Please Don’t Irk Me with Fast Arguments

I love Twitter for its ability to facilitate conversations over time and space. Recently, I have found myself feeling irked by a style of conversation which I could describe – and have described – as “cargo-culted argument”. In other words, arguments attempting to promote a position based on widely-held existing beliefs and ideas (and where the arguer appears have not thought through that belief).

“A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.”

~ William James

Socratic Questions

I find Socratic questioning to be useful when mutually exploring a topic or question (my preferred mode of conversation). In using Socratic questioning I seek to invite parties to the conversation to reflect on and think about the issue afresh. Occasionally, however, one party will choose to repeat “conventional wisdom” on the topic, without, seemingly, pausing for said reflection. I say “choose”, but I wonder how much of a conscious choice it is. We humans are creatures of habit, not least when it comes to thinking.

I feel saddened on such occasions, when we miss the opportunity for deeper mutual exploration of a topic (and thereby a deepening of our relationship or Twitter connection).

“No problem can withstand the assault of sustained thinking.”

~ Voltaire

Fast Arguments – or Slow?

Kahneman writes about this phenomenon in his book “Thinking, Fast and Slow”. He describes Slow (system 2) thinking as the kind of reflective, conscious, consider-things-afresh thinking Socratic questions invite, whereas we all prefer to default to what he labels as Fast (system 1) thinking, which so often, in this context, leads to a simple regurgitation of conventional wisdom.

Would you be willing to set aside your Fast arguments in favour of a more Slow exploration of topics of conversation?

– Bob

Further Reading

Thinking, Fast and Slow ~ Daniel Kahneman

 

Stainless Steel Rats

From time to time I step back from the frontline of better software, and write a post trying to put things in a broader context. This is one of those posts.

Managers Don’t Want Software

Managers in companies making and selling products and services don’t want software. It’s a PITA to manage, costly, and troublesome. If someone came along and showed them how to get along without software, most would jump at the chance without a moment’s hesitation. (But one of the many reasons for my support for #NoSoftware, btw). The perceived link from software to revenues is tenuous at best. And most managers don’t even give a hoot about revenues or profits. The way the world of work works encourages us all to satisfy our own personal egos, pockets, and other needs.

Companies Don’t Want Long Term

Senior managers and executives are under all kinds of pressure to deliver short terms results. Shareholders and the markets are largely aligned to short-term wins.  And all have little incentive to take a longer-term view. Most KPIs and OKRs focus on the next quarter or year. Getting good at anything seems like a distraction from “making the numbers”. Getting good at tricky, complicated and complex things like software development holds even less appeal. Most senior folks don’t expect to be in post beyond a couple of years, and most expect their present companies to live short, frenetic lives. (The numbers on that largely reinforce that expectation).

Customers Don’t Want Software

They want their needs attended-to – and, preferably, met. The great majority couldn’t give a rat’s arse whether software is involved in that or not. And given the pain they perceive as arising from the software components of many commercial services they have to use, they’d like to see the back of software, too.

Our Bubble

We practitioners live in a software bubble, imagining that the world sees software like we do. Shiny, glitzy, awesome, useful, cool. This just ain’t so. And for the conscientious practitioners, there’s the need to master our trade / craft / profession / discipline. No one else needs us to do this. And few outside the bubble are interested in indulging us in seeing that need met.

The Bottom Line

It’s my considered opinion that software development, “broken” for the past fifty years, remains just as broken today – because almost no one needs it to be any better. What to do then? Is there no hope for us conscientious practitioners?

Little hope, I’d say, excepting doggedly pursuing our dreams of a better world. Finding joy where we can, like stainless steel rats in the wainscoting of business and society. Banding together for mutual support. Seizing each fleeting opportunity to see our needs for better ways of working attended-to, if not always met.

And talking with people outside the bubble. Listening to them. Trying to understand their needs. And seeing if there’s any chance of alignment between what they each need, and our own dreams.

– Bob

The Folks That Matter™

Stakeholders, team members, the Big Team, customers, users, snakeholders – call them what you will, they’re the people that we’re doing the work for. They’re the people to whom we deliver the fruits of our efforts. They’re the people whose reactions – and emotional responses – decide the success or failure of our endeavours.

Personally I like to call them The Folks That Matter™.

By way of example, Here’s a partial list of the groups and individuals that are candidates for inclusion in the set of The Folks That Matter™.

  • Your organisation’s Core Group
  • Your manager
  • Your project manager
  • Senior managers and executives
  • Your dev team
  • Other dev teams
  • Ops people
  • The PMO
  • Testers (when separate from the dev team)
  • QA folks (when present)
  • The Process Group (when separate from the dev teams)
  • Your business sponsor(s)
  • Other people across your organisation
  • Your (end) customer(s) (and their purchasing departments)
  • Commercial partners
  • Regulators
  • Wider Society
  • The Planet (Gaia)

The Interesting Angle

For me, when I’m involved building stuff, I have a need know who we’re trying to please, delight, satisfy, or otherwise engage with and deliver to. I need to know what folks need, and who to ask about the details of those needs, if and when the detail moves to front of mind. I need to know whose needs we can successfully discount when the inevitable resource (time, money, effort) crunches come. Whose needs we can reasonably consider as outside the scope of the endeavour in which we’re involved? And I need some heuristics to guide us in decisions on including, excluding and prioritising folks and their needs.

But there’s something much more interesting than who’s on and who’s off the list of The Folks That Matter™, at any given time. The much more interesting question for me, as an Organisational Psychotherapist, is: What governs the choices? How do folks get added to or removed from the set of The Folks That Matter™? Are the means the product of rational thought, discussion and evolution, or maybe they’ve just happened, or been cargo-culted. And what are the consequences of the prevailing means? What impact do those means have on the success or failure of our endeavours? And therefore on our bottom line?

By way of example, here’s some common means for tackling the question of means:

  • Consensus
  • The Advice Process
  • Autocracy
  • Dictatorship
  • HiPPO
  • Cost of Focus

(Aside: Each collective mindset in the Marshall Model has its own popular choice for these “means”: Autocracy for the Ad-hoc, Dictatorship or HiPPO for the Analytic, Consensus or the Advice Process for the Synergistic, and e.g. Cost of Focus for the Chaordic).

Is it helpful for folks on the dev team to be involved in some way in maintaining or keeping the list of the The Folks That Matter™? Is that possible, in any given organisation? Is the question even discussable?

When Resources Are Limited, Some Folks, Needs, HAVE To Not Matter

And what about the folks that don’t matter (that don’t appear in the set of The Folks That Matter™? I know many readers will baulk at the idea that some folks and their needs don’t matter. But, please, get over yourselves. In any situation where resources are constrained (i.e finite, not infinite), choice HAVE to be made. Lines drawn. Resources committed to some areas and held back or withdrawn from others. How could it be otherwise? Inevitably then, in this particular frame, there must be Folks Who Don’t Matter™.

Cost of Focus

Don Reinertsen states that the Cost of Delay – the financial or economic cost of prioritising one feature over another – is rarely considered in most organisations. Put another way, the way in which delivery priorities are selected and adjusted, the frequency and means of such adjustments, etc., are rarely discussed, and rarely even discussable.

I propose that Cost of Delay is a subset of the wider question stated above. The question of Cost of Focus.

By definition, we are not meeting some needs when we choose to or otherwise exclude certain folks with their particular needs from the set of The Folks That Matter™.

Maybe those excluded folks and their needs are indeed irrelevant, or their exclusion has little impact – financial or otherwise – on the success of our endeavour. But maybe, contrariwise, some of those excluded needs are in fact critical to our “success”. How would we know? The arguments for Cost of Focus are much the same as for its golden child, Cost of Delay.

FWIW, I’ve seen countless projects stumble and “fail” because they inadvertently omitted, or chose to omit, some crucial folks and their needs from the their list of The Folks That Matter™. Get Cost of Delay wrong, and we lose some money. Sometime a little, sometime a lot. Get Cost of Focus wrong, and we more often lose big time. Cost of Focus often has a much more binary impact.

What is Cost of Focus?

Cost of Focus is a way of communicating the impact, on the outcomes we hope to achieve, arising from excluding or including specific folks and their needs. More formally, it is the partial derivative of the total expected value with respect to whose needs we focus on.

“Cost of Delay is the golden key that unlocks many doors. It has an astonishing power to totally transform the mind-set of a development organisation.”

– Donald G. Reinertsen

Similarly, I’d say that unless and until we have a handle on Cost of Focus, the golden key of Cost Of Delay remains firmly beyond our grasp.

Put another way, until we have a means for deciding whose needs to attend to, the particular order in which we attend to those needs (cf. priority, Cost of Delay) is moot.

– Bob

Further Reading

Who Really Matters ~ Art Kleiner

The Antimatter Opening Question

In Clean Language, a conversation with a client often opens with the question “What would you like to have happen…?”

This has bugged me for a long time, for two reasons:

  1. Maybe the client doesn’t like for anything to happen (therefore it’s not truly a Clean question). 
  2. In the Antimatter frame, it matters little what the client might like (or want) to have happen. It matters a whole lot more what they might need to have happen.

So, I generally open with “What might you need to have happen…” (the Antimatter frame). 

As I make no pretence to use Clean Language (excepting on the rare occasion), reason 1, above, is rendered moot. And reason 2 dissolves as we expressly ask what the client might need. I’ll just point out that this is a much harder question to answer, not least because folks may be able to quickly state what they’d like, but generally have much more difficulty identifying their needs. For me, this is another point in favour of the Antimatter frame – we can directly begin to explore the question of what they might need to have happen. And for this, I generally opt for the NVC (nonviolent communication) four step approach.

– Bob

Agile Coach to Organisational Psychotherapist

My thanks to Beatric Düring for her recent Twitter question:

“If I wanted dive deeper into org psychotherapy – what would be crucial knowledge I would have to acquire working as an agile coach? Where can I draw the line requiring professional psychotherapy education/training?”

Is it feasible to transition from an Agile Coach into the Organisational Psychotherapist role?

Considerations

Given that I was an Agile Coach for years before making the shift myself, I’d say it’s demonstrably feasible. Why might any Agile Coach consider making the shift?

Organisation-wide Scope

For me, it was down to an increasing dissatisfaction with the (limited) value I was able to deliver in the role of Agile Coach (and latterly, Enterprise Agile Coach). Over a number of years it was becoming clearer and clearer to me that the real dysfunctions in any organisation lie outside the domain of any one functional silo. In the white space between people, and between silos, if you like. It became obvious that to deliver real change, change that’s worth having, change that makes a significant impact both on the lives of everyone involved and on the bottom line of the organisation, a more holistic, systemic intervention pays major dividends. And the Organisational Psychotherapist role implies the necessary whole-organisation scope to do that more effectively, and more often, than the Agile Coaching role.

It’s the Client’s Agenda That Counts

There was also, for me, the increasing realisation that I was not actually helping things for a client by making suggestions and having an agenda (a bunch of my ideas about what future would be best for them). Organisational Psychotherapy allows us to cut through that particular Gordian Knot.

It’s About The People

Organisational Psychotherapy is about people, and their relationships – with each other and with the collective psyche of the organisation. I hear from many Agile Coaches that this is a dawning realisation that creeps up on us over several years, at least. Process and management issues fade in importance the more we coach. Ultimately, into utter insignificance.

The Questions

So, to Beatric’s two questions:

What Knowledge is Crucial?

What knowledge, accessible to an Agile Coach, is crucial to diving deeper into Organisational Psychotherapy ?

The journey, for me, was eased by various spells as an Enterprise Agile Coach. This helped me acquire a practical angle on the whole Lean / System Thinking / Synergistic perspective, looking at organisations as a whole, rather than being limited to intervention horizons within a single function (most often, the Software Development or Software Engineering function). Maybe an Agile Coach could transition into Organisational Psychotherapy without that system-wide appreciation. I’d be interested to hear about folks’ experiences in that regard.

On the other hand, there’s a whole world (more than a hundred years in some cases) of work and results across the more than 400 different schools of therapy that comprise the world of psychotherapy as it pertains to individuals. Much of my learning has come from reframing individual therapy techniques for application in the organisational context. I wrote a post some time ago, describing some of these, entitled My Organisational Therapy Toolkit.

Where to Draw the Line?

How far can the Agile Coach progress in his or her personal journey towards mastering Organisational Psychotherapy, before it makes sense to seek professional psychotherapy education/training?

As far as I know, there is no recognised professional education or training for Organisational Psychotherapists. I’m entirely self-taught, and most of my most profound learning has come as a result of interacting with real live clients in real live situations. I do try to share my learnings with others, and when the demand is there I’d be happy to make that more formal, if needed.

I guess one could train as a “normal” psychotherapist, although that looks like a six to eight year full-time study commitment, at least. And I wonder just how useful much of that individual-therapy training would be useful in the context of organisational therapy?

Personally, I’ve always favoured apprenticeships or communities of practice over education/training per se.

And then there’s the whole can of worms labelled “certification”. I’m sure I could rattle up a two day “Organisational Psychotherapy Master” (COpM) certification course, with an honest-to-goodness certificate at the end of it. £2000 a pop seems like a fair price for that. But REALLY? Certified Mastery of Organisational Psychotherapy in two days? I doubt. It’s taken me ten years so far, and I’m still only scratching the surface (and being so far from Mastery, even now).

I’d feel more comfortable seeing folks apply themselves to the subject, gain some early practical experience – possibly under the wing of someone with some relevant experience – and build their own skills and experience through application and interaction. I’d suggest the watchword here is “congruence”:

Congruence means that the therapist is genuine and authentic, not like the “blank screen” of traditional psychoanalysis:

The first element [of the three core conditions of the person-centered approach to psychotherapy] could be called genuineness, realness, or congruence. The more the therapist is himself or herself in the relationship, putting up no professional front or personal facade, the greater is the likelihood that the client will change and grow in a constructive manner. This means that the therapist is openly being the feelings and attitudes that are flowing within at the moment. The term “transparent” catches the flavor of this condition: the therapist makes himself or herself transparent to the client; the client can see right through what the therapist is in the relationship; the client experiences no holding back on the part of the therapist. As for the therapist, what he or she is experiencing is available to awareness, can be lived in the relationship, and can be communicated, if appropriate. Thus, there is a close matching, or congruence, between what is being experienced at the gut level, what is present in awareness, and what is expressed to the client. (Rogers, 1980)

– Bob

Further Reading

Carl Rogers On Person-Centered Therapy (pdf article)

Fundamentals of Organisational Psychotherapy

By popular demand, I’ve put together this post, which sets out some of the fundamentals of Organisational Psychotherapy (n.b. by no means all of them).

Note: This is a work in progress: I keenly invite your comments and questions.

Fundamental: The Nature of the Problem

The Marshall Model proposes that organisational effectiveness (productivity, product quality, staff engagement, etc.) stems from the collective assumptions and beliefs of the organisation as a whole. (Oftentimes, assumptions and beliefs of individuals concerned differ from those held collectively).

Thus, for organisations needing to improve their effectiveness, this entails a shift in these collective beliefs and assumptions.

The problem, then, for such organisations is: how to effect such a shift? Who owns the problem, and the resources to tackle it?

Fundamental: Organisational Psychotherapy is a Solution Strategy

Given the above statement of the problem, Organisational Psychotherapy proposes that Organisational Psychotherapy
Is a viable and cost-effective approach to addressing this problem. I.E. Organisational Psychotherapy
provides a means for organisations to effect a shift in their collective assumptions and beliefs (also referred to as the organisation’s collective mindset, psyche, or memeplex).

Fundamental: Points of Leverage In A System

Donella Meadows proposed that maximum leverage for changing a system (such as an organisation) derives from 2) shifting the paradigm or mindset out of which the system arises, and 1) by acquiring the power to transcend paradigms. Organisational Psychotherapy provides a means for organisations to grasp and exercise these particular levers (see diagram, below).

Fundamental: Organisations Each Have a Collective Psyche

Organisational Psychotherapy as a solution is predicated on the assumption that every organisation has a collective psyche (distinct from the psyches of the individuals comprising the organisation). And that this collective psyche is amenable to therapy much as is the individual psyche.

Fundamental: Therapy Techniques for the Individual Psyche are Transferrable

There are over four hundred different types, styles or “schools” of psychotherapy for the individual. Many of these are well-established, well-researched and well documented. And many of these are transferable, in whole or in part, from serving individuals in therapy to serving organisations in therapy.

Fundamental: It’s the Client-Therapist Relationship That Matters Most

Much research indicated that for individuals in therapy, positive outcomes are contingent mainly upon the quality of the relationship between the client and their therapist. Organisational Psychotherapy proposes that the same dynamic holds for organisations in therapy – positive outcomes are contingent upon the quality of the relationship between the organisation and its therapist(s).

Fundamental: The Therapist is a Constant Exemplar of Congruence

In some schools of therapy (Rogerian Therapy, a.k.a. Client Centered Therapy, for example) the idea of congruence looms large. And the role of the therapist in modelling/exemplifying congruence assumes a major significance in the relationship between the therapist and the client.

In engagements with larger clients, where the workload may suggest more than one therapist working with the client during a given period, the body (team) of therapists, as a collective entity, also exemplifies this congruence.

Fundamental: Therapists Have No Agenda

Outwith the basic agenda of accompanying the client of its journey, the Organisational Psychotherapist has no agenda. No pet solutions to suggest, no proposals as to how the client might choose to become better. Simply accompanying the client on their journey, with compassion and empathy, is the thing.

Solutions, strategies, new assumptions, beliefs and behaviours are the domain of the client. It’s not the role of the therapist to suggest “improvements” or changes (as might a coach). Rather, it’s his or her role to lend empathy and emotional support to the client in their journey. A journey which *might* include the client discovering more effective strategies, behaviours, assumptions and beliefs to replace some or all of their original strategies, behaviours, assumptions and beliefs.

Fundamental: Psychotherapy is About Treatment (It’s not Psychoanalysis)

I hesitate to use the word “treatment”, with its connotations that the client is somehow less than health, or needs “fixing”. I find these connotations entirely unhelpful in the context of therapy. Yet the word is sufficiently recognised to retain some explicative utility.

As intellectual understanding blocks empathy (Cf. Rosenberg, Nonviolent Communication), the Organisational Psychotherapist tries to avoid understanding what might be happening within the client’s collective psyche. Empathy without intellectual analysis (nor judgment). Just be there for the client. The world is a scary place, the organisation’s journey can be lonely without a friend.

Fundamental: Avoidance of Dependence

Organisational Psychotherapy aims to proceed toward a future where the client can take care of themselves, without the need for external intervention or support from a therapist. A future in which the client has become sufficiently self-aware and skilled in self-care that it can sustain its journey from its own resources.

The journey to self-sufficiency make take time, and proceeds at the pace with which the client is (more or less) comfortable. That is, the experience of therapy may cause discomfort on occasion, but the pace of progress Is never set, or forced, by the therapist.

Fundamental: The Client (Organisation) Owns Their Progress

As in individual therapy, Organisational Psychotherapy proceeds on the basis that clients deeply want change, even if there might be resistance to varying degrees and from various quarters, from time to time.

– Bob

Further Reading

The Nine Principles of Organisational Psychotherapy  ~ Think Different blog post

Most Models Are Wrong

“The most that can be expected from any model is that it can supply a useful approximation to reality: All models are wrong; some models are useful”.

~ George E. P. Box

George E. P. Box

George Edward Pelham Box FRS (18 October 1919 – 28 March 2013) was a British statistician, who worked in the areas of quality control, time-series analysis, design of experiments, and Bayesian inference. He has been called “one of the great statistical minds of the 20th century”. He repeated his aphorism concerning the wrongness of models in many of his papers.

The first appearance (1976) reads:

“Since all models are wrong the scientist cannot obtain a “correct” one by excessive elaboration. On the contrary following William of Occam he should seek an economical description of natural phenomena. Just as the ability to devise simple but evocative models is the signature of the great scientist so overelaboration and overparameterization is often the mark of mediocrity.”

 ~ George E. P. Box

He wrote later (1978):

Now it would be very remarkable if any system existing in the real world could be exactly represented by any simple model. However, cunningly chosen parsimonious models often do provide remarkably useful approximations. For example, the law PV = RT relating pressure P, volume V and temperature T of an “ideal” gas via a constant R is not exactly true for any real gas, but it frequently provides a useful approximation and furthermore its structure is informative since it springs from a physical view of the behavior of gas molecules.

For such a model there is no need to ask the question “Is the model true?”. If “truth” is to be the “whole truth” the answer must be “No”. The only question of interest is “Is the model illuminating and useful?”.

~ George E. P. Box

What’s A Model?

The Marshall model belongs to the group of models collectively referred-to as Scientific Models.

“A scientific model seeks to represent empirical objects, phenomena, and physical processes in a logical and objective way. All models are in simulacra, that is, simplified reflections of reality that, despite being approximations, can be extremely useful. Building and disputing models is fundamental to the scientific enterprise. Complete and true representation may be impossible, but scientific debate often concerns which is the better model for a given task.

Attempts to formalize the principles of the empirical sciences use an interpretation to model reality, in the same way logicians axiomatize the principles of logic. The aim of these attempts is to construct a formal system that will not produce theoretical consequences that are contrary to what is found in reality. Predictions or other statements drawn from such a formal system mirror or map the real world only insofar as these scientific models are true.

For the scientist, a model is also a way in which the human thought processes can be amplified.”

“Models are typically used when it is either impossible or impractical to create experimental conditions in which we can directly measure outcomes. Direct measurement of outcomes under controlled conditions (see Scientific Method) will always be more reliable than modelled estimates of outcomes.”

The Marshall Model

I’ve written a number of blogs posts (plus a White Paper) on the Marshall Model, and its relationship with Rightshifting, so I’ll not repeat that material here.

How is the Marshall Model Useful?

  • Explains the fundamental source of productivity – or lack of it – in organisations generally.
  • Predicts the likely path of attempts to “go Agile or “be Agile”, embark on Digital Transformations, adopt Lean or Theory of Constraints, etc..
  • Situates a range of approaches to business productivity along a spectrum (the Rightshifting spectrum), in order of effectiveness.
  • Defines the challenge facing organisations that wish to significantly improve their productivity and effectiveness.
  • Illustrates the role of the collective psyche (within social systems).
  • Offers a way forward to higher productivity, joy, engagement and seeing folks’ needs better met.
  • Provides interventionists with insights in how to intervene in organisations seeking to improve, similar to the way the Dreyfus Model provides interventionists with insights in how to intervene in situations where individuals seek to improve their skills. (How to best adapt and adopt styles of intervention to suit where the organisation is at, in its journey towards maximum effectiveness).
  • Offers a seed for building a shared mental model of the factors governing an organisation’s relative effectiveness, as well as a means to understand the mental models typically in play within organisations.

Some time ago I wrote a post on how folks might use the Marshall Model.

Aside: Please let me know if you would value an elaboration of any of the above points.

Summary

“Truth … is much too complicated to allow anything but approximations.”

~ John von Neumann

The Marshall Model is not Truth. It is truthy, in that it has some utility as described above. It is a hypothesis, one I’d be delighted for folks to debate, dispute and discuss. Do you have, for example, your own go-to model for explaining organisational productivity? Where does the Marshall Model sit, for you, on the spectrum of “highly useful” through to “not very useful at all”? Would you be willing to share your viewpoint or hypothesis on organisational effectiveness and productivity?

– Bob

Further Reading

All Models are Wrong ~ Wikipedia Entry
Scientific Modelling ~ Wikipedia Entry
George E.P. Box ~ Wikipedia Entry
Mental Models ~ Wikipedia Entry
Models Are The Building Blocks of Science https://utw10426.utweb.utexas.edu/Topics/Models/Text.html

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