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David Marquet on the Difference Between Red-Work and Blue-Work

| Podcast with David Marquet Follow 0 Followers by Shane Hastie Follow 10 Followers on Sep 04, 2017 |

This is the Engineering Culture Podcast, from the people behind InfoQ.com and the QCon conferences.

In this podcast Shane Hastie, Lead Editor for Culture & Methods, spoke to David Marquet about his keynote talk at the recent Agile 2017 conference and his book – Turn the Ship Around.

Key Takeaways

  • Create organizations for the future that have the right balance of thinking (blue-work) and doing (red-work)
  • The person doing the work has much more contextual information about the situation than any manager or commander
  • Empowerment on its own is not enough – strong technical/domain knowledge is a necessary precondition
  • Match the language you use to the type of activity being done – thinking vs doing, blue-work or red-work

Show Notes

  • 0:25 - Introductions
  • 0:33 - The central theme of his book - create organizations for the future that have the right balance of thinking and doing
  • 0:45 - “Doing” in our traditional leadership style will not take us to where we need to be in the future
  • 1:05 - Traditional Naval leadership was about being the person who knew the answers and could tell others what to do
  • 1:20 - Being thrust into a role where he didn’t know everything about the ship and needing to change the approach
  • 2:00 - The need to engage expert doers in thinking rather than just focusing on doing efficiently
  • 2:25 - Retaining the expert doing and injecting thinking and communication about that thinking (“This is what I intend to do…”)
  • 2:55 - The shift in thinking from top-down command and control to empowerment and decision making at the point where the decision is needed
  • 3:50 - The person at the front has much more contextual information about the situation than any manager or commander
  • 4:20 - The pattern of “decide-do, decide-do” – compliance and execution excellence still matter, so empower the doers to decide and communicate their decision before doing
  • 4:45 - Blue-work (thinking) and red-work (doing) require different mindsets and have different languages
  • 5:00 - The importance of being clear about when you are doing red-work or blue-work, and communicating differently based on the type of work you are engaged in
  • 5:20 - Managers who want blue-work thinking but use red-work language which is around compliance, control and reduced variability, get frustrated because people don’t take initiative
  • 5:25 - Common practices which result in red-work behaviours when we want blue-work thinking
  • 5:40 - The need to make it easy for people to think differently from the group and be creative
  • 6:00 - The issues with voting in meetings actually causing alignment and groupthink because of the way it is presented
  • 7:10 - Using probabilistic and “fist-of-five” voting to identify patterns and trends rather than binary voting
  • 8:00 - Relating this to the common agile practices, the sprint ceremonies and oscillating between blue-work (sprint planning, retrospective…) and red-work (delivery)
  • 8:45 - Purple-work doesn’t work – be focused on one type of work at a time
  • 9:00 - Make it easy to pause the red-work if you identify an issue and switch in to blue-work mode rapidly – the andon cord is an example of this idea
  • 9:45 - The importance of making it safe to be vulnerable, to acknowledge when you don’t know something
  • 10:40 - Empowerment on its own is not enough – strong technical/domain knowledge is a necessary precondition
  • 11:35 - As a leader resist telling people the answer, even if you know it
  • 12:20 - The value of testing people’s technical/domain knowledge to help them identify areas for improvement
  • 12:35 - Decision making authority needs to be linked to technical/domain knowledge
  • 13:40 - The importance of clarity for good decision making
  • 14:10 - Clarity means understanding what the organisation thinks is important as it relates to the decision you are making
  • 14:20 - The need for organisational story-telling to provide the context rather than trying to define rules for everything
  • 15:05 - Alignment around purpose; communicating the “why”
  • 15:28 - Match the language you use to the type of activity being done – thinking vs doing, blue-work or red-work

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