Managing inherent uncertainty with Lean Startup and social business

Managing inherent uncertainty with Lean Startup and social businessWe live in a world full of uncertainty. If there was no uncertainty, waterfall would be an infallible project management method and a well-written business plan would be the key to success for any startup.

So, given that uncertainty exists, we face the question what to do about it. The traditional answer has been to reduce uncertainty and thus make things manageable, and there are still many advances that can be achieved in that field.

However, the more uncomfortable question is what do we do about things that remain uncertain? What if some of this uncertainty is inherent, something we are never able to remove? In such cases, we need to build systems to manage this uncertainty, even harness it, instead of merely attempting to reduce it.

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Leaders grow their own replacements, managers don’t

Leaders grow their own replacements, managers do notIn recent weeks, Raph Koster has been writing interesting post-mortem articles about Star Wars Galaxies. One point in particular caught my attention from a leadership point of view: the state in which the team was left in after Koster’s departure and his regret over his failure to train a replacement before he left.

Koster’s story is not a rare one. I have been through similar experiences myself. It is the difference between managing a team and leading a team, and it is a difficult lessons to learn. In this post, I want to dig a little deeper into management and leadership, and how it affects the growth of the team members.

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WoW level 90 boost and the limits of level-based game design

WoW level 90 boost and the limits of level-based game designCharacter levels have been an essential part of the game design toolkit for a long time. In many cases, they work quite well, such as in single-player games and in tabletop environments with a set group of players. However, when it comes to massively multiplayer games, there are also quite a few problems with this design paradigm, especially if the game manages to persist for an extended period of time.

The prominent example that illustrates this is World of Warcraft that recently celebrated its 10th anniversary and, in a highly controversial move, introduced an opportunity for players to purchase a boost for their character to near-max level.

In this post, I will examine this design element, the upcoming Timewalking design element that is about to be introduced to the game to alleviate other issues with level-based design, and some alternative designs as featured in Ultima Online, EVE, and Guild Wars 2.

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Guarding against complacency in the enterprise

Guarding against complacency in the enterpriseComplacency is a natural, almost inevitable feature of human behavior. It really is very difficult to recognize the need for change, especially as companies that experience hard times have almost always had a very successful past.

Motorola experienced sliding market share for five years before they recognized that maybe they should do something about it. Harley-Davidson almost went bankrupt and saw their domestic market share fall from over 80% to below 5% before their turnaround began. A similar story could be told of many other companies. Complacency is not rare, it is, in fact, systemic. So is there something we can do about it?

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The four stages of market-focused reinvention as a model for change leadership


Change is not easy. In a recent IBM study, less than half of change management programs were successful, and the bottom 20% of companies only succeeded 8% of the time. For any company hard at work implementing a change program, it is essential to also keep reflecting on what has been done and how to ensure that the program is steered in the right direction.

In this post, I will examine a change management framework from a recent book by Gregory S. Carpenter, Gary F. Gebhardt, and John F. Sherry Jr., all of whom are influencers from the Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. The book is called Resurgence: The four stages of market-focused reinvention.

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Reaching for enterprise agility with a dual operating system

Reaching for enterprise agility with a dual operating systemThe world is changing at an ever increasing pace. This is the mantra that we are relentlessly exposed to, and there is a fair bit of data to back up that claim as well, so clearly there are some challenges for businesses that need to be met.

One of the latest attempts to address these challenges comes from John Kotter, famous for his 8-step process for leading change, who has adapted his change leadership process into a more agile version that he calls the “dual operating system” of the firm in his book Accelerate: Building Strategic Agility for a Faster-Moving World.

In this post, I will look into what the dual operating system is all about and how it compares to other paradigms that also attempt to meet the same challenges.

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Stories are an essential instrument for change leadership

Stories are an essential instrument for change leadershipThere is an apocryphal story of how President Kennedy visited NASA and came across a janitor who was cleaning the floors. The President asked him what his job was, and the janitor confidently replied: ”My job is to put a man on the moon.”

It does not really matter whether the story is true or not, as we can all, as human beings, recognize the sentiment, and the power of such conviction on the purpose for which we work. Figures do not motivate people, purpose does. My claim is that the only way to instill a strong sense of purpose in a human being is through stories.

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Having a large order backlog is actually not a good thing

Having a large order backlog is actually not a good thingOne of my favorite brain teasers when giving Lean training is the question of whether having a large order backlog is a good thing or not. It is rare for anyone to immediately say that it is a bad thing, and this is why it is such an illuminating example of how to think Lean.

Many companies that are doing well like to tell how their order backlog has increased and is at a high level. This is commonly seen as a sign of success, but it is not necessarily so. To see why this is so, we need to look at the issue from the point of view of both the company and the customer.

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Have to and cannot, the most misused phrases in business?

Have to and cannot the most misused phrases in businessSimplification is often useful in life, but taking a very straightforward approach can also prevent us from seeing and discussing many of the options that are available. In practice, this often boils down to the ease with which we succumb to using the words “have to” and “cannot” in our daily lives.

I do not claim that there are never situations where people have to do something or cannot do something. However, especially in the domain of business operations, these situations are nowhere near as prevalent as the common use of these terms implies.

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Lean is more than continuous improvement of existing process

Lean is more than continuous improvement of existing processThere are probably quite a few misconceptions regarding Lean, and this state is not made any easier by the fact that there are many ways to apply Lean nor by the fact that many ideologies have borrowed the name and some tools from Lean (such as Lean Six Sigma).

One of my pet peeves is the misconception that Lean is about improvement, but not about innovation. I see how this misconception is easy to arrive at, as the most common tools people borrow from Lean focus on waste elimination or value stream mapping and are often associated with iterative improvement of the process in small steps.

However, Lean itself has innovation at its very core, and in this post I aim to elaborate on that a little bit more with the help of an analogy.

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