Personal Hedgehog Revisited

Posted on November 02, 2008 by admin

[First pusblished at] More than 4 years ago, I riffed off Jim Collins idea of a corporate Hedgehog Concept, with this blog post on Personal Hedgehog Concept. It's proven to be one of the most popular blog pages on AgileManagement.Net since I started it in August 2003.

The original post used the career of Cameron Barrett as the example. At the time, Cam was pursuing his passion for politics supporting the campaigns of Democratic candidates Wesley Clarke and John Kerry. However, recently I was challenged by Liza Raiser to explain what the Personal Hedgehog Concept means to me.

Actually, I've been working on my own hedgehog concept for most of the past 8 years.


First, what am I passionate about? For a long time I've been passionate about the underperformance of the software engineering profession and the low rate of success on software development projects. In fact, I was so disgusted with the profession I intended to quit almost 10 years ago. It was thanks to Jeff De Luca, and the original FDD project in Singapore that I regained my enthusiasm for the profession.

So what can I be one of the best in the World at? It's taken a while, but I started down the path to publishing and what we now call blogging in 1999 at the behest of Peter Coad and Jeff De Luca. 4 years later, Peter was instrumental in assisting me with the publication of Agile Management for Software Engineering. I've continued to work at improving my ideas on software engineering process and management of knowledge workers and I've continued to work as a practitioner in regular jobs managing software engineers - until recently, when I formed David J Anderson & Associates.

So what changed? Well finally, I was able to realize my Hedgehog Concept. Finally, my skills with software engineering process and management and leadership of knowledge workers were in sufficient demand that they could drive my economic engine. Let's be under no illusion! There is little to no premium in the market for good management in the software and IT industries. While great individual contributors often become independent contractors and earn high hourly rates, the same does not generally apply to managers. And while employers might be willing to pay a 10%-20% premium for a decent person, often a great manager find him/herself earning far less than the top technical people on the team. This is despite the hard economic evidence that it is management talent that generally constrains the performance of software engineering organizations.

So, for a long time, I've known that I had to break out of working as a manager for other people and start my own firm. The question was when? When would the timing be right? Finally in 2008, with a track record that includes successful projects and teams at Sprint, Motorola and Corbis and with a catalog of intellectual property that includes my contributions to FDD, the MSF for CMMI Process Improvement and most recently my contributions to Lean in software development and the innovations with the Kanban method, I finally have sufficient recognition and respect in the industry for it to drive my economic engine.

Along the way, I've also resolved my own inner conflicts about whether I had taken the correct career path. I've finally come to realize that management and leadership is my real strength and that other things I enjoy are merely hobbies, like painting, art and design, and my synthesis of those talents in user interface and interaction design. It was in fact user interface design that got me started down this road, with my site. Recognizing in myself what I could be World class at, from the things that I can be merely good at, has been the foundation of a new happiness in my life.

So here we are! I'm having the best fun at work since I quit the games industry in the late 1980s and I'm happier than perhaps I've been since leaving Singapore in 1999. Finding my Personal Hedgehog Concept has been at the root of that happiness. It's been a long slog - more than 8 years. A journey of personal discovery. But ultimately it's been worth it. And now I am excited about the future where I intend to continue innovating in leadership and management of knowledge workers and helping teams deliver superior economic performance.

Are you working on your Personal Hedgehog Concept?