Are You Stuck?


Are you stuck between a rock and a hard place? Is your heart telling you to do something, when your head is telling you not to? Or maybe it’s the other ways round – but still as problematic?

Do you see no way forward? No light at the end of the tunnel? Just endless busywork?

Are outside pressures getting to you? Do you have people relying on you? Is your job on the line? Your self-image under threat?

I see this kind of dynamic all too often. I say all too often because it bothers me. To see someone in a quandary bothers me. And it bothers me all the more because, so often, someone can be so stuck that they can’t even see how to find help. Or that “help” might actually help. And I know there are people that can help. Coaches, therapist, friends, fellows. Including me. It’s what I live for, actually.

Is there anything to be done? Yes. And I’m not going to use fear, obligation, guilt or shame to “help” you to get unstuck. Actually, I’m not going to use anything. Just invite you to consider if you are stuck at the moment. And if so, invite you to check out the many, many articles, posts, etc., out there on the intarwebs, offering ideas on getting unstuck.

Because, I’ve found the key to getting unstuck is recognising one’s stuckness in the first place. Oh, and then doing something about that. Natch. There’s even an app for that.

“Getting unstuck is half the fun in life.”

And if you find something that works for you, maybe you’d like to share it, through a comment, here?

- Bob

Further Reading

16 Ways To Get Unstuck ~ Tiny Buddha
7 Ways To Get Unstuck ~ Sura


No Need To Learn


How much does it bug you, working with folks that don’t or won’t learn? Folks that keep banging the rocks together, churning out crap code or following old myths and status quo policies, rather than exploring, experimenting, and thinking for themselves?

If we accept, as I do, that people’s behaviour is always based on getting their needs met, then it’s easy to explain this kind of situation.

The fact that it bugs you means some of your needs are not getting met. And the fact that they’re not learning means they have no needs that might get met by them learning stuff.

Actually, that latter assertion is a little too brassy. If they’re not learning, it could mean that they have do some needs that are not getting met, that learning could help with, but they don’t see learning as a viable strategy in their context.


Of course, if they don’t see learning as a viable strategy, then they’re pretty much unlikely to learn to see that learning could be a factor in a more effective strategy for getting their needs met. We might call this a predicament.

What To Do?

Is there anything we can do in this kind of situation?

A couple of things come to mind.

Empathy Earns The Right To Dialogue

Empathise with them and their predicament. Not in a snarky “I guess you’re feeling frustrated that you can’t learn anything” kind of way. Rather, something like “I guess you’re feeling frustrated that you can’t move forward.” Chance are, patient empathising along these lines might earn you the right to talk with them about your own needs, your needs which are not getting met. The ensuing dialogue may benefit both parties. And lead to both parties better getting their needs met. Maybe even some joy will come of it.

Experience Can Be A Great Teacher

Alternatively, see if you can create a situation where their learning something would help them better get one of their needs met. This experiential, or normative, learning may help them see – perhaps for the first time – the value of learning. This can be the gateway, with reinforcement, to their choosing to replace one or more of their existing strategies for getting their needs met, with strategies that involve learning.

No Perceived Need, No Change

Remember, many people see absolutely no need for learning stuff.

Unless they choose to connect learning with more effective strategies for meeting the needs they do have, learning will remain conspicuous by its absence. You’ll continue to be bugged by it. And nobody wants that.

- Bob

Why Rightshift?

Thomas Lindqvist recently posed a question you might find interesting:


Or, in more common parlance, what motivates an organisation to put time and effort into improving its overall effectiveness? You might think this kind of improvement a common objective – but in my experience it’s very uncommon.

In response, I suggested that the motivation – when present – comes from the Core Group attempting to get their needs met. Manifest in what I refer to as “organising intent”. Absent the Core Group seeing improvement as a viable and effective strategy for getting met their particular needs of the moment, it’s unlikely that improvement – whether in-band or out-of-band, whether Kaizen or Kaikaku – will receive much attention or support.

Note that in this post I’m talking primarily about the motivation to tackle one of the three great transitions in the Marshall Model.

Incremental Improvements

I can go with Kotter’s explanation of motivation for incremental, out-of-bound improvement: Urgency.

“Visible crises can be enormously helpful in catching people’s attention and pushing up urgency levels. Conducting business as usual is very difficult if the building seems to be on fire.”

~ John Kotter

Yet, this begs various questions:

  • To whom does a sense of urgency matter?
  • Why do they feel this sense of urgency? (Upon what information is their feeling based?)
  • What are their needs, needs that might be better met if a sense of urgency prevails?
  • How will the sense of urgency get expressed?
  • What will that expression lead to?


I don’t believe organisations contemplate transitions (wholesale replacement of their collective mindset) when they find a crisis upon them. Urgency seems irrelevant. Transitions will seem like they just take too long to be an effective survival response to an impending catastrophe.

Rather than urgency, the question of whether to tackle a transition is more likely to arise when e.g. the Core Group come to believe that existing avenues – like kaizen, continuous improvement or just plain old business-as-usual – have run out of steam. That these avenues no longer afford the promise of further improvements. Or that the ROI on such avenues has become marginal.

Of course, for a transition to even become a option requires that e.g. the Core Group feels some dissatisfaction with current levels of performance, of effectiveness. That the organisation’s performance fails to meet their needs in some significant way. Absent this condition, it’s likely things will just bump along as always.


So, how do you gauge the organising intent of your organisation’s Core Group? Is it bent on improvement? Or does its focus lie elsewhere?

- Bob

Why Does Agile Fail?


It’s still not fashionable to talk about Agile failure. I guess those few of us who do win few friends by it.

Never mind. My motivations stem from trying to make the work of work – of knowledge work – a better place for the millions who suffer the consequences of ineffective organisations, day in, day out. I don’t expect much thanks for it, but there it is. Take it or leave it.

I’ve given up using deontological moral and ethical arguments in favour of utilitarian ones. Not that I expect any form of argument – be that rational or emotional – to have much effect. Normative (experiential) learning seems like the best – nay, the only – game in town these days.


For the sake of clarity, let’s define what I mean by “failure”. Failure, here, is simply the failure to realise the desired or expected results from adopting an Agile approach to e.g software development. People generally know – although not always explicitly – what outcomes or results they’re looking for.

Some Reasons

So, why does Agile fail? And fail it does, in at least 75% of cases. Maybe as high as 95% of cases. Reliable numbers are hard to come by. Especially with so many vested interests in the mix.

  • By design.
    As a local optimisation – because Agile was conceived as such – even when the Agile adoption “succeeds”, it only addresses some 10% of the problems with software development. The 10% the development team can fix themselves. Some 90% of the problems remain inaccessible to the team. Only when the wider organisation gets involved can those other 90% get some attention. And without this wider attention, the rest of the organisation will assume Agile has failed. It’s a matter of expectations, really.
  • By mindset.
    Bringing a classical, command-and-control, analytic mindset to a software development effort is like bringing a knife to a gunfight. Without a collective mindset bent on enabling learning, discovery, innovation, self-organisation and cognitive function, results will remain poor irrespective of practices.
  • By time.
    Even when an Agile adoption succeeds, and even when the other 90% of the problems outside the development team get attended to, it’s likely that the solutions are not long for this world. Unless the question of Organisational Cognitive Dissonance is also addressed – whether by luck or intention – any short-term gains are hostage to the vicissitudes of fortune.
  • By cargo-culting.
    Many Agile adoptions consist of little more than adoption of a set of practices. Agile “by the book”. With little or no inspection and adaption, or understanding of the underlying principles. This can often happen when e.g. management see Agile as just another “software development method”.
  • By naivety.
    Software development is not a simple endeavour. Control and predictability are not possible, however much we might naively wish for them. Software development is about the dance between organising intent and countervailing entropy. Attempting to run a software development effort like it was easy or simple or manageable is simply asking for failure.
  • By mistaking the nature of the work.
    Software development is a kind of collaborative knowledge work. Mistaking it for something else – for administrative, repetitive or manual work – is another shortcut to the failure farm.
  • By bad luck.
    So many random factors can impact an Agile adoption. Let’s acknowledge that even when all our ducks are lined up, often things can just go awry. Sponsors and champions can change post or leave. Key players in the dev teams can quit. Upturns and downturns in the organisation’s markets can distract and detract. Technologies can suddenly change. New fads can overtake our plans.

Honestly, so many things can undermine an Agile adoption, it’s a surprise to me that any attempts actually succeed. And it’s not even that a successful Agile adoption means a big uplift in organisational effectiveness. Better to invest our limited time, attention, and money in something with a much bigger potential payback, if you ask me. Which you probably didn’t.

- Bob

Further Reading

When Does Agile Fail? ~ Craig Strong
Why Agile Has Failed  ~ Mike Hadlow


Changing Behaviours


[Tl;Dr: If your organisation is changing and needs its people to adopt different - maybe more productive - behaviours, the Antimatter Principle can help make that happen.]

It’s Not About Morality

I’m guessing that many people see the Antimatter Principle as some kind of moral crusade.

“Do the right thing!”

“Attend to folks’ needs!”

“Be a better human being!”

Nothing could be further from my intention. My position on the Antimatter Principle is (almost) entirely utilitarian. Which is to say, I invite you to consider the consequences of applying the principle, rather than judge it in a deontological moral or ethical context.

Let’s look at the problem it’s trying to address, and the nature of the solution.

The Problem

I have been for a long time interested in the thorny question of people and their behaviour. What drives people’s behaviours? Why do certain people behave in one way, and others in different ways, even in much the same situation?

More specifically, why do people doing various kinds of knowledge-work, such as software development, not adopt the most effective ideas in the field? With the advent of the internet such ideas are widely known and easily referenced, yet uptake is slow and patchy, to say the least.

I guess there are dozens, maybe hundreds of different reasons why people don’t adopt a new idea as soon as they find it. But I’ve been looking for some more general “rules” governing these situations.

Needs Drive Behaviours

I have come to the working hypothesis that, overall, folks’ needs drive their behaviours. That is, people do things to try to get their deeper, personal needs met. This interpretation of behaviour comes from e.g. Marshall Rosenberg’s work on Nonviolent Communication.


Not explicitly mentioned by Rosenberg, but now receiving attention from neuroscience, is the question of why do different people go about getting their needs met in such wildly different ways?

For example, why would one “normal” human being attempt to “get things done” by diktat, when some other “normal” person might attempt to “get things done” through collaboration, dialogue, and fellowship?

Allow me to introduce the word “strategy’ here. In a given situation, attempting to get a similar need met, different folks may well employ a demonstrably different strategy. These strategies may span a broad spectrum – from highly ineffective through to highly effective. It’s difficult to imagine why people might continue using highly ineffective strategies when getting their needs met is the key driver, but even cursory observation tells us this happens all the time.

Indeed, this is central to the work of Chris Argyris, when he talks about espoused theories (the strategies people think they use, and believe would be effective) vs theories-in-action (the strategies people actually use, in reality – always, less effective than their espoused strategies).

Where do our strategies come from? They come from experience. The strategies we each use in our day to day lives, we have acquired since birth. The crucial challenge, then, for each of us, is not in acquiring strategies, but in replacing less effective strategies with more effective ones.

Aside: This is the de facto core of most kinds of therapy, counselling, coaching, and so on.

The Challenge

In a work setting, where e.g. managers are concerned – at least in principle – with finding ways to make people more productive, the challenge could be characterised as:

How to get the people to replace some or all of their less effective strategies with progressively more effective ones?


Not harming the longer-term cognitive function and goodwill of these same people.

Normative Learning Owns

In her maddeningly inconsistent book, Reut Schwarz-Hebron suggests that normative learning is the only path to replacing less effective strategies with more effective ones. That is to say, only when a new strategy is tried in the crucible of action, and found superior to the existing strategy, will the new strategy win out, get adopted, replace the previous one, and stick.

Aside: This emphasis on normative learning is, of course, one of the foundations of John Seddon’s Vanguard Method.

Aside: Reut’s book says nothing, explicitly at least, about the matter of interlocking strategies (memes, if you will) and the challenges of replacing entire memeplexes of interlocking memes, wholesale. I’ll not delve further into that topic here, today, either.


Reut Schwarz-Hebron also suggests that some 90% of people are unable to effect such replacement of their own strategies without some external support, such as from a manager, coach or therapist. Her book goes into more detail about the “system” she has invented to help e.g. managers provide this support.

Aside: Her “system” reads way too much like PR hokum for my liking. YMMV.


So, from a utilitarian perspective, adopting the Antimatter Principle – attending to folks’ needs – is, in itself, a strategy for getting a need met.

What and whose need? The need of the organisation, to see its people replacing less effective behaviours with more effective ones.

And the path to getting that need met?

When people begin attending to folks’ needs, people start to become conscious of needs. In turn, people begin to become aware of the strategies they – and others – are using to get their individual – and collective – needs met.

Once the idea of strategies – and the very possibility of replacing them – takes hold, people can then – but only then – begin to consider the relative merits of their present strategies, and potential candidate replacements.

Back To The Neuroscience

Wrapping up, I come back to the neuroscience. My writing this post may provide you with some information about the Antimatter Principle and how it works to support changing behaviours. But that’s not going to do much to help you change your behaviour, adopt the idea, adopt it as a strategy. (See: The Problem, above).

For 90% of you, unless and until you apply it, your brain will find all kinds of ways to resist it and reject it, no matter how much more effective it might promise to be in practice. And for that 90%, it’s likely that you wont even get to applying it without some external support.

Where might you start looking for such support?

- Bob

Changing Others?

Here’s a fairly common scenario:

You’re a manager responsible for 100+ people, all involved in some kind of knowledge work. You’ve been asked, told – or maybe feel the need yourself – to do something about the productivity of your group. How would you proceed?

Aside: I’ve been in this situation myself some number of times, and seen or helped managers with such scenarios, too.


How a manager decides to proceed is most often a function of what they believe about the nature of work, and the nature of people.

I’ve seen managers issue diktats: “You will improve”.

Opt to get consultants in: “These guys will tell you how to improve”.

Or “coach” people: “I’ll show you the way to improve” (not my definition of coaching, btw).

I’ve rarely seen a manager say: “Let’s sort this out together”.

But if you accept the answers to these Six FAQs, then this latter option seems like the only viable, long term basis upon which to proceed.

And if that is so, then the key questions become:

  • “Can we agree that something needs to be done?”
  • “If we can so agree, who’s going to be involved, and in what ways and degree will they be involved?”
  • “For those who are closely involved, how shall we make a start?”

The last of the above questions is something like the Theory of Constraints three questions:

  • “What to change?”
  • “What to change to?”
  • “How to effect the change?”

Or, maybe, just these two questions:

  • “What is the purpose of this work, from the paying customers’ (end-users’) point of view?”
  • “What measures will the workers choose and use to understand and improve their work?”

Do you concur, or would you choose a different way to proceed?

- Bob

Further Reading

The Art and Science Of Changing People Who Don’t Want To Change ~ Reut Schwartz-Hebron

Product Development 101


“What is Product Development?”

I’m pretty convinced that few folks – even those with product development responsibilities, working in product development organisations – could easily answer this question.

The Wikipedia entry for “New Product Development” doesn’t seem to have a useful answer. Actually, I prefer the brevity of the entry for “Whole Product”.

Tom and Mary Poppendieck refer to the “Concept to Cash pipeline” e.g. the evolving of a vague idea into a revenue-earning product. Some more technically-minded folks like to describe product development as the creation of operational value streams.

But I’m not looking for a partial, complicated or technical answer. I’m looking for an answer that my grandma could relate to. Something like:

“The life blood of businesses everywhere is revenue they earn on the products and services they sell. As times change, existing products and services can begin to lose their appeal, and so both sales revenues and profit margins can begin to fall. To remain successful and profitable, businesses find themselves having to introduce new products and services, as well as upgrading or retiring their existing products and services. From an inkling of a new product, service, or upgrade, all the way through to having something ready for folks to buy – everything that a business does in this regard we call ‘Product Development’”.

I’ve been spending time with various product development organisations recently. Or, rather, with some folks who work for organisations in which the introduction, upgrading and retirement of products and services is central to their business model. (As opposed to organisations with one or more long-lived, more or less unchanging, cash cows).

Time and again, it seems to me that rather than product development being done all wrong, it’s more like it’s not being done at all. Or at least, not in any kind of intentional, deliberate, organised way.

I see lots of software development going on (the products in question being software-intensive in nature). But precious little, if any, product development.

The Product Development Organisation

For me, an essential aspect of Product Development is the organisational perspective. Most established organisations will be introducing, upgrading and retiring products – and services – on a more or less regular basis. So

“Product development is about developing products, not just a product.”

I see few organisations indeed that are set up to do this in anything but a purely ad-hoc way.

Does It Matter?

If we accept POSIWID (the purpose of a system is what is does) then it doesn’t matter much at all. Most organisations, most executives, most managers, and most staff seem happy with – or at least, resigned to – the current state of dysfunction in their product development efforts. I’m pretty sure they don’t know – and don’t, presently, much care – what it’s costing them, personally and collectively.

And until we begin to look at product development as a pipeline, a.k.a. value stream, through which ideas flow – from concepts to revenue streams – I guess things will just have to continue in that vein.

- Bob


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