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If your organization is project-oriented and you typically have several projects underway simultaneously, you probably face some real challenges. This is especially true if your projects are complex and involve multiple resources with cross-project conflicts.


Here is my latest book recommendation.



The concepts presented in this book are as applicable to IT-related projects as they are to supply chain projects, design-build projects, or engineer-to-order operations. If your firm makes money from managing projects of any kind, you should read this book.

Advanced Multi-Project Management presents the full strategy and detailed tactics needed to correctly accelerate and synchronize projects for successful execution of an increased number of projects with the same resources, delivering them on time, on budget, and within original scope.

Key Features

  • Provides a proven step-by-step approach to achieving vastly improved multi-project management results

  • Outlines the 10 essential steps to creating valid project networks and task estimates in a multi-project environment

  • Illustrates examples of how to define resource skill sets in a multi-project environment and effective ways to align all projects to prevent constant conflicts over resources

  • Reveals software requirements necessary to support small, medium, and large multi-project environments

We are continuing our series based on David H. Freedman’s book entitled Corps Business (Freedman, David H. Corps Business: The 30 Management Principles of the U.S. Marines. New York: HarperBusiness, 2000. Print.) in which Freedman effectively correlates the management principles that have led to more than 200 years of life-and-death success in the U.S. Marine Corps to the business world.



Entrusting mid- and low-rank officers with critical battle decisions forces the Marines to pay close attention to the skills of the people they invest with these responsibilities. Installing effective decisionmakers at lower levels is an essential and obvious requisite to pushing down authority in any organization…. One element of this process that especially distinguishes the Corps from most organizations is the tremendous emphasis it has placed on in-house management education. [p. 60]

My experience in the business world tells me that the most successful organizations have built their success on good people. The people were not necessarily of the “cream of the crop” variety. They didn’t have or need degrees from Ivy League universities—or maybe any college, at all.


However, the people in key positions throughout these outstandingly successful organizations all seemed to have a natural ability to lead others and to gain the confidence and respect of others.


So, how do the Marines identify leaders?


There is no simple answer, they admit.

"[Leadership] has no exact definition," [Marine Corps Office Candidate School commander, Colonel John Lehockey] notes. "It's our job to recognize it." [p. 61]


That brings us to…

Principle #9: Hire through trial by fire

"Experts and specialists are a dime a dozen," says [Colonel Lee], dismissing in one fell swoop a century of business management theory. "What the world needs is someone who can absorb an entire organization, understand people, and motivate them." [pp. 68f]


Now, there’s a tall order: “absorb an entire organization, understand the people, and motivate them.”


Until I mulled on that set of descriptors for a while, I couldn’t have pinpointed it. But I have to say that all of the truly outstanding leaders I’ve met in my more than 40 years in the business world are just such people.

They absorb an entire organization: They are system-thinkers at their core. They don’t diagnose problems and challenges in a piecemeal way. They are able to comprehend business enterprises and supply chains as functional “chains” that survive and thrive, not on the success of their individual components and functional silos, but on their ability to optimize the strength of the system as a whole.

They understand people: Leaders must understand what motivates people and, while fear may be a short-term motivator, it proves to be negative in the long-run. Truly effective leaders motivate the people around them by giving them opportunities to improve their own situations while helping others—their customers, their vendors, their co-workers—do the same.

They motivate them: This is really the summation of the presence of the other two qualities. Leaders are able to sustain long-term motivation in their organizations because they understand both “the system” (even the organizations eco-system) and the individuals that make up the living and breathing components of “the system.”

Principle #10: Employ extreme training


Leaders also recognize that part of learning is failing, and learning is part of innovation. Managers and executives cannot support innovation if they cannot tolerate failure.

"You don't get people to be innovative by beating them over the head if they do something that doesn't work out," says [Colonel] Lee. [p. 70]


It seems to me that there is quite a lot that many business executives and managers could learn from the Corps’ approach to leadership—its identification, its development and its application of leadership to allow their organization to respond routinely with speed, agility and innovation.



We would like to hear your take on this matter, too. Please leave a comment here or feel free to contact us directly.

We are continuing our series based on David H. Freedman’s book entitled Corps Business (Freedman, David H. Corps Business: The 30 Management Principles of the U.S. Marines. New York: HarperBusiness, 2000. Print.) in which Freedman effectively correlates the management principles that have led to more than 200 years of life-and-death success in the U.S. Marine Corps to the business world.



So far in this series, we have touched on a number of aspects that can help business enterprises and their supply chains to deal with the challenges of uncertaintyand complexity in today’s economic climate.

The Marine Corps answer to the problem: encourage the people on the front lines, when pressed for time, to ignore the hierarchy and make decisions outside the loop. [p. 35]


Sometimes we forget that it is not enough to pass the data up the chain of command for decision-making. The data alone are often not enough to under-gird sound decisions. The data are always a snapshot of a rapidly changing situation that is best comprehended by being “on the scene” and seeing what is happening.


Going back to the old analogy I have used several times: imagine if the outfielder in a baseball game had to check with his manager as to which way to move and how far when he hears the crack of the bat and ball sails into the air. There’s just no time!


Even though the ball player could not tell you the data inputs or the formula by which his mind calculated where he must go on the ball field and how high me must raise his glove, if he’s good at his job, he will be successful far more times than he will fail.


In many ways, the same is true if executives allow more latitude at lower levels in their organization. Intuition and “tribal knowledge” are not given their due creditin moving an organization along toward success day after day.

The Marine Corps has a long tradition of distributing battlefield authority to its lowest-level management, embodied by corporals, sergeants, and lieutenants. That commitment to bottom-up thinking has evolved gradually and naturally over the Corps' existence, and for a simple reason: high-risk, high-speed, high-focus assaults tend to be unforgiving of bureaucratic or autocratic management styles. [p. 35]


Executives and managers frequently see high-risk as a reason for taking “battlefield authority” away from the lower ranks. However, in doing so, they seldom realize that they are also taking away from their organization the agility and focus.


Adding layers and steps to decision-making naturally reduces both the speed and accuracy of the response. Speed is reduced because of the inherent delays incurred in passing data up the chain of command and the decisions down the chain of command for execution.


But the accuracy is also reduced at the same time. In part the accuracy is reduced simply because of the delay—the situation when the decision is available for execution is no longer the same situation the troops on the frontlines faced when the data was sent up the chain of command for a decision. But accuracy is also reduced because the decision-makers do not have the benefit of all of the sensory input being experienced by the “boots on the ground.” Those making the decisions are removed from the sights, sounds and other intuitive inputs available to the front-line folks.

In recent years the Corps has vastly stepped up its efforts to push authority out to the field, taking it to levels unheard of in the military and in most organizations of any type. Increasingly even the very lowest ranks of the Marines possess the confidence to act quickly and boldly on their own, even in—especially in—situations where the information is scattered and unreliable and their actions could have serious repercussions. [p. 35]


In my opinion, business executives and middle management ought to give serious consideration to taking steps similar to those that have led the USMC to success. Businesses are already paying for these resources, it makes little sense not to leverage all they can do for an enterprise.


Will every decision be flawless?




But every decision that executives make in such circumstances is not flawless either—if they are willing to admit it.


This brings us to the fifth principle articulated in Corps Business:

Principle #5: Organize according to the Rule of Three

The rule of three can be widely applied even outside of management structure. It dictates, for example, that a person should limit his or her attention to three tasks or goals. Applied to decision-making, it prescribes boiling a world of infinite possibilities down to three alternative courses of action. [p. 36]


As the Theory of Constraints points out in such a strong way: focus is everything. If a firm’s front-line managers are distracted by too many factors—or even too much data—it is not possible for them to sort out the good from the bad (or even the ugly) in many cases.


System thinking and awareness of that very small number of things—usually just two or three at any given time—that are actually keeping your company from making more money tomorrow than it is making today will help organize decision-making by the Rule of Three.

[T]here are typically eight full layers of management in between an infantry private and the colonel commanding his unit. That sounds like exactly the sort of stovepipe structure that businesses have been moving away from because of how slowly information and decisions filter up and down. But the Marines have made a critical modification in this structure that allows it to become far faster and more effective than any flattened or networked organizational structure: pushing as much decision-making authority down to lower levels as the situation demands.  [pp. 36f]


Perhaps it makes little sense in your organization to try to reduce the layers of management—to flat your organizational structure—due to factors beyond your control. Nevertheless, you can follow the lead of the highly-successful Marine Corps and push decision-making down to lower levels in order to make your organization more agile and responsive. Then managers and executives can do what they should be doing: working hard at removing the obstacles to the success the “boots on the ground” are facing in achieving goals and objectives—especially of part of those obstacles are poorly considered or outdated policies and procedures (written or unwritten).



We would like to hear your thoughts. Feel free to leave comments here or contact us directly.

We are continuing our series based on David H. Freedman’s book entitled Corps Business (Freedman, David H. Corps Business: The 30 Management Principles of the U.S. Marines. New York: HarperBusiness, 2000. Print.) in which Freedman effectively correlates the management principles that have led to more than 200 years of life-and-death success in the U.S. Marine Corps to the business world.


Organizations risk placing themselves at a disadvantage when they allow themselves to become defined by what they do, rather than by how they do it, because the environment in which almost everyone operates today has become extraordinarily dynamic. [p. 21]

Principle #3: Build a capability-based organizational mission

The Marines have targeted four primary competencies: impact, speed, versatility, and proficiency with complex situations. [p. 23]


In a great many businesses today, it is becoming less and less possible to compete based on the generic ground of products or services. It is becoming less important that you provide this or that product or service. It is becoming ever more important just howyou provide your products or services.


The Marine Corps competes, if you will, with the U.S. Army and Air Force as a combat force. In theory, there is no real necessity for maintaining the USMCas part of the military in the U.S.


However, the Marines remain “the President’s ‘9-1-1’ force.” When there is an emergency anywhere in the world, the Marine Corps units are the ones that can respond within hours. And they do so with fewer people and less money than any of the other military force in the United States.


The Corps does this by emphasizing impact, speed, versatility and proficiency with complexity—the same things business enterprises and their supply chains need to compete successfully in a world full of complexity, accelerating rates of change, and increasing—rather than diminishing—levels of uncertainty.


While the Marine Corps does what the other branches of the military do—conduct combat on the ground and in the air—the key to their success is in how they do it and not what they do. Today’s competition in the business world is increasingly between supply chains and howthey perform and less between individual business enterprises.


In its search for methods to improve its speed, versatility and proficiency with complexity, the Corps has leveraged the Theory of Constraints in its logistics and other operations.


Principle #4: Orient toward speed and [dealing with] complexity

Complexity can emerge from a number of factors: the need to accomplish simultaneous and multiple missions; a shortage of information (or equally disabling, a glut of raw information); situational novelty; situational ambiguity; multiple threats or obstacles; and most challenging of all, rapidly changing conditions. [p. 24]


Of course, the paragraph above can be translated by every reader into their own vernacular and applied to their own business and supply chain situations. Likely there is not one reader who cannot identify with these:

  • The need to accomplish simultaneous and multiple missions – filling multiple and simultaneous demands for products or services with limited resources and potentially conflicting priorities
  • A shortage of information (or equally disabling, a glut of raw information) – the unknowns in business and supply chain management are only offset by the sometimes equally confusing glut of numbers available from ERP and BI (business intelligence) systems that may show conflicting trends or results that are entirely different than the data upon which the latest replenishment orders were predicated
  • Situational novelty – entirely new situations arise with a vendor, a customer or a competitor and take managers and executives by total surprise
  • Situational ambiguity – sometimes, no matter what where we look or how we try to decipher what we think we know, we are just not able to fully comprehend exactly what’s happening in our business, our industry or our supply chain
  • Multiple threats or obstacles – this is everyday life in today’s business world where the small business in Hastings, Nebraska, is competing with a global enterprise with a plant in Thailand for the business of a firm headquartered in the Czech Republic
  • Rapidly changing conditions – this, too, is an everyday occurrence in the business world and across supply chains


Speed has always been useful in the business world, but over the past decade it has become essential, and for a simple reason: almost everything else has sped up. Organizations that operate at a less-than-whirlwind pace risk being left behind. [p. 25]


Ponderous, bureaucracy-bound organizations and supply chains are doomed in today’s business world.

Though the Marines have always emphasized fast reaction and high impact, it is more recently that the Corps has added focus on mastering complexity and versatility. As a capability-based organization, the Marines have recognized that they have to keep an eye on the changing landscape and reassess the question of which capabilities provide the greatest edge. [p. 30]


The way the Marines have learned to manage complexity and increase the agility of their responses to rapidly-changing situations—situations, perhaps, that they have never before encountered—is to trust their people more, trust good training and human intuition to respond where no formula or algorithm exists to provide a timely solution.


The human mind remains, even today, the most power computer at the disposal of your business enterprise. And, agility—the ability to respond quickly to unanticipated changes—remains the strongest safeguard of your business enterprise and your supply chain’s success in today’s world.



Please leave your comments here, or feel free to contact us directly.

We are continuing our series based on some principles covered in David H. Freedman’s excellent book, Corps Business (Freedman, David H. Corps Business: The 30 Management Principles of the U.S. Marines. New York: HarperBusiness, 2000. Print.). In the book, Freedman analyzes the management principles that have led to the more than 200 years of Marine Corps success in order to glean from them concepts that may be applied to business. He does so with considerable success, in my opinion.



In this article, we will look at Principle #2: Find the essence.


“Finding the essence” in Marine management language means discovering the core element, the intrinsic requirement of the mission at hand. This is all about focus. In order to accomplish this, Freedman’s analysis breaks the Corps’ method down into the follow questions:

What Are Our Strengths and Weaknesses and What Are Those of the Opponent?


There are many ways to gather and analyze strengths and weaknesses. Some teams just list them on a whiteboard or a sheet of paper. Others put them into quadrants on a fancy chart or seek to pair them up—e.g., our strength versus the opponent’s weakness.


The problem with these methods is that they treat all strengths and weakness as equal. The lists do not, in themselves, help managers determine whether the strength or weakness (ours or the opponent’s) is a matter upon which managers should spend any time, energy or money, at all.


Besides, after you and your management team have created a list of strengths and weaknesses, they must still decipher the causes and effects of these strengths and weaknesses, both internally and in your supply chain.


Far more effective, in my opinion, than just creating lists of strengths or weakness is to unlock tribal knowledge by applying the Thinking Processes to help the management team build a Current Reality Tree (CRT). You see, when your management team does a proper job of constructing a CRT, strengths and (especially) weaknesses that are currently having a negative affect on Throughput will automatically appear in the CRT. Plus, these strengths and weaknesses will also automatically become linked (logically) into a cause-and-effect flow to which your whole management team can agree.


In one effort, you will have both identified these elements and identified their affects on your “mission”—making more money tomorrow than you are making today.

What Assumptions Can We Make?


Another great advantage of using the CRT and broader Thinking Processes approach to “finding the essence” or achieving enterprise-wide focus is that underlying assumptions in the cause-and-effect flow of the CRT are automatically brought to light and challenged, if necessary.


The Thinking Processes provide essential ground rules for bringing to light flaws in the cause-and-effect logic in the CRT and other logical trees.


The following are Categories of Legitimate Reservations (CLR):

  1. Clarity- Is every statement clear, and are the connections between statements clear?
  2. Entity Existence- Is the statement true?
  3. Causality Existence- Does one thing really result from the other?
  4. Cause Insufficiency- Does the statement, by itself, cause the next result, or do two or more things need to happen all together to cause the result?
  5. Additional Cause- Are there other, independent and important causes of the result?
  6. Predicted Effect Existence- A technique to validate or invalidate the logic by showing how the existence of something else proves or disproves the logic or statement. For example, suppose someone makes the statement: "O.J. is struggling financially." We could use the predicted effect reservation to challenge the statement by saying, "If O.J. were struggling financially, one could predict that he would NOT be looking at buying multi-million dollar mansions in Florida."
  7. Tautology - Does one entity really cause the other one, or simply explain its existence? For example, "If there are ambulances on the highway, then there is a car accident." The ambulances did NOT cause the accident to occur, their presence simply indicates that an accident may have occurred on the highway." (Circular reasoning)


Setting these ground rules in advance helps eliminate “politics”—helps preclude anyone from taking a position that cannot be supported from reasoning. The ground rules also are there to invite everyone to question the rational displayed in the CRT until they are fully satisfied that it represents reality in its present state.

What Must We Not Do?


The question of “what must we not do” is also readily answered by applying the Thinking Processes. This question might be answered developing a Negative Branch. An Iowa State University site covering the Thinking Processes says this:

People will usually look at the idea and say, "Yes, I see where your solution might work, but...." They complete the sentence with any number of unintended negative consequences that they fear will happen as a result of the change. For example:

"If we make that much improvement in output, our department won't need as many people."


"If we take the master schedule away from all the departments, we won't know what is coming down the pipe."

The Thinking Process intentionally seeks out these 'Yes, but there is a negative consequence' statements! They are important to preventing a failed implementation. The people who are involved in the affected process(es) will best know what these unintended negative consequences (Goldratt calls them "Negative Branches") will be.

So the Thinking process seeks proactively to identify them and then assists the person who brought the concern forward in figuring out how to prevent that negative consequence from actually occurring. Goldratt calls this "trimming the Negative Branches."

How Will the Mission Affect Morale?


This is one area that can have a big impact, but is seldom given the kind of consideration it deserves in business planning. Morale can be dramatically affected by how an enterprise conducts it business and how it handles management and staff during times of dramatic or intense change.


I do not believe the old saw about “people hate change.” People willingly undergo huge changes in the lives all of the time. They get married. They have children. The change jobs.


People only hate change when they are not yet convinced that the impending change is good for them—good enough to pay the price the change will exact on them.


But, the Thinking Processes can help with these, too. Perhaps potentially negative affects on morale will be presented in a Negative Branch to be resolved.

What Are Our "Bump" [Fall-back] Plans?


Here is another big area that is all too frequently omitted from sound planning. Of course, you only need a fall-back plan in the event of something negative happening, so it is another good place to apply the Negative Branch concept in the Thinking Processes.

What Are We Overlooking?


Here is the really tough one, and one for which I have no direct answer.


The problem here is that it is impossible to know what you don’t know.


I do have high confidence in the Thinking Processes when used in a conscientiously applied program of open-minded management. It has a tendency to rapidly and effectively unlock tribal knowledge. Therefore, my best advice is to invite staffers who do the hands-on work to be involved in the Thinking Process sessions.


As the Japanese managers say: “No one knows more about the machine that the person who runs it.” Inviting the hands-on people into the conversation is likely to provide insight into things management might overlook, simply because management is not acquainted with every detail of what needs to be done.



We invite you to get involved in the conversation. Leave your comments here, or feel free to contact us directly.

This is part two in a series based on a great book by David H. Freedman entitled Corps Business (Freedman, David H. Corps Business: The 30 Management Principles of the U.S. Marines. New York: HarperBusiness, 2000. Print.).


In the book, Freedman studies the principles that have made the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) successful in live-and-death situations for more than 200 years in order to apply them to business.



Freedman accurately observes: “All organizations face crises sooner or later. A competitor slashes prices in half; the firm's biggest customer jumps ship; a key supplier goes off-line.” [p. 4] Does that sound like your business, or like something that has happened in your supply chain?


The Corps knows that it is not possible to avoid, or even plan for, every crisis or potential crisis with which your team may be faced. So, they work to slash the time it takes to make effective decisions that keep them moving forward toward their goal.

"If your decision-making loop is more streamlined than your enemy's, then you set the pace and course of the battle," says Major General John Admire, who commands an infantry division at Camp Pendleton. [p. 8 – emphasis added]


The author does not ignore the hazards imposed by reducing the decision-making cycle time, nor do the Marines. Freedman continues:

The drawback to fast decisionmaking, of course, is that the decisions may have to be rendered while the information is still sketchy or not yet filtered and analyzed. This fact leads to a sort of organizational uncertainty principle: the faster your decision-making cycle, the less assurance you can have that you are making the best possible decision. "If you're going to have a higher tempo than the enemy, you have to accept a higher degree of uncertainty," says one colonel, adding that there can be a benefit to the uncertainty: it leads to breaking challenges down into more manageable chunks. "If you strive for low uncertainty, you'll have a longer decision-making process that is more likely to be driven to big win-or-lose decisions," he explains. "Small, frequent, rapid decisions will save you from having to come up with a big decision at the eleventh hour." [p. 8 – emphasis added]


This makes a lot of sense. Making incremental decisions along the way—decisions that may be more reversible that the eleventh-hour “big decision”—can help you test your plan for success incrementally and allow you to rapidly change course where the outcomes differ from your expectations.

[M]aking quick decisions in the face of incomplete, uncertain, or undigested information is not easy, and it's especially discomfiting when you know that a mistake could cost you your own life and the lives of your colleagues. But Marines get used to it, says [Colonel Thomas Moore]. "Everyone is always looking for perfect truth, but you never have it," he says. "Even if you did have it, the other guy is up to something, so by the time you execute... your truth isn't perfect anymore." [p. 8]


I hate to be the one to break the news to you, but there is no such thing as “perfect truth” in the world of business.


So-called “big data” is not going to give you “perfect truth.” The “other guy is always up to something,” whether that “other guy” is your competitor, your supplier, your customer, or someone in your own organizations. Face it. Since you got your information, things have changed!

For... these reasons, Marines speak of the "70 percent solution," by which they mean an imperfect decision whose saving grace is that it can be made right now. [p. 8]


And this brings us to Principle Number 1, of the 30 principles set out by Freedman in Corps Business. We won’t touch on all of the 30 principles in this series, but we will touch on a few of them. (It’s up to you to read the book to discover the rest of them. Sorry.)

Principle #1: Aim for the 70 percent solution

By promoting the 70 percent solution, Marines do not advocate shoot-from-the-hip decision-making. Neither do they condone fast, foolish plans. But they do caution against waiting until all the angles are figured out. Instead, when time is of the essence, Marines act as soon as they have a plan with a good chance of working. [pp. 8f]


That’s what your business needs, isn’t it? A plan with a good chance of working—of moving you incrementally towards your goal of making more money tomorrow than you are making today.


As I have stated elsewhere, the human mind is an amazing “computer.” It is the most power computer you have in your business today.


The human mind is able to calculate with reasonable accuracy the trajectory of a baseball off the crack of a bat and coordinate actions to place the glove in the path of the flying ball. And, it does so without knowing the formulas from physics for calculating the trajectory, or the measurement of the forces working on the ball itself.


Furthermore, the human mind is able to incrementally learn and adjust rapidly when it encounters errors in its calculations. The baseball player is more likely to catch the next ball, even if he missed the last one due to misjudgment.


“Big data” and computers are wonderful, but sometimes we rely too heavily upon them and fail to give human beings the credit due them for intuition in the conduct of business.


Your firm’s battlefield isn’t changing any less rapidly nor more dramatically than the battlefields the Marines face—although the changes may not be so readily visible to you. Isn’t it worth considering “the 70 percent solution” that can move your firm incrementally toward improved profits and a leaner, more effective supply chain?


We’d like to hear what you have to say. Please feel free to leave your comments here, or contact us directly.



[This article cross-posted here, as well.]

I recently reread Corps Business (Freedman, David H. Corps Business: The 30 Management Principles of the U.S. Marines. New York: HarperBusiness, 2000. Print.) and was glad that I took time to do so.



In Corps Business, author David H. Freedman studies the clear success of the United States Marine Corps (USMC) over its more than 200 year history with a view to how the principles the Corps applies may also be applicable to business. It makes for valuable and fascinating reading.


In the introduction, Freedman says this:

For many managers, business has become a nightmare of velocity and complexity. In the technology sector, companies leap into existence and steal significant market share from established companies in a matter of weeks. And in every industry, better informed and more demanding customers are proving their willingness to switch their business at the blink of a banner to any company that can muster up a slight edge in price, service, selection, or quality.


The result: companies are desperate to be nimbler. [p. xvii]


Although these words were likely penned in the late 1990s, matters have only gotten worse for most business enterprises. In addition to all that is mentioned above, SME (small-to-mid-sized enterprises) have also had to face the challenges of a worldwide recession and ever-increasing uncertainty around politics and economics.


Freedman points out that “[t]he [U.S. Marine] Corps' ability to react quickly and effectively in environments seething with complex, unpredictable, and fast-changing threats and opportunities would make the average Silicon Valley start-up seem hidebound.... If [the Marines] weren't good at it, they would, at best, have been subsumed by the Army or, at worst, become casualties in large numbers.” [p. xviii]


Highlighting their success, he continues, “[T]he Marines have specialized in operating under chaotic, fast-changing, high-intensity conditions that provide not only little way of knowing what he opposition is going to throw at you but perhaps no way of knowing exactly who the opposition is going to be. Reaction plans have to be drawn up and implemented on the spot, under fire, and with little margin for error.” [p. xix]


The terms Freedman uses to describe the conditions Marines face on a routine basis would be equally apropos in describing some of the SMEs I’ve consulted over the last several years. The problem is generally that their management teams too frequently lack that special something that allows to “draw up and implement” effective plans while “under fire.”


What are some of the differences between how the Corps approaches “management” and the way most businesses do so?


The author goes on: “Everything about the Marines—their culture, their organizational structure, their management style, their logistics, their decision-making process—is geared toward high-speed, high-complexity environments…. [W]ith no less than their survival as an institution and as individual human beings at stake, the Marines have had to examine, discard, redefine, refine, and rerefine their approaches to achieve the ultimate in rapid, effective response to dynamic challenges.” [p. xix]


One of the big differences appears to be “leadership”—even those in middle management and below—and how they are trained and prepared for it.

In the forward, entitled “The Leadership Imperative,” General Charles C. Krulak, Thirty-first Commandant of U.S. Marine Corps, explains how the Corps views leadership and preparation:

Leadership cannot be learned in the same manner in which competency is developed with a piece of equipment. There are no checklists, matrices, or shortcuts to effective leadership. It is truly a lifelong work-in-progress. The Corps has recognized that the qualities of individual character revealed in the crucible of entry-level training must be polished, strengthened and sustained. A challenging yet supportive environment, conducive to the expression of initiative, tolerant of mistakes, and unsullied by any vestige of a 'zero-defects' mentality, is essential for that purpose. Our method is surprisingly simple: Marines are thrust into such an arena and compelled to lead. They are given meaningful responsibility and a modicum of supervision, and they are held strictly accountable for their actions. The results of this most basic of approaches speak for themselves.

It is worth noting that in the Corps leadership is not the purview of an elite—it is the business of everyone. [p. xii]


Sadly, many of the businesses I visit on a regular basis are very nearly the antithesis of what Krulak describes above. Too often the environment is not “supportive” nor “conducive to the expression of initiative.” In fact, it is frequently unsupportive of anything except by-the-book execution of policies and procedures (many times unwritten policies and procedures) that have their origins in a time—perhaps a decade or longer ago—when the business environment was neither chaotic norfast-changing.


Such organizations are, generally, not “tolerant of mistakes” and seem willing to follow a ‘zero-defects’ mentality right to their demise for lack of any real innovation.


Freedman’s compelling book goes on to cover 30 principles that the author believes are translatable in one degree or another into the business world. Several of these principles, I believe, will find broad application within the four walls of many SMEs, and even more compelling application across the supply chain, as well.


Over the next several publications, I will touch on a handful of these principles. I think you will find them valuable and I hope you will join in the conversation by responding with comments or feel free to contact us directly.


To be continued…

In an article entitled “The Rules” appearing in Inc. magazine (Bluestein, Adam, Leigh Buchanan, Issie Lapowsky, and Eric Schurenberg. "The Rules." Inc. Feb. 2013: 48-57. Print.), Evan Williams urged entrepreneurs and managers to do something profoundly different—especially in trying economic times. Williams encouraged them to “Do less.”


Williams says that when he meets with entrepreneurs, his advice is almost always, “Do fewer things.”


Then, he proceeds to nail the matter right on the head: “The vast majority of things are distractions, and very few really matter to your success.”


Williams confesses that “anything [he’s] done that really worked happened because, either by sheer will or lack of options, [he] was incredibly focused on one problem.”


What does Williams lament? Lack of focus


For years now, I have been trying to encourage the business executives and managers with which I have worked take time to apply simple tools to help them get a clear focus on the very small number of things in their “system” (read: their whole enterprise, their customer-to-cash streams) that are keeping them from making more money tomorrow than they are making today.


Oh, yes. These executives and managers have been fighting the same dozen or so “fires” for years now. The fires don’t vary much. They’ve become expected—even routine. No sooner is one put out in one department, than another fire breaks out within a very few days (or hours) in another department or with a customer or a vendor.


All the “supply chain integration” mumbo-jumbo has done is to make it possible to have as many fires burning outside the four walls as are burning inside the company itself. There never seems to be relief, and when improvement does come, it so often seems to be “by accident.” No one really knows what’s going right when it’s going right; and when it goes wrong, no one seems to be able to figure out which lever is the right lever to pull (or push) to fix it again.


Complex Systems versus Simple Systems


FIG Simple-Complex Systems.jpg

In the figure above, which system is more complex? Which requires more complex solutions?


The answer is: System 1 is the most complex. In order to affect the outcome of the entire ‘A’ through ‘E system, effort must be applied to ‘A’, ‘B’, ‘C’, ‘D’ and ‘E’ independently.


This is how most managers I meet in my dealings with small-to-mid-sized business enterprises see their firms. They see their business as a collection of departments, but they don’t necessarily have an accurate “system view.”


System 2 diagrammed above, however, is simple. It is simple because cause-and-effect between its interrelated components is know and (reasonably well) understood. Therefore, even though (from a chronological point of view) ‘A’ might not be the first event in the customer-to-cash stream, management understands that applying the right effort to ‘A’ will affect the function of the entire system.


Inherent Simplicity


This brings us back to Evan Williams and the article. Williams says:

“If you have too many things to think about, you’ll get… superficial solutions….”


That’s what is happening time and time again when you find yourself putting out the same “fire” for umpteenth time. Clearly, putting out the “fire” did not solve the problem or improve your company’s performance. The very best management can hope for when fighting fires—either internally or in the supply chain—is to restore normality. Fighting fires is not an improvement method—in fact, it is a distraction from improvement.


I have spoken many times before about applying tools to help unlock “tribal knowledge” across your organization. Unlocking tribal knowledge is what helps you turn your “System 1” view of your enterprise in a “System 2” understanding of how your organization really works.


Unlocking tribal knowledge in your enterprise or across your supply chain helps you discover the very small number of points upon which you should concentrate your time, energy and money (very scarce resources all).

Evan Williams puts it this way: “[K]nowing when you’re locked on the right problem…. comes down to the gut.”


Well, he’s right—sort of. By unlocking tribal knowledge, executives and managers and leverage rational tools that help your organization—from top to bottom—agree on what “their gut” is telling them. This goes way, way beyond KPIs and unlocks a world of knowledge about how your firm and your supply chain actually works—or fails to work.


Then, you can focus!



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Cross-posted here.

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