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 here 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


– 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
  • 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

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