Posts Tagged ‘Knowledge based Work’

The Evolution of Leadership Styles

Comments Off on The Evolution of Leadership Styles

In the earliest period of industrialism, Taylor and Fayol created new ways of administering work more efficiently by centralizing power. Earlier, I talked about the planning, organizing, staffing, directing and controlling model. The foundation of this model was that uneducated labor was hired in factories and they where managed by people who controlled the whole process. This was based on the assumption that the manager knew more than the laborer.Evolution of Management

The style by which these managers led others echoed the dictatorial style of  “you do it my way or you don’t do it at all”. As the labor force became more competent, the managers’ roles shifted. Managers learned to delegate parts of the working process in the new “Empowerment style”, “Do this but do it your way…”. When power was decentralized, the creative and innovative energy of employees was released. Management trusted employees more and mistakes were regarded as part of the learning experience.But in a more complex world where the future was more uncertain and managers didn’t know “what should be the right thing” or “How the right thing was done” a new way of management came about.  With Toyota as one of the biggest examples of Kaisen and Lean, everything will improve and will be done just in time.  Consequently, management had to change into “follow me and let’s figure this out together”. It became an exploratory journey. We can’t fully understand the problem until the first solution to the problem is delivered. And we won’t know if it is the right solution. The right solution (what) is discovered along the way and solved in ways never done before (how).  Therefore, what is needed to succeed in this trip into the unknown? This approach enabled Toyota to implement a million new ideas a year.  This is why Toyota made more than twice the money as any other carmaker. Toyota has truly demonstrated what a culture of creativity and innovation can do.

A new kind of “manager”

In traditional non-knowledge-based companies, the title of “Manager” often implies that a person is either responsible for a lot of people or earns a high salary, or both. Nowadays, there are a lot of managers that have neither formal power over people nor earn higher salaries.  instead they are responsible for a specific situation.

They are assigned to be advocates for a specific intention, area or goal. Within this goal, their responsibility is to understand what makes this intention as successful as possible. A project manager is someone who is responsible for making an intellectual journey into the unknown, taking a specific context from one starting position to a much brighter and more valuable future.

Management these days is about taking responsibility for a situation. In Jeffrey Liker’s book “The Toyota WayToyota’s leaders are described as leaders who are clear about the purpose and direction; at the same time they remain close to the business  and have a deep understanding of the work. A manager needs to have a deep understanding of the Value to the customer. The value consists of “the right thing” for the customer and that the work is done “the right way” for the customer.

The Toyota Way

The Agile Reaction

Agile methodologies have been around for a while and have been adapted with varying degrees of success.Agile methodologies constituted a reaction against the more document-driven and plan-driven methodologies like RUP.  But Agile work was also a reaction against the traditional way of management (bureaucratic management and task management).

Software development is true knowledge-based work, which means that the persons in the team doing the work know most about the whole system, not the managers as in a factory. This puts the managers in a new role where other things are demanded.

The Agile Manager – the Knowledge-based Work Leader

If management is more about taking responsibility for a specific situation, value is created primarily by the team’s knowledge and creativity. A friend told me a story about curling. Each curling team consists of 4 players and one is the team leader. Everyone in the team plays stones and helps out with the sweeping. The manager leads the work with the strategy, discussing with each member but at the same time is an active player himself.

Sometimes the players need to get on the track and help the other players out, sweeping in front of other players’ stone to give it the right speed and direction. Agile management is similar to this. the Agile manager is the player that helps out with the knowledge-based work but his most important responsibility is to help others perform as much as possible and to focus on strategy and execution.

When I look at myself and my work, the times that I feel becoming engaged in the “production and operations”, I soon lose sight of the macro perspective of the development.

Peter Drucker’s View of Knowledge-based Work


Peter Drucker is one the most famous management consultants. Business Week even called him “The man who invented management”).  He coined the term “knowledge worker”. During his life he emphasized that economic growth has to come from knowledge-based work rather than from the industrial revolution’s thinking about manufacturing.

What Drucker meant was that the difference between manual work is visible, specialized, and stable; knowledge-based work, on the other hand, is invisible, holistic, and ever-changing. Unlike manual workers, knowledge workers use their situational knowledge to get things done in a dynamic environment. They are almost always formally educated and are called upon to run and change their functions and organizations simultaneously.

Knowledge workers acquire knowledge through a combination of education, experience, and personal interaction, and then use that knowledge to holistically achieve organizational goals in changing environments. This work is generally much more project-oriented than manual work.

To understand Drucker’s view on knowledge-based work, let’s analyze Frederick Taylor’s view of manual work and how it differs from Peter Drucker’s view of Knowledge Work.

Frederick Taylor on Manual Work Peter Drucker on Knowledge Work
Define the task Understand the task
Command and control Give autonomy
Strict standards Continuous innovation
Focus on quantity Focus on quality
Measure performance to strict standards Continuously learn and teach
Minimize cost of workers for a task Treat workers as assets and not as costs

(Source: Reinvent Your Enterprise, by Jack Bergstrand)

One of the most important messages from Drucker is that productivity comes from very different factors rather than from physical or manual work.

Manual Work Productivity Knowledge Work Productivity
Work is visible Work is invisible
Work is specialized Work is holistic
Work is stable Work is changing
Emphasis is on running things Emphasis is on changing things
More structure with fewer decisions Less structure with more decisions
Focus on the right answers Focus on the right questions

(Source: Reinvent Your Enterprise, by Jack Bergstrand)

Another observation that Drucker made was that knowledge-based work is difficult to manage because of its nature:  it expands and takes up all the available time. This is a natural consequence of focusing on quality instead of on quantity. If you combine quality with a non-deterministic process, time estimations will become very difficult unless you have a crystal ball. This is one of the big challenges for managers who administer business value in knowledge-based companies.