Three management principles

Three management principles I read while browsing the internet (of course over the past few years). I had this WOW reaction when I read about these for the first time. While it totally makes sense, I’ve been doing some of these mistakes earlier (probably even now). These are three principles I try to remember while making decisions, especially in meetings.

Bikeshed effect

The time spent on any item of the agenda will be in inverse proportion to the sum [of money] involved.

The amount of time spent discussing an issue is inversely proportional to its actual importance. Major, complex issues get the least discussion while simple, minor ones get the most discussion. For example, here is the example from Farnam Street[3]

Parkinson’s Law of Triviality is also known as “bike-shedding,” after the story Parkinson uses to illustrate it. He asks readers to imagine a financial committee meeting to discuss a three-point agenda. The points are as follows:

  1. A proposal for a £10 million nuclear power plant
  2. A proposal for a £350 bike shed
  3. A proposal for a £21 annual coffee budget

What happens? The committee ends up running through the nuclear power plant proposal in little time. It’s too advanced for anyone to really dig into the details, and most of the members don’t know much about the topic in the first place. One member who does is unsure how to explain it to the others. Another member proposes a redesigned proposal, but it seems like such a huge task that the rest of the committee decline to consider it.

The discussion soon moves to the bike shed. Here, the committee members feel much more comfortable voicing their opinions. They all know what a bike shed is and what it looks like. Several members begin an animated debate over the best possible material for the roof, weighing out options that might enable modest savings. They discuss the bike shed for far longer than the power plant.

At last, the committee moves on item three: the coffee budget. Suddenly, everyone’s an expert. They all know about coffee and have a strong sense of its cost and value. Before anyone realizes what is happening, they spend longer discussing the £21 coffee budget than the power plant and the bike shed combined! In the end, the committee runs out of time and decides to meet again to complete their analysis. Everyone walks away feeling satisfied, having contributed to the conversation.

The idea is to understand where we are bikeshedding and force ourselves to focus on the hard problems.

Links to learn more
[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Law_of_triviality
[2] https://producingoss.com/en/common-pitfalls.html#bikeshed
[3] https://fs.blog/2020/04/bikeshed-effect/

Hanlon’s Razor

Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by neglect.

Preeti from our people operations teams calls this “the story we tell ourselves“. For me, using Hanlon’s razor helps me become less judgmental, and improves my rationality. Many many times, I’ve complained about “Why did he/she do this? Won’t he/she know about the damage this caused to our brand and company?”. Instead, now the conversation is directed towards better coaching, communication, and understanding the circumstances under which a decision was made.

Links to learn more
[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanlon’s_razor
[2] https://fs.blog/2017/04/mental-model-hanlons-razor/

Rubber duck

That looks great. Just one thing—get rid of the duck.

This started as a piece of Interplay corporate lore. It was well known that producers (a game industry position, roughly equivalent to PMs) had to make a change to everything that was done. The assumption was that subconsciously they felt that if they didn’t, they weren’t adding value.

The artist working on the queen animations for Battle Chess was aware of this tendency and came up with an innovative solution. He did the animations for the queen the way that he felt would be best, with one addition: he gave the queen a pet duck. He animated this duck through all of the queen’s animations, had it flapping around the corners. He also took great care to make sure that it never overlapped the “actual” animation.

Eventually, it came time for the producer to review the animation set for the queen. The producer sat down and watched all of the animations. When they were done, he turned to the artist and said, “That looks great. Just one thing—get rid of the duck.”

Links to learn more
[1] https://rachelbythebay.com/w/2013/06/05/duck/

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