Managing by Process: A Silicone Valley Retrospective, written by Scott Adams, a senior manager at two top Fortune 100 companies located in the hot-bed of the 1990s Silicone Valley technology explosion, provides an interesting and sometimes humorous retrospective on the changes in culture that took place in the heart of Silicone Valley over the past three decades. With over 30 years of experience managing in this once unique culture, Mr. Adams successfully traces back the evolution of the once employee-centric business culture which dominated the Silicon Valley corporate environment into a culture that now remains only in a handful of firms in the surrounding Bay Area. Why the change? Adams takes you on both an informative and entertaining journey to answer this very question… and provide some insight and lessons for managers seeking to change culture within their organizations today.
The reader is transported back 30 years to a healthier time where a set of five key employee-centric business process principles reigned supreme. These were the hallmark principles at several leading edge Silicon Valley firms during the dawn of the digital information revolution. The author traces the changes and factors which led up to the erosion of these very same principles over the course of the last two decades. Adams offers both seasoned and novice managers alike several worthwhile insights on the value of learning from the mistakes of the past in order to lay a solid foundation for the future.
Managing by Process is cleverly written and interlaced with a number of true stories and humorous anecdotes which illustrate the pros and cons of the paradoxical management theories and fads spawned in Silicon Valley during past several decades: MBO (Management by Objective), Team and Individual “Self Appraisals,” complex performance evaluations, ISO 9000 hysteria, Hoshin and other overly convoluted planning practices. The rise of outsourcing, “leadership training,” Six Sigma, TQM and the questionable liberal use of new age MBA consultants who at times redirected the course of major multinational organizations based solely on “theory” with little or no real world business management experience are just a few phenomena examined!
The author explores and argues for a return to reason and putting an end to senseless and mindless change in the guise of “corporate transformation.” His personal observations of over 30 years in the high tech corporate environment, alongside his current work, speaks to the value of an evolutionary rather than revolutionary approach when attempting to modify or redirect corporate cultures and values.
Adams’ observations suggest and strongly support the more positive interactive management-employee engagement techniques such as Six Sigma and Six Sigma LEAN as being much better suited to driving a healthy evolutionary change within large corporations as well as organizational cultural change in the private and public sectors. He illustrates in Chapter 4 an unusual yet dramatic example of this premise based on the NYPD’s use of the CompStat process, an interesting public sector adaptation of Six Sigma.
Other chapter titles include: “Silicon Valley Memories,” “Empowerment,” “The 5 Critical Steps,” “Common Themes of ‘The Study,'” “Cultural Minefields – 30 Years in the Making,” “Enter Six Sigma,” “Putting An End to Senseless Change,” “Gaius Petronius Would Be Proud,” among others.
If you are a new manager looking for some insight from the inspirational Silicon Valley culture of the ’80s and ’90s — look no further. Not only does Scott Adams share the 5 Key Principles used at the most successful companies, he also maps out the landmines and traps of some of the more recent failures in management theory that emanated from this very same culture! Light reading yet powerfully insightful.
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