Interview with John Hunter
Published on Dec 16, 2017
3 min read
Location: Virginia, USA
Current Role: Management Consultant
What’s your background and how did you get into management?
From the start of my career, I was focused on how to improve the performance of the organization. I led efforts to use management improvement strategies and tools (evidence-based decision making, PDSA improvement cycle, systems thinking, process improvement…) to improve results.
As part of those efforts, I began using software to improve performance, and then to software development (as it was easier to create the software myself than get the organization’s IT support structure to do so). That led to positions leading software development teams. In those positions have been responsible for software development and for improving the management systems used in the organizations.
I have worked for the White House Military Office; Office of Secretary of Defense Quality Management Office; American Society for Engineering Education and The W. Edwards Deming Institute (see more on my background). I have published a book on management: Management Matters: Building Enterprise Capability.
What are the biggest challenges you face?
Convincing organizations to adopt better management methods. People are very attached to historical ways of managing. While it is much harder to convince people to adopt more effective management methods than I would have predicted before attempting to do so there are strategies and tactics that help.
What is your approach to hiring?
The best thoughts on hiring that I have read are from Dee Hock, founder of Visa:
“Hire and promote first on the basis of integrity; second, motivation; third, capacity; fourth, understanding; fifth, knowledge; and last and least, experience. Without integrity, motivation is dangerous; without motivation, capacity is impotent; without capacity, understanding is limited; without understanding, knowledge is meaningless; without knowledge, experience is blind.”
What’s your advice for managers who are just starting out?
Read the Leader’s Handbook by Peter Scholtes and use it as a reference to guide your actions on a weekly basis.
Learn to experiment and iterate quickly. Your main aim should be to manage the management system (which may mean the management practices used within your scope of authority or influence). As you start it will involve a significant amount of managing projects, to demonstrate your ability to deliver results, but that should be used to transition to building a strong management system.
In conjunction with quick iteration and adoption of improvements, your focus should be on coaching people to help them be more effective (among other things on helping them learn how to effectively practice evidenced-based decision making and continual improvement).
What’s a personal habit that contributes to your success?
Critical thinking. Management is a complex endeavor. There are no simple checklist to follow. My actions are based on an understanding of management concepts and the ability to see how those concepts apply to each unique situation I face. I have to continually question what I see, experiment, adjust and learn.
Concepts can be applied to different situations, but the form that must take is different in each situation. So, for example, creating systems where people are given the knowledge, tools and authority to act, learn and adjust is important. How that is best done in each situation is different. A strategy that aids in applying the concepts to new situations is to use experimentation and rapid iteration to test. learn, adapt and adopt improvements quickly and effectively.
Share an internet resource or tool that you can’t live without.
I find several blogs to be the most useful resources for managers online. I created and maintain the Management SubReddit to highlight good online content for those looking to improve the practice of management.
Where can we go to learn more about you? (LinkedIn, Twitter, Github, etc.)
This series asks engineering managers to share their experiences with the intent of helping other engineering managers learn and improve. Have someone you want to see featured or questions you think we should ask? Contact me.
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