Thoughts on ways to improve the management of professional services firms

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Lessons for the Professions from Evidence Based Medicine 2 - Evidence Based Management

Since my introductory post on some of the lessons from evidence based medicine for professional practice in general I have been exploring the internet trying to assess the extent to which ideas and practices from evidence based medicine have in fact already spread to other professional domains.

In February 2006 CIO Insight carried an interview with Robert I. Sutton, professor of management science and engineering at the Stanford Engineering School, on evidence based management. Professor Sutton had joined with Jeffrey Pfeffer to write Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths, and Total Nonsense: Profiting from Evidence-Based Management (HBS Press, March 2006).

Professors Sutton and Pfeffer maintain a useful web site, Evidence Based Management, to promote the ideas set out in the book, including a blog, while Bob Sutton has his own blog. There is also a short but useful article in Wikipedia.

In his interview Professor Sutton defines evidence based management as the simple willingness to find the best evidence you can, and then act on it. But this is not always easy:

It's hard to tell what's right and what's wrong, and anybody can be a management expert. It's a signal-to-noise ratio kind of problem: There's just too much stuff out there. And what sells best is by no means the best way to actually practice management.

He goes on:

People are attracted to brand-new ideas and things. The way most knowledge is developed is that people build on one idea, or on nothing at all. A consequence is that the same new things get discovered every six or seven years, and just relabeled. Think of business process reengineering, which is built on a whole lot of earlier ideas.

The Wikipedia article points to other problems, including the fact that management is not a profession in the normal sense.

In my next post in this series I will look at some of these issues, suggesting that part of the problem lies in definitional confusion.

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