This week we begin our re-read of Mik Kersten’s Project to Product. I am reading from my Kindle version published by IT Revolution (buy a copy). Today we are tackling the front matter which includes the Foreword by Gene Kim (author of the DevOps Handbook) and the Introduction, which is titled the Turning Point. In past re-reads, I have argued strongly that jumping immediately to the core of a book is a mistake, I again urge you not to make that mistake.

In the Foreword, Gene Kim foreshadows the ideas of the flow framework (the centerpiece of the book)  and how the framework can liberate organizations from the management structures of the past. One of the omnipresent conversations in IT circles is that change is both constant and increasing in pace. Whether true or not, the belief that change is happening generates its own weather. The fear of being left behind creates the imputes to change. Much of the activity to drive change ends up being focused on solving the wrong problem. Later in the book, Kersten uses the Nokia agile transformation as an example of this scenario. Any of us that have devoted our career to helping teams and organizations change have seen this type of behavior, which is why the ideas to focus change on the right problem have so power.  Near the end of the Foreword, Mr. Kim talks about the Flow Framework as a tool “to disrupt, instead of being disrupted.” I think the quote is a great springboard into the Introduction which builds the case for disruption.

The Introduction lays out his rationale for why the Flow Framework is needed and why it is needed now.  Dr. Kertsen sets up his call to action based on the economic theory of Kondratiev wave, also known as supercycles. The cycles are a representation/economic model of the social and structural changes generated by major technological shocks. The impact of the industrial revolution was a supercycle. The original concept of a Kondratiev wave has been built on over the years to include three distinct phases (installation, turning point, and deployment). Using the current cycle, Age of Software and Digital, as an example, the initial phase was marked by an explosion of startups and rapid technological advances, the turning point by financial crashes (e.g the Dot.Com bubble and the Great Recession) and is now being followed by a period of consolidation when the power of capital becomes the overwhelming driver. Big ideas capture my imagination — just in case you hadn’t noticed. Every time I read the Introduction I have gotten excited about the future. 

Why did this strike me so forcefully?  Because it matches current events. Large firms are consolidating into monopolies or oligopolies. Facebook may be the Standard Oil of the 21st Century. Many of the startups I talk with only have one thing on their mind, getting acquired, rather than a relentless urge to create a long-lasting business. Large firms are leveraging their capital positions to enforce their competitive advantage. The firms that want to compete with the largest firms on top of each market will need to transform how they are operating (for an example of firm looking to build a long-term business listen to my interview with Mike Potter Transformation can only happen if firms divest themselves of the management approaches from the past. For example, the rigid structure of hierarchy first adopted during the industrial revolution and modified with ideas of matrix management from the age of mass production are boat anchors that slow decision making and promote local optimization over maximizing the flow value across the value chain. Arguably, these ideas should not shock anyone (if they do, please refer to our re-read of The Goal), however, what struck me is that in the 2020’s we are past the turning point and early in the consolidation phase. Knowing that provides us with the chance to have an impact on the future if we attack the right problems rather than trying to hold on to the past. 

Several years ago I listened to Denis Waitley, author of The Psychology of Winning, make a strong case for a personal and organizational change. I was struck by the phrase  “online or in the breadline.” Stephen Covey stated, “act or be acted on.” If change is inevitable the Introduction makes me think we would be remiss at not trying to shape it. 

Next week will dive into Part 1 – The Flow Framework with a discussion of Chapter One, The Age of Software.