Management models

We're working on a model of service innovation which is proving challenging. Bearing in mind the adage 'all models are wrong, some models are useful' we seem to have got only as far as the 'all models are wrong' bit! In an attempt to cut through this and halt even more discussions, conversations, graphics, and iterations of the same and different attempts I took another look at the Financial Times book Key Management Models, hoping to get some ideas on approaches.

Instead my look at the book took a different tack. I have the 2003 edition but I see that there's now a 2009 edition (now on my Amazon wish list). Most of the models from the previous edition are still there but I see some new ones, mainly in what is now the 'tactical models' section. (The 2003 edition just has an alphabetical list of models).

Looking at the contents pages (via the 'Look Inside' feature) ones that are new entrants include Curry's pyramid, factory gate pricing, and the DuPont analysis. It would be good to think that once we've landed on the model our service innovation one would be one for inclusion in future editions of the book.

What makes models useful? Their use is to provide a consistent shorthand explanation of a complex concept, or concepts. One of the reasons we are looking for a service innovation model is because we want all to be able to talk to people from the same baseline (and have a common understanding ourselves of what we are talking about). On this point, the 2003 edition of the book notes that "The majority of the models would not stand up to a high degree of scientific scrutiny, many being simply memory aids, useful ways of ordering reality. They offer a common language when it comes to solving problems … analyzing situations, and identifying possible courses of action."

The 2009 edition adds another layer saying that "essentially they (models) are a way of communicating. … (they) bridge differences in abstraction and provide comprehensiveness. … At best they will provide a new way of seeing things a situation that will result in positive change."

What makes them wrong? Well they have a certain shelf life in my view. The McKinsey 7S model, for example, has no 's' related to external environment – a critical factor now in any organization's effective functioning. No model is right for all time

Additionally (which doesn't make them wrong in themselves) they are in a sense 'fashion items' so one year everyone is Boston Boxing like mad and the following year they are all being highly effective using Covey's seven habits – thus the wrongness lies in uncritical adoption of a model because it is visible and available.

Used appropriately and with caution models have value. Getting to the right model is hard work – if only I could find a model for developing models.

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