(from Keep the Joint Running blog )
Management Speak: The company wants the analyst's report this way.
Translation: The CEO wants the report to support the decision he's already made.
-This week's anonymous contributor wanted the translation this way.
To operate a computer, you point, click, double-click, or right-click. To operate a car you push on the gas, stomp on the brake, or crank the steering wheel.
Which is why you have to feel sorry for Steven Spear.
Spear, you'll recall, authored Chasing the Rabbit (2008) — an in-depth analysis of what makes high-performance organizations tick. It’s a fine book. Spear based much of his analysis on Toyota, though, which has managed to mess up gas, brakes and steering… pretty much the entire driving experience.
The easy conclusion is that Spear is a chump and his book a waste of time.
The correct conclusion, it appears, is that his advice is right on the money, and it’s too bad Toyota’s executive team stopped taking it.
That, at least, is what’s reported by Blaine Harden in a piece that recently ran in the Washington Post (“‘Toyota Way’ was lost on road to phenomenal worldwide growth, ” 2/13/2010).
The lessons for IT:
- Weakening an organization is a risky proposition: As Harden explained, “… growth itself derailed the Toyota Way, blurring its focus on quality, thinning its stable of expert mentors and undermining its capacity to respond to consumer complaints.”
Stretch your IT staff too thin by trying to "do more with less" and in the long run you’ll face problems parallel in every respect to what Toyota faces today.
- When users report problems, they have problems: Many IT shops (and even more commercial Help Desks) have a habit of assuming problems are the result of user error.
According to Harden, Toyota’s executives were certain complaints about the Prius's brakes were just problems with driver perception … right up until it had to recall 400,000 of them.
- You always test: The question is how much of your testing occurs after you’ve put your product into production. Shinichi Sasaki, Toyota’s vice president for quality control, ascribed much of its problems to inadequate testing of new designs… especially for varying weather conditions.
How's your stress testing these days?
Toyota isn’t the only organization you can learn from. Take Microsoft.
Once upon a time, Microsoft was a coherent organization, focused on beating its competitors (see “Predators vs ecosystems ,” Keep the Joint Running, 3/2/1998).
That’s no longer the case. Take the sad case of its tablet computer - a device that deserved to win in the marketplace, and might have done so had it not been for internal politics.
At least that’s the view of Dick Brass, the executive responsible for Microsoft’s Tablet program in the early 2000s. In an opinion piece published in the New York Times last week ("Microsoft’s Creative Destruction ," 2/4/2010) he described how the executive in charge of MS Office personally insisted on crippling its integration with tablet-style computing.
The lesson for IT is clear … at least as clear as ClearType, whose introduction internal politics delayed for a decade: When you allow internal rivalries to fester, you’ll cripple the technology you deploy. One of the most important roles any leader plays is to instill common purpose to all employees. Fail that and you won’t succeed at much of anything else.
Here’s one more lesson, provided in the interest of fairness even though it’s preliminary.
Much as I hate to be predictable, it’s taken from Apple and its new iPad. Ignore the unfortunate-but-inevitable name, its already well-publicized limitations, and the near-complete confusion as to what the iPad actually is for. Instead, look at it strategically as a potential Kindle killer.
The nature of the competition between Amazon and Apple ensures Apple might win small but Amazon will win big. That’s because the Kindle Store will happily sell eBooks to iPad users, but if Apple plans to sell … iBooks? … in its iTunes store to Kindle users, it’s a well-kept secret. Advantage Amazon.
Apple’s reported publisher-friendly pricing is, by definition, higher than the competing consumer-friendly pricing provided by the Kindle Store. Advantage Amazon again.
On Apple’s side of the ledger, for about twice the price you can change pages using gestures instead of buttons.
So expect those light-duty travelers who can live with its limitations to buy iPads, using them to buy eBooks from the Kindle Store. Those who can’t will buy Kindles, using them to buy eBooks from the Kindle Store.
Apple is the corporate equivalent of some IT professionals - those used to being the smartest person in the room. Their confidence serves them well when they are the smartest person in the room.
When they’re just one smart person among many, though, their confidence becomes arrogance - a game-losing strategy.