Radical Management: Get Better Faster

In 1945, the managers of a tiny car manufacturer in Japan took stock of their situation and discovered that the giant firms of the U.S. auto industry were eight times more productive than their firm. They realized that they would never catch up unless they improved their productivity ten-fold.

Impossible as this goal seemed, the managers set out on a path of continuous improvement that 60 years later had transformed their tiny company into the largest automaker in the world and driven the giants of Detroit to the very brink of bankruptcy. In that firm—Toyota—the commitment to continuous improvement is still a religion: over a million suggestions for improvement are received from their employees and dealt with each year.

A key practice in the religion of continuous improvement—and radical management—is the retrospective review: a process of reflecting on what has been done and finding ways to generate a better outcome for customers— delivering more value or delivering it sooner. In this world view, there is no such thing as “best” practice; every practice can be improved. Nor is there any such thing as “unskilled labor”; there is only work to which intelligence has yet to be applied.

OpenView Labs has just issued a helpful free ebook entitled, Get Better Faster: The Ultimate Guide to the Practice of Retrospectives, for which I wrote a foreword. You can download the free ebook here.

The importance in the expansion phase

The retrospective is particularly important in the expansion stage of any new business. As John Bradberry writes in his insightful book, 6 Secrets to Startup Success: How to Turn Your Entrepreneurial Passion into a Thriving Business (AMACOM, 2011), this is a period when the firm is starting to see results and its leaders are beginning to experience the thrill of success. Yet paradoxically, the beginnings of success are often the cause of the high rate of failure. Early success can lead to overly rosy projections and over-confidence in what is currently working while underestimating the difficulties that still lie ahead.

Early success may also cause the dismissal of issues that currently look trivial but actually represent symptoms of significant trouble ahead. It can encourage the firm to put the bulk of its resources into a single business strategy that looks as though it is the winner rather than preserving flexibility to experiment and iterate the way to sustained profitability. It can cause the leadership team to be trapped inside a “feel-good bubble” where bad news is avoided or glossed over and tough issues are not directly tackled. This can lead to an evaporating runway; what was assumed to be a lengthy expansion period can rapidly contract as unexpected problems cause the venture to run out of cash and time. When done right, the retrospective review can be a powerful antidote to counteract these tendencies.

This short handbook breaks down the key components of the retrospective review. Inside you will learn why it is important, find details on how to go about it, and discover the pitfalls and difficulties that lie in the way of conducting retrospectives successfully.

You can download the free ebook here.