Antimatter Hiring

When we’re hiring, why not invite candidates to actively demonstrate the core capabilities that our organisation, group, or team, needs?

Asides: How often do hiring managers know what core capabilities the organisation, group or team needs? How often are they capable of recognising and assessing candidates on those capabilities? And how aware are they of the impact the prevailing system conditions (the way the work works) has on a candidate’s ability to apply their capabilities, should they be hired?

We Want to See Jugglers Juggle

When we’re hiring e.g. coders, we’ll generally ask to see them write some code. When we’re hiring analysts we may ask to see them analyse something. When we hire testers, we’ll likely ask to see them test something. Etc..

The Antimatter Principle proposes that the core capability in all collaborative knowledge work is the capability to attend to folks’ needs. Which, by the way, implies the capability to discuss and more-or-less clearly identify those needs, as well as the capability to subsequently find effective ways to address those needs.

Under this premise, the ideal candidate would open the interview conversation with

“Hi there, what would you like to have happen, here and now, today?”

Or more directly/explicitly (at the risk of alienating the uninitiated hiring manager),

“Hi there, what needs do you have of this interview, that I might be able to attend to, here and now, today?”

To which the cooperative hiring manager might reply,

“Well, as we’re hiring for [e.g.] coders at the moment, I need to understand how capable you would be in that role if you joined us. Can you suggest some ways in which you might be able to address that need, here and now, today?”

Prompting and Reframing

I guess you’d say that the preceding dialogue is, however, most unlikely. Most candidates will not be seeking to understand the hiring manager’s needs, nor will they know how acceptable – or unacceptable – such an opening gambit might be. Much more likely, they’ll play safe and let the hiring manager lead them through the interview conversation.

So, until the world changes and conversations of the kind I’ve illustrated become the norm, the hiring manager may have to prompt the candidate, and reframe the conversation at the beginning, to open the door, so to speak. Here’s a modified opening exploring this approach:

Hiring manager:

“We believe that attending to folks’ needs is a core capability we absolutely have to hire for in all our candidates. I’d like to experience you demonstrating your capability in that area.”

“As we’re hiring for [e.g.] coders at the moment, I have a need to understand how capable you would be in that role if you joined us. Can you suggest some ways in which you might be able help me understand your coding abilities, here and now, today?”

Outcomes

If we focus explicitly on the capability to attend to folks’ needs, we might improve our chances of actually making job offers to candidates that have this capability. Surely this is the outcome we seek?

Recap for New Readers

The Antimatter Principle is “the only principle we need for becoming wildly effective at collaborative knowledge work.”

Stated simply, the Antimatter Principle says:

“Attend to folks’ needs.”

Over the years, I’ve blogged about a wide variety of the deep implications, and impacts, stemming from the application of this principle.

– Bob

Further Reading

The Antimatter Principle ~ Think Different blog post

Wanna See Me Juggle? ~ Think Different blog post

Coaching, Scrum Mastering, and Expertise

[Tl;Dr: Is it more, or less, effective for coaches, etc. to have technical (non-coaching) abilities?]

Over the years I’ve heard every kind of opinion on whether technical expertise is an asset or liability for coaches, Scrum Masters, and the like. Some folks, mainly executives, have sworn they would never hire a Coach or Scrum Master with technical expertise. Others, mainly coaches and Scrum Masters, have held much the opposite opinion. Those being coached have rarely expressed an opinion (although I suspect that’s because they don’t get asked, or think it won’t count, and not because they’re indifferent on the subject).

Personally, I tend to the opinion that, if it were down to me, I’d look for folks with excellent and demonstrable coaching skills, and not worry about the presence or absence of technical abilities unless they seemed intrusive and likely to interfere with the coaching dynamic. I recognise the argument that technical people lend more credibility to like-minded (i.e. technically capable) coaches because they find it easier to respect and identify with such folks. I also believe this argument to be a red herring, at least in the case where the coach or Scrum Master is effective and capable in the Coaching or Scrum Mastering skill-sets.

This is probably a good place to mention the Inner Game, and the suggestion by one of its founders, Sir John Whitmore, that “technical” knowledge and experience is a decided handicap for coaches and the coached, alike. In his book “Coaching For Performance” he tells several stories about this phenomenon, in particular that of the tennis group who, deprived of their regular tennis coach (and tennis expert) improved much more quickly under a substitute coach (with much coaching and skiing experience but no tennis experience).

Given that opinions on this topic seem all over the map, and many (mainly fruitless) discussions continue, I wonder if you have any experiences you’d be willing to share here?

– Bob

Further Reading

Coaching For Performance ~ Sir John Whitmore

The One Perfect Way to Develop Software

[Tl;Dr: Being a Master of the perfect way to develop software is more of a handicap than an asset.]

Let’s imagine you’ve received a Matrix-style download of all the knowledge and skills necessary for Mastery of the perfect way to develop software. And you’ve applied this knowledge, and honed the skills, in several or many software development endeavours. And have the results to prove it.

Then you join a new-to-you organisation, and a new-to-you team, where of course you want to share your profound, highly valuable insights, capabilities, knowledge and skills with your peers, with a view to you all basking in the sweet success of the One Perfect Way.

Setting aside secondary issues such as the probability that there is no ONE perfect way, and that software development per se is maybe not what our customers are really interested in, what could possibly go wrong?

I’ll leave this question hanging. If I receive some expressions of interest, I propose to return to it in a future post.

– Bob

Further Reading

Characterizing people as non-linear, first-order components in software development ~ Alistair Cockburn

 

No Hashtags

[Tl;Dr: #No… hashtags are aspirational, not didactic.]

I seem to have been labouring under the misapprehension that most folks in the Twitter software and product development communities have come to understand the mode of use of the various #No… hashtags we see regularly these days. Particular with the widespread exposure of the mother of them all: #NoEstimates.

(Note: I use the #NoTesting hashtag in a couple of the examples, below, mainly because recent discussions thereon have suggested to me a need for this post.

Invitational

For me, #No… hashtags are a short invitation to interested folks to think again about what, often, are near-autonomic responses. For example, I regard each occurrence of the #NoEstimates hashtag as an invitation to ponder whether, in each case, estimates are giving us value and meeting folks’ needs (in a relatively effective way). An invitation to checkpoint ourselves, and to discuss whether we are just us going-through-the motions without thinking too much about the role of estimates – and estimating – in any particular situation.

Aspirational

Also, I see #No… hashtags as being intended as aspirational: Articulating or labelling a future state where things could be different. Aspiring to change.

For example, I use #NoTesting to advertise my aspirations for a world of development where testing is no longer the chosen path to quality, replaced by other means for more economically delivering products, etc., with agreed levels of quality. So, in that case, #NoTesting really does advertise my aspiration for an end to testing – which I see as hugely expensive and wasteful compared to other, less well-known means – but NOT at the expense of product quality. It also implies – easy to miss, I guess – a responsible, calm, controlled transition from todays’ approaches to that aspirational future state.

“Ask not ‘how are we going to test this?'”
“Ask rather ‘how are we going to ensure this goes out with the agreed levels of quality?'”
“And when you’ve got a handle on that, ask then ‘how are we going to ensure that everything we do henceforth goes out at the agreed levels of quality?'”

Confrontational

And yes, too, #No… hashtags are confrontational. They invite us to challenge ourselves and our entrenched beliefs. To consider change, and it’s implications. And that’s often uncomfortable, at least. Particularly when the topic challenges folks’ self-image, or seems to threaten their accumulated wisdom, reputation and experience, or their livelihoods. I hope we can all see these things in the spirit of mutual exploration, rather than as an opportunity for reiterating entrenched positions and protecting the status quo.

“[#No… Hashtags are] the social media equivalent of poking people with a stick.”

Metaphorical

When I use #No… hashtags, I’m being metaphorical rather than literal. Some folks may not understand this and get upset, by taking them literally. For my part, I believe that’s on them.

For example, with the #NoTesting hashtag, I have had some folks assume that I’m advocating abandoning any concern for the quality of e.g. a product under development. This is not my position. Although denying it seems only to inflame the situation once folks have got their teeth clamped on that particular bone. I guess their assumptions stem from not having knowledge of other means to quality.

In using the #NoTesting hashtag, I’m basically saying “under some circumstances, maybe there are other, more effective means to meet folks needs re: product quality than the default strategy most use today (i.e. testing)”. “How about we talk about those various circumstances, and means?” In this way, #No… hashtags are a metaphor for “would you be willing to think again, and maybe join the search for more effective means, and the contexts in which they might bring benefits?”

Summary

Would you be willing to join me in embracing the #No… hashtag modality, and take each occurrence as an opportunity for a productive and relationship-building mutual exploration of a topic?

– Bob

Further Reading

The Germ Theory of Management ~ Myron Tribus

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions ~ Thomas S. Kuhn

 

I Make No Promises

[Tl;Dr: Making promises is self-violence. Why do that?]

These days, I make no promises. I just do my best – within the vicissitudes of being just another human being, with my more – and less – productive days.

I used to make promises (a.k.a. commitments) – and always felt something was not quite right. Nonviolence has provided me a lens through which to see the issue more clearly.

When we issue a promise, we are implicitly putting ourselves under an obligation (to deliver on that promise). When we ask others for a promise or commitment, we are asking them to put themselves under an obligation.

Any way you look at it, obligation is one of the roots* of violence (and self-violence). I suggest this is, at a minimum, not the kind of example we might wish to set for ourselves, or others.

*The key roots of violence include: Fear, Obligation, Guilt and Shame; “F.O.G.S.”. Promises tend to play in all these areas.

Might I invite you to join me in resolving to make #NoPromises?

– Bob

The Advice Process – Flaws and Fixes

“The advice process is a tool that helps decision-making via collective intelligence. Much depends on the spirit in which people approach it. When the advice process is introduced, it might be worthwhile to train colleagues not only in the mechanics but also on the mindset underlying effective use.”

We’ve been using the Advice Process for several months now. Whilst we’re still very much committed to its use, and wish to see the changes it promotes, all has not been going smoothly with its uptake.

Potential

We chose the Advice process as a means to devolving and distributing decision-making. We like its potential for quicker – and more impactful – decisions, raised levels of trust, improved communication, and higher levels of involvement and engagement. This list describes this potential, as described by its early promoter, Dennis Bakke of AES, in more detail:

  • Community: it draws people, whose advice is sought into the question at hand. They learn about the issue. The sharing of information reinforces the feeling of community. The person whose advice is sought feels honored and needed
  • Humility: asking for advice is an act of humility, which is one of the most important characteristics of a fun workplace. The act alone says, “I need you“. The decision maker and the adviser are pushed into a closer relationship. This makes it nearly impossible for the decision-maker to ignore the advice.
  • Learning: making decisions is on-the-job education. Advice comes from people who have an understanding of the situation and care about the outcome. No other form of education or training can match this real-time experience.
  • Better decisions: chances of reaching the best decision are greater than under conventional top-down approaches. The decision maker has the advantage of being closer to the issue and has to live with responsibility for the consequences of the decision. Advice provides diverse input, uncovering important issues and new perspectives.
  • Fun: the process is just plain fun for the decision-maker, because it mirrors the joy found in playing team sports. The advice process stimulates initiative and creativity, which are enhanced by the wisdom from knowledgeable people elsewhere in the organization.

Practice

In practice, we have not yet seen full realisation of this potential. Overall, we attribute this to poor implementation of the Advice Process, which we’re now intent (sic) on fixing – whilst not undermining its original intent (see above).

Flaws

Some of the implementation flaws we have experienced include:

  • Permission-seeking. Some folks have not yet overcome their established reflex of seeking permission. The Advice Process as conceived rejects permission-seeking, placing implicit responsibility for outcomes on the individual or team with the intent, not on the permission-giver. This shift (i.e. from authoritarianism to co-creation) requires a degree of courage from all parties.
  • Trust. Some advisors have found it challenging to trust the intentions or competence of those seeking advice.
  • Belief. Some with intentions have found it challenging to believe that they now have the power/authority to make key decisions.
  • Misunderstanding/clashing frames of reference. Sometimes, advice sought and then given has been received/interpreted as denial of permission.
  • Impatience. The delay between announcing intent and receiving advice has proved a source of friction, leading on occasions to proceeding without waiting to receive considered advice from advisors who may hold key pieces of the puzzle (often, these are the busiest of people).
  • Criticality. Some people have voiced concerns that key business decisions with serious negative commercial or reputational risks could proceed to action, even when some key risks go unappreciated or unaddressed (due to advice being sought from the wrong quarters, ignored, or not understood).

Fixes

We’re intending to experiment with addressing the above concerns through a couple of refinements:

  • Shared responsibility. The onus of communication will rest equally with those communicating intent and those from whom for advice is sought. Those announcing an intent are requested to actively pursue advisors to confirm their intent has been heard and understood by all the necessary parties; those from whom advice is sought are requested to respond promptly and with due consideration of the significance of their role and advice.
  • Time-outs. In those cases where someone believes there is a problem – maybe they feel the Advice Process has not been followed correctly or not used when it should have been – that someone may call a Time-out. The intention or action in question – which may already be in train – will then be suspended, pending a go-around (i.e. another taking of soundings, general proposal of intent, seeking of advice, confirmation that the intent has been understood, and consideration of advice received). Note: This does not imply that the intention itself has been denied or overruled. Rather, some party to a particular instance of the Advice Process believes the Advice Process has not been followed or used appropriately, and that the risks implicit in the intention or action are likely not being duly considered or attended-to.
  • Arbitration. We’ll see if we need to introduce some arbitration or conflict-resolution mechanism to handle repeated time-outs being called against a given intention or action, or to handle occasions where parties disagree on whether the Advice Process has indeed been followed correctly or not.

I’ll keep you posted on how our experiment is going.

– Bob

Further Reading

Decision Making ~ ReinventingOrganisations Wiki

The Advice Process – Definition and Usage Tips ~ Daniel Tenner

Advice Process for Effective Organizational Decision-Making ~ Agilitrix

Learn Through Delivering

In my previous post I talked a little about the role of language and vocabulary in shifting focus – from being busy, to attending to folks’ needs. The word ‘deliverable’ emphasises, unsurprisingly, delivery. But what does it mean to “deliver” in the context of i.e. software development?

Inspect and Adapt

For me, delivery is the opportunity to close the feedback loop. To gain some insight into whether what we’ve been working on has been useful to our stakeholders. And to adjust our sights – and ways of doing things – in the light of that information.  So the defining aspect of any and all “deliverables” is that deliverables, by this definition, must be delivered to stakeholders and they must be able to try them out in as near as possible to real-world situations so as to provide meaningful feedback.

Cadence

Just how often might we deliver something for our stakeholders to provide feedback on? That depends on how short we want our feedback loops to be. Myself, I prefer a maximum feedback loop length of two to three days. Whether your teams are in a position to dance to this rhythm, or something slower, kind of depends on your stakeholders and how quickly they can look at, and respond to, each delivery. Keeping deliveries small can help here, by keeping what they have to look at, and their responses, small too.

Artefacts

Of course, there will be things we create, produce – things for our own consumption, like documents, design artefacts, intermediate transformations leading to deliverables, and so on. I choose to call these non-deliverables “artefacts” (or even “non-deliverables”) – to distinguish them from the deliverables on which we intend to seek feedback.

May I invite you to trial a change of perspective – from learning through doing, to learning through delivering – as soon as you have the opportunity?

– Bob

 

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