ManagementSpeak: I want you to come out of this project looking like the hero.
Translation: I want to come out of this project looking like the hero.
This week’s contributor, having requested anonymity, must remain an unsung hero.

How do you decide which books to buy and read?

These are two different decisions. Some books are ammunition. When you need support for a position that’s been challenged, books follow the Harvard Business Review and official-looking analyst reports, precede trade press articles, and are a parsec or two in front of facts and logic when it comes to persuasive power. Luckily, you don’t have to read most business books, which simply stretch a pamphlet’s worth of ideas into a thirty-buck purchase.

Then there’s Robert A. Lutz’s Guts. Guts has a lot of munitions value — since Lutz is the guy who turned Chrysler from the failing “K car” company into a powerhouse, his credentials are impeccable — but that’s not why you should buy it. This book is well worth reading.

Lutz may have been the most successful “change agent” in the history of business. He took a company run by “professional” businessmen for the sole purpose of making money and transformed it into a car company run by people enthusiastic about cars … and in the process turned it from a money-losing disaster into a high-growth success story.

Read the chapter about the Dodge Viper. Strict business analysis said the Viper made no sense: It could have no real impact on profits, and absorbed critical resources at a crucial time. Lutz, the president, persuaded Bob Eaton, the CEO, to build it anyway.

The Viper saved Chrysler. It transformed Chrysler’s image (upon seeing a prototype, some industry analysts actually handed Lutz large checks to reserve their own); it restored employee morale, and it completely changed how Chrysler designed cars and brought them to market.

Lutz describes Chrysler’s top-to-bottom transformation as “getting back to basics”. That’s what it was, too — through the Viper project, Lutz and Eaton got Chrysler back to the basics of being in the car business and loving it.

Any lessons for IT? Of course, if you know where to look. For example:

Chrysler turned itself around by putting “car people” back in charge. IT needs technology enthusiasts in charge. Sure, you need good business judgment. Lutz has excellent business judgment. But he’s a self-described car nut first.

Chrysler turned itself around by making cars designed by car enthusiasts, not focus groups. The best information systems are created by IT professionals who also understand how the system will be “driven”, designing something they’d enjoy “driving” themselves. No, they don’t ignore the end-user, any more than Chrysler ignored drivers. Great IT designers work with end-users to become end-users themselves as well as engineers.

Chrysler changed its design process from a series of hand-offs that led to extensive re-work to collaborative teams that included all areas of expertise needed to create a complete design. In contrast, lots of companies still organize their business change programs into separate “business” and “IT” projects, almost guaranteeing both conflict and incompatible business and technical designs.

Guts describes more than technique. First and foremost it’s a book about leadership, from a proven leader who clearly understands the subject in both theory and practice. Lutz eloquently presents the case that “managing change” is the definition of leadership, that courage is leadership’s core competency, and that leadership is both in-born and teachable. Guts can’t help you with the in-born part. But for the teachable aspects, you need it on your bookshelf.

After you’ve read it.