23 September

After Alistair Cockburn’s opening keynote address at Agile 2009 “I’ve Come to Bury Agile”, I’ve been thinking even more about the evolution of organizational ideas. This topic piques my interest on a recurring basis, so this time I thought I’d see what I could find out about organizational movements, a.k.a. “management fads.” In other words, how do new thoughts about the best ways to do work emerge, evolve, grow and become common practice? I found some clues in an article, “Management Fads: Emergence, Evolution, and Implications for Managers” by Jane Whitney Gibson and Dana V. Tesone (fromThe Academy of Management Executive (1993), Vol. 15, No. 4, Themes: Business Strategies and Employee Development (Nov., 2001), pp. 122-133).

Gibson and Tesone quote B. Ettore’s life-cycle theory of management fads to describe five phases of evolution: discovery, wild acceptance, digestion, disillusionment, hard core, with each phase lasting anywhere from 2 to 15 years. At the time of publication, for instance, they suggest that self-managing teams in manufacturing had only reached the digestion phase, after about 20 years of managerial awareness.

They provide a checklist for deciding whether a “management fad”, let’s say Agile for instance, has staying power to adopt it for your organization:

Has [Agile] been around long enough to have a proven track record?

Does the goal of [Agile] complement the needs of the organization?

Does implementation of [Agile] mesh with the organizational culture?

Will adopting [Agile] help the organization remain competitive?

Does the organization have the resources needed to implement [Agile]?

Do the expected benefits of [Agile] outweigh the direct and indirect costs?

Can [Agile] be implemented in small sections of the organization to test the new concepts with minimum risk?

Has the organization’s track record with previous fad adoptions been positive?

Can you wait for the long-term benefits of [Agile] adoption?

Can organizational inertia and resistance to change be managed to successfully implement [Agile]?

Do you have a choice?

Gibson and Tesone conclude, “Management fads…are cyclical in nature. They start out quietly, attract a lot of attention, spread through expanding adoption by people who want to be in the in-crowd, then often fade into obscurity as the adopters tire of the fad and the effort required to maintain it. Some fads, however, are so useful that they become mainstays of our repertoire.”

Does any of this sound familiar?


Special Guest Post by Diana Larsen