Books, Books and more Books

I’ve been travelling by train quite a bit lately, going to a customer site at Corinda (about an hour trip away). That’s helped get quite a bit of reading done. I’m currently reading some computing classics.

The latest book I’ve finished is “The Mythical Man Month”, 20th Anniversary Edition by Frederick Brooks Jr. I first read Fred’s book in the 1980’s. It was first published in 1975. This edition (ISBN 0-201-83595-9) features the original text plus Fred’s comments 20 years on. All developers should read this book, if for nothing else but the amazing computing industry time capsule it represents. Some of his insights are timeless, such as Brook’s law: Adding developers to a project that’s late will make it even later.

I wonder if he’ll release a 30th anniversary edition next year. I hope so.

Good To Great (Management Books)

Just finished reading “Good To Great” by Jim Collins ISBN 0-06-662099-6.

Jim’s previous book “Built To Last” was an interesting read. It covered organisations that were built to stand the test of time. In this latest book, he (and his big analysis team) looked at companies that had made a transition from just being good to becoming great. By great, he’s talking about consistently higher than market results over a long period. He has directly compared them to companies that haven’t made the transition or who, even though they started out much the same, didn’t make the cut. His team was looking at what was different about the companies.

The basic results are:

1. What he calls a “Level 5” leader was present during the transformation. This is not a high-achiever big-ego type CEO but usually someone you’ve barely ever heard of.

2. Before working out where the company was going, the leader got the right people (ie staff) on board. The logic is that having the right people lets you adjust where you need to go, if it turns out you have to do so along the way. This is in direct contrast to companies that put strategy before all else.

3. The “Good to Great” companies also kept themselves focussed on a) what they could be the best in the world at, b) they passionately eliminated most class distinctions within the organisations and c) there was an underlying economic determinator in what they were doing.

So where’s Greg going with this blog today???

Another key finding is that each of these companies made good use of technology in pursuing their goals but never were too concerned about “being left behind”. I hear people in our industry trying to scare businesses about being left behind all the time. It’s a bit like Chicken Little and the sky falling.

The last interesting finding is that in each of the companies, there was no “determining” minute or factor in their transition. It was more like pushing a big flywheel around. Eventually it gets a life of its own. Jim gave the example of an egg being hatched. A lot of action happens in the egg before anyone really notices anything. He discussed a US basketball coach that won the comp 10 out of 11 years in succession. What no-one discussed, is that he’d been coaching at the same place without winning the comps for over 15 years, building the foundation.

Regardless, for those of us in business, probably worth a read!