Management Science has made great strides in the past hundred years. Management seminars and college classes all teach team methodology. The classes also teach employee empowerment. The priority is simple, the team decides goals and objectives, plans the work process, then empowers the worker to get the job done. In the 1960’s NASA developed a process now accepted as the science of Project Management. NASA was given a goal – land a man on the moon in less than ten years. The complexity of the task required sophisticated interaction by many people. IBM studied the NASA model and further developed the concept of process management. This process requires a humble but confident leader.
President Barack Obama is such a confident man.
To clarify the value of team input:
Management seminars around the country send their students on a Caribbean Cruise. The exercise works like this: Each person is given a scenario – their ship has sunk or their plane has crashed on a deserted island. The survivors are presented with a list of items they can salvage from their wrecked transport. Items such as a wrist watch, book of matches, a six-pack of canned beer, a swiss army knife, a blanket, a tent – stuff like that. They are given a list of about twenty items but there is only time to salvage ten. Each person is asked to individually select their ten items. Then the participants are put into small groups to discuss their choices – the group then collectively selects the survival items.
When the process is complete the instructor gives the class the items chosen by a group of survival specialists. The idea is simple – we presume the survival specialists made the best choices – so the question is this: Who made the best choices – the individual or the group? In almost every case the group makes the best choice.
The Caribbean Cruise is but one of many exercises Management Instructors use to demonstrate the value of group input. Suffice to say that groups make better decisions than individuals.
Why empower individuals?
Empowering individuals has been taught in American Management Science for the past thirty years. The idea is to reduce the red tape of bureaucracy by empowering employees to make decisions without the need of management direction. How does this work?
Twenty years ago I was sitting in the steam room of a local health club. One of the men in the room was complaining about red tape at his place of work. He was the Chief Boiler Engineer at the Iatan Electric Power Plant just north of Kansas City, Missouri. He reported that the Plant Maintenance shop was located twenty feet from his office. The light switch in his office broke and he asked a Plant Maintenance employee to fix the switch. ‘Sorry,’ the man said, ‘That requires a work order.’ My friend filled out the work order, sent it to his boss for approval, the boss sent to order to the Plant Maintenance Supervisor who approved the work and gave the work order to the original employee who said the job required a work order. The switch was repaired in five minutes – a month after the first report of a problem. Had the original employee been empowered to just fix the switch two management jobs could have been eliminated.
Why Project Management – and how does Barack Obama employ the strategy?
Project Management is relatively simple and for many is just common sense. Identify a problem or a goal, identify the stakeholders (who is impacted by the project), get input from all stakeholders, clarify the goal or objective, clarify assumptions, develop a strategy to address the issue, identify specific tasks, assign responsibility, implement the strategy, measure the results, adjust where measurements did not meet expectations, and then evaluate the success – if necessary – do the process again, this time with the knowledge of experience.
President Obama’s methods:
President Obama has addressed a number of critical issues in his first year in office. We now have some empirical evidence to evaluate his thought process. In every case, the economy, Iraq, Afghanistan, and health care President Obama has been consistent. He identifies the problem, identifies stakeholders, calls everyone together for input, and seeks consensus. When a strategy is identified the President assigns responsibility for individual tasks. Measurable milestones are established. Implementing the decisions begins with employees who are empowered. Time-lines are not arbitrary, as some Republicans claim. Rather the time-lines are established as a baseline for specific measurement – and the person responsible for achieving a goal in a given time was included in the planning process. There are no surprises.
Change Control is important to any Project Plan. Management Scientists accept that no plan is perfect – regular measurable milestones are developed to identify problems and make course corrections along the way.
Projects should be done in two principle phases – planning and implementation. Sometimes the plan reveals the futility to the project. Some projects are abandoned after the planning phase because they are deemed too expensive or unwieldy. This is preferable to launching a project with no understanding or concept of cost.
Why are some distressed or confused about the leadership of President Obama?
Dick Cheney is the most notable critic of the President. He is an excellent example of an uninformed critic. Cheney is a shoot-from-the-hip sort of manager. He appears confident and decisive. The reality is that Dick Cheney is an arrogant man who believes he knows better than any group of subordinates. Cheney’s pride will not allow him to acknowledge mistakes. Thus mistakes continue. Cheney is a man who will compromise principle in favor of tactical advantage.
President Obama is a confident man, a humble man who does not always have to be right. President Obama easily accepts the input of others – he seeks the input of others. President Obama always empowers others within given parameters of goals and strategies. Measurable milestones are established to hold others accountable. President Obama is a practical man who recognizes that perfect solutions are not always attainable – he is willing to compromise tactics – but he never compromises principle.
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