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I’m an Agilist, a former software engineer, a gamer, an improviser, a podcaster emeritus, and a wine lover. Learn more.

Currently Consuming
  • The Lean Startup: How Today's Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses
    The Lean Startup: How Today's Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses
    by Eric Ries
  • The Talent Code: Greatness Isn't Born. It's Grown. Here's How.
    The Talent Code: Greatness Isn't Born. It's Grown. Here's How.
    by Daniel Coyle
  • Alexander Hamilton
    Alexander Hamilton
    by Ron Chernow
« Link Roundup for 14 January 2011 | Main | How Big Is That Book? »
Thursday
Jan132011

These Shouldn't Be Secrets

“Management exists to organize purposefully. The whole purpose is to deliver results and build capacity. It’s conceptually easy but operationally difficult.

Apply simple — but not easy — practices consistently. None of the practices described here — one-on-ones, portfolio management, feedback, delegation — is difficult to understand. But the key to successful management is to consistently and reliably perform these practices.

Managers who never apply these practices are poor managers.

Managers who apply these practices intermittently are only average managers.

Great managers consistently and reliably apply all these management practices.”

—Johanna Rothman and Esther Derby, Behind Closed Doors: Secrets of Great Management

It’s tempting to summarize this book by saying, “Every manager should read this.”1 That’s correct, but not complete.

Behind Closed Doors is structurally similar to The One-Minute Manager2 in that it presents the story of a manager and what he does in the first seven weeks in his new job. Interspersed with the narrative are summaries of the principles behind what he’s doing. One result of this organization is that we see good managerial behavior in context, then we’re presented with the ideas behind that behavior. Another is that we see themes - like giving feedback and professional development - unfold over time, because they’re not things that happen only once. While this means that some topics are spread out over the course of the book3, it’s a powerfully accessible way to present the material. The major techniques are also summarized in appendices for easy reference.

As someone who has been managed by many different people4 and who is now managing others, I found dozens of useful tools here, ranging from how to structure one-on-ones to using Gerald Weinberg’s Rule of Three5 to further discussion. The trick, as the authors point out in their epilogue, is not just to understand these techniques, but to apply them consistently and reliably. Which I’m hoping to start with my one-on-ones this afternoon.




1 Along with Managing Humans, of course.

2 And other books, I’m sure, but that’s what comes immediately to mind.

3 Which thwarted my note-taking-by-outlining scheme.

4 To varying degrees of effectiveness.

5 “One alternative is a trap. Two alternatives is a dilemma. Three alternatives provide real choice.” I used this in our backlog grooming session yesterday to great effect. It works!

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