I was recently reading various articles about the use of “Evidence” in Management. The basic idea is that it is all too easy to start management initiatives based on a prejudice of what is going on. The result can be that inappropriate action on a situation. An example would be if a manager were to believe that his team were unproductive and needed extra motivation there are actions that might be taken to improve motivation, or apply control to demand more output. The reality of the situation might be very different, with the individuals motivated and wanting to produce more – but being hampered by an inability to work effectively in the environment. The appropriate actions here would be quite different, and action on the perceived problem would have no effect. It could even make it worse. Worse still, the problem might be that the team are productive but too much is expected of them for what is achievable in the situation.
What solution is proposed?
The idea seems to be to treat Management as a localised research project. If you have a theory on what is going on then note it down and treat it as a “thesis”. Think through what evidence you have that things really are as you perceive them to be. Think if there is evidence that doesn’t fit with your thesis. If all the evidence you have indicates that your thesis is correct then think though what action you might take to confirm or deny the thesis. What challenges might someone else present to your theory? What other theories might explain the observations you make? Can you differentiate what is actually going on?
If your theories, with modification as needed, seem to stack up then start to take some action. In doing so, however, remember that you are acting on a theory and look for on-going evidence of success or otherwise according to the theory. Thus a cycle of thinking and acting is created as the change is initiated and rolled out. It is still possible, and usually appropriate, to adjust the activities as the overall project moves forwards. The whole leads to a management approach that is more thoughtful, and hopefully more likely to be successful.
This can be extended, however, in the consideration of IT. When applying IT to a situation and in the management of IT issues a similar approach can be applied. I spend some of my time helping to resolve performance problem, and here an evidence and thesis based approach can be near critical to success. The same can be true in other areas, however, such as debugging complex problems or approaching a novel design issue.
All of this does have one issue though. Time doesn’t always allow a through evidence-based approach to every situation and circumstance. Thus, part of the trick is knowing when to apply the approach and when not. It is worth considering after the fact consideration of the situation even if it is too late to make a difference to the current situation. In this case, you are considering the need for lessons for the future rather than steering current action.
I’d be interested in feedback on how often people use evidence in their management and IT based activities. I would be particular interested in stories of successful, or otherwise, use of evidence. Alternatively, if you would like to hear more let me know.