Managing to do good

Everybody manages, not just those with Manager in their job title (or supervisor, or director). You manage, I manage, even our children manage.  Managing is a process that is recognised through a series of results that I will get to presently. All such results are achieved through conversations. Nothing happens without us talking to each other and Steve Blank recognises this when he says to start a business you need to get out of the building. By talking you are fully utilising a uniquely human characteristic—language. So go for it.

To begin with I’m going to share a relatively simple view of managing, but bear the following in mind. Managing is a truly complex process, by which I mean a nonlinear process, not just complicated one or the opposite of simple. Because managing is nonlinear, it means it is unpredictable. Like the weather.. This will sound paradoxical at first as managing is synonymous with attempts to control and regulate what happens to us as individuals (self-managing) and within a business or other kind of social group. However, it will eventually help to explain why no two businesses are exactly alike, why situations do get out of control, and why people and organisations are inventive (creative or innovative).

This is a model of the managing process. Superficially , there are many similar models.

managing systembasic

First let’s link up with the piece about natural enterprise in which there is a diagram depicting customer and organisation or network formation. The Lean Startup process is developed around problem solving. Our first decision then is to solve the problem. The first goal is to define the problem. The next decision is to make a plan of how that might be achieved. A sensible plan would be to find and then talk to one or several people you think might have the problem you want to solve. You turn this plan into reality by finding some prospective problem owners. You then discover the problem is not quite what you expected. This is data. With this data you decide to revise your goals, revise the plan, and try again, gathering more data. Happy with what you discover, you use this data to evaluate the project so far.  This is basically what Eric Ries is saying you need to do—this is experimenting and validating any problem or solution definitions and prototypes you come up with.  The model above is a more elaborate and more accurate version of his Plan-Build-Learn cycle (below), which is not that different to a much more famous learning cycle developed by David Kolb (which you can search for and compare).

ries learn cycle

However, whereas Ries’s cycle has one learning point, every result in my model is a major learning point. In fact the whole process is a learning process. Learning is an unavoidable outcome of managing. I mentioned that managing was a nonlinear process. This is not because the model is circular. I will explain how nonlinearity in a later post. My model indicates the process is iterative. Each stage shows a result. That is, a decision, a goal, a plan, a set of data from measuring whether things went to plan or not, and finally some kind of evaluation. There is only one result that has to be tangible, it’s what I’ve labelled the real organisation or system. Everything else can stay in your head, if it’s big enough. Any plan that is enacted will be a system. The purpose of the system is to achieve the goal you’ve set. However, things get a bit more complicated, as the next diagram shows, because you have to manage the process of defining goals.

managing system fractal

For example, to define a goal you might have to plan to bring a group of experts together to advise you. You then have the meeting to decide the goal and you’ll monitor what happens and evaluate it and the performances or the contributions of each of the advisers. HOWEVER, don’t worry about this apparent complexity, you are already used to it. This is what you do everyday. This is what you have done everyday of your life. It’s just that starting your own business requires you to manage in a much more conscious manner, a more systematic manner and a much more formal manner.

In this second model you’ll appreciate there are a lot more learning points now, reinforcing the idea that managing is a learning process, but there are other things we can learn about managing too.

I’ve already said that nothing happens without talking. To go from each stage to the next, will invariably require you to strike up a conversation with someone, either a problem owner, or someone who can help develop the solution concept or a real prototype. You therefore need to ask yourself what kind of people you feel most comfortable or confident talking to. You’ll probably think of people like you, that’s the normal choice. We are attracted to people like us, not people who are the opposite. If you are serious about going into business its not a bad idea to get a psychometric profile done (by a professional not by answering a questionnaire in a magazine).

The last thing I want to mention about managing for now is it is an organisation or network building process. The physical outcome of the managing process is not just the product (the solution) but the people you have collaborated with, and who then form a network with the potential to be a formal organisation—your business enterprise. See that diagram again.


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