In the context of law department management, it has become frustrating for me to define the term “management tools” (See my posts of April 17, 2007 on tools; and April 14, 2005 on 18 tools and a definition.). Tools help managers and others gather facts, organize those facts, diagnose the situation in light of those facts, or communicate any of this. In my conception, tools have four characteristics (See my posts of May 14, 2005 and Nov. 20, 2007 on the management-tools survey of Bain.), but I am not yet comfortable with these distinctions.
1. Tools must be teachable, which excludes many innate or personal attributes. Intelligence is not a tool (See my post of Jan. 15, 2006 on how to increase IQ; and Nov. 7, 2007 about the Flynn effect of rising IQs.) nor is much of humor or creativity. A process map, I would claim, is a teachable tool as is a meeting agenda. People prepare guidelines for how and when to use tools, and there are courses and books about the proper use of the tool, such as the cornucopia of techniques under TQM.
2. Tools must be in writing or physical. Tools must be tangible so you can look at them; thus interviewing is not a tool as much as a skill, nor are benchmarking, focus groups, or change management as they are complex groups of activities that lead to what can be put into a tool. A survey is thus a tool as is a protractor.
3. Tools must be generic, in the sense that the tool can apply to a wide range of management challenges. A spreadsheet is a classic tool in this sense as are statistical methods.
4. Tools must be atomistic, distinct, and not decomposable into a more fundamental tool. Thus, convergence isn’t a single tool but more a set of ideas. The same for schools of tools like Six Sigma, TQM, change management, and negotiation. But a budget is a budget.