Author: Mary & Tom Poppendieck
Publisher: Addison-Wesley, 2009
Aimed at: Leaders of software teams and of organisations
Pros: Highly readable, thought provoking
Cons: Sometimes seems to stray off topic
Reviewed by: Sue Gee
Results are Not the Point - an intriguing subtitle which begs the question "What is the point". Does this book provide the answer?
This book is the third title by the husband and wife team, Tom and Mary Poppendieck, well-known and well regarded in the field of Lean Software Development. It draws on the experience of high profile companies and while this makes for an interesting read it initially may make it difficult to relate to for small organizations. Stick with it because there's a lot of worthwhile advice that is generalizable and while it is about management it is a style that fits well with the lean (agile) approach to software development.
The book is divided into six chapters, each of which covers four "frames". The idea of "Framing" is explained in the introduction initially with reference to how a photographer chooses what to put in a picture. We also learn how the term is used by cognitive scientists referring to "mental constructs that shape our perspective of the world" and "sets of beliefs about what elements to pay attention to and how these elements interact with each other". The importance of frames is that:
Whatever frame you use limits the questions you think to ask, the decision alternatives you consider, and the consequences you anticipate from those decisions... If you are not seeing the results you expect from your current direction, consider moving to a different place, re-aim your camera, and look at the problem through a different frame.
There are lots of photographic metaphors in this book. Figure 1-1 in the Introduction presents "The big picture" a diagrammatic overview of the the six chapter topics:
and the four frames that make up each.
Each chapter opens with a Snapshot setting the scene for the chapter and concludes with a Portrait that in some way draws the chapters frames together. In some cases these are real people - in Chapter 1 we consider Thomas Eddison, inventor of the light bulb, in others idealized characteristics for a role are discussed. Most of the chapters then have a section with the title Your Shot. This asks questions that make you reflect on your own organization. If you work you way through these exercises - which sometimes ask you to watch a video or undertake an activity such as creating a chart, filling in a form or brainstorming with others - you will indeed gain insights from working with this book.
Although Chapter 1 has the title Systems Thinking it looks at customer experience and its first Frame is "Customer Focus - the photography metaphor again. In it we meed the idea of "failure demand" - the demand on an organisation caused by its own failures. This is contrasted with "value demand" - request that will add value from a customer's perspective. Later in the chapter a failure demand process map is presented and I recommend this section to anyone working on help desk support. The potential improvement from adopting a system in which developers connect directly with customers in an eye-opener.
Chapter 2 is where agile practices for software development is covered - low-dependency architecture, test-driven development process and the importance of deep expertise among developers.
Chapter 3 discusses workflow and schedule and the contribution of feedback. In some ways it is Chapter 4 that sums up the ideal philosophy of the lean organization: "constant, ongoing, never-be satisfied improvement".
In Chapter 5 we again encounter the message of the subtitle, "Results are not the Point" and learn that:
In knowledge work, success comes entirely from people and the system within which they work. Results are not the point. Developing the people and the system so that together they are capable of achieving successful results is the point.
The message of this frame is that instead of solving problems you should concentrate on developing problem-solving skills in people. The other principles explored in this chapter are that people treat others the way they are treated and it goes through the four Ps: Purpose, Passion, Persistence and Pride. The Portrait: Front-Line Leaders includes a C19th Chief of the Prussian General Staff - most unexpected!
Chapter 6 is rather different from the others. While all chapters have lots of case study material and personal anecdotes from many sources, through predominantly from Mary Poppendieck, this final chapter is primarily about Agile@IBM and looks at how IBM underwent the transformation to agile and the leaders and the thinking that brought it about. The final Portrait: Leaders at All Levels draws together threads we've been following since the start of the book with more about Southwest Airlines, 3M and Toyota.
Overall you can't help but be impressed by this book. It is scholarly without being stiff and authoritative without being preachy, It does have the power to transform but it's a case of getting the right people to read it. So not only read this book, pass it on.