Dutch Holland’s new playbook may not take its place alongside Tom Peters on your management bookshelf, but it isn’t really meant to. Red Zone Management: Changing the Rules for Pivotal Times doesn’t pretend to herald a paradigm shift in day-to-day management. It’s written to address those infrequent times when your ordinary management circumstances aren’t day-to-day circumstances at all—and to increase your number of wins in those times.
Holland’s “red zone” is drawn from football and defines the final 20 yards a team must carry the ball to make it across the goal line. In this zone, Holland maintains, a team either makes the goal line and pulls in the six points or falls back in failure. The metaphor isn’t particularly radical, and neither are Holland’s principles and strategies—but they’re timely and focused. Red zone time is no time to stick to the conventional rules of business, he says. Processes and policies that keep your organization healthy during stable, prosperous times are well and good—but red zone periods are times of rapid creation and revision, and what worked before will not necessarily keep working.
Moving into the red zone
Holland defines six major times of change, most of which are experienced at one time or another by developers and their managers: implementing ERP, implementing e-business, reengineering company processes, merging with another company, moving to a new competitive strategy, and changing company culture. All of these conditions, he says, can threaten management’s control of in-house processes and the effectiveness with which it interacts with consumers and other companies.
He goes on to list the typical mistakes that are frequently made in such times, with no particular kindness to senior management. Lack of real support at the executive level is no small reason for red zone failure, and Holland paints vivid pictures of grass-roots confusion and inefficiency in an unprepared organization. This setup is fairly straightforward and contains few surprises but leads easily into the framework of his method.
Matters of principle
When Holland brings forth his central principles, he’s suggesting a set of design tools for growing a new business model, the assumption being that you’re in a red zone because your organization is changing—which makes a new model necessary. The inability to see this truth is why many organizations never make those final 20 yards, he argues.
Extending his football metaphor when possible, Holland lists nine principles, all sensible strategic components with a strong customer orientation and emphasis on good information gathering. The playbook metaphor follows from these principles, which read like a coach’s training fundamentals for players with doses of game strategy thrown in. Strategic focus, placement of players, speed of execution, and other essentials make appearances on this list.
Play by play
The meat of the book, however, is Holland’s game-plan chapters, where he lays out specific approaches to his six red zone scenarios, utilizing his nine principles. Of particular interest to developers, and specifically development managers, are his plans for ERP and e-commerce implementations, though his thoughts on reengineering and culture change are also relevant.
Holland rightly stresses the importance of communicating clearly to an organization’s department heads the full implications of complete systems integration. To many, it simply means increased access to information. Anyone who’s been through an ERP or e-business implementation knows that this is ridiculous: the point of such implementations is process reengineering, or an overhaul in the way a company does business.
He offers sobering statistics on typical overruns and implementation failures, punctuated with case studies that underscore the dangers. A typical such project exceeds planned budget by 90 percent, he points out, and exceeds schedule by 120 percent. More than 30 percent of such projects are cancelled prior to completion.
He then outlines in high relief the specific, red-zone-oriented duties of key management personnel during such implementations. This is thought-provoking stuff, put forth in a way that makes clear the importance of every player’s role with respect to other key players in the organization. It’s an integrated picture, one that focuses not only on the ERP implementation personnel but also on the entire organization.
In these times of economic clouds, corporate reinvention often requires development groups to reinvent their cultures, and Holland gives this scenario some attention as well. Focusing on culture shifts as a means to the end of performance enhancement, he again finds a wonderful case study to make his point. His definition of key management roles and application of his principles in this case focuses on the intangibility of culture shift, and recognizes that an organization changing in this way can’t really be tracked in the same way a supply-chain reengineering can. He leaves an impression that it is about direction, not arrival—a wise approach that doesn’t overstate any of his method’s claims.
Concise and readable, Red Zone Management: Changing the Rules for Pivotal Times is well suited to the current economic climate, when companies everywhere are finding themselves pulled into these make-or-break conditions. This book is not only filled with useful thinking on strategy and focus, but is especially helpful in communicating to developers the mindsets of other managers around them—emphasizing the need for understanding differences in perspective, which has never been more important than it is today.
Scott Robinson is a 20-year IT veteran with extensive experience in business intelligence and systems integration. An enterprise architect with a background in social psychology, he frequently consults and lectures on analytics, business intelligence and social informatics, primarily in the health care and HR industries.