Book Review: Good To Great

Posted by mikeberry | Agile Executives,Book Reviews,Leadership,SDLC Management,Strategy & Portfolio Management | Tuesday 27 November 2007 10:17 am

I just finished reading Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t, by Jim Collins.  This #1 bestseller is the best business development book I have ever read.  In fact–I would even say–I can recommend it with every fiber of my being.

Collins takes a team of 20 graduate students from the University of Colorado and dedicates roughly 15,000 hours of research to this book.

Collins’s team explores why some good companies become great companies, and why the rest never do.   Their research subjects were companies that outperformed the stock market index by an average of seven times during a fifteen year span.  Their findings are novel and counter-intuitive.

The first major takeaway I got from reading this book is that great companies have learned to say “no.”  They don’t pursue opportunities that don’t meet certain internal criteria.

The second takeaway is that achievements, although seemingly “sudden” when viewed by outside groups, are really a long set of disciplined decisions made over time by these companies.

The third takeaway is that leaders of these great companies were not magnanimous superstars, instead they consistently seemed to have a compelling modesty about them.

A forth takeaway is that these companies seemed to consistently put their best people on new opportunities, not on their biggest problems.

Another concept Collins introduces is the Hedgehog Concept.  This concept is that companies are most successful following opportunities that have three criteria:

  1. The team or corporation has a deep passion for the subject matter of the opportunity.
  2. The team feels they can become the best in the world at it.
  3. The opportunity is in-line with what drives the corporation’s economic engine.

I think I could write a twenty-page review about this book.  Let me just say you need to go and read it.  If you read any business-development book this year, read this one.

Mike J Berry

Book Review: The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership

Posted by mikeberry | Agile Executives,Book Reviews,Leadership,SDLC Management | Monday 26 November 2007 1:15 pm

With a forward by Zig Ziglar, John C. Maxwell’s book titled The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership is an assured home run.

Maxwell breaks down leadership into 21 categories.  He then goes to great lengths to explain each category and give real world examples.

He describes the progression of leadership by highlighting great leaders who have created momentum in others around them.  For example, he explains that early in Michael Jordan’s basketball career, he relied heavily on his personal talent to win games.  But as he matured, he turned his attention more to being a leader and making the whole team play better.

Jordan is quoted in the book as saying, “That’s what everybody looks at when I miss a game.  Can they win without me? …Why doesn’t anybody ask why or what it is I contribute that makes a difference?  I bet nobody would ever say they miss my leadership or my ability to make my teammates better.”  Yet, that’s what made him such a great teammate.

Some of Maxwell’s principles are predictable and conventional, but some of them are quite novel.  I enjoyed reading about the Law of Magnetism and the Law of Connection.

The Law of Magnetism states that you are who you attract, and the Law of Connection states that you must touch people’s hearts before they will trust you.

This book is a great reference for leaders in all stages of their career.  A New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Business Week bestseller, I highly recommend you buy it, read it, and consult it often.

Mike J Berry

Book Review: The No A**Hole Rule

Despite it’s brash title, Dr. Robert I. Sutton’s book, The No A**hole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t, is a valuable text that effectively treads where few business authors have treaded before.Sutton makes a case for the need for insight and direction in handling Bullies, Creeps, Jerks, Tyrants, Tormentors, Despots, Backstabbers, Egomaniacs, and any other kind of workplace employees who never learned to play Sandbox 101.I found the book to be an inspiring read and found that it was full of great advice.  Two interesting management take-aways I got from reading the book were:

  1. Corporations loose money due to unbridled “jerkism” and the author suggests that the cost should be tracked in terms of a “TCA” (Total Cost of jerks) metric.
  2. Due to #1, progressive companies need to have instilled in their corporate values, policies, and hiring processes, the sentiment that being a jerk is incompatible with the corporate culture.   Interestingly enough, companies like Google actually have anti-jerk clauses in their employee handbook.

If you find yourself working with a jerk, you can do the following:

  1. Minimize your time spent with the jerk.  Don’t pick projects they are on, don’t attend optional meetings they are in.
  2. Another tactic is to lesson the influence the jerk has on your department and in the company in general.  Try to steer new obligations and assignments that effect you away from that individual.

I found Robert I. Sutton’s book to be an interesting read.  Sorry about the title, Mom.Mike J

Book Review: Results

I finished reading Results: Keep What’s Good, Fix What’s Wrong, and Unlock Great Performance, by Gary L. Neilson and Bruce A. Pasternack.

I have to admit this book seemed much like many of the other “improving business performance” books that I have read, except that this book kept me confused through most of it.

The authors discuss seven different types of organizational profiles, some functional, and some dysfunctional.  After reading the book, I’m still not quite sure which was supposed to be which.  I even found the diagrams in the book to be confusing.

Here and there, the authors have little nuggets of good advice.  For example, they remind the reader that strategy doesn’t bring results, execution does.  And, that execution won’t happen successfully until the right people have the right information and the right incentives.

Despite the confusing text, I can tell the book had a lot of research behind it.  I wish the authors would have simply summarized all of their findings and presented the material with a “how to” model.

Unfortunately, I would not recommend spending time reading this book.  I think for the time invested reading all 279 pages, there are other books in this space that will offer more valuable take-aways.

Mike J Berry

Book Review: Product Development for the Lean Enterprise

I finished reading Product Development for the Lean Enterprise: Why Toyota’s System Is Four Times More Productive and How You Can Implement It, by Michael N. Kennedy.  This book explains why Toyota’s internal product development process has enabled them to surpass the Detroit auto manufacturers production in both volume and quality.

If you haven’t heard already, Toyota now sells more cars in the U.S. than General Motors, as of 2007.  It’s also no secret that Toyota makes the highest quality cars you can buy today.

In his book, Kennedy contrasts the Detroit product development models with Toyota’s model.  He explains that the Detroit manufactures have concentrated on improving the manufacturing process by incorporating JIT (Just-In-Time) Assembly, and investing in Robotics.  He points out that although gains have been made, the Detroit manufacturer’s have really been missing the core of product development–the customer.

In contrast, Toyota has focused on the development process, not only the manufacturing process.  He explains that Toyota invests much more time up front studying customers and getting their insight about product features.  Moreover, Toyota product managers “catalog” various component options and make them available for other product managers to pick from and learn from.  Ever wonder why basically every Toyota and Lexus model car has the exact same window-up/down buttons?  This is why.

These tactics give Toyota both the flexibility and the insight to be able to deliver higher relevance and higher quality in their products.  Not only does Toyota now sell more cars in America, in terms of volume, but also has more vehicle models available for consumers.  This is a direct effect from successfully gathering the voice-of-the customer.

You can’t help but commend Toyota for getting it right.  You should always gather customer insight with any product being developed.

I think the Toyota model translates well to software development in the following ways:

  1. Gathering customer insight about a software product should be mandatory.
  2. Structuring code in re-usable formats (classes) will improve the effectiveness of the development group over time.
  3. Keeping a library of UI artifacts and ideas can help a development team make decisions faster, and have a more consistent look and feel across a large project, or across multiple projects.
  4. In the software industry, we often make the same mistake that the Detroit manufactures make by supposing quality is our final endpoint (ie: “Quality is Job One!”).  We need to understand that relevance is different from quality, and we need to structure our processes to maximize and measure relevance, along side of quality.

Mike J Berry

Book Review: The First-Time Manager – 5th Edition

Posted by mikeberry | Agile Executives,Book Reviews,Leadership,SDLC Management | Friday 23 November 2007 4:22 pm

The First-time Manager, 5th Edition, by Loren B. Belker and Gary S. Topchick is an excellent book on management.

Although it has been titled for “The First Time Manager,” there are enough gold nuggets in this book for seasoned managers as well.  Now, in it’s 5th edition, you can be assured it has been refined and reality-tested.

Belker and Topchick present guidance to many areas that managers need to navigate when managing people.  From building trust, to building team spirit, to managing problem employees, to hiring and firing, and so on.

They point out that managing is not about directing people, it is about getting people to become self-directed.  They talk about personal style and communication, dealing with stress, and finally having an effective work-life balance, and a touch of class.

I would recommend this book to any manager.  It makes a great reference to consult from time to time.

Mike J Berry

Book Review: Winning

Posted by mikeberry | Agile Executives,Book Reviews,Leadership,SDLC Management,Strategy & Portfolio Management | Thursday 22 November 2007 5:03 pm

Jack Welch, together with is wife Suzy, have a Wall Street Journal and New York Times bestseller with their book titled Winning.

Following Jack Welch’s direct, no-holds-barred style, he presents quite plainly the road-map to successful management.

He talks about constructing corporate values and effective mission statements.  He talks about the importance of candor, respect, and effective reward-systems.  He continues with topics on Crisis Management, Change, Strategy, Budgeting, People Management, and finally Work-Life Balance.

This book is full of take-aways and insight.  It’s a real wonder to be able to take decades of Jack Welch’s experiences and have them condensed into a single book.  If you haven’t read this book, you should.  Soon.

Mike J Berry

Book Review: Confessions of an UnManager

Posted by mikeberry | Agile Development,Agile Executives,Book Reviews,Leadership,Product Owner,SDLC Management | Thursday 22 November 2007 4:46 pm

Recently I read Debra Boggan & Anna VerSteeg’s book titled Confessions Of An Unmanager: Ten Steps To Jump Start Company Performance By Getting Others To Accept Accountability.

This is an interesting book that speaks to the great “divide” in corporate America.  The divide, they say, is the distinction between how management conducts themselves in relation to their teams they manage.

The authors suggest corporations function better with a “flat model.”  Their suggestions are:

  1. Leaders should never command or dictate change.
  2. Employees should always be involved from the very beginning.
  3. Executives should not get privileged parking spaces.

Well, OK, the third point was not emphasized heavily, but was mentioned.

The flat-management approach emphasized in this book relates well to Agile Development team dynamics.  In an effective Agile team, input and influence from all are needed to produce superior customer value in the software product.  In fact, this book is listed as a favorite read on the leadership reading list.

The most valuable takeaway I got from reading this book was to think in terms of how my actions, as a manager, can either emphasize or minimize the space between management and the team.  A great suggestion they gave was to hold a team meeting directly after the executive meetings, thus symbolically minimizing this divide.

I think this is a good book to read once.

Mike J Berry

Book Review: Freakonomics

Posted by mikeberry | Agile Executives,Book Reviews,Leadership,Strategy & Portfolio Management | Thursday 22 November 2007 2:48 am

I just read Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything, by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner.

This New York Times bestseller is an analytical exploration into social cause and affect.  Using analytics, Levitt shows how he was able to detect administrative cheating in the Chicago school districts, prove that sumo-wrestling is fixed, and suggested which baby names will be most popular in 2015.

I can’t say enough good about this book.  It was compelling to read, and a great mind-opener about the value of the relatively-new field of business analytics.

Mike J Berry

Book Review: Execution – The Discipline of Getting Things Done

Posted by mikeberry | Agile Executives,Book Reviews,Leadership,SDLC Management,Strategy & Portfolio Management | Thursday 22 November 2007 2:12 am

I just finished reading Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done, by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan.  This is an excellent book that examins the dynamics of making things happen inside of a corporation.

Bossidy and Charan make a case for needing the right people, the right strategy, and the right operations in place to successfully grow a company.  They further their case by suggesting that there is a fundamental problem in business management where executives mistakenly think execution is a tactical aspect of business, and should be delegated.  They suggest this idea is completely wrong and that executives need to shoulder the task of execution at their levels.

They suggest that every business executive team should ask themselves how the company is executing and what accounts for any gap between expectations and management’s performance.

I found two very practical elements from reading this book.   The first is the importance of reality.  Good managers seek reality, and encourage their direct reports, and peers to be as realistic as possible.

The second element is an elaborate description for conducting an effective strategy review.

If your department or company is contemplating a new strategy or a new major directive, this book is a must read.

Mike J Berry

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