Managing Your Business With SCIENCE!

In my last post, I mentioned that the business school course I’m doing has been awesome so far.

One specific thing that made my heart leap with joy was a short lecture in the first general overview subject that dealt with operations management.

See, I’ve known about operations management for quite a while. Lean manufacturing, six sigma, how Toyota runs their factory, that sort of thing. Here’s a post from a year ago about this very thing.

Operations Management

The lecture gave a potted history of operations management, and the text elaborated. This confirmed what I’ve been thinking, and introducing to my clients, for years now. It confirmed that I’ve been on the right track all this time.

I deal a lot with clients who have issues with running their IT departments. They tend to focus on the technical problems, which are easy to see. If your ESX cluster keeps having major outages due to high storage latency at busy times, it’s easy to notice.

And fixing it is, to a large degree, relatively trivial. Technical things have a specific cause. Find it, change some settings, and it stops breaking. Job done.

Yeah, only not quite. These kinds of technical problems are usually just symptoms of underlying issues. Why did the infrastructure get built in such a way that this could happen? Why did it get to the point of causing customer impact before you noticed the problem?

It’s this kind of thing that separates the wheat from the chaff in IT management, and management in general, for that matter.

Reinventing the Wheel

It’s a massive cliché, but trying to reinvent solutions to known problems is what I see the majority of my clients attempting to do.

“Why would you do this?” I keep thinking. “Why would you spend so much time and money trying to re-solve something when someone else has already done all the work?” I mean, your finance department don’t try to re-invent double-entry book keeping, they just use it.

Partly it could be “Not Invented Here” syndrome, but a larger part I think is simple ignorance.

Not technical ignorance. Management ignorance.

Management Ignorance

The people trying to solve these problems don’t realise that it’s an area that has been studied for ages, and that there are known solutions to these problems.

The majority don’t even fire up Google or Wikipedia and search for their problem. The few that do hit a new hurdle: multiple results. “How to implement a sorting algorithm” will yield multiple results, and if you’ve never done it before, how do you choose between QuickSort and MergeSort?

When there are multiple solutions, figuring out which one works takes judgement and experience. Unlike a purely technical problem, where you just plug in the right configuration setting, and bam!, everything works again, these solutions are more complex.

If you’ve never studied the area, how can you hope to make the right call? What I’ve seen happen is that people go with what they believe makes sense intuitively.

But ignorance also means that you don’t know about the temptingly obvious solutions that are proven to not work. The traps for new players.

And that’s where I see most things going wrong. These managers mean well, but they haven’t read the books, and don’t have the background, so they start more or less from scratch and waste a lot of time trying things that we know (thanks to SCIENCE!) don’t work.

So rather than looking at the three or four options that management or operations theory say will help you, and trying the one you believe is the best fit, you end up wasting a lot of time and money, and frustrate the people involved no end.

And by theory, I mean real, research supported SCIENCE!, not the kind of pop-management pablum you find in airport bookshops.

Help Is At Hand

There’s a lot of good science out there on how to manage better.

It won’t be quick and easy in the same way solving technical issues is, but it’s a lot faster and cheaper than figuring it out on your own.

And if you’re having trouble figuring out where to start, well, I know a guy who can help you.

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