Moments of Truth

Now I have done quite a few book reviews. They have all been reviews of fairly new books, released in the last couple of years. This one will be different since the book I’m now going to write about was released already in 1987, but it’s still relevant today. I’m talking about ”Moments of Truth” by Jan Carlzon, it was first released as ”Riv pyramiderna” in Swedish 1985.



Some years ago me and my family lived closed to the place where the SAS headquarter was located between 1987 to 2010 in Frösundavik, Solna, Sweden. When I was on parental leave I would often take a walk with the stroller around the office. It is beautifully located in a surrounding park next to a lake. I would daydream and think of the glory days of SAS (Scandinavian AirlineS) in the eighties when Jan Carlzon was the president and CEO.


This is a fairly short book, no corporate bulls**t, compactly told in 135 pages, and divided into twelve chapters. Here is a walkthrough:

1. A Moment of Truth
By ”moment of truth” Jan Carlzon means the few seconds or minutes a customer contact may last, but that reflects the ”functionality” of the whole organization. A customer-driven company is one that recognize that its only true asset are satisfied customers. A leader of such a company can’t be an isolated and autocratic decision maker. Instead, he or she must be a visionary, a strategist, an informer, a teacher, and an inspirer.

2. The Vingresor and Linjeflyg Turnarounds & 3. The SAS Turnaround
These two chapters tells the success stories of Jan Carlzon’s turnarounds at three Scandinavian travel companies.

4. Profession: Leader
In the summer of 1981, the first year he became president of SAS, Jan Carlzon decided to take a two weeks’ vacation during the summer. At his summer house, he immediately got disturbed by the phone ringing and eventually he gave up and went back to the office. Next year he was interviewed by a newspaper on the subject ”taking it easy”. He agreed on one condition, that the article should be published one week before his vacation. In the interview Jan stated that he believed that responsibility should be delegated and so that individual decisions are made at the point of responsibility, not far up the organizational chart. He stated ”If my phone doesn’t ring, that is a proof that I have succeeded”, and then he went on four weeks’ vacation. And the telephone remained wonderfully silent!

5. Setting the Strategy
First assess the business climate and determine the needs of your customers. Then based on that knowledge, outline a business strategy to meet the customers’ needs within the context of the marketplace and organize your company to intelligently carry out that strategy.

6. Flattening the Pyramid
A SAS office in Stuttgart was given three challenges/goals: 1) cut cost without sacrificing quality 2) increase efficiency 3) give the organization more flexibility. Werner Tarnowski, the man in charge, started with closing down one of the two offices (the workload was unevenly spread). He created one cross-functional team that was responsible for all SAS activities in Stuttgart (cargo, passenger sales etc.). This lead to better service because the organization became more flexible (people with different professions now working as a team and stepping in for each other to solve customer demands immediately).

Jan admits one mistake when flattening the pyramid at SAS. They missed out on the middle managers that felt demoted in the new organization, when ”the frontline people” became empowered. Their new servant leadership felt unusual and they needed to learn new ways to handle this.

7. Taking Risks
Here is a quote from this chapter that I really like:

”Wrong decisions should be used as the basis for training; right decisions should be used as the basis for praise and positive examples. A person who is admonished for his mistakes should be entitled to appeal his case without fear of retribution.”

8.  Communicating
In 1981 to prepare for many organizational changes a booklet called ”Let’s Get in There and Fight” was distributed to all employees of SAS (20.000 persons). The booklet was a tool to present the overall vision and strategy, but most important, set the expectations on the employees themselves. Communication, especially with employees, has always been a top priority for Jan Carlzon. During his first year he spent exactly half of his time ”out on the field” talking to SAS people. Another good quote:

”A leader’s ways are watched carefully and adopted by others in the organization.”

Setting a good example is truly the most effective way of communication, and setting a poor one is disastrous!

9. Boards and Unions
The trick here is to share the knowledge about where the company is and where it should be heading to the boards, unions and employees. For the vision to become reality, it must be their vision too.

10. Measuring Results
One of the most basic mistakes that a service-oriented business can make is to promise one thing and measuring another. You will always steer behavior towards what you measure. If you measure ”the wrong thing”, you will also get ”the wrong behavior”.

11. Rewarding Employees
Unfortunately, in many companies (especially in Sweden) the only thing that gets attention is a mistake. To reward employees can be done in a number of ways, some will be good and others will be bad (it’s the same thing as for measuring, see above), but in the end, the richest reward of them all is being proud of your work!

12. The second Wave
How should you continue when you have reached all your goals, is it then time to settle down? No, because ”Everyone wants a challenge”! I end this chapter with a final quote:

”A true leader is one who designs the cathedral and then shares the vision that inspires others to build it.”


What has this old book have to do while lean and agile, you may wonder. First and foremost the values in this book is well inline with the agile thinking, talking about empowered teams that are cross-functional and customer focused.  Secondly this book is for good and bad still as relevant as it was back in 1985. It’s somewhat sad that we haven’t come further in more companies in the world today. If you are an agile person in Sweden I assume you have already read this book 🙂 For you others in the rest of the world, pick up a copy right now!

I should also say that ”Riv pyramiderna” (the version in Swedish, seen to the right in the picture above) is longer, 213 pages and holds more content (a summary and afterwords written by Jan Carlzon in 2008).

All the best,
 Tomas from TheAgileist

Turn the Ship Around

I was really excited when I got the package from my favorite online bookshop and started to unpack ”Turn the ship around” by L. David Marquet. I have a thing for modern management and submarines (more about that later). I can’t imagine a more hierarchical and ”command & control”-dominated world than the one onboard a nuclear driven submarine! Therefore it’s very fascinating to read how David Marquet was able to turn this strict leader-to-follower paradigm into a new way of thinking with a leader-to-leader approach.



Ever since I was a child I have been fascinated by submarines. I can’t really explain why, and I have never been inside one of them. It was ”close” once when I visited Fisherman’s Wharf in San Fransisco, where USS Pampanito from WWII is tied up, but I bailed out, being a little claustrophobic. That originates from when I was accidentally locked into a closet when I was seven years old (me and a friend was playing with a flash-light and I wanted it to be total darkness and closed the door but the lock was jammed). At the age of eleven I watched ”Das Boot”, it’s a tv mini-series that is an extended version of the movie ”Das Boot” directed by Wolfgang Petersen from 1981. I think the summary from pretty much nails what it’s all about: ”The claustrophobic world of a WWII German U-boat; boredom, filth, and sheer terror.” The sounds from the sonar still gives me the creeps! Looking around a bit on the Interwebz I’m not alone saying that this is the best movie around about submarines!


Picture taken from ”Das Boot” found at

I just had to re-watch ”Das Boot” once more when I started to read this book! The movie is even more claustrophobic than I remembered it to be, a true recommendation of course! I guess the life on a submarine nowadays doesn’t look like it was during WWII. Another more modern submarine movie is ”The Hunt for Red October” from 1990 with Sean Connery in the leading role. In fact, on the backside of the book it says ”It’s the Hunt for the Red October meets Harvard Business School”. Do you want to hear more about submarine movies, or shall we start to talk leadership and my review of ”Turn the ship around”? I’ll continue with the latter.


In the introduction of the book the structure of Leader-Leader is introduced. I’d like to quote that text.

”The leader-leader structure is fundamentally different from the leader-follower structure. At its core is the belief that we can all be leaders and, in fact, it’s best when we all are leaders. Leadership is not some mystical quality that some posses and others do not. As humans, we all have what it takes, and we all need to use our leadership abilities in every aspect of our work life.”

The book is divided in four parts and they are:

  • Part I – Starting over
  • Part II  – Control
  • Part III – Competence
  • Part IV – Clarity.

First chapter of Starting over is appropriately called Pain. There are seldom any change without pain. Why change if you can’t see any benefits of it? Remember the old saying ”If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” from Bert Lance. Davids failure, and subsequent pain, came from his unsuccessful attempt to empower his team on USS Will Rogers in 1989. They wished the old engineer back that just ”told them what to do”. Why is top-down, leader-follower still the dominating structure? It’s because it can be effective if you are measuring performance over a short run. Leaders are rewarded for being missed when they quit. When performance goes down after their departure, this is taken as a sign of good leadership. But in fact it should be noted as a failure, not training the people and building a culture that ”survives” on it’s own. Are you asking questions to your colleagues to make sure you know, or to make sure that they know? The part ends with the turning point for David Marquet, it happened when he approached one of the crew members with a simple question ”what do you do onboard?” and got a cynical ”whatever they tell me to do” back. That was rock bottom, from this point on everything could only be better.

Second part Control starts off with an inspiring quote:

”Don’t move information to authority, move authority to the information.”

This means that information should not ”move up” in the hierarchy for make a decision, instead empowerment shall ”move down” as close as possible to the source of information. I.e., everyone shall become managers of their own work. As a leader how do you make this happen? David stated the ”caring but not caring”-paradox. That is, caring intimately about your subordinates and the organization but caring little about the organizational consequences to yourself. One great thing to ”move down” control in the hierarchy is the ”I intend to …”-mechanism they started to use. Don’t tell your  subordinates what they shall do, make them think for themselves and the formulate their thought by using for example ”I intend to submerge the ship” and the captain gives an ok by saying ”Very well”.

Moving on to the third part, Competence, that focus on the mechanisms they employed to strengthen technical competence, first one being ”take deliberate action”. This means that, prior to any action, the person pauses and says what he or she intends to do. The benefits are twofold; 1) It forces you to think before an action and 2) persons around you can stop you if you are about to make a mistake. Competence needs to be in place before you can give control, otherwise it will just be chaos.

Final part Clarity introduces the mechanisms devised to implement leader-leader practices by stressing clarity. To mention a few of them:

  • Achieve excellence, don’t just avoid errors
  • Build trust and take care of your people
  • Begin with the end in mind.


I let the author summarize the book:

”The core of the leader-leader model is giving employees control over what they work on and how they work. It means letting them make meaningful decisions. The two enabling pillars are competence and clarity.”

I can truly recommend ”Turn the ship around” to everybody that wants to ”submerge” into modern management in general, and the leader-to-leader philosophy in specific. This is the best book around about ”sub optimization” (get it? 🙂 ).

All the best,
 Tomas from TheAgileist

Kanban in Action

In just a moment this will be a book review of ”Kanban in Action” by Marcus Hammarberg and Joakim Sundén, but first I must tell you a story.



I’ve been working with Agile methods since 2008, starting out with Scrum, and sometimes I think that I’ve got a pretty good hang of it during the years. I’ve got some recognition for my increasing knowledge in the area by my co-workers, but nothing whatsoever from my boss. I’ve struggled along for sure, but that one piece of recognition have been missing…

I’ve read books about Kanban before I started to read ”Kanban in Action”, but with this book my knowledge took a gigantic step! I was sitting in a meeting with my boss and some other colleagues, talking about Kanban versus other methods for software development, when all of a sudden my manager turned to me and said: ”What are your thoughts on this, Tomas? You are our expert in this area!”. Yes, what a feeling, my boss had never mentioned my name and the word expert in the same sentence before :).


The book was released March 17, 2014, and it’s divided into three sections:

  • Part 1 – Learning Kanban
  • Part 2 – Understanding Kanban
  • Part 3 – Advanced Kanban

The first part, Learning Kanban, includes only one chapter, but what a chapter it is! It is 44 pages jam packed with just about everything you need to know to get started with Kanban. In fact you can stop reading the book just after this and still be very satisfied. The idea of explaining Kanban by using the fictive story about the Kanbaneros team is nothing but brilliant! There is no way I will go about and spoil this future reading for you, but I will give you my personal best take way from this part and that is: ”Stop starting, start finishing”. To me those four words sums it all up, to constantly think about flow through your process, to complete things before you start new to not clog the system.

”What now, didn’t you say that the reading could end after the first chapter?”, you might ask. Hold on, now comes the beauty of it, if you hunger for more there is plenty left to learn in part 2 and 3 (if you want to become an expert, remember 🙂 ).

Part 2 – Understanding Kanban, rewinds back to the beginning once more and goes through the cornerstones of Kanban, they are:

  • Kanban principles
  • Visualizing your work
  • Work items
  • Work in process
  • Limiting work in process (WIP)
  • Managing flow

One very specific text in this part is ”How to remove a sticky note from the pack”. It’s exactly what is sounds like! This really tells you how serious Joakim and Marcus are in their pursuit to explain Kanban in this book!

Advanced Kanban, the final part, goes even deeper into the kingdom of Kanban. Here you find things like:

  • Classes of service
  • Planning and estimating
  • Process improvement
  • Using metrics to guide improvements
  • Kanban pitfalls
  • Teaching kanban through games

A lot of good stuff, in which I can really recommend the last chapter about games. We have played both ”Pass the pennies” and ”The number multitasking game”. Those games will give all participants a deeper understanding in Kanban principles (in this case ”limiting WIP” and ”avoid multitasking” to be specific).


Today when I searched for ”kanban” on and the list was sorted by relevance,  ”Kanban in Action” was the second book that came up. Only beaten by ”Kanban” (or ”the blue book” as it’s also called) written by David J. Anderson, the ”father” of Kanban. This itself tells you how important this book is.

I can truly recommend ”Kanban in Action” to anyone that wants to know just the slightest bit about managing knowledge work. From the first moment I started reading it, this has been my holy bible of Kanban!

All the best,
 Tomas from TheAgileist

Creativity, Inc.

”Creativity, Inc.” by Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace is a book I finished reading before this blog started. However, since it’s one of the best books I’ve read during 2014 (if not the best) it craves a review. It’s not only in my opinion that this book is really, really good, it’s also ranked #1 Best Seller by It’s mainly about how to build an innovative and creative company, but it is also a biography of Ed Catmull’s life. The book was released April 8, 2014.



”Storytelling is the way we communicate with each other.” – Ed Catmull

First a little background story why I like this book so much. I got my first computer, a Commodore 64, back in 1986. Since then I’ve been a nerd, interested in computer generated graphics. I mostly played games at the time, it continued on the Amiga 500, but I also drew 2D pictures and made small animations. Needless to say, I’m a huge fan of computer animated films. I was thrilled when Pixar released it’s first feature-length film, Toy Story, in 1995. Pixar as a company has continued to interest me since they have continued to produced very good computed animated films, I especially like The Incredibles, Ratatouille and Up. When I saw that Ed Catmull had released a book about his life and career, I immediately bought the book.


Now let’s talk about the content in the book. Growing up, Ed Catmull had two idols, Walt Disney and Albert Einstein. He liked to draw and wanted to become an artist, but there was no schools for becoming an animator at that time, so instead he studied physics and computer science. On the way to earning his PhD in Computer Science Ed Catmull made ”The hand”, see below.

Have you watched the clip now? You might think it’s not so impressive, but you have to consider one thing. This was made in 1972! This is believed to be the world’s first computer-generated 3D animation. Now Ed was ready to face his goal in life: to create the first computed animated film. He estimated that it would take 10 years to do it (solving all the technical challenges along the way). In retrospect, it took 20 years.

After graduating, Ed was put in charge of a lab at New York Institute of Technology, but he didn’t want to become a manager. He figured out if he could only hire highly motivated and independent persons, he could continue to do his own research. That didn’t work out quite like he had hoped, so instead he started to read a lot of books on management and strategy. Over the years, Ed sums up that 1/3 of his ideas have been bad, and 2/3 have been successful.

After George Lucas had released Star Wars in 1977, he hired Ed for his company Lucas film. George realized he needed to fund research and development in computer graphics, to make it available for his films. Ed continued to work there until 1986, when Steve Jobs got into the picture and Pixar was born. In 2006 Pixar merged with Disney and Ed Catmull became president of both Pixar Animation and Disney Animation.

”Creativity is problem solving” – Ed Catmull

That was a short summary of the first four chapters from part I (”Getting started”) in the book, now I hope you are curious on the management, creativity and leadership takeaways from the book. They are covered in the remaining three parts of the book (”Protecting the new”, ”Building and sustaining” and ”Testing what we know”). I will not go through all of them here, you have to get the book and read for yourself, but I will list some personal high-lights.

”The braintrust” is a key mechanism at Pixar Animation (now also present at Disney Animation) to push them towards excellence and to root out mediocrity. It’s a group of people without authority (the director of the movie has the final word) that meets regularly to discuss the movies they are making. This forum is a place for intense non personal discussions about problems that needs to be solved.

”The Hungry Beast and the Ugly Baby” is another key element essential for creativity work. It’s about the fact that new ideas are fragile in the beginning and that they need to be protected.

One chapter that requires special mentioning is the ”Afterword: The Steve We Knew” that tells a different picture about Steve Jobs than have been presented in for example the biography ”Steve Jobs” by Walter Isaacson. The picture of Steve being brusque and dismissive is here loosened up. It shows that Steve Jobs during the years changed into a kinder, more self-aware leader. The ones that saw this change stayed with him for the rest of his life.


Summing up Ed Catmull’s career, where he made art and technology come together, you can say he became like both of his childhood idols! I can highly recommend this book to all knowledge workers striving for creativity! I guess that in public Ed Catmull has somewhat been ”hidden in the shadows” of persons like Steve Jobs or George Lucas, but he seems to be a remarkable person of his own! For me he personifies a true modern leader. Ed Catmull is the humble servant of creativity!

Do you want to know more about Ed Catmull and see him talk live? Then I suggest that you watch this wonderful interview made by the co-author of the book, Amy Wallace. It was recorded August 5, 2014.

”Always try to hire people who are smarter than you. Always take a chance on better, even if it seems like a potential threat.” – Ed Catmull

Kanban from the Inside

I was home sick, lying in bed with a bad cold. I started to read ”Kanban from the Inside” by Mike Burrows (@asplake on Twitter). The under title of the book is ”Understand the Kanban Method, connect it to what you already know, introduce it with impact”.


The book is divided into three parts:

  • Part I – Kanban Through Its Values
  • Part II – Models
  • Part III – Implementation

Mike kicks off the book with an introduction to Kanban by nine values, rather than starting with the more obvious Kanban Foundational Principles (FP:s) or Kanban Core Practices (CP:s). The nine values are: Transparency, Balance, Collaboration, Customer focus, Flow, Leadership, Understanding, Agreement and Respect. Each value is presented in its own chapter, and are mapped to the FP:s and CP:s.

Kanban – Foundational Principles

  • FP1: Start with what you do know.
  • FP2: Agree to pursue evolutionary change.
  • FP3: Initially, respect current processes, roles, responsibilities, and job titles.
  • FP4: Encourage acts of leadership at every level in your organization – from individual contributor to senior management.

Kanban – Core Practices

  • CP1: Visualize.
  • CP2: Limit Work-in-Progress (WIP).
  • CP3: Manage flow.
  • CP4: Make policies explicit.
  • CP5: Implement feedback loops.
  • CP6: Improve collaboratively, evolve experimentally (using models and the scientific method).

I like this a bit more theoretical introduction as a complement to the more ”hands on”-approaches that are present in other books about Kanban.

The second part gives some taste on Models. The ones being presented are: System Thinking, Theory of Constraints (TOC), Agile, TPS (Toyota Production System) and Lean, together with some smaller models. As it’s not in scope of the book, the models are briefly introduced but with lists of further reading for each and one of them. I find this section very interesting.

Ok, Mike have really saved the best thing for last! In part III – Implementation, STATIK (Systems Thinking Approach to Introducing Kanban) is presented. STATIK consists of six steps, and they are:

  1. Understand sources of dissatisfaction.
  2. Analyze demand and capability.
  3. Model workflow.
  4. Discover classes of service.
  5. Design Kanban systems.
  6. Roll out.

The book ends going back to the values with a check-list to understand (measure) where you are in your Kanban journey.


”Kanban from the Inside” is the most recent book about Kanban (to my knowledge). It was released on September 1, 2014. If you’re into Kanban you should definitely buy this book! I wish I’ve had it (and especially the knowledge from part III) when I implemented my first Kanban system. Not convinced? Listen to this podcast where you can here Mike Burrows talk about the book (the interview is 26:45 minutes long).

P.S. Yes I got rid of the cold, the book must have had a healing effect! 🙂 D.S.

The paradox of the middle manager

This is one of my favorite clips on YouTube! It’s a total massacre on middle managers, and being one myself I feel allowed to think this is hilarious. Unfortunately it’s only in Swedish, therefore I’ve provided a translation below, that you can use when watching the clip.

– I’m not only a journalist and body builder, but also an organization consultant. And I will now share with you an observation I’ve made that I have chosen to call ’the paradox of the middle manager’.

– When it goes well for a small company and the CEO can no longer cope, a middle manager is hired.

– This middle manager is communicating with the CEO, takes own initiatives, and lead the employees to great success.

– He or she is performing 100% work.

– The company is flourishing and another middle manager is hired.

– Yes, same thing with this fellow. Everything is smooth and effective.

– The only thing is that the two middle managers must have a short breakfast meeting every morning to inform each other on what they are doing.

– [Phone call] How long is a short meeting?

– [Answer from middle manager at SVT] It’s about a half hour.

– A third and a fourth middle manager is hired and everything is hunky dory. But now their short breakfast meeting takes approximately the time of an average meeting.

– [New phone call] How long is an average meeting?

– [Answer from middle manager at SVT] Hmm, I would say one and half hour.

– A fifth middle manager is hired. But now the problem starts.

– The breakfast meeting takes more and more time. Now it takes approximately 20% of each middle manager’s time.

– Five middle mangers times 20% of a full working day equals 100%, the same as a full-time.

– Hence, these five middle mangers are missing work corresponding to a full-time. And who shall do that work? A new middle manager of course! And he shall also attend all meetings, that now will be longer, and not only that, the meetings are to big for certain discussions.

– Now a new type of meeting is needed. The ”between middle managers”-meetings. Meetings where the middle mangers meets two and two.

– Each middle manger shall individually meet five colleagues. That is five meetings per person. Five short meetings times 30 minutes + an average meeting of 90 minutes means 4 hours. Half the working day is now spent on only informing each other!

– To cover up for this enormous loss in work time a new bunch of middle managers must be hired and when 12 are reached, all of the middle manager’s full work time are taken up by meetings with each other. They are completely self-sufficient just by talking. A closed echo system, like an island in the company.

– And it’s now that the middle managers feels that they are not doing a good job, and they can’t influence their work situation. And then they get burnt out.

– Now you must think that there is no company with this many managers.

– [New phone call] Do you have any extra important meetings at SVT?

– [Answer from middle manager at SVT] There is something called the hundred group.

– Is that a meeting with the hundred most important managers on SVT?

– Yes, you could say that, absolutely.