A Crash Course in Modern Business Management Principles

As the specialization of workplace knowledge continues at a rapid pace, many employees know more about their work than their managers. These knowledge workers often know how to manage themselves better than a manager would.

Gone are the days of employees performing the same manual task over and over, with someone looking over their shoulders. Creative problem solvers now work in multiple roles with loose collaboration and tight deadlines to achieve goals.

Because not everyone has the time, and sometimes new trends in business management are hard to track down, the editors at Business-Management-Degree have decided to construct a mini-course on modern business management today.

Estimated Completion Time: 2 hours

Knowledge Workers

The concept of a “knowledge worker” was invented in 1959 by Peter Drucker, a 20th-century management consultant, educator, and author. Knowledge work is work where the task is not given, it must be determined. Instead of asking “What should I work on?” a knowledge worker would ask “What are the expected outcomes from this wor?” and then proceed to determine the best way to achieve these outcomes.

Knowledge workers’ main capital is their knowledge. Knowledge workers “think for a living,” and oftentimes are paid to think in a particular way (i.e. the way their occupation thinks). Examples of knowledge workers include software engineers, content creators, marketers, doctors, architects, engineers, scientists, accountants, teachers, and lawyers.

Here are some resources on knowledge workers:

The Old vs. The New

Increasingly, the ability of an organization (particularly in a field that ‘creates’ something) to keep knowledge workers productive is what separates the pack. Just as effectively managing Millennials requires a look at different priorities, needs, and strengths; managing knowledge workers requires you to ask a new set of questions.

The old way involves streamlining the same process until it’s profitable (but everyone is about to die of boredom). The new way involves giving team members room to grow, develop their own solutions, expertise, and projects, and thus promote an environment where your team can adapt and continue to create important products in the future.

The Lean Startup

A lean startup approach isn’t for every business, but since the idea was released by Eric Reis in 2008, it has been applied in a growing number of fields and business types (be they individual, team-based, or larger companies). In general terms, lean startups try to shorten product development cycles by releasing a ‘minimum viable product’ and then quickly iterating and learning from their mistakes.

Here are some links to flesh out what exactly a lean startup mindset is. Several of the following sections will also elaborate on the different “flavors” of a lean startup.

Iterative Project Management

Iterative management is a design methodology that works on prototyping, testing, analyzing, and then refining the process or product at hand. Iterations occur in a cycle, similar to the plan-do-check-act cycle of business process improvement. Iterative projects are centered around learning from every iteration, leaving what works, and improving what doesn’t.

Incremental Project Management

Incremental build models are closely related to iterative management, but not quite the same thing. Where iterative management is about learning from every iteration, incremental management is about breaking down projects into easier-to-manage modules that slowly build to the final project. Incremental project management is a combination of iterative management and the “waterfall” method.

Spiral Project Management

As you might have noticed in the previous sections, many new styles of business management overlap with one another and can be interchanged after a product development cycle. The spiral model places time in the product development cycle to accommodate for this, allowing each cycle time for team leaders to decide what processes they would like to empty the next cycle.


Holacracy is a radical management framework employed at Zappos and several smaller companies. Holacracy is perfect for self-motivated knowledge workers and thrives on the energy and vision each team member brings to the table. A distributed authority system is employed, leading to a flat hierarchy, and team members often wear multiple “hats.” Operations and vision are transparent, and team members may take the lead on one project while following on another.

Structural and governance decisions are decided at intervals in the development cycle, making holacracy compatible with most of the other management cycles we’ve covered.

Agile Project Management

Agile management is an iterative and incremental management method, largely used in engineering, information technology, and new product development. Agile submits deliverables in small batches of prototypes, which it then rolls out to get input from the customer and supplier. Agile is ideally suited for either small projects (that can be prototyped quickly), or projects that are too complex for customers to understand and specify their expectations before prototyping.

Modern Management, the broader picture

The rise in the creative class and self-managing teams does not in any way mean that management is obsolete. On the contrary, the complexity of the marketplace and the speed with which new products and technologies are rolled out calls for even more managerial expertise. One portrayal of the manager’s role as liaison between highly skilled teams, the iterative process, and the customer describes manager as someone who behaves like:

  • Investors
  • Customers
  • Sports coaches
  • And Partners

All at the same time. Hopefully, you enjoyed our course. Here are a few more resources that present the bigger picture of new management principles.

Rowan Jones
Chief Editor