A New Way to Manage

​©2011-14 Dan Strongin, All Rights Reserved

A manager's first job responsibility is to see to the design of a good system, with well thought-out and tested processes that meet the needs of customers, and a vibrant dialogue between all the parts.

Once up and running, their second responsibility is to ensure it is stable, in other words, has reasonably predictable outcomes. Once stable, their third is to let it run without meddling. A calm, predictable workplace is the sign of really good managing, even in the throws of innovation.

If it is highly variable, find out why, and bring it back into balance. If you get a great idea in your noodle on how to improve, test it before installing it, if you can, as any change in the system changes its internal logic.

To manage, I think more is required than just feeling our way, or "do it my way or take the highway." I don't think a manager can or should "control" the system.

If a stable predictable system is acting under the influence of its own internal logic, trying to control it will only mess things up. The problem with what most people think of as managing, is what you are trying to "guide" or "change" could be "natural" variation. Is the variation living in your system reasonably predictable, or is it prone to wild swings? If a system is predictable meddling will most certainly increase variation, building losses rather than gains.

"Guiding" of the system is really in the hands of the people who do the work, guiding whatever raw material through the flow of adding value. Managers can design good systems, feed resources to and provide educational/training opportunities, but in the end it is always she who adds value directly who rules: only they can affect the value adding actions day to day, and it is the value which is added that you sell, that makes you your money.​

The time for a manager to guide the system is in its design. Once in motion, it is time to get out of its way, keep it fed, let it flow. To step back, observe, and study, looking for ways to improve, and learning what it's outputs are, what its' behavior is. Leave it alone if doing what you need it to do (capable). If not, plan an improvement to test.

 It is a very different way to look at managing, more like swimming: you stroke and then you glide, wearing a couple of different hats at the same time.  

So if you aren't throwing your weight around day to day, what are you doing?  The most important everyday job of a managers is to Simply Look™! Relax your eyes and look with a wide focus and a quiet mind, without preconception. Those doing the work can't afford the luxury of seeing the forest for the trees. It is your job to feed connections, including the dots.

Create simple drawings of what you are observing for digesting later. Digesting is best done with the people who actually do the work: see what emerges, looking for opportunities to cultivate, educate, understand and improve.

If management is the only brain in the company. If the manager is working more than a reasonable number of hours, and has no personal life,  the company is in trouble. The Brain should be collective; everyone involved, more grey matter, better problem solving, more eyes.

If your system is not predictable, then meddling will only waste time and resources, until you know what is making it unpredictable. Stop everything and find what the culprit is and minimize its effect or get rid of it.

    Intuition can be dangerous when it is wrong. Shooting from the hip implies too often misses the target and hits innocent bystanders.    In my work I have defined the following management workflow:

    SIMPLYLOOKING™: Management on the workfloor, simply observing.

    MAPPING: Diagramming what was observed, simply, on paper. Think stick figures.

    UNTANGLING: either through analysis, or visually, for messier problems

    DIGESTING: Study with those who do the work, and those touched by the process, to try and find a better way.

    TESTING: Finding a way, if you can, to test the effectiveness of any proposed "better ways" to see if they really are better.

    PAPERING: Putting the new mutually agreed upon way down on paper, then spreading the word.

    LISTENSPEAK: Talking with whom you are talking to in mind. It's not what we mean, but what people hear that matters.

    ACTIVE LISTENING: Helping others express themselves, especially Mirroring and Priming.

    GRABBING THE BUCK: taking responsibility as a team.


    Governed by the following principles:

    USE COMMON-SENSE, LOW COST, PROVEN TOOLS and measures: mostly paper based. (drawings, checklists: techniques that don't cost a lot of money)

    LOOK FOR SOLUTIONS WHERE THE ACTION IS: where real work is done, by real people using tangible objects.

    AIM TO ELIMINATE OR MINIMIZE THE UNNECESSARY: Especially effort. (anything that doesn’t add value to the final product.)


    ENCOURAGE DIALOGUE among everyone affected to solve problems.

    CREATE TEMPORARY SOLUTIONS to stop the bleeding, (COBBLE THROUGH) but don't stop there.

    TEST changes, if you can, before permanently installing them. What seems to make sense in our minds doesn't always translate. (Actually, rarely does the first time.)

    PAPER IT: Mutually commit in writing to the new methods/tools/procedures. You can't know if it worked if you aren't doing it as designed, and you can always go back and change the design.   

About the Author

Dan Strongin works with medium to small companies, helping them master the art and science of managing.

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