Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Burst management (versus steady push)

The Orion Project*
This is recognising why bursts of management may be better than a steady approach


A start-up company is a little like a control experiment when it comes to management.  It's rare in management careers that you can so quickly devise, implement and review changes to a company as a whole, if ever. So whilst we've been working at our start-up I've noticed a few interesting management effects, and want to talk about one of them here: Bursts.

It seems natural as a manager that you should be steady and consistent. You should be the ground upon which your teams can settle and then grow. I wouldn't dispute that.  The question is, how much should you do as a manager to achieve that, and when should you do it?

During the last couple of weeks, I've noticed that we are able to function without very much management for several days, but then efficiency begins to drop.  We need intervention at these times to re-establish priorities and clear issues, and the net effect of these interventions is positive. Conversely, when we know our priorities and have no major issues, we're better being left alone to beaver away, and any interventions here can become interruptions and reduce effectiveness.

Although this might seem straight forward, it isn't a practice I've seen well implemented.  In general, I see managers scheduling fixed amounts of time, irrespective of the condition of their teams. Following the burst approach, the manager would withdraw as much as possible until they see the efficiency beginning to tail. Only at that point, would they intervene, but do so in a comprehensive way so that all members have clearly defined objectives and tasks, and feel confident to proceed again.

As a management technique, this would put the burden on managers to know the right amount of intervention and the right time for it, but for managers, shouldn't that be a goal anyway?

* The Orion Project from the 50's was a rocket program based on propelling a rocket through a series of small nuclear explosions. Get the right amount of bang at the right time, and you can launch a rocket with less energy.

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