Micromanaging usually gets a bad rap, for good reason, but there’s one area that I can think of where micromanaging isn’t “completely bad” - building great products. I’m not saying that you need to micromanage to create great products or that micromanaging always leads to producing great products, but rather, that it’s an area where micromanaging can be effective.
There are many examples of where this is the case, here are three:
Steve Jobs and the first iterations of Apple’s products. Jobs famously micromanaged the design and development of many of Apple’s products, from the shade of white that was used to the choosing of the material that would build Apple’s physical stores.
Jerry Seinfeld and Seinfeld. “The show was successful because I micromanaged it—every word, every line, every take, every edit, every casting. That’s my way of life.”
Jiro Ono and Sukiyabashi Jiro. Being an omakase chef means delivering incredible product day in and day out, from the choosing of the fish, to the temperature of the rice, and presentation to the customer. Ono spent years training and supervising his staff on how to cook rice before they could even touch fish.
There’s no denying that these three individuals (1), built great products and (2), were micromanagers. Was it necessary for them to micromanage in order to build great products? I would say it increased the probability of creating great products. Why?
Because, to build great things, you need to not only have vision, but great vision, and great vision cannot be easily shared. To bring the vision to life, the visionary needs to be deeply ingrained in its production. Without the visionary directing and micromanaging, the end product will likely have many inconsistencies and misalignments; the “too many cooks in the kitchen” problem.
It makes sense to micromanage when you’re doing things that don’t necessarily have to scale. Going back to our three individuals, you only need to build a flagship product once; you only need to write a unique episode once; and the essence of omakase is to focus on the customer’s experience, not to scale and become a franchise.
But the second you need to do something that has to scale, micromanaging will almost always lead to failure. It just so happens that most people will typically have to manage processes and work that need to scale, which is where micromanaging is ineffective. Also, people generally don’t like being micromanaged. This combination is what gives micromanaging a bad reputation.
The follow up thought here is, if there are situations where micromanaging is effective, how can one do it in such a way that it doesn’t hurt morale?