Micro-ISV: From Vision to Reality, Bob Walsh. Apress, 2008.
Walsh defines a Micro-ISV as a small, self-funded internet business. This book touches on a number of topics, including programming, choosing a domain name, company formation, and marketing. There are interviews sprinkled throughout. I particularly appreciated all the useful links. (Reviewed June, ’09)
Harvard Business Review. (Magazine).
This almost-monthly magazine features interesting articles on the challenges of business. I particularly enjoy the case studies, where different experts comment on a situation. I keep an article or two from almost every issue. (This month, I kept “Managing the Right Tension,” which talks about the challenges of managing e.g., short-term vs. long-term, and I kept “Strategies to Fight Low-Cost Rivals,” which considers whether you should attack, co-exist, or become a low-cost player yourself.) (Reviewed Nov., ’06)
Systemantics: How Systems Work and Especially How They Fail, John Gall. Pocket Books, 1978.
Peter Coffee recommended this in his keynote at Agile ’06, and I can see why. It’s a humorous look at how systems are by nature out of control. My favorite rule – “A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that works.” (Reviewed August, ’06)
Revolutionizing Product Development, Steven C. Wheelwright and Kim B. Clark. Free Press, 1992.
Product management can work better by tailoring its approach to the reality of the project. Building a new platform is fundamentally different from creating a follow-on for a previously developed platform, and should be managed differently. The authors consider the structure, leadership, tools, prototyping, and organizational learning in their quest to develop a broad look at product development. The book rings true for a couple situations I’m facing. (Reviewed Sept., ’05)
Design Rules, Volume 1: The Power of Modularity, Carliss Y. Baldwin and Kim B. Clark. MIT Press, 2000.
Modularity creates value both at the level of systems and at the level of organizations. Baldwin and Clark describe a number of operators that affect modularity: splitting, substitution, augmentation, excluding, inverting, and porting. These operators have economic consequences on the systems they modify. This is a book that I will study again. (Reviewed Sept., ’05)
Designing Organizations for High Performance, David P. Hanna. Addison-Wesley, 1988.
A basic book in the area of Organization Development. Its theories operate at a cultural level as much as a process level. The core is an analysis of tasks, structure, rewards, people, information, and decision-making. (Reviewed May, ’05)
The Seven-Day Weekend, Ricardo Semler. Portfolio, 2004.
“Empowerment” has been a buzzword, but Semler makes it happen in his organization. He encourages people to make their own decisions and take the consequences, and puts that in action in “his” company. By pushing power down, people step up. This book is full of anecdotes of how Semler has helped that work. (Reviewed April, ’05)
Marketing High Technology: An Insider’s View, William H. Davidow. Free Press, 1986.
The examples are dated, but the message is not: this book is about the importance of market segments and selling a whole product. (Reviewed Nov., 2004)
One Page Management, Riaz Khadem and Robert Lorber, Quill, 1998.
This is clearly in the One Minute Manager family of books, and shares their style of having a good nugget of information wrapped in a story you can read in an hour or two. (The style wears on me after a while, but it’s usually worth getting past.) In this case, the authors argue for a very simplified report up the management chain. It’s sort of “balanced scorecard light,” with some “management by exception” thrown in. I’m not prepared to evangelize the particular report they use, but I like the Big Visible Chart attitude. (Reviewed March, ’03)
Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t, Jim Collins. HarperCollins, 2001.
Collins and his team set criteria for how to identify a good company that became great (a transformation sustaining value substantially above its industry). By looking at the common strategies, they derived several rules:
- “Level 5 leadership”: “a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will.”
- “First who, then what”: get the right people in the right position, and the wrong people out.
- “Confront the brutal facts (but never lose faith)” (“The Stockdale Paradox”)
- “The hedgehog concept (Simplicity within the three circles)”: “A hedgehog knows one thing.” Stay within the intersection of “What you are deeply passionate about,” “What you can be the best in the world at,” and “What drives your economic engine.”
- “A culture of discipline”
- “Technology accelerators” (not drivers)
- The flywheel and the doom loop”: Good-to-great is an accumulation of small successes, not flailing around looking for big ones.
- “From Good to Great to Built to Last“
These all seem like good ideals. The only problem I have is that it’s a retrospective study. (It’s like getting a bunch of people to flip coins, then noticing that the person who flipped heads every time is a bald optimist with green eyes: it’s not necessarily the attributes that lead to the result.) Some of the characteristics can only be assessed retrospectively, so they have a flavor of being self-fulfilling (you thought you had a hedgehog strategy, but it didn’t work out, so it must not have been).
With those limitations in mind, this book is thought-provoking about what really makes for greatness.
(Reviewed Jan., ’03)
The Innovator’s Dilemma, Clayton Christensen. HarperBusiness, 2000.
Companies often get successful by giving customers what they want. New companies may begin with a product that is less functional but better on a dimension valued by non-customers. By the time the original company realizes the threat, the new technology has improved enough to make it hard to stop. (Reviewed Nov., ’02)