Tag Archives: Book

“Decisions should be made at the lowest possible level”

When watching this video about The Origins of Hewlett-Packard, one of the statements that really struck me (at time code 16:25) was “Decisions should be made at the lowest possible level”.

I have had the privilege to work for Hewlett-Packard as my first job after graduating from university. It was a turbulent time then in 2001, when the dot-com hype was just “exploding”. But it was also a period, when many colleagues were still around, who had been with the company for a very long time. So the HP way was still alive and kicking, at least in my personal environment. Sadly though, ever since, my personal opinion has been that the company is in a downward spiral. It was certainly not a good sign, when under Carly Fiorina as CEO the founders’ names were officially removed from the company name and the latter reduced to their initials. I have left HP in 2005 but still feel connected. Therefore it really hurts to see what has happened to the company. And I always look back at those early years of my career with a lot of fondness!

But I should come back to the subject of this post. Having read, experienced, executed, and thought quite a bit about management, I really do think this is one of the (!!!) core aspects: Where should decisions happen? And especially in today’s times, when everybody is talking about “the quick eating the big”, it should be a no-brainer that the right level for decisions is one of the most critical components for success in business. Why is it then that we still see so many organizations where mid- to high-level executives lead with a micro-management style?

One fundamental question here is how people act in their professional environment. Do they try to avoid mistakes? Or do they work to achieve a common goal? I daresay the former behavior breeds micro-management as a strategy to mitigate risk. Of course, the result is local optimization, at best. But overall the organization will fall back in the market, perhaps live from its past for a while, and eventually disappear.

My hypothesis is that trust, or lack thereof, is the major driving force behind this. And it is usually the top management that sets the example here. The good thing, though, is that they can also change it. In his famous book “Turn the Ship Around!: A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders” L. David Marquet does this on a nuclear submarine. And if it works for what is probably one of the most dangerous working environments on earth, it works everywhere. (The book is a must-read in my opinion for everybody who has only the slightest interest in things like management, corporate culture etc.)

I do expect that we will see many traditional organizations moving away gradually from a pure top-down management style. Partly because of market pressure for agility, and partly because employees simply demand it. So we have interesting times ahead of us!

Nicolai M. Josuttis “SOA in Practice”

[amtap amazon:asin=0596529554]

A colleague recommended this book (link to amazon.com and amazon.de) to me and I was not disappointed. On the contrary, this was one of the most interesting IT books I have come across so far. The author is pretty well known in the SOA space and a regular speaker on conferences. He has a lot of real world experience and this shines through. What made the book particularly valuable to me, was that Josuttis points out when something is not black or white but gray and discusses the relevant aspects.

This book is probably not so easy to read for a beginner, but certainly of great value to the more experienced reader. It does not provide checklists or vendor recommendations but focuses on patterns and a good conceptual understanding. It will therefore not become outdated as quickly as many other publications but probably be relevant for a number of years to come.

The History of Commodore

If you spent your teen years in the middle to late 1980s chances are you owned a {en:Commodore 64} home computer (or a C-128 as I did). For those of us that want to re-live these years there is now a chance.

On the Edge: the Spectacular Rise and Fall of Commodore by Brian Bagnall

This book gives a comprehensive description from the early days (when Commodore was mainly in the business of electronic calculators) to the very end. It contains a huge amount of details and you must probably be a bit crazy to read it. Nevertheless I rather enjoyed it and even bought myself a used C-64 while reading it.

“Getting Things Done”

Today I would like to tell you about a very effective way to organize your work. It is the “Getting Things Done” approach from David Allen. Some people argue that due to its simplicity it does not deserve to be called methodology. In my view this is a completely academic argument. On the contrary I would even argue that one of its main success factors is exactly that simplicity.

In a nutshell, whenever a new task comes in, you do one of the following things with it

  • You work on it right away
  • You delegate it to someone else
  • You decide to work on it later
  • You don’t do anything but ignore it

The nice thing is that this approach works very well with emails (most of which represent a task anyway). To make things even easier, there is a nice Outlook Plug-in that automates steps that would need to be carried out manually otherwise. There is also a book describing things in a great more detail.

[amtap amazon:asin=0142000280]
I personally never read more than the first 50 or so pages, because the core principles are so easy that they fit onto a few pages. Perhaps I missed some great points and would like to hear from you if you think so. I did, however, spend a few bucks on the Outlook plug-in which is a great tool.

One tip for the plug-in here: Set up a rule that puts you on CC for every mail that goes out. You can then either have it sitting in your inbox as a reminder. Still better is to treat it just like any other email and create a “Waiting for” task from it, while you wait for a response.

Gause/Weinberg: “Exploring Requirements. Quality Before Design”

[amtap amazon:asin=0932633137]

We probably all know that gathering requirements is not as easy as it may sound. And it’s also pretty clear that the issue is not primarily around technical things but communication and people. I can recommended this book (link to amazon.com and amazon.de) to everyone who is interested in or works in that area.

I came across the book during a project where requirements gathering was a very important aspect. I had certainly done this before on numerous occasions. However, this book greatly increased my insight into the underlying mechanisms, patterns etc.

Peter F. Drucker “The Effective Executive”

[amtap amazon:asin=0060833459]

For those of you who have never heard of Peter Drucker, be assured that he is one of the most prominent authors of management literature. Some even say that he invented management as a discipline. In any case he published a number of books and papers, many of which were groundbreaking.

This book (link to amazon.com and amazon.de) is one of the classics in the field of management books. It is timeless and covers the essence of management, which is “How do I get the right things done?”. Although first published in 1967 it took me more than 50 pages to actually realize this. And the only reason was actually that a year in one of the footnotes seemed a bit “old”. But the core messages are still fully valid (perhaps more than ever) after more than 40 years. Yes, some of the examples are a bit outdated and I must admit that I have never heard of some of the companies mentioned. However, I see this as an advantage because it allowed me to focus on the main points and not be distracted by details I had read about a year ago or so.

It is not a book for people who want a checklist. Instead it lays the background and tells the reader how to think and act upon these thoughts. In terms of main blocks it is made up from the following parts:

  • How to manage time
  • What do you want to contribute to the organization?
  • Where and how should I mobilize resources for the best effect?
  • How to set priorities
  • Putting it all together

One final advantage of the book is its length. While many people these days seem to think that at least 300-400 pages are necessary to convey their message, Peter Drucker needs only about 170 pages. So you can read all this great content without spending weeks. And finally, the language doesn’t make things more complicated than necessary. So even for non-native speakers (like myself) it should not be too difficult.

Overall a must-read for anyone who either is or wants to become a manager.