My new management book

I’ve just about decided to write a new management book. I think it will be a huge success, although unfortunately not with CEOs and other high-level managers. I believe I’m specially qualified to write such a book because I’ve actually lived through a large percentage of the management fads of that last twenty years and I have the scars – physical and emotional – to prove it.

TQM, zero defects, pareto charts, fishbone diagrams, empowerment, excellence, MBWA, ISO 9000, quality circles, six sigma – I’ve been force-fed ’em all. Juran, Peters, Drucker, Covey, Welch, Blanchard, Crosby, Deming – I’ve read their stuff and lived with their consequences. It hasn’t been pretty.

Oh sure, I started out like everybody else – naive and idealistic. One of the first fads to come along when I was a brand-new engineer was TQM. My boss assigned me to go to a TQM training class and then come back and train our group. The training class was wonderful. It all made such sense! Why hadn’t we done this stuff before? The Japanese were about to eat our collective lunch quality-wise, and all we had to do to beat them back into polite submission was to start improving our processes by following a few simple guidelines. What could be more logical and simple?

I was surprised at the reception I got back in the group. Not only was pretty much everybody cynical and unreceptive, a few were downright hostile, including the one old guy who stood up in the middle of my presentation and announced that this was the stupidest thing he had seen yet and he would be at his desk getting some work done if anybody needed him. What an old fool! Some people are simply incapable of learning and changing with the times.

Then I got assigned to a quality team. We were going to take one of our more error-prone processes, thoroughly understand it by diagramming it, and find ways to make it better, faster and cheaper. What an opportunity! We spent the first six months of weekly meetings diagramming, but we could never get it just exactly right. Attendance at the meetings began to dwindle. Eventually, I quit going too.

Not to worry, though. That was just an unfortunate implementation of a good idea. Surely the next attempt would be a success. Only it wasn’t. Neither was the one after that. In fact, after spending thousands of hours trying to implement TQM, the company got exactly zero in return.

Over the years, I saw this same thing happen over and over. The program of the month would be introduced with great fanfare and t-shirts. Everybody goes to mandatory training classes and is warned of the dire consequences of non-compliance. Then nothing happens. Then the next fad comes along.

We’re still living with ISO 9000. I remember the mandatory meeting where we were all told to go back to our desks and “document all of our processes” so we could later show an auditor that we’re following our documentation. Several of us pointed out that it’s difficult for a knowledge worker to anticipate every circumstance that could ever arise so we could document how we should react. We were told to shut up and start documenting. So we did. Now, whenever an auditor shows up, we parrot the company “quality policy” and show him where our documentation is on the company intranet. Then the auditor goes away and we get re-certified. Then we go back to work. Very meaningful. Not to worry, though. The next fad will be along before long.

Like I said, I’m seriously thinking of writing a book on how not to manage a successful company. I have so much material.

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