Let General Stanley McChrystal Explain Why Adaptability Trumps Hierarchy

Agile working was being used 70 years ago by Lockheed Skunk Works and by the Venetian Arsenal in 15th century Italy. It has now been defined as a methodology. However I believe that agile working is more than a methodology. It’s a way of working that a traditional, command and control, company cannot quickly achieve by just sending people on agile working training and then applying a step-by-step approach to ‘being agile’.

True agile working is achieved by high capability individuals working to a common cause, and finding creative and adaptable solutions to problems.

This article, Let General Stanley McChrystal Explain Why Adaptability Trumps Hierarchy, contrasts the approach of the surgical team of Drs Caterson and Carty, where adaptability is part of their world (“Operations are unpredictable. You always have to adapt.” Dr Matthew Carty) and that of General Motors where command and control working, information silos and politics resulted in a ten-year delay in fixing a fatal ignition switch problem which killed at least 13 people.

Traditional top-down structures sustain a hierarchy but limit adaptability. In contrast, adaptive small teams operate as a network based on shared skills, knowledge, beliefs and common objectives.

Equation for Change

This Equation for Change was posted on Linkedin a couple of years ago.  The image quality was poor so I’ve redrawn it.  I have not been able to find the original source but credit to them for a simple and effective checklist for managing organisational change.  You can download a pdf version here


Books I recommend


This is a very practical book on how to manage virtual teams across time zones and cultures.

This is an excellent example of how a failing organisation, the USS Benfold,  became seen as the best ship in the Navy.  Captain Abrashoff did this  by inspiring the people under him to achieve their best.   The lessons within this book apply to any organisation.

Our common image of the jester comes from paintings of mediaeval courts, Shakespeare’s plays or a pack of playing cards.  The jester was generally a man, although there were some female jesters.  They  were quick witted, accomplished entertainers who played instruments, juggled, told jokes, did acrobatics and tricks.  They did more than entertain, they also poked fun at pomposity.  The fool would be a valuable addition to most organisations.

David Firth’s book is enjoyable and informative.

An interesting book (and associated website) that defines thirty four themes or talents.  By taking an online test, your top five themes are provided.  The driving philosophy is to identify and develop your strengths rather than struggle with your weaknesses.  Makes sense to me!

Here are my top five themes:

1. Strategic
2. Ideation
3. Self-Assurance
4. Futuristic
5. Learner


Although this is called a handbook, at over 800 papers you would need very big hands! However this is a comprehensive reference to the 6 Sigma methodology, suitable everybody from Green belt to black belt.

With over 100 symbols in BPMN V2.0, process maps can be unintelligible unless their creation is guided by a simple structure. Bruce Silver’s approach is for level I with an abbreviated symbol set suitable for business use and level II with an extended symbol set for IT implementation. This is a logical way of working but may not be obvious to beginners in process modelling.

The Lean Six Sigma pocketbook is a well written and practical guide to the six Sigma toolset.   It’s worth keeping a copy in your briefcase.

 This book shows how to  how to  use simple sketches to share ideas and solve problems. No drawing skill is needed.

 This book, edited by Dr Penny Pullan and James Archer  is a very useful addition to the professional business analysts library.  Business analysis  can result in organisational change, not just implementation of yet another IT system. Influencing change is what this book addresses.

One of the must have books if you are interested in Toyota’s approach to business process improvement. 

 I wrote this guide,  at the time £0.77 was the cheapest that I could sell it for.  It would be free if I knew how to adjust the price. 

Organisational Change & Insight

The Business Analysis Body of Knowledge is now in it’s third edition and was published by the IIBA in April 2015.   At over 500 pages, it’s a large book but is an excellent reference guide for the international business analysis professional.
 There is (in my opinion) a lot of rubbish circulating about agile working. It seems to become one of today’s fads which is not really understood. However it’s not anything new and if you want an example of agile working as a philosophy and a way of producing technological advances at an unbelievable rate,  I recommend Skunk Works. Lockheed Skunk Works developed the U2 spy plane, the SR 17 blackbird and many other aircraft were so advanced that they were often mistaken for UFOs!

 This is one of Tom Peters first books, and in my opinion the best. I bought my first copy nearly 20 years ago when studying for a Masters in Manufacturing Systems Engineering. Chaotic organisations still abound today and the messages in this book remain relevant.

 Clearly written and immediately useful, this is one of the first books that I bought on becoming an independent consultant.

 This is the book that started the Total Quality Movement, which in turn kicked off the Sis Sigma Methodolgoy.  This is when people woke up to the fact that Japanese manufacturing was not competing on cost alone, but on quality, efficiency and reliability.

 Right brain thinking and creativity is not just for artists and ‘creatives’.  It’s a serious business tool that can uncover solutions and opportunities invisible to linear thought.

 Provides a graphical approach to business model generation and analysis which is useful for both consulting and developing your own business. There’s also an accompanying iPad app.

 I use mind mapping a lot.  I find it works well for me in understanding and breaking down complexity and for revision.  This book is a good introduction to mind mapping.  My favourite mind mapping tool is free – it’s Freemind which you can download it from SourceForge by clicking on this link   as it’s written in Java, ic works on Android, Mac OS and Windows.

 This book shines a light into the sometimes murky and unscrupulous world of management consultancy.   If you are a consultant or if you use consultants, the book will give you some ‘Aha’ moments.


 This is book describes effective schemes for producing jokes.  Written by Sally Holloway, a successful comedian and writer, it’s worth every penny if you need to create a humorous speech or even want to try standup.  I bought it in a hurry after agreeing to compete in the humorous speech category in a competition arranged by my local Toastmasters International group.  

The speech went down a storm and I won the best speaker award.  The book gave me ideas and an approach that worked.  Highly recommended!

I’ve just bought this for my own use, on the recommendation of Dr Penny Pullan of Making Projects Work 


Tangled earphone cables and business processes.

I can guarantee that when I take my earphone cables out of my pocket, they will be in a tangled mess. Although it’s frustrating, this is predictable behaviour which was described in the paper “Spontaneous knotting of an agitated string,” .  This was commented on by various publications including The Independent 

Business process tangles are where a process folds back on itself, interferes with other processes or becomes a knotted mess where no one really knows what’s happening. I believe that both of these tangles have some factors in common as shown in the table below:

Factors that increase the probability of tangled cables

Equivalent reasons for business process tangles

String length

Process length.  The greater the number of steps in a process, the greater the probability that it will tangle

String flexibility

Unnecessary and unmanaged process variation. While processes should continually improve and be responsive to customer and business needs, all change must have an appropriate level of control. 

Points of contact or crossing 

End-to-end business processes should flow through from customer demand to delivery.  Where a process is ‘chopped up’ by organisational silos, there will be an increased probability of tangles caused by poor handover to the next process stage.

External motion

Poorly managed organisational change or response to customer demands is an equivalent force that can result in change.

What do you think?

Clever but lazy people are the best leaders

Kurt Gebhard Adolf Philipp Freiherr von Hammerstein-Equord classified his officers into four groups:  stupid and lazy, stupid and diligent, clever and diligent and clever and lazy.  He commented that ‘Anyone who is both clever and lazy is qualified for the highest leadership duties, because he possesses the intellectual clarity and the composure necessary for difficult decisions.
These are the innovators, visionaries and leaders.  We need more people who are clever and lazy leading UK business!
Here is my interpretation of his four groups:

Von Hammerstein-Equord.001

Leave on time and achieve more

Brian Hunt BSc, MSc, I.Eng., MIET, FInstLM, CBAP

Parkinsons Law: Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion

In the UK, the massive job losses of the 1980s and 1990s meant that for many, receiving a gold watch on retirement was replaced by getting a black bin liner, a cancelled security pass and the dole queue.

Of those that survived, some were left with a fear of losing their own jobs and they learned to look busy and indispensable at all times. They made sure to arrive before the boss and leave after, and sent emails late in the evening, early morning and at weekends. As the uncertain economic times continue a long hours culture has become embedded and is often seen as a sign of commitment.

The result is that some employees spend their time looking busy while actually doing things of little or no value. Working inefficiently has become an established part of business life and strategies and websites for looking busy while avoiding work exist by the score. Ive included some at the end of this blog. Hence the average working day absorbs a lot of waste which could be used to work more productively and thus leave earlier.

Working long hours is fine when there is a purpose and self motivation, but not just for the sake of it. Thomas Edison and his muckerschose to work long hours to create products that changed the world. The average working week at his Research Laboratory was 55 hours, longer when they were focussing on solving a problem or following a line of inspiration. (source http://tiny.cc/elacuw )

Even then, Edison took time off for rest and to refresh his mind. That balance is just as necessary for todays overstretched and overstressed employees.


Edison asleep on a workbench. Smithsonian image #87-1670 reproduced by kind permission of The National Museum of American History


      • In the UK, full time workers have the third longest working hours (42.7 hours) in Europe, behind only Austria and Greece (both 43.7 hours) (source: http://tiny.cc/7yacuw)

      • UK managers and senior officials work an average of 7.6 hours unpaid overtime per week (source: http://tiny.cc/7yacuw)

      • Our efficiency is not as good as our competitors:

        • Dutch workers spend 1,379 hours at work each year to produce £51,452 value while the average UK worker works longer (1,625 hours) and produces £47,859 of value. This allows Dutch workers to work five hours a week less and be 27% more productive (source http://tiny.cc/u4acuw )

      • On an output per worker basis, UK productivity was 21 percentage points lower than the rest of the G7 in 2012, and was the widest productivity gap since 1991 (Source: Office for National Statistics at http://tinyurl.com/nws52qo

      • There is a 40 to 80 percent greater chance of heart disease when people work for more than eight hours a day (source: American Journal of Epidemiology at http://tinyurl.com/kjnc24m )

Why you should stop working late

Tired people make bad decisions and react poorly to unexpected events.

Creative thinking needs a clear and alert mind. Taking a break from trying to solve a problem can allow your unconscious mind to processes the information and ‘join the dots’ so that the solution presents itself.

Having a work life balance is better for mental and physical health.

Fitting your work into the contracted hours will force you find more productive ways of working:

  • Only attend meetings which have a clear purpose and need you to be there. Being in back to back meetings every day is less a sign of status than one of poor time management.

  • Work smarter rather than longer and harder. Take time to step back and identity where time is lost in your work. Do all the activities add value? Simple process improvement techniques can be learned in an hour. See my article The Mighty WOMBAT: A Simple Approach to Finding Muda at http://tiny.cc/krbcuw
  • Standardise and simplify routine tasks.

A big time saver: the 80:20 rule

The 80:20 rule, or Pareto Principle, is named after the 19th Century Italian Economist Vilfredo Pareto who found that 20% of the people held 80% of the wealth. This relationship was named vital few against the trivial manyby the Quality Systems Guru Joseph M. Juran and applies to many situations. This vital fewcan represent as much as 40% of the workload. The Pareto Chart below shows that electrical problems are the biggest single cause of car breakdown callouts. Finding ways of removing that vital fewwill reduce your total workload.

causes of car breakdown

Source: AA Common causes of car breakdowns in Ireland at http://tiny.cc/gfccuw

Following the Pareto Principle, concentrate on the vital few activities that provide the most results, and produce more output in less time.

For example, when producing written work, using 20% of effort to produce 80% of output may be sufficient. Match output to the expectations and needs of the customer. Dont provide a twenty page report when a half page summary is sufficient.


Focus on achieving visible and measurable benefits during your contracted hours. This increases your personal value and, should you want to seek a job with a more sensible hours policy, is important to be able to describe what you have achieved to a prospective employer. Of course, working extra hours is sometiems unavoidable but when this becomes routine, that’s a sign of a badly managed organisation.

Being able to say I always stayed late at the officesuggests poor self-management, potential health problems and no a work-life balance. That doesn’t make for a good CV!


Looking busy while doing nothing: