Monthly Archives: January 2011

Contextualising FlowChain

[From the Archive: Originally posted at Jan 22, 2011]

[Update: Grant is sadly no longer with us.]

My colleague and co-conspirator Grant Rule writes this piece, with which I concur on just about every point. Some “traditionalist” have already had some trouble seeing past their existing assumptions and approaching the ideas herein with an open mind. Maybe you can suspend disbelief for a few minutes while reading the full post?

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Agile methods are one or more steps nearer to the ideal of ‘single piece continuous flow’. BUT… they are inherently limited because they continue to create & disband teams, to establish & abandon value streams, to create & throw away know-how, at – it seems – every opportunity. And crucially, they allow the C-suite and ‘business-side’ managers to ignore their responsibilities for the system of work and for the desired outcome.


– Bob

A Great Example of the Synergistic Mindset

[From the Archive: Originally posted at Jan 22, 2011]

Another great example of the Synergistic mindset in practice. If you’ve ever wondered what a business with a collective Synergistic mindset looks like in reality, this is a great description. And yes, this describes only the early days of a synergistic organisation – there’s so much more scope for improvement yet to come.

P.S. I’d love to hear how things have been going since the transition – if you have any info please let me know!

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Once I started reading it I could not put it down and read it cover to cover. I immediately knew that this was not only what this business unit needed to do, but that it also made the reasons behind the problems I had seen and experienced in hierarchical organizations crystal clear. Most striking to me was the sheer level of disengagement and dissatisfaction present in most workforces. If this didn’t scream out the fact that businesses were in dire need of a change, I really wasn’t sure what would.

Read more at 

– Bob

There’s a Lot of it About (Bullshit)

[From the Archive: Originally posted at Jan 20, 2011]

[Update: The original source article is no longer available. This post now links to a Wayback Machine archived copy]

A key observation, and very germane to the worlds of IT, software development, product development and consulting:

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Battling Bullshit 

One challenge is that “digital and media literacy” is a very broad area. Allow me to focus one small but essential sliver of the new, urgent literacy: bullshit detection.

Bullshit, you see, is everywhere. It is being produced, perfected, pontificated and pushed out at astounding rates by all manner of people and organizations. It spreads and multiplies. It morphs and mutates. People spew it, broadcast it, print it, tweet it, like it, blog it.

The bad news is there is too much bullshit. The good news — cue the theme to The Six Million Dollar Man — is we have the technology to defeat it. The strange news is that very same technology is also helping spread bullshit. Let me put it this way:

The Internet is the single greatest disseminator of bullshit ever created.

The Internet is also the single greatest destroyer of bullshit.

In between is a confusing world that is far less binary than the above construction. As that Concordia student put it, it’s a world that sometimes seems characterized by “too much.”

Which means all of us need to develop what Ernest Hemingway called a “a built-in bullshit detector.“ Universities need to teach the new literacy, to give people the tools to sniff out bullshit and practice the art of verification.


 – Bob

Employees’ Self-confidence – A Cinderella of Organisational Effectiveness

[From the Archive: Originally posted at Jan 19, 2011]

Penned in 1994, and still an alien or ignored idea in most Analytic-minded organisations even today:

Note to self: applies to peers as much as to “subordinates” (ugly term).

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One of a manager’s most important responsibilities is increasing subordinates’ self-confidence; employees then have a more optimistic—but realistic—view of their skills and talents. 

Increasing self-confidence offers more than psychic rewards.  If employees feel good about themselves, chances are you will notice that productivity and morale both improve.  Why?  First, self-confident people are decisive rather than tentative.  They can focus on their work responsibilities instead of worrying about the reactions of others, and they are optimistic about reaching their objectives.

Second, self-confident people are risk-takers, and taking risks is crucial in technical organizations.  These people are expressive; they forge ahead instead of waiting for someone else to show the way.  People who lack self-confidence, on the other hard, tend to play “catch up” rather than focus on progress.

Third, people who feel good about themselves are likely to increase the self-confidence of those around them.  Self-confident people are respected by colleagues and management, and they return that respect.

Once we decide that improving self-confidence among the staff is a vital responsibility for a manager, how do we go about it?  By accepting, praising, appreciating, encouraging, and reassuring.  Let’s examine these actions.


– Bob

Traditional vs “New” Management Thinking

[From the Archive: Originally posted at Jan 15, 2011]

This post from the Deming Learning Network has many similarities with what I call the Analytic vs Synergistic thinking transition. See also the table, comparing the two mindsets.

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Based on underlying perceptions we develop a management culture, with its methods, to address the challenges within our organisations. Our traditional culture was designed to maximise the return from capital and to control Labour. It was very successful. But the situation has changed or evolved. The challenge of the future is to recognise and then utilise the knowledge, creativity and spirit of staff. The traditional culture, as represented by the blue line, was not designed for this task. To maximise the potential of people requires new thinking; and from this new thinking will evolve new methods (red line).

A comparison between the management language of our traditional management culture with what is evolving with the new concepts:

Traditional Language Language of the Future
  • Hierarchical organisation chart
  • Supervision
  • Analytical Thinking – seeing the parts
  • Budgets and Targets
  • The Performance of the Individual
  • Job Specifications
  • Accountability (and Blame)
  • Staff Appraisal
  • Training on Individual
  • Standards
  • Auditing and Compliance
  • Performance Related Pay
  • Holistic Thinking – seeing the whole
  • Systems Thinking
  • Capability of the System
  • Interdependence
  • The Performance of the Team
  • Variation
  • Statistical Process Control
  • Stable and Unstable Systems
  • Self Organising Systems
  • Intrinsic Motivation
  • Our Needs as People
  • Theories as the Basis of Knowledge
  • Organisational Learning

Read more at [Note 23-Jan-2021: Original page long gone. Wayback Machine version is available here.]

– Bob

The Constant Tension Between Rightshift and Left-drift

[From the Archive: Originally posted at Jan 7, 2011]

To “Rightshift” simply means “to improve the effectiveness of an organisation by some amount”. Jamie Flinchbaugh reminds us in his recent blog post that efforts at Rightshifting are ALWAYS swimming against the tide of entropy – i.e. changes within and without the organisation that conspire to continually erode its effectiveness.

Most organisations, even those who invest much time and effort in improvement programmes, rarely manage to do much more than tread water in terms of a net Rightshift. Given the pace of technological change, technology businesses often feel this issue particularly acutely.

Is this a widely recognised phenomenon, or one of which most organisations remain unaware?

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The simple reality is that our pace of improvement must move faster than the pace of entropy. You cannot escape the entropy. It might as well be the second wall of process improvement (not that there is a first).


– Bob

The Term “Analytic Mindset” Defined

[From the Archive: Originally posted at Jan 6, 2011]


Given my frequent use of the terms “Analytic thinking”, Analytic Mindset” and so on – especially in the context of Rightshifting – you might find it useful to understand how I define the term “Analytic”.

Analytic Thinking, Mindset, Organisation

My choice of the designation (for the second of the four organisational mindsets in the Marshall Model) derives from the great Russell L Ackoff, who uses the term “Analytic” to label much the same thing.

This short video of Professor Ackoff talking about Systems Thinking explains more about the term “Analytic” in this context.

And for the record, here’s a short recap of my definition, as taken from my recent white paper “The Marshall Model of Organisational Evolution“:

Analytic organisations (e.g. those organisations with a prevailing, collective Analytic mindset) 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.
  • Functional silos (e.g. Sales, Marketing, Finance, Operations, IT, HR, etc.).
  • Breaking things down into parts, and managing each part in isolation.
  • The belief that breaking the organisation into parts improves chances for business success.
  • Local optimisations
  • Personal accountability and the “single wringable neck”.
  • A management focus on e.g. costs and ‘efficiencies’, including Cost Accounting.

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 (limited) bearing on costs and the quality of the results.

N.B. Some folks, including Tom Burns, have used the synonym “Mechanistic”.

– Bob

We’re all human (even CEOs)

[From the Archive: Originally posted at Jan 4, 2011]

A great opinion-piece from Mike Myatt (@MikeMyatt) about the C-level perspective on responding to the need for business change.

#1 take-away for me: we’re all prone to the frailties of the human condition, even CEOs. And we can all help each other out too, to compensate.

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So why is it that so many CEOs shirk their responsibility, stick their heads in the sand, and avoid making necessary changes? It is my experience that they either lack the personal skill sets, or haven’t built the right executive team to lead change, they just don’t recognize the need for change, or they just don’t care.


– Bob

Does the Project Manager Have a Future in the World of Agile?

[From the Archive: Originally posted at Jan 3, 2011]


What does the idea of “Project Manager” tell us about the prevailing mindset of the organisations who have such job titles?

Certainly it tells us that they like to do work in “projects” – itself a zero-sum game, at best (see what PG Rule had to say on this subject).

And it also tells us that they see value in having some ONE “manage” other people (the project team) and “manage” the relationships between the team and the wider organisation (sponsors, users, etc).

Note: I’m writing here about the job of “Project Manager”, not so much the role or task of project management. As long as there are projects, some “managing” of them will be necessary. I propose to leave until another day any discussion of just how this task might be divvied-up. And indeed, whether it’s time to say “goodbye” to the whole concept of projects.

What Might We Reasonably Infer About Mindset?

Most often, the very notion of “Project Manager” suggests a prevailing “Analytic” mindset, where the assumptions underpinning the way folks see the world of work include:

  • Command and Control (managers tell, workers do)
  • Failures result from individual’s flaws
  • Personal accountability and the “single wringable neck”
  • Extrinsic motivation
  • Functional (vertical) silos
  • Breaking things down into parts, and managing each part in isolation
  • Primary focus on costs
  • etc.

Agile principles point the way to a transition to a collective “Synergistic” mindset, where the underlying assumptions about the nature of the world of work differ markedly from those listed above, e.g.:

  • Self-organising teams
  • Failures result from systemic issues (collective responsibility)
  • Intrinsic motivation
  • End-to-end (horizontal) value streams
  • Looking at how the organisation works as a whole (as in Systems Thinking)
  • Primary focus on flow (of value)
  • etc.

What do these diametrically-opposed sets of assumptions say to us about the future of the “Project Manager” job in the Agile organisation?

– Bob

In-band vs Out-of-band Change in Technology Businesses

[From the Archive: Originally posted at Jan 2, 2011]

If Change Is A Normal Condition, Why Do So Many Businesses So Often Regard It As Something Extraordinary?

@alshalloway‘s recent post (see below) on the problems with BCUF (big change up front) resonates with me on a number of levels.

Over the years, I’ve been involved with, or seen from “over the fence”, more change projects and programmes than I care to remember. And in line with the statistics, few of them have been truly successful.

One recurring theme has been that of the change initiative as a one-off event. Maybe that was an understandable viewpoint back in the day, when changes in the external business environment (technology, regulation, market demand, etc.) moved at a much slower pace.

But nowadays, the climate in which most (technology) businesses operate is much more volatile, demanding much more frequent change (and thus many more, and more frequent, change initiatives). Actually, it’s got to the point now where many organisations have so many change initiatives running concurrently they’ve lost all semblance of effective control over them.

In my public talks, presentations, workshops, etc. I use the term “out-of-band” (OOB) change initiatives to refer to these discrete, one-off change projects that happen outside of the normal running of the business (a.k.a. Business As Usual or BAU).

Out-of-band change is the norm in Analytic organisations (by which I mean organisations where the prevailing collective mindset – or perspective on the world of work – is Analytic in nature. See The Marshall Model and a number of other posts on this blog for a fuller explanation).

Synergistic organisations, on the other hand, have come to recognise the fact that change is a normal part of everyday business (BAU) and thus integrate change into their BAU. I refer to this as the “In-Band” change approach. One archetypal example of in-band change is Kaizen (as typically practised) within Lean organisations.

What are the advantages of In-band change over out-of-band change that makes the more effective Synergistic organisations prefer the former over the latter?

And which is more suited to addressing the current demands on businesses – and especially, tech businesses – for almost-constant change?

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The irony of Agile’s (currently) most popular method, Scrum, using something comparable to BDUF hit me this morning in responding to a discussion on a user group regarding Scrum roles. The challenge was that the roles of Scrum Master and Product Owner are pre-defined for Scrum teams. For those that don’t have either true teams or these roles, one has to make a Big Change Up Front (BCUF) to start Scrum.


As ever, dear readers, I invite your comments and questions.

– Bob

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