14 May 2019

The dead horse theory management

This dead horse theory was such an interesting concept that I just decided to copy-paste it here. Not only I could not find its origin, but also did not find any post on the Internet in a quality that it deserves, so I am posting it here in that quality!

Essentially “Dead Horse Theory” is the tribal wisdom of the Indians, passed on from generation to generation:

When you discover that you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount.

However, governments, educations, and corporates most of the time choose more advanced strategies, such as:

  • Buying a stronger whip!
  • Changing riders!
  • Appointing a committee to study the horse!
  • Arranging to visit other countries to see how other cultures ride dead horses!
  • Lowering the standards so that the dead horses can be included!
  • Re-classifying the dead horse as living-impaired!
  • Hiring outside contractors to ride the dead horse!
  • Harnessing several dead horses together to increase speed!
  • Providing additional funding and/or training to increase dead horse’s performance!
  • Doing a productivity study to see if lighter riders would improve the dead horse’s performance!
  • Declaring that the dead horse does not have to be fed, it is less costly, carries lower overhead and, therefore, contributes substantially more to the bottom line of the economy than do some other horses!
  • Rewriting the expected performance requirements for all horses. And of course… !
  • Promoting the dead horse to a supervisory position!

Although all of the above solutions are funny, they are completely serious! Lots of people, companies, and even countries are taking these decisions instead of the rational one.

“When you discover that you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount”

The main problem of these decisions is not seeing the root cause. The root cause analysis is one of the most fundamental concepts to improve any process, especially software-related processes

Build a Culture of stopping to fix problems, to get Quality right first time”

Unfortunately, this mindset is not found in a lot of organisations with ‘Management by Adrenaline’ being the preferred approach and rewards and recognition being given to those who solve issues (in the short-term) through ‘Heroic Activity’. Some of the symptoms of this will be:

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  1. An incoherent vision for the department/group.
  2. Team Members working significant over-time in both the evenings and week-ends, not as the exception but as the rule.
  3. Excessive email over-load, with the expectation of an immediate response.
  4. Multiple long, ineffective meetings; with late arrivals, missing attendees and poor actionable follow-up.
  5. A culture of blame and scape-goating.
  6. Constant fire-fighting.

This is a deleterious cycle of ineffectiveness and it takes a real recognition and commitment to change by the leadership, including role modelling of the right behaviours. However, it is difficult to do as it requires Leaders to lift themselves above the day-to-day operational mire and adopt a significantly different style of leadership.

Nevertheless, only when real change is in place will an organisation rapidly start to create a culture of trust and high performance because, as Einstein once said:

“The definition of Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”

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