A question I get frequently is:
Won’t radical management lead to chaos? What would happen if large companies would allow their employees to work on what they are passionate about? Wouldn’t people bail-out of their current projects? Who would do the uninteresting work? At the end of the day, products have to be delivered, deadlines met, accounts settled, bills paid, and so on. Who is going to do all that mundane stuff? If we just let people follow their passions, won’t that lead to chaos? Isn’t radical management utopian?
Let's be clear that radical management is not about letting all employees work on whatever they happen to feel like working on, whenever. Radical management is actually a highly structured approach to getting things done. In some ways, it is more structured than traditional management. The work is done in short cycles. The client (or client proxy) and the team have to reach agreement at the start of the cycle on a prioritized list of things to be accomplished in the cycle. It's the person who understands the client perspective—the client or client proxy—who decides on the priorities of things to be accomplished in a cycle. It's the team that says how much the team can accomplish. Once the team and the client proxy agree, the client proxy steps aside and lets the team get on with it.
Funny thing: initially the team usually proposes way more than they can actually accomplish. A rule of thumb is to take what the team says it will accomplish and then deduct 40%. Over time, the team begins to understand its velocity and have a more realistic understanding of what it can accomplish.
At the end of the cycle, there is a review as to the value for the clients that have been accomplished in the cycle. It’s not a report about what’s been accomplished. It’s actual value that has been generated for a client, i.e. something that can be touched and felt and experienced at the end of the cycle. That’s a big difference from traditional management, which relies on reports. Reports usually cover a multitude of sins—things left undone, quality problems not resolved, impediments not identified and so on. They involve the well-known cover-your-backside routines that protect everyone, up and down the line. Radical management focuses on delivering actual value to clients at the end of a cycle that the client (or client proxy) can actually experience and say—yes or no—that’s real value, or it’s not.
Then there is a new setting of priorities and a new cycle. As well as identifying any impediments that are preventing the work from getting done.
So this is the opposite of letting anyone do whatever they are passionate about. It’s about doing things that clients are passionate about. It is highly structured and focused on getting things that delight clients done at the earliest possible opportunity. If the workers aren't passionate about delighting the clients, this will quickly become apparent, and then decisions will have to be taken. If they aren't taken, then of course we are back in the land of traditional management.
One of the big differences between traditional management and radical management is the visibility of failure. In traditional management, with its reliance on big plans and tracking progress by way of reports, failure can continue for months, years or even decades. By contrast, in radical management with its emphasis on working in short cycles and delivering value for clients in each cycle, failure stares everyone in the face almost as soon as it happens. The team knows and management knows, so there is nowhere to hide. The principles and practices of radical management make crystal clear, iteration by iteration, whether management is spelling out what needs to be done and whether the team is delivering that.
Making failure so visible can make individuals and organizations uncomfortable, particularly those that have been living with non-accountability for a long time. If at the end of the iteration, the team doesn’t deliver on its goal, then it is a failure of both the team and management. A retrospective is held to figure out what went wrong. Maybe the goal was too ambitious; perhaps it was impossible. Maybe the project wasn’t ready to be worked on. Maybe the team didn’t identify the impediments. Maybe the impediments didn’t get removed. Maybe the team had the wrong membership or the wrong skills. Maybe management interrupted the team. Whatever the cause, the diagnosis will determine the next step. Failure is faced up to so that issues can be fixed and high performance can emerge.
So radical management is highly structured and rigorous in some respects, but very open and flexible in terms of letting the teams get on with their work as they see fit and bring their best talents and insights to the job. So structure and rigor are good things, but they need to be in the right places. The problem with traditional management is that the structures it creates, also crush the creativity and enthusiasm of those doing the work. Radical management is about creating structure that gets things done sooner but that also opens the space for creativity and enthusiasm of the human spirit to blossom.
To learn more about radical management, go here: