Friday, December 28, 2012

To meddle or to micromanage?

It's said that Winston Churchill was a bull that carried his own china shop! Always in action, never at rest, courageous, and a meddler-manager.

Meddler-manager is not the same as micro-manager. Churchill had numerous pet projects -- most of them either in technology or in off-the-books operations -- about which he generated uncountable ideas, all passed to the staff with "action this day!" tags.

Examples abound: floating tanks used at Normandy; the floating harbors, called Mulberry, that allowed for large ship logistics just off the beach; and the SOE (Special Operations Executive) that was a covert effort to assist resistance fighters in Europe.

He didn't micro-manage implementations, but he meddled incessantly inserting top down ideas of what should be done. Consequently, a lot of management energy that could have been directed toward project implementation went instead toward fending off the meddler.

Fortunately, meddlers are more often focused on results -- outcomes -- than process (the internals), so they are often process agnostic. But, meddlers are impatient, seeking immediate satisfaction. So any delay or extraordinary schedule only brings more meddling, and brings new ideas before the old 'new' ideas are fully baked.

The best defense is offense: constant flow of incremental outcomes that partially satisfy and provide short feedback about whats good and bad (right and wrong) about what's been developed (so far).  In other words, deliberate volatility generates the information and evaluation needed for validation and continuous improvement. In other words, over managing change management to the point of smooth sailing may close off just the kind of disorder that challenges improvement.

image by Sebastian Alvarez