with Change and Homeostasis

(Geo. Leonard, Mastery)

1. Be aware of the way homeostasis works.

2. Be willing to negotiate with your resistance to change.

3. Develop a support system.

4. Follow a regular practice.

5. Dedicate yourself to lifelong learning.


Do you and your company spend less than two-thirds of your time and energies on your business, and more than one-third on your organization? If so, then you have a business that exists to support an organization, not an organization that exists to support a business. It may be time to kill your organization before it kills your business. -2020 Vision



Eight Steps to Transform Your Organization

1. Establish a Sense of Urgency

Examine market and competitive realities

Identify and discuss crises, potential crises, or major opportunities

2. Form a Powerful Guiding Coalition

Assemble a group with enough power to lead the change effort

Encourage the group to work as a team

3. Create a Vision

Create a vision to help direct the change effort

Develop strategies for achieving that vision

4. Communicate the Vision

Use every vehicle possible to communicate the new vision and strategies

Teach new behaviors by the example of the guiding coalition

5. Empower Others to Act on the Vision

Get rid of obstacles to change

Change systems or structures that seriously undermine the vision

Encourage risk taking and nontraditional ideas, activities, and actions

6. Plan for and Create Short-Term Wins

Plan for visible performance improvements

Creating those improvements

Recognize and reward employees involved in the improvements

7. Consolidate Improvements and Produce Still More Change

Use increased credibility to change systems, structures, and policies that don't fit the vision

Hire, promote, and develop employees who can implement the vision

Reinvigorate the process with new projects, themes, and change agents

8. Institutionalize New Approaches

Articulate the connections between the new behaviors and organizational success

Develop the means to ensure leadership development and succession



Time Shifting’s

 practical tips for improving your concentration at work

1. Get to meetings early so you can compose yourself before the others arrive.

 2. When the phone rings, let it ring one extra time to "get centered."

 3. Practice "mindfulness" by doing just one thing at a time, giving it your full attention.

 4. Pause after you finish one task before beginning another. If possible, make it last for several minutes.

  5. While waiting for a fax or an elevator, think about the present instead of succumbing to the rush and anxiety of tasks still waiting.


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