Shorter Steve Blank’s “Epiphany”

A friend was talking to me about Agile recently. A huge important movement in programming with an intellectual leader (Jeff Sutherland). He was telling me everything should be agile. Government, finance, etc.

It got me thinking: There are a ton of books and theories of how to make things centered on the modern revolutionary ideas of…modern work.

“Modern” meaning: lean, flexible, iterative, human-centered, customer-first, agile and so forth.

IDEO and the Stanford D School and human-centered…you sketch, prototype, iterate, be the user, do anthropology with the user, let them use the prototype, watch them, etc. You DON’T do monolithic product development a la Loral Space 1965 or even NASA circa now.

Agile: you push the work to the edge, control less, use stories written as a user not requirements written in product meetings, don’t schedule the output just schedule the work input, don’t meet just report out, don’t decide just delegate.

And Steve Blank who uses the language of startups on one hand but Toyoda’s Lean Production System on the other hand: he says a startup is about discovering the customer for the product you will then build.

Like the others he says Product Development in the Loral style is useless. He says you don’t know what the world needs. He says the customer will tell you if you engage them the right way and then you don’t have to guess. You make exactly the right product and scale the company.

All these approaches build on the new, cheaper design processes and cheaper go to markets. You couldn’t really prototype war with Russia super well. Now it’s easier. So they change the R&D process to address the downstream problems of customers, since the problems of R and D are now much easier than they were in the 1960s.

So here is my epiphany — Management itself is changing a lot. It used to be about organizing and managing people the way Generals managed troops or Factory directors managed line workers. Then it became more like a Coach leading athletes on a squad. More respect for the players than for army grunts. But maybe the next phase resembles a Hollywood director and superstar working together — even more equity.

And the change of Management goes along with a change in the power between Companies and Customers generally — focusing on what customers want and making that, rather than making what can he made then marketing it. So Product Management and Marketing are more about responding to the desires of customers than about engineering or science or factory operations.