Damn Outcomes!

It seems in vogue to extol the praises of “outcomes” when discussing e.g. software and product development. Setting aside the challenges of defining what we might mean by “outcomes” (I dislike getting into rabbit-hole discussions of semantics), there’s one key aspect of this debate that seems to escape folks’ attention. W Edwards Deming nailed it decades ago with his First Theorem:

“Nobody gives a hoot about profits.”

Even so, Deming said little about what folks (managers, in his frame) DO give a hoot about. We can turn to Russell L. Ackoff for an insight into that:

“Executives’ actions make sense [only] if you look at them as taken in order to maximise the executive’s well being.”

As Dr. Ackoff says, a secondary focus on profits is just the cost executives must pay in order to maximize their rewards. The actions taken would be different if the well being of the organization was primary and the well being of senior executives subservient to that aim.

Outcomes

So, to outcomes. The outcomes that delight will be those that maximise the executives’ (and other folks’) well being. When developing a piece of software, how often do the specifics of the well being of the Folks That Matter get discussed? Indeed, is the subject even discussable? Or is it taboo? In your organisation?

How unsurprising then, that software as delivered is so often lacklustre and uninspiring. That it fails to address the core issues of the well being of the Folks That Matter? That it’s the wrong software.

As a developer or team, do you ever afford your customers (a.k.a. the Folks That Matter) the opportunity to talk about their well being? And how what you’re doing for them might contribute to that well being?

So, might I invite you to stop talking about specious and illusory “outcomes”. And start asking the difficult questions of your customers (and yourselves)?

Here’s a possible opener:

“Would you be willing to discuss what it is you need for your own well being?”

– Bob

Further Reading

Nobody Gives a Hoot About Profit ~ The W. Edwards Deming Institute Blog post
Agile Competency Is A Crock ~ Think Different blog post

The Aspiration Gap

Some years ago I wrote a post entitled “Delivering Software is Easy“. As a postscript I included a chart illustrating where all the jobs are in the software / tech industries, compared to the organisations (and jobs) that folks would like to work in. It’s probably overdue to add a little more explanations to that chart.

Here’s the chart, repeated from that earlier post for ease of reference:

Chart illustrating the gap between available jobs and jobs folks would like to have.

The blue curve is the standard Rightshifting curve, explained in several of my posts over the years – for example “Rightshifting in a Nutshell“.

The green curve is the topic of this post.

The Green Curve

The green curve illustrates the distribution of jobs that e.g. developers, testers, coaches, managers, etc. would like to have. In other words, jobs that are most likely to best meet their needs (different folks have different needs, of course).

Down around the horizontal zero index position (way over to the left), some folks might like to work in these (Adhoc) organisations, for the freedom (and autonomy) they offer (some Adhoc organisations can be very laissez-faire). These jobs are no so desirable, though, for the raft of dysfunctions present in Adhoc organisations generally (lack of things like structure, discipline, focus, competence, and so on).

The green curve moves to a minimum around the 1.0 index position. Jobs here are the least desirable, coinciding as they do with the maximum number of Analytic organisations (median peak of the blue curve). Very few indeed are the folks that enjoy working for these kinds of organisations, with their extrinsic (imposed) discipline, Theory-X approach to staff relations and motivations, strict management hierarchies, disconnected silos, poor sense of purpose, institutionalised violence, and all the other trappings of the Analytic mindset. Note that this is where almost all the jobs are today, though. No wonder there’s a raging epidemic of disengagement across the vast swathe of such organisations.

The green curve then begins to rise from its minimum, to reach a maximum (peak) coinciding with jobs in those organisations having a “Mature Synergistic” mindset (circa horizontal index of 2.8 to 3). These are great places to work for most folks, although due to the very limited number of such organisations (and thus jobs), few people will ever get to experience the joys of autonomy, support for mastery, strong shared common purpose, intrinsic motivation, a predominantly Theory-Y approach to staff relations, minimal hierarchy, and so on.

Finally (past horizontal index 3.0) the green curve begins to fall again, mainly because working in Chaordic organisations can be disconcerting, scary (although in a good way), and is so far from most folks’ common work experiences and mental image of a “job” that despite the attractions, it’s definitely not everyone’s cup off tea.

Summary

The (vertical) gap at any point along the horizontal axis signifies the aspiration gap: the gap between the number of jobs available (blue curve) and the level of demand for those jobs (green curve) – i.e. the kind of jobs folks aspire to.

If you’re running an organisation, where would you need it to be (on the horizontal axis) to best attract the talent you want?

– Bob

Footnote

For explanations of Adhoc, Analytic, Synergistic and Chaordic mindsets, see e.g. the Marshall Model.

 

Obduracy

I tweeted recently:

“The things organisations have to do to make software development successful are well known. And equally well known is the fact that organisations will absolutely not do these things.”

Here’s a table comparing some of the things we know are necessary for success, alongside the things organisations do instead.

Necessary for Success What Organisations Do Instead
Teamwork Heroic individualism
Primacy of people skills Primacy of tech skills
Self-organisation, self-management Managers managing the work(ers)
Systems view of the organisation Partition the organisation into discrete silos
Manage the organisation/system as an integral whole Manage each silo separately
Use systemic measures to steer by Use silo-local measures to steer by 
Relationships matter most (quality of the social dynamic) The code’s the thing (e.g. velocity)
Effectiveness (do the right things) Efficiency (do things right)
Zero defects (quality is free) (defect prevention) Testing and inspections
The workers own the way the work works Mandated processes and methods (management owns the way the work works)
Workers are generalists Workers are specialists 
Trust Rules, policies
Theory Y Theory X
Intrinsic motivation, discipline Extrinsic (imposed) motivation, discipline 
Everyone’s needs matter (everyone’s a customer and a supplier) Only the bosses’ needs matter (your boss is your only customer)
Explicit requirements, negotiated and renegotiated with each customer, just in time No explicit requirements, or Big Requirements Up Front
Incremental delivery against the needs of all the Folks That Matter, short feedback loops  Big Bang delivery, some or all constituencies overlooked or ignored, long or no feedback loops
Kaikaku and kaizen, to serve business goals Kaizen only, by rote
No estimates, flexible schedules Estimates, fixed schedules
Smooth flow (a regular cadence of repeatably and predictably meeting folks’ needs) “Lumpy” or constipated flow 
Work is collaborative knowledge work Work is work
People bring their whole selves to work People limit themselves to their “work face”.

Do you have any more entries for this table? I’d love to hear from you.

– Bob

The Big Shift

Let’s get real for a moment. Why would ANYONE set about disrupting the fundamental beliefs and assumptions of their whole organisation just to make their software and product development more effective?

It’s not for the sake of increased profit – Deming’s First Theorem states:

“Nobody gives a hoot about profits”.

If we believe Russell Ackoff, executives’ motivation primarily stems from maximising their own personal well being a.k.a. their own quality of work life.

Is There a Connection?

Is there any connection between increased software and product development effectiveness, and increased quality of work life for executives? Between the needs of ALL the Folks That Matter and the smaller subset of those Folks That Matter that we label “executives”? Absent such a connection, it seems unrealistic (understatement!) to expect executives to diminish their own quality of work life for little or no gain (to them personally).

Note: Goldratt suggests that for the idea of effectiveness to gain traction, it’s necessary for the executives of an organisation to build a True Consensus – a jointly agreed and shared action plan for change (shift).

Is Disruption Avoidable?

So, the question becomes:

Can we see major improvements in the effectiveness (performance, cost, quality, predictability, etc.) of our organisation, without disrupting the fundamental beliefs and assumptions of our whole organisation?

My studies and experiences both suggest the answer is “No”. That collaborative knowledge work (as in software and product development) is sufficiently different from the forms of work for which (Analytic-minded) organisations have been built as to necessitate a fundamentally different set of beliefs and assumptions about how work must work (the Synergistic memeplex). If the work is to be effective, that is.

In support of this assertion I cite the widely reported failure rates in Agile adoptions (greater than 80%), Lean Manufacturing transformations (at least 90%) and in Digital Transformations (at least 95%).

I’d love to hear your viewpoint.

– Bob

Further Reading

Organisational Cognitive Dissonance ~ Think Different blog post

Gratitude

Joy, for me, is helping folks in ways that they have a need to be helped. So I feel appreciative, moved and thankful when someone takes the time to let me know how my help has made a positive contribution to their lives.

I regularly have folks quietly letting me know about how I’ve made some contribution to their journey. Most recently, Andy Tabberer (@ConsultantMicro on Twitter) has been kind enough to share his experiences, and with his permission, share with you.

In this case, it’s particularly pleasing, both because he’s representative of my primary audience (tech management) and because my chosen style has resonated with him. Here’s his unexpurgated words:

I first heard of Bob Marshall – @flowchainsensei – through Twitter. I cannot remember how exactly, but I guess it was a question, the type of searching question that comes easilyi to Bob, that piqued my interest. Since then, Bob has taken me, indirectly, on a journey of self-improvement through his questioning and prompting on Twitter and through his blog.

Why am I telling you this? Well, a while ago, Bob asked his followers if anything he had tweeted or blogged had been of any use, had anything he’d produced been used to do something good.

This is my reply to that question.

My examples are:

The blog that encouraged me to challenge the status quo in my work was What are Non-Obvious Systemic Constraints?. Among other constraints listed, the ‘Business As Usual’, ‘Mandatory optimism’ and ‘Fear of conflict’ examples really resonated with me. It felt like I was able to hold my company up to the light for the first time and see its true colours.

I felt compelled to reconsider the role of the management team, of which I was a part. Bob’s examples helped me to show others how our company was failing in ways we could not see. It emboldened me to challenge our conventional thinking and our hierarchy and its “remarkable impact on the ability of the organisation to evolve, improve, and raise its effectiveness”.

Bob’s blog also introduced me to Eli Goldratt. After a quick google search, I landed on a review of a graphic novel of the Goal, an easy to read version of Goldratt’s seminal work. It was quickly added to my Christmas list. This book changed my view of the workplace and in particular how bottlenecks impact our productivity. So many of my former colleagues have Bob to thank for being branded bottlenecks, a few of them would even thank him.

Finally, I have Bob to thank for an introduction to Deming. This name kept popping up again and again. I eventually went off in search of material to read – I have Four Days with Deming lined up to read next – and I alighted at the Deming Institute blog. After a little browsing, I settled down to watch the following video by David Lanford -> blog.deming.org/2013/08/attrib. The impact of this video was so profound that it eventually led to a programme of organisation-wide quality goal setting – that I instigated – and, ultimately, my resignation and my decision to move onto pastures new.

I’d like to finish by saying that Bob makesii me think every day. Sometimes I find him frustrating because he answers with a question, never giving advice. This, however, leads me to what I suppose is Bob’s biggest impact on me, which is the path to improvement is forged through questioning. I guess I’ve never encountered anyone who sought only to help others improve rather than dispense self-serving advice designed to reinforce one’s own view of one’s worth or to confirm one’s place in the hierarchy. I’m grateful for that, Bob.

Notes:

i) These questions may seem to come easily, but often they take time, effort and consideration. Not to mention empathy.

ii) I’d be happier to say “invites” rather than “makes” (might be misinterpreted as compulsion or obligation).

In closing, I’d like to thank Andy again, and invite others to contribute their experiences, too.

– Bob

Something’s Gotta Give

 

“The things businesses have to do to make software development successful are well known. And equally well known is the fact that businesses will absolutely not do these things.”

This reality puts us in a bind. We find ourselves in a position where we have to trade off successful development against conforming to organisational norms. We can have one – or the other. It’s not a binary trade-off, we can for example relax some norms and gain some (small) improvements in success. But by and large it’s a zero sum game. At least from the perspective of those folks that find value in everyone conforming to preexisting norms.

I don’t think many business folks realise this trade-off exists. Almost all the business folks I have met over the years seem unaware that their norms are what’s holding back their success in software (and product) development. I put this down to the absence of any real understanding of the fundamentally different nature of collaborative knowledge work (different to their experiences and assumptions).

Some of the Things

By way of illustration, here’s just a few of the things that are necessary for successful software (and product) development, that businesses just won’t do:

De-stressing

Removing stressors (things that create distress) from the workplace. These things include: job insecurity; being directed and controlled; being told where, when and how to work; etc..

Stressors serve to negatively impact cognitive function (amongst other things).

Trusting

Placing trust in the folks actually doing the work. We might refer to this a a Theory-Y posture.

Experimenting

Finding out through disciplined and systematic experimentation what works and what doesn’t. See: the Toyota Improvement Kata.

Being Human

Embracing what it means to be human; seeing employees as infinitely different, fully-rounded human beings with a broad range emotions, needs and foibles (as opposed to e.g. interchangeable cogs in a machine).

Intrinsic Discipline

Relying on intrinsic motivation to encourage and support a disciplined approach to work.

Meaningful Dialogue

Talking about what’s happening, the common purpose, and what the problems are.

Eschewing Numbers

Realising the limitations with numbers, dashboards, KPIs and the like and finding other ways to know whether things are moving in the “right direction”.

Prioritising Interpersonal Relationships

In collaborative knowledge work (especially teamwork), it’s the quality of the interpersonal relationships that’s by far the greatest factor in success.

Summary

If your organisation needs to see more success in its software (and product) development efforts, then something’s gotta give. Specifically, some of its prevailing norms, assumption and beliefs have gotta give. And given that these norms come as a self-reinforcing memeplex (a.k.a. the Analytic Mindset), a piecemeal approach is highly unlikely to afford much in the way of progress.

– Bob

Hearts over Diamonds Preface

In case you’re undecided as to whether my recently published book on Organisational Psychotherapy will be worth some of your hard-earned spons, here’s the text of the preface to the current edition (full book available in various ebook formats via Leanpub and in paperback via Lulu.


Will This Book be Worth Your Time?

To my knowledge, this is the first book ever written about Organisational Psychotherapy. Thanks for taking the time to have a look. This is a short book. And intentionally so. It’s not that Organisational Psychotherapy is a shallow domain. But this book just lays down the basics. Understanding of the deeper aspects and nuances best emerges during practice, I find.

This book aims to inform three distinct groups of people:

  • Senior managers and executives who might find advantage in hiring and engaging with an Organisational Psychotherapist.
  • Folks who might have an interest in becoming Organisational Psychotherapists themselves, either within their organisations or as e.g. freelancers.
  • Folks within organisations who might find themselves involved in some way in their organisation’s engagement with one or more organisational psychotherapists.

We’re all busy people, so I guess you may be curious, or even a little concerned, as to whether this book will provide a good return on the time you might spend reading it. I’ve tried to arrange things so that you can quickly answer that question.

I intend this book to be easy to understand, and to that end I’ve used as much plain English as I can muster. I guess some folks find the whole idea of Organisational Psychotherapy somewhat intimi‐ dating, and fear the ideas here will “go over their heads”. Let me reassure you that I’ve tried to make this book common-sensical, friendly and down-to-earth.

Foundational

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”

~ Rumi

In writing this book, I’ve set out to define the emerging discipline – or field – of Organisational Psychotherapy.

In a nutshell, Organisational Psychotherapy is a response to the growing realisation in business circles that it’s the collective mindset of an organisation (often mistakenly referred-to as culture) that determines an organisation’s overall effectiveness, productivity and degree of success. By “collective mindset” I mean the beliefs, assumptions and attitudes that an organisation as a whole holds in common about work and how the world of work should work.

Roots

Organisational Psychotherapy leverages over a hundred years of research and experience in the field of personal psychotherapy, a field which has evolved from its roots in the Middle East in the ninth century, and later, in the West, through the works of Wilhelm Wundt (1879) and Sigmund Freud (1896). Research and experience which, in large part, can usefully be repurposed from the individual psyche to the collective psyche (i.e. the organisation).

In my career of over thirty years in the software business, I’ve run the whole gamut of approaches in search of organisational effectiveness, in search of approaches that actually work. It’s been a long and tortuous journey in many respects, but I have come to believe, absolutely, that success resides mostly in the relationships between people working together, in the web of informal customer- supplier relationships within and between businesses. And I’ve come to believe that organisational effectiveness mostly comes from the assumptions all these folks hold in common.

Given that, I ask the question:

“What kind of intervention could help organisations and their people with uncovering their existing, collectively-held, beliefs, assumptions and attitudes? With discussing those, seeing the connection with their business and personal problems and challenges, and doing something about that?”

The answer I’ve arrived at is Organisational Psychotherapy. And so, when I’m working with clients these days, Organisational Psychotherapy is my default mode of practice.

But this book does not attempt to make the case for my beliefs. It’s not going to try to persuade you to see things my way. Organisational Psychotherapy may pique your interest, but I’m pretty sure you’ll stick with what you already believe.

So, if you have an open mind, or generally share my perspective already, this book may serve you in getting deeper into the practicalities and benefits of Organisational Psychotherapy, whether that’s as:

  • a decision-maker sponsoring an intervention
  • a potential recruit to the ranks of organisational psychotherapists
  • an individual participating in an Organisational Psychotherapy intervention in your organisation

Relationships Govern Dialogue

A central tenet of Organisational Psychotherapy is that it’s the quality of the relationships within and across an organisation that moderates the organisation’s capacity for meaningful dialogue. As we shall see in more detail later, fragmented and fractious relation‐ ships impair an organisation’s ability to surface, discuss and recon‐ sider its shared beliefs.

Effective Organisational Psychotherapy needs a certain capacity for skilful dialogue within and across an organisation. Absent this capacity, folks have a slow, laborious and uncomfortable time trying to surface and discuss their commonly-held beliefs and assumptions.

In practice, then, any Organisational Psychotherapy, in its early stages at least, must attend to improving relationships in the workplace, and thus the capacity for meaningful dialogue. This helps the organisation have more open and productive dialogues – should it wish to – about its core beliefs and implicit assumptions, about its ambitions and goals, about the quality of its relationships and dialogues, and about its strategies for success. I wholeheartedly believe that:

People are NOT our greatest asset. In collaborative knowledge work particularly, it’s the relationships BETWEEN people that are our greatest asset.

Whether and how the organisation might wish to develop those relationships and dialogues in pursuit of its goals is a matter for the organisation itself. Without Organisational Psychotherapy, I’ve rarely seen such dialogues emerge and thrive.

The Goal

Improving relationships in the workplace, and thereby helping the emergence of productive dialogues, are the means to an end, rather than the end itself. The goal of all Organisational Psychotherapy interventions is to support the client organisation in its journey towards being more – more like the organisation it needs to be. Closer to its own, ever-evolving definition of its ideal self.

We’ll explore what that means in later chapters.

References

Lencioni, P. (2012). The Advantage: Why organizational health trumps everything else in business. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Patterson, K. (2012). Crucial Conversations: Tools for talking when stakes are high. Place of publication not identified: McGraw Hill.

Schein, E. H. (2014). Humble Inquiry: The gentle art of asking instead of telling. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.

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