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The Fiefdom Syndrome

book cover image and link to amazon

John recommended this book because it feels like we suffer from Fiefdom Syndrome at times. Through sometimes innocent (and sometimes not!) means, people in certain positions end up consolidating power and control over processes which stymie our ability to get new and novel ways of working integrated into the business. Overall, I'd say you don't need to read it. It's a solid 3/5 with a few good points, most of which I've summarized below.

Fiefdoms control information, stifle creativity, and are unwilling to cope with change.

Types of Fiefdoms

He discusses six main types of fiefdoms which were a useful classification system:

  1. Personal: A single person's personality drives the collection of power...I think we can all think of these situations.
  2. Peer (or Network): Fiefdom due to network of entities...Our consistent IT vendors fit here, I think. They're the only ones with experience to make useful project plans, and our IT folks have long relationships with them. Our procurement processes make it prohibitively difficult to work with any other companies, so we continue to get abused by the same vendors over and over again and enormous costs in cash, time, and results.
  3. Divisional: Similar parts of the business end up acting as their own entity. I think some of this could happen across programs if we aren't careful to share best practices and keep a higher-level look. This seems like a potential source of issues, but it also seems well-managed at our current company.
  4. Top-Tier: This is when a high-level person in the business cuts himself off from the rest of the marketplace and becomes immune to business realities. I feel like we have pieces of this, but can't think of a good example at the moment.
  5. Group: The author feels this is the most destructive and common form. In this fiefdom type a small group of people end up gathering control of a common task and are later seen as the only people allowed to interact with that task. The rest of the business ends up beholden to them to accomplish the task. I have some ideas where things like this exist, but they aren't that clean. Procurement feels like one, IA also feels like one. But both seem to have decent reasons for existing the way they do...although the practices are certainly outdated and bad for adapting to fast business changes.
  6. Protected: This is when an executive level person supports or creates a fiefdom and then ends up shielding it from scrutiny. I've certainly thought of IT as this type of fiefdom, but I'm not sure that's fair. It seems they need to be held to actual deliverables and not just project management, but the issues are far more complicated than simply saying some shady executive is protecting them. Maybe this is a fiefdom that doesn't really exist in our current organization.


One idea he discussed was the idea that each group in the business needs to use standardized delivery metrics. These metrics should be reported the same, in the same templates, and everyone should have to have them. This will help teams to be objective about progress and deliveries and make it far harder for a fiefdom to retain control even while not delivering as well as they might with an upgrade to their processes.

Creativity vs. Discipline

He repeatedly brings up the idea of creativity vs. discipline. I'm sure this is an important point, but it didn't land for me. He spoke at length about his experience at Proctor & Gamble selling consumer products and uses sales analogies to make his points often. I'm not sure how much this concept would land with other companies without more directed examples.

owners watching over their fiefdom

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