What to Look for in Tools

Every management consulting firm has the latest tools to solve problems you may not even know you have. These are often generalizations of similar problems from other industries, packaged into one-size-fits-all solutions. They are often aimed at efficiencies, cost-reduction, speed or quality: the tools of the tyrant. For the harried executive, already with too much on his or her plate, these consulting tools can often be quite alluring. Selection of management tools is far too important an exercise (for effectiveness in creative endeavors) to be left to the wiles of vendors.

In the Introduction we listed several high-level guiding principles for the selection of management tools & techniques:

It’s not always obvious how to take these principles into account in the selection of new management tools. Inexperienced managers pooh-pooh them as being too amorphous or too difficult to evaluate. Experienced managers, those in R&D for a decade or more, will recognize them as the golden nuggets they are. Get these right and you build a generation of dedicated researchers who will find for you one blockbuster+ product after another.

Don’t take all the fun out of the work

We are not looking for mechanical approaches to work. We’re not looking to quantify or pre-determine the creative process. Instead we look to align the natural tendencies of researchers with the commercial interests of those funding the research. What is it in the management tool that can make the research exciting, fulfilling and worth pursuing year after year, despite setbacks, family urgencies and a host of other distractions? How does the tool funnel excitement into research pursuits in a way that meets the needs of the funding agent+?

Help Stage One researchers and managers grow to Stage Two

Today’s crop of senior latent fingerprint examiners rose through the ranks as novice examiners who spent several years classifying, filing, and retrieving [manual fingerprint cards]. Latent fingerprint examiners universally attest that this long period of [manual card] work allowed them to develop the visual skills necessary for more advanced fingerprint work: how to orient themselves among the whorls of fingerprinting patterns and how to visually analyze fingerprint patterns ... crucial when examiners try to read a poor-quality latent print. Essentially, this period of [manual card work] taught examiners to see fingerprint patterns in a way quite different from the way the rest of us see them...[Computer automation] brought about a profound change in the training of latent fingerprint examiners. [Manual cards] no longer serves as a training ground for examiners. It is not clear how this aspect of training is going to be replaced ... [Computer automation] threatens to erode the skill level of latent fingerprint examiners. Cole, Simon A. (2002). Suspect Identities, p. 256

Our management tools and techniques are useful as a default position for Stage One researchers. These tools and techniques achieve the greatest effectiveness (autonomously) in our work most of the time. But we know we get even greater effectiveness when Stage Two researchers+ and managers are not tied to a pre-determined approach: when they can do whatever it takes (legally) to get to the answer. Stage Two managers are so good at what they do, at understanding the nature of the research pursuit and the intent of the autonomous mechanisms, they are often allowed to step outside of set conventions and procedures.

Focus on how the tool contributes to R&D effectiveness

What is the nature of effectiveness? If you think you have an answer then you haven’t thought about it closely enough. Many management tools and techniques in industry pursue instead faux effectiveness+: effectiveness in name only. See here.

We know effectiveness lies in aligning the behaviors, attitudes and passions of our researchers toward our overall R&D goals. We acknowledge behaviors are ugly: they can change in an instant depending on Key Behavioral Moments+. We acknowledge the tenuous nature of human behaviors in our selection of management tools & techniques. We acknowledge management of behaviors in R&D is the sole job of management. Management tools and techniques give managers a fighting chance in this ever-shifting battle. Therefore, being good at management means being good at finding, analyzing and selecting the right management tools.

Behavioral Considerations
Exhibit 1 – Design Criteria

Behaviors drive selection of our management tools and techniques. We estimate how a particular tool affects team behaviors, human behaviors, and use that estimation to evaluate the tool. We do not select tools based on abstract concepts like robustness, completeness or throughput. Exhibit 1 illustrates this difference. With this understanding, how exactly do we select management tools and techniques? See Part 2.

Home Page January 2011

Further Reading