Lego people pushing a laden cart with square wheels and refusing a round wheel

Obviously there are going to be days, or even weeks, when a team is necessarily focussed on delivery. Sponsors and Product Owners have deadlines, the world dances to its own drum, and sometimes it’s a struggle to meet those critical dates.

At times like these, attempting to also focus on longer-term improvements – such as building trust – can just add more stress, and seem to detract from the task at hand.

So, mañana becomes the default response.

“When will we talk about morale?”

“When will we invest some time in sharpening our saw?”

“Can we do something about our level of capability to deliver?”

“I’d like more predictability, lower costs, more responsiveness and higher quality.”

And so on.

How does your team find the balance between the demands of today, and mañana?

- Bob

Further Reading

LEGO, Square Wheels, Innovation, Leadership and stuff ~ Dr. Scott Simmerman

The Business Case For Organisational Psychotherapy

I’m 99% certain that 99% of the people I meet have 99% of no idea what an organisational psychotherapist does, and moreover, the value that such a skill-set can bring to knowledge-work organisations.

In an attempt to clarify my value proposition in my own head, so as I might just be able to explain it a little better to those few folks who are kind enough – or interested enough – to ask, I’m writing this post.

The Ten Second Version

Organisational Psychotherapy focuses on:

  1. Shifting the collective mindset of the organisation
  2. Improving the organisation’s health
  3. Improving the collective cognitive function of the organisation

Shifting Collective Mindset

The collective, organisational mindset is absolutely key to the effectiveness of knowledge-work organisations of every kind, everywhere. Who better, then, to work on shifting an organisation’s collective mindset than folks who understand organisational psychotherapy?

Note: In my work with Rightshifting and the Marshall Model I explain why mindset is the key to effectiveness – and the challenges involved in making the necessary shifts.

It follows, then that to shift an organisation to the right, to make a business significantly more effective, involves effecting major change in the collective mindset of that organisation/business. Who has the skills, experience and training to do this? Organisational psychotherapists.

Organisational Health

In addition to shifting collective mindset, and in some ways related, organisational psychotherapy delivers improved organisational health.

Patrick Lencioni writes in his book “The Advantage”:

“The single greatest advantage any company can achieve is organizational health. Yet it is ignored by most leaders even though it is simple, free, and available to anyone who wants it.”

What is a healthy organisation?

From an organisational psychotherapy point of view, it’s one where:

  • people find deep joy and fulfilment in working together
  • everyone actively and enthusiastically cooperates with one other
  • people are well-aligned to the shared purpose of the organisation
  • we see high levels of trust, self-organisation and mindfulness
  • thinking and feeling are natural behaviours
  • most folks strive to be the best they can be
  • everyone’s needs are being attended to

And why is it “the single greatest [competitive] advantage…”?

Because even the smartest organisation in the world, the one that has mastered strategy and finance and marketing and technology, will eventually fail if it is unhealthy. Because without the diseases of politics and confusion and piecemeal-ism, an organisation will inevitably become smarter and tap into every bit of intelligence and talent that it has. And because of the direct correlation between organisational health and cognitive function - and thus the performance of everyone engaged in knowledge-work.

And, why then is it not on most organisations’ radars?

Because it’s hard work. It’s neither a quick fix nor a silver bullet. It’s not sophisticated nor shiny-shiny nor sexy. It doesn’t excite those executives who like to find their next great idea in the Wall Street Journal or the Financial Times. And it doesn’t play well with the mechanistic, Theory-X oriented mindsets so prevalent in businesses today. Nor with their Balance Scorecards and RACI matrices and coercive process-orientations.

Above all,

“…the biggest reason that organizational health remains untapped is that it requires courage. Leaders must be willing to confront themselves, their peers, and the dysfunctions within their organization with an uncommon level of honesty and persistence. They must be prepared to walk straight into uncomfortable situations and address issues that prevent them from realizing their potential.”

A Story About the Benefits of a Healthy Organisation

If you’re interested in a story about the tangible – and bottom-line – benefits of organisational health, you might like to read Lencioni’s “Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive“.

Improved Collective Cognitive Function

Knowledge work such as software development involve people working – thinking, feeling and learning – together. Most people are relatively unskilled and thus relatively ineffective at this. Organisational psychotherapy enhances collective mindfulness – from which emerges both improved awareness and improved group-oriented skills, and thus improved collective cognitive function. And people who are more skilled at working together do better work.


I’d love to hear why organisational psychotherapy and its benefits re: rightshifting mindset, organisational health and improved collective cognitive function isn’t on your organisation’s radar.

- Bob

Further Reading

Seven Reasons Why Every Business Needs A Therapist ~ FlowchainSensei
The Power of Meeting Your Employees’ Needs ~ Tony Schwartz and Christine Porath (HBR article)
Collective Cognition in Humans ~ Clément, Krause, et al.

Local Optima

Comparison of approaches

I’ve heard that a picture is worth a thousand words. And more recently, some research has shown that information presented visually has more likelihood of convincing.

So, here’s a chart. It illustrates relative effectiveness of the different approaches to e.g. developing software products and systems. The X-axis is the relative effectiveness, increasing towards the right. This same axis also maps from a narrow, local focus on parts of a system (left-hand side) to a broad, global focus on the interactions between the parts of a system (right-hand side).

Note: This chart represents aggregates – any given development effort may show some deviation from this aggregate. And also note, we’re talking about effectiveness from the broader perspective: meeting customer needs, whilst also satisfying the developers and other technical staff, managers, executives, sales folks, suppliers, etc. – i.e. all stakeholders. I also assume the aggregates exclude LAME, Wagile and other such faux approaches where folks claim to be working in certain ways, but fail to live up to those claims.

What Is a Local Optimum?

This post is primarily about the pernicious and dysfunctional effects of using approaches predicated on local optima. By which I mean, taking a narrow view of (part of) a “system of problems” aka mess.

Many folks seem to believe that improving one part of the whole organisation – e.g. the software development function, or an individual team – will improve the effectiveness of the whole organisation. As Ackoff shows us, this is a fallacy of the first order: it’s the interactions between the parts of the organisation-as-a-whole that dictate the  whole-system performance. In fact, improving any one part in isolation will necessarily detract from the performance of the whole.

This performance-of-the-whole is most often the kind of performance that senior executives and customers (those who who express a preference) seem to care about – very much in contrast to the cares of those tasked with, and rewarded for, improving the performance of a given part.

“When a mess, which is a system of problems, is taken apart, it loses its essential properties and so does each of its parts. The behavior of a mess depends more on how the treatment of its parts interact than how they act independently of each other. A partial solution to a whole system of problems is better than whole solutions of each of its parts taken separately.”

~ Russell. L. Ackoff


Also known as code-and-fix, hacking, messing about, and so on. Coders just take a run at a problem, and see what happens. Other skills and activities, such as understanding requirements, architecture, design, UX, testing, transfer into production, etc., if they do happen, happen very informally.

Batch & Queue

Perhaps more widely known as “Waterfall”. In this approach a big batch of work – often a complete set of requirements – passes through various queues, eventually ending up as working software (hopefully), or as software integral to a broader product or service.


One of the various flavours of agile development. Other dev-team centric approaches (xp, kanban, scrumban, FDD, etc.) have similar relative effectiveness, whether combined or “pure”.


DevOps here refers to the integration of dev teams with ops (operations/production) teams. This joining-up of two traditionally distinct and separate mini-siloes within the larger IT silo gives us a glimpse of the (slight) advantages to effectiveness resulting from taking a slightly bigger-picture view. Bigger that just the dev team, at least.


Lean Software Development aka Lean Product Development. The (right)shift in effectiveness comes from again taking an even broader view of the work. Broader not only in terms of those involved (from the folks having the original ideas through to the folks using the resulting software /product) but also broader over time. Approaches like TPDS – including SBCE – improve flow and significantly reduce waste by accepting that work happens more or less continuously, over a long period of time, not just in short, isolated things called “projects” nor for one-off things called “products”.


(Including e.g. Prod•gnosis.) My own thought-experiment at what a truly broad, system-wide perspective on software and product development could make possible in terms of improved effectiveness.


The best possible approach in an ideal world. I’ve included this, somewhat speculatively, as a milestone for just how far we as an industry have yet to go in embracing the advantages of a broad, interaction-of-the-parts perspective, as opposed to our current, widespread obsession with narrow improvements of individual parts of our organisations.

Please do let me know if you’d like me to elaborate any further on any of the above descriptions.

- Bob


For some reason which made sense inside my head at the time, I omitted Theory of Constraints from the above chart. For the curious, I’d place it somewhere between Lean and FlowChain.


Want to be Great?

In my experience, not many people, or organisations, actually want to be great. Most seem content with “getting by”, being “average” or otherwise “treading water”.

That’s fine with me. I’ll not be much interested in working with them, but I can enjoy their simple harmonies, and respect their choice. I don’t believe that an aspiration for greatness makes someone superior to someone without.

Why, then, even mention it? Because for some of these folks and groups, I notice a mismatch between what they say and what they do. Argyris refers to this as a gap between espoused theory – what we say we want – and theory in action – what we actually do.

“To be great is to be misunderstood.”

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

And when a person or group espouses an aspiration to greatness, yet does little to move towards it, suffering can ensue. People who do seek greatness can be sucked in by fine words, only to find little or no action in that direction, nor any chance to pursue their own aspirations. And those who baulk at action towards greatness can find it hard to accept that other, more driven folks may not want to be part of their unambitious future.

Time and again I see folks with aspirations to greatness place themselves in situations which can only serve to frustrate those aspirations.

Is there any remedy for this? Is it just the way the world works? Is equanimity – or continued suffering – the only solution?

Maybe. But maybe a little more awareness of our needs, and how they (mis)match those of others, might provide some early warning.

Wouldn’t that be great?

- Bob



My friend @RicZWest responded to my previous blog post by asking for some “integration” of the Antimatter Principle with some of my more established work, specifically the Marshall Model. I’m happy to be writing this post in response.

Context – The Principle

The roots of the Antimatter Principle go way back. Mutuality as a fundamental characteristic of the human condition is hundreds of thousands of years old. It’s literally in our genes.

Personally, I’ve seen the practical benefits of “attending to folks’ needs” in the context of software projects and businesses for the best part of twenty years. Yet it was only few years ago that Nonviolent Communication gave me a vocabulary to think and talk about this kind of thing. And it’s been less than a year since I chose – with some trepidation –  to put a name to the principle.

“I’m convinced that there’s nothing that human beings like more than to contribute to one another’s well-being.“

~ Marshall Rosenberg

I completely share this conviction. And have used it as the foundation of my work, my life, and FWIW the Antimatter Principle.

Context – The Model

The Marshall Model proposes that organisations exist in one of four states. Progression (and regression) between these states is rare, but possible. And progression – e.g. from left to right – is essential if a knowledge-work organisation is to become significantly more effective. Note: I choose to limit any claims as to the relevance of the model, to knowledge-work organisations.

The ‘trick’, of course, is in effecting the step-change from one stage to the next. Many have written about the challenges involved. I find much to like in William Bridges take on the issue (cf “Managing Transitions“).

My intent with the Marshall Model is to help folks remember that organisations at different stages might benefit from different styles of intervention. Different kinds of change initiatives. Initiatives tailored to where they’re at, so to speak. And to realise also that choosing ill-matched kinds of intervention can be dysfunctional and counter-productive. Hence its subtitle – “Dreyfus for the Organisation.”

Connecting the Dots

So, just how are these two things – the Antimatter Principle and the Marshall Model – connected?

Firstly, I believe the Antimatter Principle can help organisations progress – no matter which stage they’re at. The key challenge with making progress, particularly the quantum leaps from one stage of the Model to the next, is winning the engagement of the folks involved. Not just the workers, but the middle-managers, the executives, the customers – everyone.

The Antimatter Principle, as such, was born out of a recent experience working with a large multi-national. Senior management had all kinds of plans for a bright future – and all kinds of issues with a gloomy present. The core of the issue – at least for Product Engineering – was the logjam in making things better. In bringing about positive change. And in engaging everyone in that. Nothing was going to happen until that issue was addressed. Management fiats were not the answer. That would have only served to make things even worse. Creating an environment where folks could choose to make a difference and be effectively engaged in that – that was the future we saw as essential.

Secondly, the Antimatter Principle suggests a way of life in organisation founded on a shared purpose – the purpose of making folks’ lives more wonderful. Having one or two key individuals championing folks’ needs is all very well, but having a whole community with a common, shared purpose for that, with support for mastering the necessary skills – that’s infinitely more powerful.

Thirdly, and most pragmatically, organisations that begin to attend to folks’ needs are organisations that have taken the first step on a virtuous spiral of ever-improving alignment of their business with its people, its customers, its markets and the society in which it operates. And that has to be wonderful for everyone.

“Everything we do is to make life as wonderful as we can for our self. What makes life more wonderful than anything else is contributing to the well-being of other people.”

~ Marshall Rosenberg

- Bob


If At First…

A sunny path under a blue sky

Since first naming the Antimatter Principle back in October 2013, it has featured in quite a few posts of mine. Even whilst composing that first post I suspected that I would have trouble adequately explaining such an “out there” idea.

And so, it seems, it has proven.

I say “it seems” because I have had very few folks engage with me on the topic. Reactions, one way or the other, have been sparse.

I reflect that “change”, as John Seddon is wont to observe, “is a normative process”. Folks have to experience a thing, first hand, to really begin to grasp that thing.

And, God knows, there’s precious few folks in precious few organisations consciously practicing “attending to folks’ needs” – or, indeed, anything even remotely like that.

“You only understand something relative to something you already understand.”

~ Richard Saul Wurman

For the vast majority of folks involved in “technical” work, where decades of collective wisdom has focussed on “process”, or leadership/management, I can appreciate that breaking out of those frames and exploring a very different, and alien, new frame may feel…discomforting?


So, by way of eating my own dogfood, I ask “To what – and to whose – needs am I attending with the Antimatter Principle?”

My own, certainly:
A need for joyful connection with others.
A need for dialogue and exchange of perspectives.
A need for fellowship in the mutual exploration of the mysteries of the Universe – and more specifically, the mysteries of software development.

And for others? I see folks everywhere trying to figure out “this software thing”. I.E. Looking for answers to questions about productivity, quality, mastery, job satisfaction, and other such matters. I offer the Antimatter Principle as one possibility for a path to pursue in seeking such answers.

Having signposted this particular path – what I call the people path – I feel it best to leave folks free to choose which path they may wish to follow, if any.

“The most essential prerequisite to understanding is to be able to admit when you don’t understand something”

~ Richard Saul Wurman

So why rake over these old coals? Am I flogging (sic) a dead horse? Is it time yet to dismount?

Would you be willing to suggest something, by way of explanation, that might help you grasp the concept – sufficiently at least to consider it’s implications and ramifications?

And would you be willing to share some of your needs in this regard?

- Bob

Further Reading

Interview: Richard Saul Wurman; In Search of the God of Understanding ~ Nadine Epstein


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