A couple of train journeys yesterday allowed me to race to the end of Leading Change (John P. Kotter, 1996). This is a book I’ve been meaning to read for some time. Now I’ve read it I wish I’d read it sooner.
Although it is written by an academic like most HBS press books it doesn’t come across as academic and is quite an easy read. I was once told that HBS books are ghost written and to be honest I tend to believe this. Most academics write great papers and scholarly books but aren’t so hot on easy to read literature. Unfortunately, in making it easy to read it also looses the references, I like to see the sources for ideas and places for further reading.
But back to why I liked the book...
I found the book spoke to me. This happened on three levels.
Firstly, I think the main challenge facing software companies today - and probably any business - is the need to change. The last few years have seen a lot of good ideas that have challenged the traditional way of developing software. In order to move from the old ways to the new ways we need to change.
Actually, much software and product development proceeds in a very ad hoc fashion. Consequently when we’ve considered improving things we’ve got wrapped up in methodologies, presses and standards. The real problems are much more basic: people, teamwork and change. They may be more basic but they are harder to do something about.
Software developers, and more so their managers, have hidden behind methodologies and process for far too long. Rather than chasing a process they should be addressing the real problems.
So, I think this book is useful for anyone wanting to improve their products, development and company.
Secondly the book related to my personal experience. Much of this book explains why change initiatives fail and how to avoid those failures. I’ve been responsible for introducing a lot of new ideas and change into my office. Some have been successful and change has succeeded, others have failed.
I’d like to have more of the successes and fewer failures. I’ve sometimes had trouble understanding the failures. It’s too easy to blame individuals or collectives groups like “management” but that doesn’t add much. Introducing change is about getting these people to change too.
In this book I found a lot to explain why my less successful changes have failed and why the successful ones have. So I associated with the book and it gave me some new insights and strategies.
Finally I associated with this book on a personal level. It finishes by describing the need for life long learning and the individual characteristics we need to face the future, to grow and to change ourselves. I found I could associate with this too - it matches many of my ideas.
Some Harvard books can be a little idealistic. This one is quite down to earth, perhaps because it talks about failure so much it seems rooted in real life. This book isn’t the last word in change, and there is much else that could be said. Yet in less than 200 pages it does convey a lot of good ideas.