When building a software-based product or service (not in itself a sound thing to do, see #NoSoftware), how much time and effort goes into coding vs other things like:

  • Requirements gathering
  • Architcture
  • Design (of various sorts)
  • Wranging tools
  • UI and UX
  • Testing
  • Documentation
  • Meetings
  • Marketing-related
  • Debugging
  • Etc.?

I’ve long held the view that 10% is a sound number. Your view/experience?

Jira, Dogs and Chocolate

I’m a dog person. As such, I know that chocolate is toxic to dogs. They’ll happily wolf it down, of course. But then they’ll get sick, with a range of symptoms including vomiting, diarrhoea, increased thirst, panting or restlessness, excessive urination, and racing heart rate. In severe cases, symptoms can include muscle tremors, seizures, heart failure and death.

“Clinical signs of chocolate poisoning can take hours to develop, and last for days.”

Chocolate is toxic because it contains a chemical called theobromine, as well as caffeine. Theobromine is the main toxin in chocolate and is very similar to caffeine. Both chemicals are used medicinally as a diuretic, heart stimulant, blood vessel dilator, and a smooth muscle relaxant. Dogs cannot metabolize theobromine and caffeine as well as people can. That is why dogs are more sensitive to the chemicals’ effects.

So it is with teams and Jira. Teams will happily embrace Jira at first, but then quickly sicken as its toxicity kicks in.

Clinical signs of JIRA poisoning can take days to develop, and last for weeks or months, even when the ingestion has ceased.

Teams and organisations use Jira is a way of communicating without talking with each other. It’s an impersonal substitute for common forms of human communication, and offers only a fraction of the understanding we get from actually interacting with one other directly. It’s toxic to finding common ground, and common understanding, especially in its typical mode as a “communications” nexus.

As an expert in team health, I recommend you avoid exposing teams to Jira in any form. Jira is an example of a tool with which it is far easier to poison your teams’ relationships, than to enhance them. Much like chocolate and dogs.

– Bob



Also applies to Slack, and maybe other tools too.

Non-dog People

I can remember many occasions where clueless non-dog people insisted on feeding chocolate to my beloved hounds, even surreptitiously after I’ve requested them not to. So it is with many managers, who, heedless of the health and social dynamic of teams, feed them Jira, regardless.

The Business Agility conference 2021 is on 2-5 November 2021 (online – 4 x half-day sessions). Pricey tickets – an inevitability given the target market (executives/company wallets), I guess. Too rich for me. Although I might have liked to have been invited to speak about e.g. the role of Organisational Psychotherapy and Memeology in Organisational and “Digital” Transformations.

Q: I wonder if Agile business people have any interest in humane business, effective business?


Helping Employees Get Their Needs Met

When employees see their needs being attended to by their employer, they’re much more likely to contribute. Reciprocity is a cornerstone of the human condition (as is fairness).

Dear Team Lead

Have you ever found yourself stuck in a rut, feeling tired and like you’re in the same mundane daily routine? You may even recognise many members of your team feeling the same way, as they lack enthusiasm in their work. What can you do as a leader to help your team get their zest back through self-fulfilment and a purpose-filled life?

Regardless of industry, sector or job type, leaders and employees can all agree on one thing: 2021 has been a year of change and uncertainty. According to national statistics, job vacancies in the UK are at a record high, with employees across the world joining the ‘Great Resignation’ (a term so common that it now carries its own Wikipedia entry).

But amongst all of the charts, statistics and official data, there are much more human reasons for this shift: reasons that are deeply personal to every employee who hands in their notice. Over the past eighteen months, many employees have had a chance to really reflect on their working lives – to figure out exactly what they want from their job, and how they might be able to craft a lifestyle that serves them on a more ‘existential’ level. In short, many employees have decided – mostly subconsciously – to reflect on their needs, and have begun searching for purpose, fulfilment and meaningful work, to name but a few common needs.

But this trend – towards greater meaning, purpose and fulfilment – doesn’t have to conclude with a resignation letter and a career change. It’s possible that employees can see their needs attended-to, even met, within their current role, and leaders can choose to take responsibility for supporting this process. Here’s how:

Show Understanding of the Importance of Needs

When it comes to motivating and inspiring employees, forget official policies and company handbooks for a moment. Start, instead, with your own behaviour. Are you conscious of your own needs? Are they being attended to by the company? Met, even? How does getting your needs attended-to affect your motivation to lead an effective team? How would you define your own needs, and how does that interact with the work you do? Answering these questions for yourself first will give you a firm foundation from which to help others.

Facilitate Opportunities for Surfacing Others’ Needs

Think about the regular opportunities you have to bring your team together. Instead of small-talk or generic ice-breaker exercises, could you introduce a needs-surfacing element to your gathering? This could be as simple as opening up a discussion about your own needs, or even the needs of the company or its Core Group. Or encourage employees to share their experiences about when having their needs attended to, or attending to the needs of others, has had an impact on them. Or, if you wanted to broaden the discussion out, you could share case studies, experiences or testimonials involving your clients, customers and users. This can be a difficult task for employees who aren’t always exposed to the eventual impact of their work (for example, those in non-client or non-consumer facing positions). Sharing the positive impact of every employee’s contribution to their own and others’ needs can be central in strengthening a sense of organisational purpose.

Readjust and Redefine Roles

Many leaders will be familiar with asking the typical catch-up question: “So, how do you think things are going?”. But this shouldn’t be the end of the conversation. It might be the case that an employee enjoys the role and the culture, but feels a need to focus on a specific aspect of their work, or a specific element of their job. As much as possible, leaders should encourage employees to lean into their needs – this might mean opening up opportunities for employees to deepen their knowledge in a particular area of interest, given that need. Other examples of this “role flexibility” include allowing employees to take trainings or courses related to e.g. their needs for skills development, or refining job descriptions to focus in on an individual employee’s needs. There are numerous opportunities to tailor, readjust or recalibrate roles to fit an employee’s needs. And the payoff? Increased employee loyalty, motivation, engagement, and trust in the company.

Balance Fulfilment

It can be easy to lose sight of the most important element of this question: the personal fulfilment of each employee. Of course, the company’s needs – success, goals and objectives – are important, but ultimately, the company is made up of individual human beings, each with their own needs and hopes. By balancing the needs of the individual employee with those of others – including those of the company – and meeting employees on a personal, human level, we are far more likely to end up with a team of motivated, committed, purposeful people. And, of course, this is what makes an organisation ‘successful’ – not just in terms of external output, revenue or reputation, but in terms of supporting the employees who work for its success.

– Bob

The ONE Thing

Ackoff asks:

“If there was ONE thing you could do to your organisation, what would that be?”

His answer: Democratisation.

“This is the ONE thing that has the most profound effect on an organisation and is relatively the easiest to implement.”

~ Russell L. Ackoff


Democracy (n).

In a democracy:

1. Everyone effected by a decision can participate directly, or indirectly through representation, In making that decision. (Participative decision-making)

2. Everyone in a position of authority over others is subject to their collective authority.
(In a democracy authority is circular)

3. Everyone can do anything that he or she wants to do, provided it affects no others, or affects them only with their approval.

How to Introduce Democracy into an Organisation?

(Ackoff provides us with a recipe):

Give EVERY manager a board. Who will be on each such board?

The board consists of: The manager, his/her immediate boss, his/her immediate subordinates, plus optionally other members from anywhere (inside or outside the organisation).

Any board’s headcount must be less than the number of the manager’s immediate subordinates.

“Management must shift from supervision to managing interactions.”

~ Russell L. Ackoff

How democratic is your organisation? Will it fly?

– Bob

Further Reading

Ackoff, R. L. (1994). The Democratic Corporation: A Radical Prescription for Recreating Corporate America and Rediscovering Success. Oxford University Press.

Ackoff, R. L. (1999). Re-creating the Corporation: A Design of Organizations For the 21st Century. Oxford University Press.

The Inklings

In a previous life, I was charge with leading a whole passel of software and product developers. To help create an environment where they might wish to up their game, I proposed and launched a new community called “The Inklings”. I attach the proposal and launch announcement hereunder, for your delectation/misery.


Inklings Proposal

Launch Announcement

Inklings Launch Announcement

NB These two documents have been edited/redacted/dates and names changed, to protect the innocent.

If you’re wondering how it went: I left the company shortly after, and no one took it forward.

– Bob

Visual Walkthrough Explaining Rightshifting And The Marshall Model

For those who prefer looking to reading, here’s a visual explanation (with some annotations) briefly explaining Rightshifting and the Marshall Model.

1. Context: Organisational Transformation

Rightshifting illuminates the tremendous scope for improvement in most collaborative knowledge work organisations. And the Marshall Model provides a framework for understanding e.g. Digital Transformations. Don’t be too surprised if folks come to regard you as an alien for adopting these ideas.

2. Imagined Distribution of Effectiveness

How most people imagine effectiveness to be distributed across the world’s organisations (a simple bell curve distribution).

3. Contrasting Effectiveness with Efficiency

Many organisations seek efficiency, to the detriment of effectiveness.

4. If Effectiveness Were Distributed Normally

5. The Distribution of Effectiveness in Reality

The distribution of organisations is severely skewed towards the ineffective.

6. Some Corroborating Data from ISBSG (1)

7. Some Corroborating Data from ISBSG (2 – Productivity)

8. Some Corroborating Data from ISBSG (3 – Velocity)

9. Rightshifting: Recap

10. Plotting Levels of Waste vs Effectiveness

Showing how increasing effectiveness (Rightshifting) drives down waste.

11. Plotting Levels of Productivity vs Effectiveness

Showing how increasing effectiveness (Rightshifting) drives up productivity.

NB This the the canonical “Rightshifting Chart”.

12. From Rightshifting to the Marshall Model

Starting out with the Rightshifting distribution.

13. The Adhoc Mindset

Collective assumptions and beliefs (organisational mindset).

Ad-hoc organisations are characterised by a belief that there is little practical value in paying attention to the way things get done, and therefore few attempts are made to define how the work works, or to give any attention to improving the way regular tasks are done, over time. The Ad-hoc mindset says that if there’s work to be done, just get on and do it – don’t think about how it’s to be done, or how it may have been done last time.”

14. The Analytic Mindset

Analytic organisations exemplify, to a large extent, the principles of Scientific Management a.k.a. Taylorism – as described by Frederick Winslow Taylor in the early twentieth century. Typical characteristics of Analytical organisation include a Theory-X posture toward staff, a mechanistic view of organisational structure, for example, functional silos, local optimisation and a management focus on e.g. costs and ‘efficiencies’. Middle-managers are seen as owners of the way the work works, channelling executive intent, allocating work and reporting on progress, within a command-and-control style regime. The Analytic mindset recognises that the way work is done has some bearing on costs and the quality of the results.”

15. The Synergistic Mindset

Synergistic organisations exemplify, to some extent, the principles of the Lean movement. Typical characteristics include a Theory-Y orientation (respect for people), an organic, emergent, complex-adaptive-system view of organisational structure, and an organisation-wide focus on learning, flow of value, and effectiveness. Middle-managers are respected for their experience and domain knowledge, coaching the workforce in e.g. building self-organising teams, and systemic improvement efforts.

16. The Chaordic Mindset

The Chaordic mindset believes that being too organised, structured, ordered and regimented often means being too slow to respond effectively to new opportunities and threats. Like a modern Jet fighter, too unstable aerodynamically to fly without the aid of its on-board computers, or sailing a yacht, where maximum speed is to be found in sailing as close to the wind as possible without collapsing the sails, a chaordic organisation will attempt to operate balanced at the knife-edge of maximum effectiveness, on the optimal cusp between orderly working and chaotic collapse.”

17. Transition Zones

As organisations progress towards increasing effectiveness, they encounter discontinuities which the Marshall Model labels as Transition Zones (orange hurdles). In these transitions, one prevailing mindset must be replace wholesale with another (for example, Analytic to Synergistic, where, amongst a host of shifts in assumptions and beliefs, attitudes towards staff transition from Theory-X to Theory-Y). Cf. Punctuated Equilibria.

18. What Each Transition Teaches

A successful Adhoc -> Analytic transition teaches the value of discipline (extrinsic, and later, replaced with intrinsic).

A successful Analytic -> Synergistic transition teaches the value of a shared common purpose.

A successful Synergistic -> Chaordic transition teaches the value of “Positive Opportunism”.

19. The Return-on-Investment Sawtooth

Incremental (e.g. Kaizen) improvements with any one given mindset show ever-decreasing returns on investment as the organisation exhausts its low-hanging fruit and must pursue ever more expensive improvements.

Each successful transition “resets” the opportunities for progress, offering a new cluster of low-hanging fruit.

20. Conversation

What has this walkthrough shown you? I’d love the opportunity for conversation.

– Bob

Addressing Issues

I received a question yesterday, enquiring into my view on how organisations think about their issues, and whether they seek to address their issues directly, or “frame them in ways that others must bear responsibility”.


Firstly, some notes how I interpret the question (which may differ from the question the enquirer had in mind):

Organisations’ Thinking

I don’t believe organisations “think”. Yes, they hold collective assumptions and beliefs, and come to decisions (or fail to). But think? Not really. It’s the individuals in an organisation that do the “thinking” albeit mostly System 1 thinking (cf Kahneman) and rarely System 2 thinking.

On second thought though, maybe organisations do, in a way, “think”. At least if we define thinking as “inner speech” then certainly organisations continually have and ongoing inner dialogue (folks within the organisation interacting verbally with each other). See: the Psychology Today (2010) article cited in Further Reading.

Framing Issues in Ways That Others Must Bear Responsibility

I take this phrase to mean “slopey shoulders”.

To the Question

Overall, I take the enquirer’s question to mean “do organisations, generally, tackle the issues facing them, or try to avoid facing them?”.

In my experience, most organisations approach issues (a.k.a. problems) in one of four ways (props to Russell L. Ackoff):

  • Absolution: Do nothing and hope the issue goes away or resolves itself.
  • Resolution: Tackle the issue in the same way as we have tackled similar issues in the past, or seek to apportion blame and excise the blamed, to find a “good enough” outcome.
  • Solution: Tackle the issue using scientific methods, techniques, and tools to find the optimal outcome, or the closest one can come to it.
  • Dissolution: Redesign the system or its environment so the the issue cannot arise. A.k.a. “Design the issue out”.

And by far the most common approach I have seen has been absolution, and occasionally, resolution.

The Organisation as a Whole

Each organisation, taken as a whole, seems to coalesce around one or two of these four approaches. That’s to say, the problem-solving meme in the organisation’s operant memeplex steers issue resolution into a preferred or habitual organisation-wide approach.


It’s difficult for a subset of an organisation to buck the trend and adopt an approach to tackling issues different from its containing organisation’s norm. This can promote organisational cognitive dissonance, with inevitable deleterious consequences. Skunkworks are one way to cocoon the subset, limiting the impact of said organisational cognitive dissonance.

– Bob

Further Reading

Psychology Today. (2010). What Do We Mean by “Thinking”? [online] Available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-voices-within/201008/what-do-we-mean-thinking. [Accessed 13 Oct. 2021]

Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, Fast and Slow. Farrar, Straus And Giroux.

Pendaran, Inc. (2019). What Do We Mean by “Solve the Problem”? [online] Available at: https://www.pendaran.blog/blog/2019/2/22/what-do-we-mean-by-solve-the-problem [Accessed 13 Oct. 2021].

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