Saturday, November 09, 2013

La Russa Agile Innovation #1 of 17 - "Personalization"  

One thing Baseball management has had over 100 years of successful experience using as standard operating procedure is the understanding that each individual is to be treated "the same" but, simultaneously each is managed, shaped, reinforced, corrected, inspired differently. I touched on that briefly in the Introductory post of this series.

Agile and Lean methods have borrowed heavily from this Baseball standard, realizing that when The Talent is the Product (as it is in Baseball or virtually any non-commodity endeavour such as product design or -development, medicine, logistics, et.al.), you can only succeed when you squeeze every bit of utility out of every contributor.

Utility is not the "More With Less" Cult foolishness of pressuring the talent to work unpaid overtime or trying to replace them with commodity offshore shops that will work for a quarter of minimum wage. Utility is not finding an excellent approach that is optimal on average and applying it to everyone -- that hallmark of the Quality movement works pretty well in many cases when the object being managed in INanimate, but is going to be sub-optimal in over 90% of instances.

In the recent and very useful Tony La Russa book, the skilled manager talks about how he and his management team make this everyone-the-same-while-everyone-differently method.

He calls it "Personalization". As he describes it in his book (pp 8-11)

For years, what we'd always done as a coaching staff -- equipment men to video guys, the strength and fitness coach, public relations people, the director of travel, everybody -- was to personalize our relationships with the players. Whoever you were, my coaching staff and I wanted to estblish a relationship with you. Not every player is the same and not every position they play is the same. Our goal was to create an environment where the ballplayer looked forward to coming to work and knew that a bunch of people were trying to put him and his teammates in the best position to succeed.

Further, he explains a few paragraphs later, how changes to baseball (aligned perfectly to the vicissitudes of contemporary corporate and government work environments) early in his management career made the returns on effort of personalization much higher. In the parasitic mutant of real capitalism that dominates the North American & Eastern European economies, talent loyalty is discounted in planning, and the norm for staffing is what I call "the disposable employee".

Again to quote La Russa's book:

My awareness and emphasis on personalizing coincided with a shift in the players and in sports culture. During the 1980s, professional baseball was changing dramatically compared to my introduction to the major leagues in the '60s and '70s. The distractions of fame and fortune were a constant adversary to the manager focusing on team matters. {snip} It was hard and it was time-consuming, but it worked. {snip}

Every team and every season has its own set of problems. By personalizing, I was creating a pattern of feedback that would address thosed problems -- both big and small -- that we faced as a team and as individuals. {snip} In the process of personalizing those messages, we'd develop a number of "edges" that would help us compete individually and collectively. These edges ranged from the macro -- team chemisty, handling adversity, making players' families feel welcome -- to more individual issues like physical and mental toughness, feeling comfortable in pressure situations, {snip} and dealing with distractions. {snip}

The edges gave us a competitive advantage but we could only produce these edges by providing individual feedback.

It is a fallacy of contemporary corporate management that if executives can treat the Talent as interchangeable meatware/widgets/work units, that it's mondo easier and less time-consuming (true) and just about as effective (GONG...FALSE). That fallacy is a classic, what I call Management by Wishful Thinking (MBWT) and in spite of the consistent negative feedback, the relative temporary comfort of minimizing managerial effort keeps the majority of North American executives going back to that black hole for productivity and effectiveness.

The product developers who packaged La Russa's ideas along with De Marco & Lister's into a "new" model they branded Agile know well -- as well as Baseball management -- that The Talent is the Product, and the only way to succeed outside the world of commodity mediocrity is Adaptive Planning and Adaptive Leadership -- that is, designing and executing work with the current and goal/end contexts in mind (just the way Baseball managers make staffing and tactical decisions based on the inning, the score and the individual aptitudes of each involved contributor) and treating each individual as an individual instead of a cog in a machine.

Agile owes this great, if unpublicized, debt to La Russa. There are 16 more to come.

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