Nonjudgmental Feedback

People are not dogs

People are not like dogs. How often have you seen someone recommending the giving of praise as a way of raising morale, increasing engagement, making folks happier, and so on? The thing is, giving praise has a significant downside.

Eschew Praise and Compliments

“Compliments are often judgements – however positive – of others.”

~ Marshall Rosenberg

Rosenberg regards compliment and expressions of appreciation and praise as life-alienating communication. I share that viewpoint. Instead, he suggests we include three components in the expression of appreciation:

  • The actions that have contributed to our well-being
  • The particular needs of ours that have been fulfilled
  • The pleasureful feelings (joy, delight, togetherness, w.h.y) engendered by the fulfilment of those needs

In other words, providing nonjudgmental feedback (in the positive case) consists of sharing:

  • This is what you did
  • This is how I feel about it
  • This is the need of mine that was met

And in the negative case, sharing:

  • This is what you did
  • This is how I feel about it
  • This is the need of mine that was NOT met
  • (Optional) a refusable request seeking to get the unmet need met.

Judgment

I’ve written previously about What’s Wrong With Judgment. This applies just as much to the judgments implicit in praise, and in other forms of judgmental feedback.

“the most salient feature of a positive judgment [e.g. praise] is not that it’s positive but that it’s a judgment; it’s more about controlling than encouraging. Moreover, praise communicates that our acceptance…comes with strings attached: Our approval is conditional.”

~ Alfie Kohn

Even warm and fulsome praise is likely to be received, albeit subliminally, as controlling and conditional. More useful then, might be non-evaluative (i.e. nonjudgmental) feedback. Researchers have found that just such a response – information about how someone has done, without any judgment attached – is preferable to any sort of praise.

– Bob

Further Reading

Punished By Rewards ~ Alfie Kohn
Feedback Without Criticism ~ Miki Kashtan (Online article)
NVC Feedback – The Executive Advisory
Non-violent Communication: A Language of Life ~ Marshall B. Rosenberg
The Core Protocols ~ Jim and Michele McCarthy

The Future Of Software-Intensive Product Development

A little while ago I wrote a post posing some questions about what ways of working we might look to, After Agile. Fewer folks engaged with this post compared to some others I have written. So I’m assuming that few are thinking about what we might see as the natural – or even unnatural – successor to Agile.

It is, however, a topic that occupies me regularly. Not least because of the intrinsic flaws in the whole Agile idea. We can, and eventually must, do much better.

Recently, some folks have been asking me about what I see as the future for software- and software-intensive product development (SIPD). Of course, I’ve been answering this question, on and off, for at least the past few years.

In a Nutshell

To sum up my take: In a nutshell, the issues that plague SIPD seem obvious. They’re mostly the same issues that plague all forms of collaborative knowledge work. Issues compounded by the gulf between conventional or traditional work and the new world of work (i.e. the world of collaborative knowledge work) – a new world distinctly unfamiliar to most in the world of work today.

We are faced with various collections of pathogenic beliefs (management, traditional business, Agile, etc.), none of which provide us with a context for EFFECTIVELY tackling the challenges we face in the new world of work – i.e. the world of collaborative knowledge work.

I’m choosing here to list these challenges in terms of needs, and in terms of the strategies – conventional and unconventional – for meeting those needs.

Developers’ Needs

Agile came into being driven by developers attempting to see their needs better met. These include:

  • Less working time “wasted” on mindless bureaucracy and distractions, such as meetings, reports, documentation, etc..
  • More time to focus on making great software, and stuff that delights customers.
  • Improved relationships with co-workers, business folks, customers, and the like.
  • More flexibility to adapt to emerging information, to changing needs, and to things learned along the way.
  • More say in what they work on, the tools they work with, and how they do their work.
  • Approval of one’s peers (including a sense of belonging and community re: the “technical” tribe)
  • And simply, the leeway to just “do a better job” and make a positive difference in the world.

Bottom line: Many developers need to feel valued, purposeful, that they’re making progress (learning) and are recognised for their abilities.

Business Folks’ Needs

Secondarily, but still important in the Agile approach, is better outcomes for “the business”. Agilists have come to recognise the following needs (even though common forms of Agile do not address them).

  • Approval of one’s peers (including a sense of belonging and community re: the “management” tribe).
  • Empathy (meaningful connection with other human beings).
  • A positive self-image.
  • Stability (folks have families to support).
  • Acclaim/fame (folks have careers to pursue).
  • Warmth (of human relationships) – Most business folks are just normal people, too.
  • Peace (i.e. an absence of distress).
  • Purpose.

Users’ / Customers’ Needs

Businesses ultimately stand or fall on revenues. Revenues which depend on their products and services meeting the needs of their customers. These needs include:

  • Approval of one’s peers (including a sense of belonging and community re: the “brand” or “XYZ customer” tribe).
  • A positive self-image (what being a user or owner of a certain product says about you, in your own mind).
  • Stability (folks don’t like to think too hard, or continually learn new stuff for no good reason).
  • Warmth (of human relationships) – Most customers, being humans, value interactions with other human beings.
  • Low fuss (i.e. being able to get their jobs done with minimal distress).

Shareholders’ Needs

Shareholders also have needs which they seek to get met. These include:

  • Approval of one’s peers (including a sense of belonging and community re: the “investor” tribe).
  • Contribution to society (e.g. ethical investments) and communities.
  • Financial returns (investors have families and/or lifestyles to support).

In a future post I’ll be looking at the strategies that people use to get these needs met, including those strategies implicit in Agile methods – and some alternative strategies that might prove

– Bob

 

What’s The One Question A Scrum Master Must Ask?

When interviewing for a new Scrum Master or similar position, we can often intuit much about the position, the team and the company from those many little clues which offer themselves. But one thing often less obvious, and so, worth asking about is:

“How does the blockers’ pipeline work here?”

The key role of the Scrum Master is to facilitate the escalation (and to some extent, resolution) of blockers a.k.a. impediments – problems noted by the team but not actionable / fixable by them because the root cause lies outside their span of control.

Some organisations will already have a pipeline or process for escalating such “blockers”. Many more will not, not often understand the need for one and the role of non-team people in that process.

The prospective Scrum Master may want to see how the land lies before committing to a position in an organisation that is not ready or able to institute an effective blockers’ pipeline.

– Bob

We’re All In This Together

Creating, sustaining and continually improving effective ways of New Product Development requires the efforts, commitment and active participation of everyone in the organisation. It’s not something that can be delegated, offloaded or left to just one department, function or silo.

In my previous post, I mention a number of constraints which typically prevent an organisation from having an effective product development approach. If you take a look at that post, you may begin to see how these particular constraints are organisation-wide. And how reducing or eliminating them requires the active participation of everyone, from the CEO, through function heads, to the front-line workers:

Whole Products means specialists (sales people, marketeers, finance, operations and customer service specialists, etc.) from across the organisation are needed for each and every new product development.

SBCE means changes to accounting practices, personnel recruitment, allocation and training (HR), as well as the understanding and involvement of senior executives in investment and strategy decisions for the longer term.

Flow means reorganising and smoothing the internal operations (explicit or implicit value streams, customer journeys, etc.) which run through the daily business as usual of the whole organisation.

Transitioning from a projects-based approach to New Product Development to something more effective (such as FlowChain) requires the overhaul and replacement of many policies, procedures and expectations across the organisation.

Cognitive Function asks us to learn about topics – psychology, neuroscience, sociology, anthropology – with which we may have had little experience before. And to prevent just one group (NPD) getting wildly out of step with the rest of the organisation, most people coming into contact with these new ideas and ways of relating to each other will need to at least understand what’s going on.

A clearly-articulated and jointly-created product development doctrine offers a means to encourage debate, and understanding, across the whole organisation.

Summary

Each of the above changes requires new understandings and new behaviours – including e.g. cooperation, collaboration, trust, and support – from every department in the organisation. Existing incentives, goals and rewards schemes tailored to individual performance and local (function-specific) results will directly oppose these new behaviours, so must be replaced with schemes designed to foster the new behaviours. Old assumptions and power structures, again supporting of traditional ways of doing things, must be overhauled to become more relevant to our new, more effective ways of New Product Development.

Ultimately, we will find ourselves asking the question “Is it worth it? Does an amazing uplift in our organisation’s ability to release new products and product updates with:

  • fewer delays and overruns
  • higher quality
  • lower cost
  • better product-market fit

warrant the root-and-branch changes necessary for success? Are we in business for the long-haul? And do we each want to be proud to have played our part in creating something truly awesome?

– Bob

 

Constraints On Effective Product Development

Bottlenecks

What company wouldn’t love to have its product development efforts be more effective? Be able to release new products and product updates with fewer delays and overruns, with higher quality and at lower cost? And be sure of the product-market fit, too?

Many companies spend inordinate amounts of time, effort and management attention on just this. And yet reap little in the way of benefits from that investment.

Why is this? What are the blockers (constraints) frustrating these ambitions?

I see the same patterns time after time. Patterns that stymie effective practices and lock in ineffective approaches and poor results. Here’s some of the more common ones:

Whole Products

Few companies are able to reap the benefits of a Whole Product approach to New Product Development. The constraint here is the ability of people and teams from different functional areas across the business to come together (literally and figuratively) for the duration of a product’s development. Toyota have long eliminated this constraint through their Obeya concept, and unique matrix structure.

Set-Based Concurrent Engineering

Most companies suffer unpredicted (yet predictable) overruns and delays in the development of many (most) of their products. One key constraint in play here is the lack of options when a particular component or subsystem – on the product’s critical path – proves problematic. SBCE eliminates this constraint by purposely providing options at every stage of the product’s development. At each “integration point” during a development, the most promising (and always 100% viable) option is selected. SBCE as a solution is predicated on the organisation’s ability to save its learning on and investment in the “pruned” options, for future products or upgrades.

Flow

Organising around flow offers a number of benefits, not least reduced costs and delays. Many companies attempt to organise traditionally – around skills and functional silos. The traditional approach chokes flow and reduces the effectiveness of product development.

NoProjects

The almost universal use of projects as the containers for product development work again constrains our efforts to the relatively ineffective end of the spectrum. The many drawbacks of the “projects” concept are well-known. Yet the constraint here is no so much projects themselves, but the way in which an organisation’s policies, procedures and assumptions lock in the idea of projects. Moving to a non-project approach, such as FlowChain, is a political and social challenge of the first order.

Cognitive Function

Many companies understand the issues of engagement and the need for innovation. Fewer understand the nature of collaborative knowledge work, its fundamentally differences from more traditional forms of work, and the need to approach it with a fundamentally different set of assumptions. Assumptions absent which, effective product development – as the archetype of collaborative knowledge work – is impossible. The traditional assumptions at the heart of traditional management of traditional organisations are the key constraint here. These assumptions prevent us realising the high levels of employee engagement, the innovation culture and the high levels of cognitive function so necessary for effective product development.

Doctrine

Few organisations have a clearly articulated and debated doctrine describing their approach to product development. This absence of clarity constrains the whole organisation, with folks constantly wondering what they should be doing, why they’re doing it, and how everyone’s efforts fit together.

Summary

The above are just a few of the key constraints condemning product development efforts in most organisations to the ghetto of high costs, poor quality and interminable delays. None of these constrains are simple or easy to tackle. But identifying them is the first step to dealing with them. What constraints are limiting your product development effectiveness?

– Bob

Further Reading

Product Development for the Lean Enterprise ~ Michael N. Kennedy
It’s Not Luck ~ Eliyahu M. Goldratt
The Principles of Product Development Flow ~ Donald G. Reinertsen

The Simplest Thing That Could Possibly Work

TinCup

Here’s an excerpt (pp 206) from “Birth Of the Chaordic Age” by Dee Hock, about “an odd project management scheme” they adopted in the early days – circa 1974:

“Swiftly, self-organisation emerged. An entire wall became a pinboard with every remaining day calendared across the top. Someone grabbed an unwashed coffee cup and suspended it on a long piece of string pinned to the current date. Every element of work to be done was listed on scraps of paper with the required completion date and the name of the person who had accepted the work. Anyone could revise the elements, adding tasks or revising dates, providing they coordinated with others affected. Everyone, at any time, could see the picture emerge and evolve. They could see how the whole depended on their work, and how their work was connected to every other part of the effort. Groups constantly assembled in front of the board as need and inclination arose, discussing and deciding in continuous flow; then dissolving as needs were met. As each task was completed its scrap of paper would be removed. Each day, the cup and string moved inexorably ahead.”

I’m struck by the similarities with FlowChain, and as with FlowChain, it seems an exemplar of simplicity and flow. I also note the implicit “Advice Process” vibe, and the emphasis on “making the work visible” (Cf Personal Kanban).

– Bob

Further Reading

Surely You Can’t Mean That?

shocked

I regularly talk with business people about improving their software and product development, and their businesses as a whole, more and more dependent as these businesses are on these capabilities. The reaction I see far more often than most others is – incredulity.

“Surely you can’t mean that??”

Collaborative Knowledge Work

“Collaborative knowledge work is fundamentally different to the kinds of work you and your people are used to. It will require fundamental shifts in how you approach the whole idea of work.”

“What?!? Surely you can’t mean that?”

Managers

“Managers and management are antithetical to collaborative knowledge work – you’ll have to find some other things to which these folks can apply their skills and experience.”

“What?!? Surely you can’t mean that?”

Workers

“The best people to decide how the work should work are the people doing the work. Not the managers.”

“What?!? Surely you can’t mean that?”

Scrum

“In Scrum, there are only three roles: Developer, Scrum Master and Product Owner.”

“What?!? Surely you can’t mean that?”

Relationships

“The one key element to productivity in collaborative knowledge work is the quality of the relationships between people.”

“What?!? Surely you can’t mean that?”

Projects

“Doing work in projects inflates your costs, demoralises workers, and sucks management attention. You would be well served to find some other approach.”

“What?!? Surely you can’t mean that?”

Certainty

“Looking for certainty – of timescales, costs, quality, outcomes – is a Fool’s Errand. Get comfortable with uncertainty, and focus instead on flexibility and reducing delays.”

“What?!? Surely you can’t mean that?”

Strategy

“The days of a sellers’ market are over. Winning businesses will be those that discover how to compete successfully in a buyers’ market.”

“What?!? Surely you can’t mean that?”

Telling

“Telling capable employees what to do and how to do it only demoralises and demotivates them. Move from telling to serving.”

“What?!? Surely you can’t mean that?”

Incredible

All these are incredible, unbelievable, and utterly essential ideas in the world of collaborative knowledge work. How can we all stop drawing sharp intakes of breath, and come to terms with these – and many other –  impossible-to-believe ideas?

– Bob

 

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