Monthly Archives: March 2011

The Improvement ROI Sawtooth

[From the Archive: Originally posted at Mar 27, 2011]

Significant Change is NOT Continuous

The Marshall Model postulates that any business on a Rightshifting journey towards greater organisational effectiveness travels through a series of punctuated equilibria.

If you accept this, then an interesting implication follows:

Consider Company X – let’s say to begin with it’s in the Analytic mindset – making improvements to its effectiveness (whether folks in Company X are expressly focused on improving organisational effectiveness, or on other aspects of improvement which happen to have a fortuitously positive side-effect on organisational effectiveness is moot for the purposes of this discussion).

So, let’s assume Company X is rightshifting (making improvements) fast enough to offset the inevitable left-drift (entropy, changing operating environment, etc.) inherent in the running of any real-world business.

It’s All Downhill After a Transition

As Company X approaches the Analytic-to-Synergistic transition zone, we might expect that it begins to experience decreasing ROI on it’s improvement efforts. This is due to a change in the nature of the improvements necessary to continue to Rightshift, e.g. from relatively simple introduction of things like new tools and new ways of working to increasing emphasis on changing assumptions, and on new ways of thinking and being.

(I posit that another factor in the decreasing ROI on Company X’s improvement efforts comes from the increasing cognitive dissonance being experienced by folks up and down the organisation as the company approaches the transition zone).

Crunch Time

Eventually, Company X may reach the point where its ROI on improvement efforts has tailed-off to something approaching zero. Put another way, the company may find itself unable to make any further significant improvements to its effectiveness, regardless of how much time and money it ploughs into its improvement efforts. Upon reaching this position, Company X now has only two sensible options:

  1. It can give up on rightshifting any further, and settle for its present level of effectiveness.
  2. It can endeavour to embark on a transition to i.e. the Synergistic mindset.

(Note: Option 1 does not mean an end to Company X’s improvement efforts, as left-drift will continually degrade the company’s effectiveness. Company X will be obliged to continue to deploy some improvement efforts, in order to maintain its present level of effectiveness).

The Rightshifting ROI Sawtooth

Why have I named this the “Rightshifting Sawtooth”? Because, if we plot ROI on improvement efforts for Company X, as it moves along the Rightshifting axis (i.e. horizontally from left to right), the line plotted will resemble a sawtooth pattern, with a minimum just before (to the immediate left of) each transition zone, and a maximum just after (the right of) each transition zone:

As ever, I welcome your comments, observations and questions.

- Bob

The Origins of the Marshall Model

[From the Archive: Originally posted at Mar 25, 2011]

A Series of Happy Accidents

Like many discoveries, the Marshall Model came about more or less by pure chance, through a series of happy accidents. In explaining this series of events, maybe some folks can glean a further insight into the model and its utility.

Accident #1 – Agile North 2008

I was rather late in submitting my proposal for a presentation to Agile North 2008, and in a rush to put together said proposal, found myself following a line of research from Steve McConnell’s (excellent) book “After the Gold Rush” to his related paper “Business Case for Better Software Practices” (in turn, excerpted from his book “Professional Software Development”).

McConnell’s “asymmetric bell curve” spoke to me, in that it articulated a truth that I had been struggling to state for some time. I resolved to use his chart as the foundation for my presentation, but how to turn one simple chart into a hour-long session? (You can see the derived chart, here.)

Reflecting on the curve, and on my own experiences in many diverse kinds of software development organisations over the course of some thirty years, a question bubbled-up in my mind: what would life look like from the perspective of folks working in different organisations at various points along the horizontal axis? Surely that might be of some interest?

As McConnell observes:

“…most software personnel have never seen software
development at its best. This gives rise to skepticism about whether things are really better anywhere. Even people who have worked in the software industry for 20 or 30 years might never have seen software development at its best.”

This is certainly apparent, and so it was but a small step to decide to base the presentation on the idea of illustrating the different experiences of people, in organisations from inept to highly effective.

The “Rightshifting” Name

So what to call this presentation? Given the talk was largely anecdotal (based on my own experiences, my own perspective) and given that I was attempting to illustrate the different perspectives on the world of work of the folks in various organisations, I chose the word “Perspectives”. But perspectives on what?

I had been working for a decade or more in the field of process improvement (OO, CMMI, Agile, Lean, TOC, etc). I had come to see that the word “process” was not only widely misunderstood, but generally much disliked by all concerned – from developers through senior managers. Looking at the chart, it was immediately clear that any organisation wishing to improve their performance (a.k.a. effectiveness) would be trying to move “to the right”. So it was that the term “Rightshifting” was born.

As the presentation evolved (both prior to its first outing, and subsequently), I repeatedly added new slides illustrating different dimensions of life in software development organisations (waste; productivity; favoured SDLC; prevailing flow mode; attitudes to workers; levels of fun; etc.) Aside: In the course of researching my (forthcoming) book on Rightshifting, I have now assembled a list of some fifty different dimensions in which life in organisations differs markedly, along the Rightshifting axis. (You may be interested to see the Agile North 2008 presentation - “Perspectives on Rightshifting” on Authorstream, as well as an annotated version here on this blog).

Accident #2 – Feedback from Agile North 2008

The presentation at Agile North 2008 was very well received (being voted the joint best session of the conference), and many of the folks in the audience came up for a chat after the session with observations, questions and suggestions. In the following week, and reflecting on both the event and people’s suggestions, my subconscious began to assemble a narrative, categorising the different “modes” of organisations along the rightshifting axis. Soon, these ideas coalesced and emerged into the daylight of conscious thought as the “categories” of the (yet-to-be- conceived) Marshall Model.

Accident #3 – Dee Hock

To begin with, I only had three categories identified (and as-yet unnamed).
Those are the three categories that now bear the names “Ad-hoc”, “Anayltic” and “Synergistic”. But there was a (large) blank space on the far right-hand side of the chart (from around 3.5 onwards), begging to be claimed and named. It was clear that something should be here, but what? It was not until some weeks later, when reading a paper by Dee Hock, that the idea of the “Chaordic organisation” slotted into place.

Around this time I was also discovering Ackoff and his unique perspective on systems and systems thinking. From his work came the name for the second category “Analytic thinking”. And the great R Buckminster Fuller contributed the name “Synergistic” (after some to-ing and fro-ing with my [update: now, sadly, late] colleague and co-conspirator Grant Rule, who btw also inspired the name “Ad-hoc” for the leftmost category).

Accident #4 – Seeing the Categories as “Mindsets”

It was only some months later – whilst reading Carol Dweck’s book “Mindset” – that the idea emerged of these – now four – categories as being “mindsets”.

Accident #5 – Transitions

Armed with a revised Rightshifting Chart, overlaid with the four mindsets, a new question struck me: What happens in the spaces where the mindsets overlap? Yes, one way of looking at this simply means that there can be some e.g. Analytic organisations which are (slightly) more effective than some organisations who have adopted the Synergistic mindset (and so on for the other overlaps).

But in a more profound sense, these overlapping zones signify the root of the challenge facing ALL organisations on their rightshifting journey: changing the prevailing collective mindset of the organisation. Incremental improvement is all well and good, and fairly straightforward within any one particular mindset. But continual incremental improvement (if resulting in a net shift to the right) will inevitably result in an organisation entering a transition zone, sooner or later.

With this realisation, I felt I had reached a stupendous milestone on my own journey of discovery. This was the key piece of a jigsaw puzzle I had been seeking for some twenty years or more. The answer to the question “WHY are so many organisations stuck around the median for effectiveness”? i.e. in the words of Steve McConnell: stuck “performing much closer to the worst practice than the best”.

The Key Piece of the Jigsaw

So many organisations get stuck on their journey to improved effectiveness because making progress through a transition zone (aka changing the prevailing collective mindset) is at least an order of magnitude more difficult than simple incremental improvement – and yet looks no different to the simple case, from the perspective of the managers and workers involved in attempting such a challenge (cf William Bridges’ book, “Managing Transitions”, and the Satir Change Model).


The creation of the Marshall Model has been a story of how a happy series of accidents led me to an answer to a question that had been bugging me for more than twenty years. If it’s a question that’s been bugging you, too, then I offer you the model in the hope that it might help you find your own answer, or explain it to others.

- Bob

The Rightshifting Ethos

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

I tweeted this morning:

“Say what you believe – and see who follows” ~ Seth Godin | +1

followed by:

“I believe that a Rightshift of knowledge-work businesses will bring improved health, wealth and wisdom for [both] individuals and society at large”

Given the chord I know this strikes with some folks, I thought I’d explain this belief in just a little more detail…


Many researchers have written of the correlation between meaningless work, lack of job satisfaction, etc and personal health issues brought on by e.g. stress. Marcus Buckingham in First Break All the Rules summarises 25 years of Gallup research into what makes for a satisfying job. And recent research points to the deleterious effects of job-related stress on individuals’ health and well-being.

So, I believe that an improvement in job satisfaction brings about a reduction in job-related health issues. Happier people are indeed healthier people. And given the long hours almost all of us spend working, a happier work experience can contribute markedly to a happier life.

Rightshifting an organisation means “making it more effective at achieving its intent, or business objectives” (see chart):

Basic Rightshifting chart
(For the purposes of this post, we can use the green productivity line as a proxy for job satisfaction).

In practice, significant improvements in organisational effectiveness can only come about through the organisation transitioning to a different mindset. The Marshall Model explains this in more detail (see White Paper, and diagram, below):

The Marshall Model - diagram

I don’t think it’s any coincidence that as we move to the right on this diagram, we find organisations where job satisfaction is much higher than in those organisations to the left. So, Rightshifting any given organisation means that folks in that organisation will find greater job satisfaction, engagement, etc. And this means, I believe, that they will also have less (negative) stress and therefore improved health. And if people are less stressed and happier at work, I also believe that will contribute, indirectly, to a more healthy society for all of us.


As organisations shift to the right (become more effective), that implicitly means that they will be more successful commercially. Margins should improve, as should revenue and market share. Couple this with a more enlightened and “fairer” attitude towards sharing success with all stakeholder (including employees), and I believe that those who work in rightshifted organisations will benefit by earning more than their counterparts in those organisations to the left. And as organisations earn more, and move to a perspective of e.g. greater corporate social responsibility, I believe the commercial successes of these organisations will trickle-down directly and indirectly into the greater prosperity of their host societies.


Organisations have been locked, seemingly irrevocably, in the Taylorist, Theory-X, command-and-control approach to management for more than a century now. Rightshifted organisations have learned that this perspective on the management of organisations (specifically, of knowledge-work organisations) has outlived its usefulness, and other, more effective, and moreover, more humane means to managing work now exist. This seems like wisdom to me.


This is what I believe. If you believe in the same interpretation of cause and effect, and share my hope for a better, more humane world of work, civil society, and world in general, I invite you to join with us in the Rightshifting movement. Thank you for reading.

- Bob

Rightshifting Transitions (Part 2)

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

The Essence of the Three Rightshifting Transitions

Part 2 – Analytic to Synergistic

The Marshall Model proposes that there are three fundamental transitions that any business will encounter on its rightshifting journey (i.e. the journey to significantly improved organisational effectiveness).

Encountering these transitions is inevitable, although businesses generally do not recognise a transition when they (most often, unwittingly) bump into it. And given the low probability of making a successful transition, any one business may repeatedly bump into the same transition some number of times.

The second transition, and the one we’ll discuss here today, is from the Analytic mindset to the Synergistic.

Analytic to Synergistic

Most businesses that discover the value of discipline settle comfortably into the Analytic (aka mechanistic) mindset for the long haul. Most such businesses do not survive long enough to progress past this Analytic mindset and experience the more effective Synergistic and even Chaordic approaches. (Hence, btw, most executives, managers and employees never get to experience working under anything other than Ad-hoc and Analytic mindsets.)

Setting aside the reasons for this (a hot topic for a future post), those few businesses that continue to strive for futher improvements to their effectiveness will, sooner or later, encounter the transition to the Synergistic mindset. Again, this encounter is generally unexpected and unrecognised, even when the business is mired in the day-to-day practicalities of the transition.

Successfully accomplishing this transition involves abandoning common notions of discipline, such as hierchical management, extrinsic motivation, functional decomposition of the organisation into silos, local optimisations, targets, projects, conformance, appraisals, coercion, etc. Note: This does NOT imply abandoning an appreciation of the value of discipline itself, just its traditional manifestations.

For those people within the business used to a structured, command-driven environment where e.g. managers make the decisions and workers do the work, these changes can be just as traumatic as those associated with the Ad-hoc to Analytic transition (see previous post). And again; some people may embrace the changes, some may adapt, others may leave, and some may be required to leave (i.e. fired).

If the transition is successful (and most are not, especially when people fail to recognise what’s happening), the business finds itself with a markedly new and different view of the world of work. A world where decisions are made collaboratively, most often by the people doing the work; horizontal value streams replace hierarchical management as the prevailing structural paradigm; stakeholders (especially customers) and their needs drive business decisions; and everyone in the extended value streams (or value networks) are bound together in, and energised by, a sense of common purpose. Discipline is no longer pursued for its own sake, but harnessed in service of that shared purpose. All stakeholders are much happier; growing the business seems like a breeze; and everything is achieved much more easily and effectively.

The successful Analytic to Synergistic transition educates a business (retrospectively) as to the value of (shared) purpose. Note: Simon Sinek with his “Golden Circle” model explains well the value of a (shared) sense of purpose.

Next time we’ll take a look at the third (and rarest of all) transition: from the Synergistic mindset to the Chaordic.

- Bob

Rightshifting Transitions (Part 3)

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

The Essence of the Three Rightshifting Transitions

Part 3 – Synergistic to Chaordic

The Marshall Model proposes that there are three fundamental transitions that any business will encounter on its rightshifting journey (i.e. the journey to significantly improved organisational effectiveness).

Encountering these transitions is inevitable, although businesses generally do not recognise a transition when they (most often, unwittingly) bump into it. And given the low probability of making a successful transition, any one business may repeatedly bump into the same transition some number of times.

The third transition, and the one we’ll discuss here today, is from the Synergistic mindset to the Chaordic. I.E. The Transition to the most effective organisation mindset of the model.

Synergistic to Chaordic

In this instalment, we’ll take a look as the third and final transition postulated by the Marshall Model: the Synergistic to Chaordic transition. (Note: the word Chaordic was first coined by Dee Hock during his evolution of the Visa organisation.)

Those (few) businesses that discover the value of Purpose – and the other aspects of the Synergistic mindset – find themselves also hooked on the beauty and power of continuous improvement. Once well-established in the new synergistic ways of doing things, these businesses find that their customers, staff and shareholders are all happily engaged in productively and jointly pursuing the organisation’s purpose.

For most such businesses, this is often more than enough, and the will to continuously improve is channelled into conducting their core business ever more effectively. But for the few, the lure of another significant uplift in the effectiveness of the whole organisation beckons: the Chaordic mindset.

Most synergistic businesses remain tied, more or less, to the apron strings of their effective application of (self) discipline and purpose. The Chaordic business seeks something more. It seeks the effectiveness that comes with being able to leverage its command of discipline and purpose in the pursuit of fleeting, ever-changing market “sweet-spots”. Like the quantum foam of the Cosmos, commercial opportunities are forever winking into and out of existence. Rare indeed are the businesses that can respond fast enough to *systematically* seize on these fleeting opportunities and turn them, time and again, into profitable, albeit most likely short-lived, commercial successes.

Successfully accomplishing the transition from Synergistic to Chaordic involves becoming intimately familiar and comfortable with the business reconfiguring itself on an almost daily basis. The certainties of established ways of doing things, with stable roles and responsibilities, and an established set of things to do – however Lean, Agile, holistic, collaborative, and so on – have to give way to a much more fluid and unpredictable reality.

Everyone in a Chaordic organisation is constantly aware that things can change fundamentally at any time, even with just a few minutes’ or hours’ notice.

The Primary Lesson of Each Transition

To recap, having successfully made one of the above transitions, a business can reflect (with the benefit of hindsight) and see that each transition provides a different lesson in improving organisational effectiveness:

  • Ad-hoc to Analytic – The value of discipline
  • Analytic to Synergistic – The value of (shared) purpose
  • Synergistic to Chaordic – The value of positive opportunism

As ever, I welcome your comments, observations and questions.

- Bob

Rightshifting Transitions (Part 1)

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

The Essence of the Three Rightshifting Transitions

Part 1 – Ad-hoc to Analytic

The Marshall Model proposes that there are three fundamental transitions that any business will encounter on its rightshifting journey (i.e. the journey to significantly improved organisational effectiveness).

Encountering these transitions is inevitable, although businesses generally do not recognise a transition when they (most often, unwittingly) bump into it. And given the low probability of making a successful transition, any one business may repeatedly bump into the same transition some number of times.

The first transition, and the one we’ll discuss here today, is that from the Ad-hoc mindset to the Analytic mindset.

Ad-hoc to Analytic

Few businesses, when starting out, recognise the need for – and value of – discipline. And even those that do recognise this need will, at their outset, likely have few disciplines in place. New and successful ad-hoc businesses can grow for some months or even years before they get to the point where the folks in charge decide that “things just can’t go on any more being as disorganised as they have been”.

At this point the business begins to tinker with introducing some management structure, methods, controls, policies, procedures, oversight, etc, and thus begins the transition towards the Analytic mindset.

For those people in the business who have been used to making things up as they go along – and equally, not used to being held accountable, nor to following processes, conforming to standards, and so on – these changes can be very traumatic. Some of these folks may grudgingly adapt, others may quit, and some may even be required to leave (i.e. fired).

If the transition is successful (and many are not), the business finds itself with a markedly different view of the world of work, where management hierarchy, budgets, meetings, lines of reporting and so on replace the previous free-for-all. It’s almost always less fun, but at least it’s generally a little more effective than continuing in the the near-chaos of the Ad-hoc mindset. Customers are probably a little happier, and growing the business becomes a little more tolerable and predictable once more.

Thus the successful Ad-hoc to Analytic transition educates a business (retrospectively, for the most part) as to the value of discipline. Of course, some things are also lost along the way, most notably in my view, any kind of humanity and respect for the individual.

Next time we’ll take a look at the second transition: from the Analytic mindset to the Synergistic mindset.

- Bob


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