Top down


An early theme in The Cluetrain Manifesto is the idea that command and control is simply outdated and outmoded in today’s organisations. In Locke et al’s view, this is because such structures do not allow for the speed and flexibility of communication necessary to align an organisation with it’s market. Other arguments are that these approaches to management prioritise personal ambition against business goals, encourage a lack of responsibility at the bottom of the pyramid and lead to inefficiencies and bottle necks in decision making. It’s easy to draw parallels with a lot of the thought processes of Lean Production or Agile Development.

I’d always assumed that the idea – of a hierarchical business structure of increasing levels of responsibility – was an offshoot of military methods of management. Agile guru Mary Poppendieck points us in the right direction in this essay. Funnily enough, you may notice that the title of article is ‘blame’, and the thesis being that command and control management is primarily orientated around assuring that blame can be correctly assigned for failure.

Poppendieck examines how the need to eliminate the worst mistakes drove generations to manage purely ‘by results’. However, this tends to lead to the blame (even when the problem is systemic) being assigned to the last person involved in the process.

At the time perhaps (to paraphrase Churchill’s famous), this may have been the worst form of management, except all the rest, leading as it did to some of the industrial revolution’s greatest achievements. However, it is peculiar that in even the most creative industries, it remains the so popular.