Great Books on agile production, work culture, leadership, and entrepreneurial management

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For the past two months I have continued to learn and focus mainly on Javascript to produce applications quickly. However all this time spent on production and fine details made me want to take a few steps back and improve myself from a higher frame of reference, namely best practices for managing high risk projects where the customers, means, and goals can change rapidly. The reason I felt the urge to better understand project management and development from an agile side is that I am very self-motivated. I wanted to understand how self-motivated technical workers fit into a world where project management techniques are changing. After reading these books my opinion is now changing on what the role of project management is.

I wanted to know the qualities that make a great leader and how those leaders arrived there. The book Lean Startup by Eric Ries has taught me that small dynamic projects should use data to validate the direction and progress of projects as the project is developing. In other words don’t plan steps 1 through 10 and use the deliverable date as the metric of success. One can deliver a poor product that no one uses on time and according to spec all the while feeling incredibly productive. Instead launch the product after step 3, gain feedback from the audience, see if there is traction, and don’t worry about negative opinion or reputation. You might find yourself changing direction based on the feedback and save yourself the time of working through steps 4- 10. Another great book that I took a lot from is the book Good to Great. This book was written in 2005 and studied companies from the 1970s to 2000s but it still applies today now more than ever. The point I took from this book is that before you strategize or rethink the direction of the company get the right people in the right positions. In other words before deciding where to steer the bus get the right people on the bus. The right people always come first. I took my time selecting these books and I would recommend all of them.

My opinion is that every male manager should read Lean In. I’m not necessarily saying that Sheryl Sandberg offers sage advice to women because not all women had the early opportunities that Sheryl Sandberg had including Harvard, etc..It is my opinion however that managers have the creative power to engineer their companies work culture and before digging the foundation and laying the scaffold of that culture one must ask first who will be living in that culture and would I want to live there. I think Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh compliments Lean In because it focuses on Culture and how that culture helped Zappos go from a nearly bankrupt online company to the number one online shoe sales company and more importantly customer service company.

I must admit when I first saw the title How to Win Friends and Influence People I thought this book sounded shallow in intent and against every grain of my morality. Why would anyone study how to interact with people in order to get what they want. I think this book should create a second edition and just change the title to “How to Communicate Humbly and Effectively” and it would attract more introverts who might be misled by the title. Nonetheless this book opened my eyes on how our countries greatest leaders from Abraham Lincoln to Benjamin Franklin would fail and fail at debating and one day decided to empathize with their constituents. To instead say “you know in your shoes I understand how you would come to that position especially since …” “I think that you are right given the assumption that ….” “My only question is this, and forgive me I may be wrong”. I think it is important to posit an idea in a way that allows and invites others to still add in their thoughts without shutting the doors by using the right words.

The last man in the pictures above, I bet you don’t know who that is. That man is Darwin E. Smith one of the world’s greatest entrepreneurs who transitioned Kimberly Clark from a good company to a great company. Ask any MBA who their favorite entrepreneur is and they will mention Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, or Elon Musk. Ask them what they think of Darwin E. Smith and they’ll stare at you blinking. Darwin E. Smith took the reigns of a company that was in the business of paper mills. After battling cancer, given a few months, and working for another 20 years as CEO he came to the idea that one must chop ones arm off if that is what it takes to live. So as the paper milling business was making marginal income he decided to sell all of the mills to the criticism of the board and went on to reinvest that capital into consumer paper products such as Huggies, Kleenex, Kotex, Depend etc… The point being that cutting off non-productive business is just as, if not more important than creating new business. The biggest take away for me from Good to Great is that some of the worlds greatest leaders are those that no one ever recalls hearing about in the media. Leaders who don’t boast, brag, or take credit for their achievements. In fact Good to Great studied over 1400 companies and found a negative correlation between a CEO bragging and boasting about him or herself and the outcome of that company. Great leaders at great companies build and recruit a team so strong that when that great leader eventually leaves the company someone equally or more capable is there to continue where they left off.

Rework by Jason Fried and David Hansson
Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh (Founder of Zappos)
Good to Great: Why Some Companies make the Leap by Jim Collins
The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businessess by Eric Ries
How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
Lean In for Graduates by Sheryl Sandberg

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