My personal MBA

I blame Mike Charlton. I’m pretty sure it was some email of his that suggested that I read The Goal. This was back in Winter 2008, I think. Wait, can Amazon tell me… Yup. Ordered the book in February 1, 2008.

The Goal is a novel, in it we learn about the fate of a branch manager, who learns that his branch, in his original home town, is going to be shutdown, unless he can figure something out in just three months. Our hero learns the Theory of Constraints and saves the day… except that now Peter’s principle gets applied to him, and in the next book he has to save the division. A great read, and I learnt lots that I didn’t think I’d ever use. When I got the second book It’s Not Luck, Amazon suggested I get Critical Chain, and I did.

It turns out Critical Chain is about project management of all sorts, including software. It’s written ten years later (mid-1990s), and some of it’s a bit naive about things, but the essential theory is great, and furthermore, it’s very much compatible with Agile Methods.

I wanted more. I wondered how to get more. In early 2009, I started to wonder if I business school might teach me more. I had not quite understood part of the underlying story in Critical Chain was probably autobiological, and that the frustrations of the business professor in the novel expressed Goldratt’s experience that it was very hard to get TOC accepted into business schools.

I also began to understand that a difficulty I’ve had in many companies is that I’m a techie, and I explain things from that point of view often. Unlike other techies, I tend to be pretty good, given some face to face time with a non-technical executive to explain things in terms that he can use, but I am missing many of the shortcuts that would come form having more language in common. It’s not enough to talk about ROI, sometimes I think it might have helped to be able to start from the CFO’s terminology and relate it back to mine. (i.e. to lead them from where they are, to where I am, instead of having to entice them to start where I am, and discover the path back to where they are)

I investigated executive MBAs. Ottawa U failed to impress me at all. A meeting with the director was offered, but the whole thing just didn’t feel right. I went to a Queens executive MBA session, and they got me the information that I wanted… yes it is expensive, yes, the content is mostly there, but doing it in Ottawa is probably a mistake. I won’t meet the people that I really want to understand.

The Theory of Constraints does not figure prominently in either program. At least Queens mentioned it. I started from the other end, who teaches this? Google told me that it’s popular at one university in Mumbai, at the Goldratt Institute, and that the Harvard MBA also teaches it now. I talked to my mother’s cousin about all of this, and he pointed me at Henry Minceberg.

I highly recommend reading:

He hasn’t got nice things to say about the MBA. I certainly agree. MBAs should only be done as executive MBAs, you need ten years out there before any it can make any sense. Harvard only offers the residential 2 year MBA.

Many of my colleagues and mentors quietly discouraged me from an MBA. One of them pointed me at — essentially a reading list. In August, I decided, this would do, and the price was right.

So far I’ve read:

  • 10 days to faster reading
  • Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High
  • Indispensable: How To Become The Company That Your Customers Can’t Live Without
  • Necessary But Not Sufficient: A Theory of Constraints Business Novel

I’m in the middle of reading:

  • Results Without Authority: Controlling a Project When the Team Doesn’t Report to You, A Project Manager’s Guide

  • The Unwritten Laws of Business
  • Throughput Accounting
  • Managing

Necessary But Not Sufficient is another novel. Set in 1998/1999, and apparently written just after the dot-bust, it explains the dot-bust very well, but also talks a lot about software companies, and manufacturing companies, and ERP systems. It’s supportive of Agile Methods (even though I don’t think Goldratt knows that term, it certainly wasn’t coined until after the book was in print).

More important, it basically concludes that software is best sold as a service, not a product, and that actually there no value in the software itself, only in how it reduces or eliminates limitations, permitting a person or company to do more.

I take this to suggest that open source licensing of a lot of software is the right way to go, particularly for anything which is targetted at business.