Monthly Archives: April 2012

The Nine Principles of Organisational Psychotherapy

The core premise of Organisational (Psycho)Therapy is that flourishing organisations are great places to work, and because of this, highly effective at pursing their chosen purpose.


“Psychology is more of the ‘let’s figure out what is going on’ (scientist) and psychiatry is more ‘let’s treat whatever is going on’ (physician)”.

Organisational psychotherapy aims to increase an organisation’s well-being and, as a consequence, its effectiveness. Organisational psychotherapists employ a range of techniques based on:

  • experiential relationship building
  • dialogue
  • communication
  • behaviour change

Organisational psychotherapy posits that application of such techniques may improve the “mental health” of an organisation, including the improvement of relationships – both individual and collective – within the organisation (and often, between the organisation and external parties, such as its customers and suppliers, too).


Although there is no clear division, organisational psychotherapy differs from e.g. organisational psychology in that the former is generally focussed on “treatment”, whereas the latter is primarily focussed on study, research, and the addressing of presumed workplace needs such as e.g. creation of systems, policies, etc.

From my perspective, as a self-annointed “organisational therapist”, organisational psychology most commonly aligns to the Analytic mindset, whilst organisational (psycho)therapy has much more in common with the Synergistic mindset. YMMV.

Put another way, therapy involves inviting the organisation “onto the psychiatrist’s couch” and working through issues using e.g. conversation and a kind of coaching style.

And frankly, I hold organisational psychology, as a discipline, to be responsible for some of the most egregious dysfunctions –  including: job design (narrow specialisms), “training”, appraisal systems, task design, incentive schemes, and pretty much the whole HR nine yards – in today’s knowledge-work organisations. (See also: What are Non-Obvious Systemic Constraints?).


The principles listed below are my principles – as practising organisational therapist. N.B. Other folks may work to different principles.

Sick, Sick, Sick

Many organisations are sick. If they were people, many of these sick organisations would likely be sectioned under the Mental Health Act.

A common reason given for sectioning (involuntary commitment) is to prevent danger to the individual or society. Organisations with suicidal tendencies may act on these tendencies and harm or kill themselves. Organisations with psychoses are sometimes driven by their delusions or hallucinations to harm themselves or others. Organisations with certain types of collective disorders can present a danger to themselves, their employees, customers, suppliers and society at large.

But organisations are not people. And the psychology of organisations are much less well understood – and less easy to get at – than the psychology of individuals. Much as we might like to “section” organisations, this option is not (yet) available to us (society). Even “voluntary commitment” or therapy is something that very few organisations even perceive as being an option open to them.

And I think we have some way to go yet before organisations come to consider therapy as “acceptable”. In California, for example, most folks regard therapy as a perfectly normal response to the travails of life. There’s little or no social stigma associated with having a therapist (or, for that matter, a life coach). Such cannot be said of therapy for organisations. Organisations rarely recognise they have a collective “mental state”, let alone perceive the nature, characteristics of that mental state at any given point in time.

I posit that even organisations that are relatively healthy, mentally, can benefit from therapy (much like individuals do).

The Nine Principles

The following are the nine principles that I work to when acting in the role of therapist for any given (client) organisation:

1. Risk Awareness

Cognisance of all the things that could go wrong during the therapeutic intervention. Knowing these risks, the therapist may choose to take steps to manage them on behalf of the client – at least until such time as the client chooses to manage them for themselves.

2. Do No Harm

Ensure that individuals, in particular (but also groups, and the organisation as a whole) do not suffer any (avoidable) negative consequences from the therapeutic interventions. More than this, work to instil hope in the folks within the scope of the therapy (this in itself is a moral and practical hazard, as some organisations are so sick as to cynically attempt to exploit such new hope).

3. Organisations Have a Collective Psyche that Responds to Therapies

Organisational therapy proceeds on the basis that the collective psyche of an organisation is similar in nature to the psyche of the individual, and is similarly amenable to therapeutic interventions (although the actual techniques and underlying concepts may differ).

4. Mutual Benefits

Therapy sets out to improve the mutual well-being of both the organisation, the groups within the organisation, and the individual within the organisation. In other words, everyone involved is looking for win-win outcomes. Additionally, at the choice of the client, the scope may include other organisations, groups and individuals (and maybe wider society, too) in this seeking of mutually-beneficial outcomes.

5. Trust

Like any other therapy, the process of organisational therapy is one of building a network of mutual-trust relationships. It starts with trust in the therapist, followed by trust in themselves, expanding to trust in other members of the team, and maturing into trust in the organisation itself.

Patrick Lencioni, in his book “Five Dysfunctions of a Team” explains the nature – and strengths – of “vulnerability-based trust”:

Folks who are not genuinely open with one another – and themselves – about their mistakes and weaknesses make it impossible to build a foundation for trust, which in itself is a fundamental requirement for the pursuit of mutual benefit and well-being.

6. Wellbeing First

As in therapy, Organisation Therapy has no agenda excepting the general wish to see the client organisation flourish and increase its level of wellbeing. Indeed, the therapist will seek to solicit an agenda from the client, probably over time as their relationship unfolds, rather than have an agenda of their own. See also: Positive Psychology, as described by e.g. Professor Martin Seligman.

7. Work in the White Space

Working on the relationships between people, groups and organisations has much more impact that trying to “fix” individuals. Indeed, some key developments (growth, improvement) can only happen in the context of relationships.

8. Cognitive Harmony

Many organisations, particularly in times of stress or change, suffer acutely from “organisational cognitive dissonance” – feelings of anxiety and discomfort resulting from simultaneously holding contradictory or otherwise incompatible attitudes, beliefs, or sets of assumptions. Therapy aims to surface such incompatibilities and resolve them, through e.g. changing some of these cognitions, and thereby leading to improved “cognitive harmony”.

9. Evidence-Based

“In like manner, if I let myself believe anything on insufficient evidence, there may be no great harm done by the mere belief; it may be true after all, or I may never have occasion to exhibit it in outward acts. But I cannot help doing this great wrong towards Man, that I make myself credulous. The danger to society is not merely that it should believe wrong things, though that is great enough; but that it should become credulous, and lose the habit of testing things and inquiring into them; for then it must sink back into savagery.”

~ William Kingdon Clifford

I believe that wherever possible, therapeutic interventions should be grounded in evidence of efficacy. Some number of the other principles noted here (especially Risk Awareness, and Do No Harm) benefit greatly from an awareness of the evidence.


In summary, then, organisational therapy offers a powerful prospect of improving the well-being of an organisation, as well as the well-being of the people, groups and other organisations who come into contact with it.

– Bob

Further Reading

The Twelve Principles of Group Counselling ~ Irvin Yalom
Seven Therapeutic Principles in Group Counseling ~ “Counselor” article
Flourish – A New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being – Prof Martin Seligman

I was writing about this a little while back – organisations wishing to move past the Analytic mindset have to overcome not only societal norms, but also the unsuitable education of their new hires.

quantum shifting

Bizarrely, if you went into most school classrooms in the industrialised world, you would still hear teachers say or imply, “Sit down, stop talking, do your own work.”  I say bizarrely, because this notion that we will excel in our lives only if we do what we’re told, mind our own business and draw solely on our own thoughts, ideas and knowledge just seems unnatural.  It has come from the old days when schools were set up as places to train youngsters for a life of isolating wage slavery.  Our education systems were designed, in other words, as mirrors of adult workplaces and apart from reading, writing and arithmetic, the key lesson was “fit in or f**k off”; if you want to get ahead, play the teacher’s game, learn what THEY want you to so you can pass their tests (usually information about stuff, rather than insight about self, life…

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What are Non-Obvious Systemic Constraints?

In Theory Of Constraints (TOC), Eli Goldratt explains how “constraints” in a system such as a manufacturing plant, limit the throughput of the whole system (plant). In his later books, he talks more about “policy constraints” in non-manufacturing situations, and how these can be even more pernicious and damaging to the throughput (effectiveness) of a system or organisation.

In that constraints, by the TOC definition, affect whole systems, we may reasonably regard all constraints as “systemic constraints”.

This post is about those kinds of systemic constraints – particularly those that dramatically impact knowlege-work organisations – that are not so obvious. Not the capacities of machines, teams or people. Not the policies of the organisation – explicit or implicit. Not even the individual attitudes and beliefs of the folks within an organisation.

Some of these “non-obvious systemic constraints” have limited (or maybe more accurately, invisible) impact on the day-to-day work of the organisation, but remarkable impact on the ability of the organisation to evolve, improve, and raise its effectiveness (what I refer to as Rightshifting).

Examples of Non-Obvious Systemic Constraints

So what kinds of “non-obvious systemic constraints” am I talking about? Here are some examples:

  • Business As Usual – being busy “getting stuff done”, to the detriment of spending time, attention, etc. on improving the capabilities of the organisation.
  • “Work ethic” – paying people (and promoting or demoting them) based on how “willing” or “busy” they appear, rather than on how much of a contribution (often in very intangible ways) they actually make to the success of the organisation (some may describe this as “bureaucracy”).
  • Fundamental Attribution Error – e.g. ignorance of Deming’s 95% rule – a lack of an appreciation of the role of “the system” in constraining the productivity of individuals.
  • Hierarchy – the way in which conflating report lines, rewards systems, coordination mechanisms and responsibility systems contributes to what Roger L Martin describes as “The Responsibility Virus“.
  • Low Trust – when trust is absent or at a low level, this constrains the degree to which people talk to each other about things that matter (and thus to the festering of those issues, with concomitant “temporary” work-arounds).
  • “Not-Invented-Here” – collective arrogance or hubris constraining folks’ enthusiasm and opportunities for looking outside their own immediate surroundings to learn about how others have studied and maybe even solved issues.
  • Isolated learning, hard limits on exploration – many organisations (generally, unintentionally) make it difficult or impossible for folks to get together and mutually learn about and explore issues and opportunities.
  • Fear of conflict – when people try to be “nice” to each other, often to compensate for the inhumanity of their working conditions, the value of conflict gets misunderstood – and even productive, positive conflict becomes something to avoid rather than embrace.
  • Pigeonholing – a prevailing, unspoken belief that everyone has their own work to do, their own (non-overlapping) sets of responsibilities, and that there’s negative value in folks getting involved in, helping with, or taking over, elements of others’ work.
  • Poor appreciation of value-add – a limited or lack of understanding about where it’s best to focus time and effort, for optimum value-add.
  • Professional detachment – particularly the kind of professional detachment that constrains people’s willingness and ability to relate to each other as fallible, emotional, joyful, inconstant, messy human beings.
  • Homogeneity – the belief that all situations, all people, all clients, must be treated in the same way, to be “fair” and “consistent”.
  • Conventional thinking – adopting “work-arounds” for problems by borrowing from popular culture, previous experience, or “industry best practice”, rather than getting to the heart of an issue and finding an apposite solution (preferably, a dissolution). Typical work-arounds include the concept of managers (see also: pigeonholing, hierarchy, Theory-X); command-and-control; bonuses; and functional decomposition of organisational structure (silos).
  • Mandatory optimism – aka “Don’t rock the boat”, or “wilful ignorance”. When people realise that any doubts, negative comments or criticisms, however constructive or realistic, are not welcome, this severely constrains any attempts to surface and thus fix troublesome issues. See also: “Smile or Die” animation; and “All Executives are Unethical”.
  • Disjoint purpose – different people working disjointly or at cross-purposes for lack of a clear understanding of a common, shared purpose for the system. This constrains people’s ability to constructively resolve issues, as well as constraining their day-to-day work activities.

“A system is a network of interdependent components that work together to try to accomplish the [purpose] of the system. A system must have a [purpose]. Without the [purpose], there is no system.” ~ W E Deming

  • Theory X – and authoritarianism in general. When an organisation believes it better to have folks that do the work, and other folks to tell them what work to do (Scientific Management aka Taylorism), “process police” ensuring homogeneity and conformity, and even how to do the work (micro-managing), this constrains the natural motivation and engagement of the people.

I’m sure you can think of others. If you do, please let me know – I’d love to add them to this list.

Which of these “non-obvious systemic constraints” are limiting the effectiveness, and the rate of change, in your organisation? (Note: following Goldratt, I posit only one of these is the key constraint in any one organisation, at any given time).

I’m open to suggestions about how we might refer to these kinds of “non-obvious systemic constraints”. What do you think?

It Starts With Awareness

Are you aware of these non-obvious systemic constraints and the role they play in your organisation? How about other folks? Given how some of these constraints reduce or prevent discussion, would you even know what other folks think, whether they’re aware or not?

And when awareness dawns, what then? Even though just one constraint may be key, the web these constraints weave, collectively, may seem as intractable as the Tholian Web. Personally, I’d consider applying the TOC tools known as “Current Reality Tree” and “Future Reality Tree” to identify the key point(s) of leverage (key constrain(s)), and the future state that we’d like to see happen. Ackoff might suggest “Reference Projection”. What approach would you favour in this situation?

– Bob

Further Reading

Five Dysfunctions of A Team ~ Patric Lencioni
Deming’s 14 Points ~ W E Deming
The FIfth Discipline ~ Peter Senge
The Responsibility Virus ~ Roger L Martin
Treatment For Problems ~ Russell L Ackoff



Many folks ask me:

“If significant improvement in business effectiveness requires intervention on a system-wide basis (across the whole organisation), what am *I* supposed to do, stuck in this small box in one corner of the company?

Which is a very fair question. And one to which I am obliged to answer:

“Find some like-minded folks, even just one or two, broaden your perspective (don’t fixate) – and do what you can, together, for the organisation as a whole.”

Granted you’re not likely to realise the 100%, 200%, 500% bottom-line benefits that a full organisation-wide intervention can effect, but at least you’ll be doing something. And feeling better for that:

Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it!”

Aside: Not really a Goethe quotation.

Most Levers of Effective Software Development Lie Outside the Development Group

Knowledge work may have become the engine room of most modern businesses – but you don’t steer a ship from the engine room.

“If the organisation as a whole is doing the wrong things the significance of the approach used in software development is very small.”

~ recent @flowchainsensei tweet

A core problem with Agile and other such developer-led initiatives to “improve” things is that these initiatives are not connected to the levers that steer the ships of business, nor even to those levers that affect the overall performance of the development group itself.

Tunnel Vision is Not a Winning Strategy

Obsessing about code quality, the software development lifecycle (as manifest within the walls of the development group), wip, tools, testing, and the hundred and one other things that make up a developers daily routine is perfectly understandable and a natural response of the disempowered. When we feel disconnected from being able to change the things that make a real difference, most of us will hunker-down, and focus on those things to which we can make a difference. Pride in work has a long tradition and history, often conflicting with the more (apparently) prosaic concerns – like profits, revenues, market share, etc. – of the corporate elites.

What to Do

“Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

~ Margaret Mead

Charlotte Pell recently afforded me the kind opportunity to review a pre-publication copy of Vanguard UK’s new book “Delivering Public Services That Work – Volume 2”, now published (as of 24 April 2012).

The most striking feature of this uplifting work, for me, is the numerous real-world stories of “ordinary” folks in “ordinary” organisations who have done what they could, given a limited scope and reach – and made enormous strides in improving things. Case studies like this encourage me to assert that significant improvement is possible, even when the folks involved do not have the authority or even the influence over their organisation-as-a-whole. Indeed, if the reported improvements are the result of “mere” localised interventions, then what scope for seemingly infeasible gains when tackling these issues organisation-wide? And yet wider still, given the stories’ highlighting of the enormous waste implicit in our egregiously disjoint public services?

– Bob

Wikipedia is Wonderful

Here I am, starting a new blog post on the state of play in the world of Rightshifting, and wanting to use the term “SEP Field” as the hook for this post. What do I find? A great entry in Wikipedia for just that term. Note the numerous cognitive biases listed as contributing to the phenomenon.

Rightshifting is Somebody Else’s Problem

Since their inception, circa 2008, my ideas on the Rightshifting of organisations have emerged, evolved and gained some credibility and support in the software development and business communities. (Much more in the former than the latter, it must be said). The late, great Grant Rule added much in the way of historical context and statistical rigour to the theme. We’ve had some number of Rightshifting Unconferences in London, and some interest from the academic community (e.g. London City University).

I have presented on different aspects of Rightshifting, on numerous occasions, both locally in London, and national and internationally too. (My thanks to everyone who has invited me to their fair cities). These sessions are always well-received, excepting possibly Los Angeles – a strange outlier.

In general, I get the impression that most folks believe that organisational effectiveness is Somebody Else’s Problem. Senior management seem to think other folks in their organisations should be working on it. Middle management seem to think it should be Senior Management’s job, and most everyone else in the organisation is keeping their heads down and getting on with their day jobs – which for the most part they don’t see as including anything to do with improving the effectiveness of the organisation.

This comes as little surprise. There are precious few organisations indeed that even understand the benefits of taking a holistic view of how their organisation works (and its place in the wider supply chain, and society at large). Fewer yet who actually take steps to adopt and exploit said holistic view (i call these the Synergistic-minded organisations, and folks).

As an education/awareness campaign, I think Rightshifting has permeated into the subconscious, at least, of just about as many folks as I could reasonably hope for after four (!) years. <Sigh plus wry smile>.

There are even a few folks and organisations – such as 21Apps – that have taken it to heart in a deliberate attempt to improve their effectiveness.

I shall continue to carry the flag for the Rightshifting Ethos e.g.

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

Hell, maybe one day I’ll even find some organisations that actually want to become more effective as an organisation – and determine to do something about it. God knows there’s enough scope for that to be so.

And I shall continue to evolve my research, and unearth more real-world examples of how whole organisations are tackling the challenge of transitioning collective (organisation-wide) mindsets. One consistent response I get from interested folks is “Yes we agree with the premise, but how to go about effecting real change? What should we DO?”. As @papachrismatts wrote:

“From what I’ve read, Rightshifting seems to be a call to arms to radically shift improvement of organisations. What I’ve not discovered is the means [Rightshifting proposes] to achieve this.”

I am not averse to providing answers to this, nor even examples, but the honest answer is “it depends…“. (Fuller explanation here).

If you’d like to be part of the Rightshifting future, please let me know.

And if you’d Rather Not Know, I quite understand that perspective, too. Regarding organisational effectiveness as Somebody Else’s Problem can look like the safe, comfortable option – at least until your employer goes bust or you realise where your frustration and stress at work is coming from, and that it really doesn’t have to be that way.

The only thing I don’t understand is “Meh“. Perhaps you can help me with that? Or at least share in my perplexity?

– Bob

The Gravy Train Rolls On

It seems some Agile Consultants are too wedded to their profit margins, too in thrall to their (large, undiscerning) Analytic-minded customer base, or just too fearful of the world-changing scale of the implications, to face up to the truth about Agile and managers.

Simply put:

The traditional role of the manager is inimical to the Agile mindset.

I’ll say that again, in other words:

For as long as organisations expect some folks (managers) to tell other folks (workers) what to do, there will be:

  • no effective engagement of people in their work
  • little sense of ownership of, and therefore pride in, work
  • high cost of quality
  • low customer satisfaction
  • poor morale
  • a paucity of motivation
  • a continuing us-vs-them, managers-vs-workers schism
  • individuals blamed for poor performance (rather than attributing 95% of poor performance to the way the work works)
  • misguided attempts to “manage people” through “fixing” them (rather than e.g. building on their strengths)
  • no change in the ineffectiveness and waste rampant in most organisations today
  • failure to innovate
  • poor decisions, or decisions abdicated, avoided, delayed and arrogated
  • egregious waste of human potential
  • siloism, politicking, tribalism and turf wars
  • stifling bureaucracy

Wow. Can we really attribute all these ills to the simple idea of having managers “in charge”? From my own experience, I’d say yes. But it’s not just me. Other folks like Deming, Drucker and Ackoff say much the same thing. As they’re all dead now, I’d be happy to argue on their behalf.

Can you grasp the magnitude of the change facing the world’s organisations before Agile (and synergistic, chaordic) ideas can really deliver on their promises? Is the scale of the transition so huge as to boggle the mind? Have so many people so little hope in the future that all this seems irrelevant, or mere wishful thinking?

What do you think?

– Bob

Further Reading

Out of the Crisis – Dr W E Deming
Re-creating the Corporation – Professor Russell L Ackoff
MIX : The Management Information Exchange online – Dr Gary P Hamel
Valence Theory – Dr Mark Federman
The Leaders Guide to Radical Management – Steve Denning
Lay Off the Managers – Blog post
Why Feedback Doesn’t Work (and other things) – Charles Jacobs

What Are You Worth?

Who knows best what you should be paid? Your boss? Some HR goon? A company policy (aka an algorithm)? Your colleagues? Or you?

I have for a very long time believed that people should be treated with respect at work (and not just at work, of course). What would it mean to take that belief to its logical conclusion – to “turn it up to 11”, as the XP folks (and Spinal Tap) are wont to say?

At Familiar, everyone got to:
  • choose their own terms of engagement – from sub-contractor through to indentured serf
  • choose their own hours, place(s) of work, equipment and tools
  • choose their own salaries and payment rates

Most people I’ve mentioned this to over the years have shrugged it off as just something weird. Generally, too weird even to engage in discussion about. Weirdness bordering on random madness.

But there was a method to our madness. A very carefully considered method. Yes, I had a hypothesis, and it panned out well.


My hypothesis ran like this:

We want folks to feel valued. And that their opinions are respected. And we’d like them to act responsibly – making good decisions without referring everything “upstairs” all the time. We want to build a community of trust and mutualism. (See also: our Credo).

Further, without excessive intrusion into their personal lives, how could we tell what people’s needs were with respect to e.g. income, free time, distractions, etc., at any given time? “From each according to their capabilities, To each according to their needs” seemed like a very reasonable (ethical) stance for a community to take (its Marxist roots notwithstanding).

So, how about we demonstrate trust, respect and mutualism by placing the “ultimate” questions into folks’ own hands? Questions like:

  • How much should folks be paid?
  • What hours should folks work?
  • Who should decide working conditions?
  • Who decides who gets to work on what projects?

Some doubted that folks could be trusted. I myself felt that if salaries and payments stayed secret and confidential, then that would be at odds with the trust and mutualism we were trying to foster. So we also instituted an open-book policy so that everyone (including clients and suppliers) could see all the accounting information, including payments to staff.

I’d just like to repeat: all this was a rational response to an ethical and practical conundrum. A conundrum that I have never seen any other business address adequately or effectively. A response invented from first principles (rather than a solution blindly copied from the playbook of the traditional management mythos).


The most intriguing consequence we observed was that folks chose to be paid less that we thought would be the case. Most often, at or below prevailing market rates. Even with awareness of those rates.

The second consequence was that it encouraged open and healthy discussion about value – and in particular, customer value.

The third consequence, slower to emerge, was that folks began to consider and discuss their own self-image. This blossoming self-awareness was, of course, the real benefit – and very congruent with our declared purpose as a community.


In summary, I think the “experiment” proved – at least to my satisfaction – that “No one know’s what you’re worth – or what you need – better than you.”

– Bob

A post very congruent with the core tenets of Rightshifting and the Marshall Model.

Bulldozer00's Blog

A few weeks ago, my friend Charlie Alfred challenged me to take a break from railing against the dysfunctional behaviors that “emerge” from the vertical command and control nature of hierarchies. He suggested that I go “horizontal“. Well, I haven’t answered his challenge, but Charlie came through with this wonderful guest post on that very subject. I hope you enjoy reading Charlie’s insights on the horizontal communication gaps that appear between specialized silos as a result of corpo growth. Please stop by his blog when you get a chance.


In “Profound Shift in Focus“, BD00 discusses the evolution of value-focused startups into cost-focused borgs.  There’s ample evidence for this, but one wonders what lies at the root?

One clue is Russell Ackoff’s writings on analysis and synthesis.  Analysis starts with a system and takes it apart, in the pursuit of understanding…

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We’re All Wasting Our Time

Of course, on a metaphysical level, this could be said to be universally true.

I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don’t let anybody tell you different.

~ Kurt Vonnegut

Then again, some folks may feel that wasting time is an important part of living.

I’m not going to go to either of those places in this post.

What Would You Like To Do Today?

@dancres recently reminded me that I had a habit of asking this question of him and others when we were working together at Familiar (circa 1998). From my perspective, as the founder of the company, I hoped for the answer “do some work”. In fact, given our shared Purpose:

“To give people the opportunity to work together to discover what fulfilment means to them as individuals.”

and Credo, it was a given that working – and working together – was a prerequisite for fulfilling that purpose. Put another way, unless folks wanted to work together – rather than, say, goof off – they might be less likely “to discover together what fulfilment means to them as individuals”. If the Familiar community did not so arrange things that working was everyone’s best and preferred option, it was failing them, and itself.

Now, I’m not suggesting that your collective purpose, in your workplace, will be the same as this. (Maybe that would be nice). But whatever your collective purpose at work, that purpose sets a context within which one can see what is a “waste of time” and what is not.

Note: Absent any clarity on “collective purpose”, I’d posit that everything is (potentially) a waste of time. How would you know otherwise?

Most Organisations Waste Around 80% of Folks’ Time

The basic Rightshifting Chart illustrates that organisations near to the median (the “1” mark on the horizontal axis)  are wasting around eighty percent of their effort on non value-adding activities. Things on which neither customers nor any other stakeholders want to spend their money. That’s like doing busywork for four days out of every five-day working week! I think we all know implicitly how this happens:

How much of your time is spent on doing stuff that matters? And, fundamentally, isn’t doing stuff that matters what matters to us?

How Does This Happen?

How does it happen that so many organisations waste so much of their time (and by implication, your time, your life)?
Superficially, it happens because people who should know better don’t see what’s going on, and even when they do see, assume that – because it happens in so many organisations – it’s “normal”, and even unavoidable. Most shrug it off by calling it “the cost of doing business”.

Learn To See

But more fundamentally, it happens because folks are blind to the systemic conditions that lead to all of the aforementioned forms of time-wasting. It’s no accident, I think, that Rother & Shook’s (excellent) book on Value Stream Mapping is titled “Learning to See”.

Local Optima

Recently, some folks on Twitter have railed against the criticism of local optimisations, as if doing something, however valueless, however much a waste of time, is better than doing nothing. How do you feel about that?
Are you happy that you’re wasting much of your life on doing stuff that has no value, that doesn’t matter? Can you see the things that don’t need doing? Do you keep a look out? Do you care, if not for yourself, then for others in the same boat? How long must it go on?

– Bob

Lay Off the Managers


I see a lot of anti-management sentiment amongst the Agile development community. Well, to be honest, amongst the general development community and wider world, too.

To make any radical improvement in effectiveness of an organisation – especially in the case of the Analytic-Synergistic transition – everyone has to be engaged and supportive of the effort. Alienating a key constituency (the managers) does not seem to me to be anything but woefully counter-productive.

Some, upon reading other of my blog posts, might even assume I sympathise with this anti-management position. Actually, I don’t. Managing things, managing the way the work works (note: as opposed to managing people) adds value and brings benefits (attends to the needs of the folks that matter). I just believe that more needs will be met by not having managers doing the managing (i.e. having those doing the work managing the way said work works).

Let’s not Conflate Managers with Managing

I draw a clear distinction between managers and managing:

  • Managers are the folks that, in most organisations, have the sole prerogative to do the “acts of managing”. I include executives in this, along with the middle-managers of typical organisations.
  • Managing is (in its essence) the act of evaluating information, making decisions, etc. We could also call this “the act of managing” (management 1598, from “manage” 1555-1565 < Italian maneggiare to handle, train (horses) < Latin manus hand.

Managers. And managing. Let’s not conflate the two.

Just because, in typical organisations, these two things are very often manifest in the same persons, this need not necessarily be so. In the different, alien town of Radicalsville, where generalising specialists (multi-skilled people) are the norm, anyone can do the managing. Oh, and there are no “managers”, as such, just as there are no programmers, testers, designers, architects, business analysts, HR people, financial folks, sales people, or any other single-skilled specialists. This is but one implication of “self-organising” a.k.a. “self-managing” teams.

“Hate the sin, love the sinner”

~ Mohandas K Gandhi

The Dysfunction of Having Managers do the Managing

Most managers see themselves as having to sit in the driving seat, making the decisions. I can attest to the fact that it’s better (much more productive, less risky) to have the folks with the relevant information make the decisions. These days, especially in knowledge-work organisations, that’s rarely the managers. And struggling, against the grain, to get the relevant information from the front line to “the managers” is an effort fraught with dysfunction, at best.

Deming, Drucker, Ackoff, etc. all make the observation that managing is required, managers are not. A bit like planning and plans, respectively:

“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”

~ Dwight D Eisenhower, 34th President of the USA

So what is so dysfunctional about having the managers (exclusively) doing the managing in our knowledge-work organisations?

  • Contributes to the us-vs-them, managers-vs-workers schism.
  • Robs people of a sense of ownership in their work, leading to a chronic lack of motivation and engagement.
  • Fundamental Attribution Error – blaming individuals for poor performance rather than seeing 95% of poor performance being the result of the way the work works.
  • Misguided attempts to “manage people” through “fixing” them, rather then encouraging their strengths cf “First Break All the Rules” ~ Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman
  • Preservation of the status quo.
  • Stifling of Innovation.
  • Wasting people’s potential.
  • Siloism, politicking, tribalism and turf wars.
  • Bureaucracy.
  • Complacency and toleration of ineffectiveness, waste.
  • Conformity and homogeneity.

See also this 1984 video of Dr Deming explaining the Five Deadly Diseases:

  1. Lack of constancy of purpose.
  2. Emphasis on short-term profits (focus on stock price, quarterly dividend).
  3. Merit systems: appraisals, management by objective, management by fear.
  4. Mobility of managers, shallow knowledge of the work.
  5. Use of visible numbers only.

There is Still a Place for the Folks Formerly Known as Managers

There is still a place for the folks that have until now carried the title of “manager”. Just not “in charge”, with exclusivity over doing the “managing”.

A place with a different label, and a different role.

If we accept that everyone should be involved, to some greater or lesser extent, in the managing of an organisation, what about the folks formerly known as “managers”? If their traditional role is to disappear or be subsumed, what can they usefully do to add value in Radicalsville?

Well, they might choose to become multi-skilled, like the rest of the workforce. And thus play an integral (equal) role in the teams – not as in-charge managers but as team members.

Let’s not overlook the fact that these folks have skills, experience (for good or ill) and – often, deep – knowledge of the organisation and its markets, its suppliers, etc.. I posit this change has benefits for all concerned, not least for the artists formerly known as managers, themselves.

There’s also the question of equity a.k.a. fairness. Many managers I have known have been just trying to do a good job in a frustrating situation. And these folks are often just as much victims of a broken system as the workers. (Remember, Deming’s 95% rule still applies).

And then there’s the pragmatic issue of support. You’ve probably heard Upton Sinclair’s dictum:

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”

~ Upton Beall Sinclair, Jr. circa 1932

Bringing about radical transitions in any organisation requires, first and foremost that folks feel safe, secure and valued as individuals. Even the faintest hint that the organisation is beginning to see managers as redundant will doom any transition to early and abject failure.


So, tell me, what do you think? Lay off the managers – or lay off the managers?

– Bob

Further Reading

Get rid of managers and we’ll all be happier – Management-Issues blog post
How I improved my business by getting rid of managers – SmartCompany article
Should We Get Rid of the Managers? (Human Resources) – IOAtWork article
First, Let’s Fire All the Managers – Harvard Business Review article
Who Needs Management?! – StickyMinds article
Who needs managers? – blog post
Agile management – an oxymoron?: who needs managers anyway? – ACM Digital Library article (fee required)
The Great Game of Business – Jack Stack (book, recommended)
BBC “Ban the Boss” programme (video) about Blaenau Gwent council

All Executives are Unethical

[This post first appeared as a White Paper in October 2008. I have reposted it here for wider accessibility.]

doing the right thing – the moral case for rightshifting

Are all executives unethical? This White Paper argues that, absent objective evidence, it’s simply unethical for executives to believe that product and software development in their organisations is reasonably effective.

the ethics of belief

London, April 11, 1876. There is uproar in the House. But this is not the House of Commons, rather the Grosvenor Hotel, and the furore is not political but – more unusually perhaps – philosophical.

William Kingdon Clifford – then professor of mathematics and mechanics at University College London – and the youngest ever person to be accepted into London’s elite Metaphysical Society, is presenting his inaugural paper. His audience includes the likes of Alfred Tennyson, William Gladstone, Thomas Huxley and the cream of London’s intelligentsia. The title of his paper is “The Ethics of Belief”.

Even before he finishes his reading, half the audience have stormed out of the room in protest. The remainder are on their feet, heartily engaged either in shouting him down or cheering him on.

What did the audience find so contentious about Clifford’s proposition? In his essay, he asserts that whatever someone chooses to believe cannot be exempt from the ethical judgement of others. A belief may leave someone open to a charge of unethical behaviour, depending on whether they have earned “the right to believe it”.

ethics in the development of software-intensive products and services

London, October 2008. Waves of financial crises crash upon the bulwarks of the World’s financial system. Ordinary people in all walks of life look upon the excesses of business in a new, and distinctly unflattering light. What has happened to the traditional business values of probity, social responsibility, ethics? Good questions indeed. Management – and especially financial management – has become tarnished. Executives are regarded with suspicion, even contempt.

Of course, recent events have only served to propel these issues into the public eye. In many avenues of management – and over many years – complacency, self-interest and greed seem to have overturned diligence, responsibility and probity. I believe we could all benefit from taking a long hard look at what we have become.

My own focus of concern is the arena of software and product development. I have seen literally hundreds of organisations in the business of developing software-intensive products and services in the course of my career. Most of these businesses have been wasting enormous amounts of time, money, effort, and human potential, through their unwittingly inefficient approaches to the practice of software development.

“…whatever someone chooses to believe cannot be exempt from the ethical judgement of others.”

And in most cases, little or nothing of any effective, practical value is done to address the situation, or if done, then not sustained.

In my experience this almost always comes about because those nominally responsible for the situation – the senior executives of a company – honestly believe that their software development people are doing the best they possibly can (even though that rarely seems good enough).

So here’s the rub:

Do executives have the right to believe that their people are working as productively as possible – even if they have not gathered and considered the evidence?

Is such a belief, even when sincerely held, justifiable when such an executive has acquired his or her belief…

“…not by honestly earning it in patient investigation but rather by stifling his doubts? And although in the end he may have felt so sure about it that he could not think otherwise, yet inasmuch as he had knowingly and willing worked himself into that frame of mind, he must be held responsible for it.”

But what if disaster (or merely loss of profit) does not befall the business? Would the executive be any less guilty?

“Not one jot. When any action is once done. it is right or wrong, forever; no accidental failure of its good or evil fruits can possibly alter that. The man would not have been innocent, he would only have been not found out. The question of right or wrong has to do with the origin of his belief, not the matter of it; not what it was, but how he got it; not whether it turned out to be true or false, but whether he had a right to believe on such evidence as was before him.”

Prior to Clifford, the established intelligentsia presumed that beliefs could never be examined in an ethical light. A gentleman could believe any damn thing he pleased.

Until recently, it seemed as if that presumption still held sway in many organisations (including HM Government). But today, William Clifford’s question comes back to haunt us. Yes, executives may truly believe that people are being as productive as possible – but do they have any right to believe it?

about the author

My name is Bob Marshall and I’ve been a specialist in the transformation of organisational performance – particularly in the software development and business technology arenas – for the past twenty years or more.

I became a “Rightshifter” in the first place because of the egregious waste of time, money, effort and – above all – human potential that I saw time and again in organisations trying to develop software-intensive systems and products. So many people have such a poor time at work, frustrated and unfulfilled every day, in the majority of left-shifted organisations out there.

And the main reason for all this misery and waste? A simple belief that things are OK. Or at least, not amenable to improvement. Such a belief seems widespread, particularly amongst senior executives. So, before I make the case for Rightshifting as an ethical and moral imperative, allow me to describe in a little more detail just what I mean by “Rightshifting”.


Nowadays, the profitability – even the very survival – of most organisations relies on the ability to consistently produce (or acquire) software-intensive technology at an economic cost, and then integrate that technology into their lines of business (LOB). Yet few organisations ever give much thought to building and growing their ability to do so.

The following chart shows the distribution of technology organisations, according to their relative effectiveness at producing useful software:

Note: Although this chart is essentially anecdotal in its representation of organisational effectiveness, there’s much empirical data from e.g. ISBGS showing a very similar curve for individual projects.

By “Rightshifting”, we’re talking about the process of moving organisations to the right along the horizontal axis of this chart.

Most people don’t expect organisational effectiveness to be so unevenly distributed – with such a disproportionately high number of relatively ineffective organisations.


This distribution suggests that most software personnel have never seen software development at its best (or even, good). Their unfamiliarity with effective practice gives rise to a natural scepticism about whether things are really any better anywhere. Even people who have worked in the software industry for twenty or thirty years might never have seen software development practices anywhere near their best.

Most people will have spent their entire careers working in organisations over on the left-hand side of the chart. But some lucky few have seen for themselves that the best organisations are indeed much better than the rest.

Thus, by “Rightshifting”, we’re talking about the process of moving organisations to the right along the horizontal axis of the above chart.

the ethical and moral imperative for rightshifting

How do you feel about people wasting their time? I’m talking here specifically about the waste of effort, time and resources during the working day. There’s the obvious economic cost, of course. If employees are wasting time, by definition that’s costing their employer money. In software development, both the waste – and the cost – are often significant, but rarely visible.

However, I’m not going to dwell on this aspect in this article. Instead I want to talk about the morality of waste. Or rather, the immorality of it all.

We’ve already seen how Clifford caused uproar amongst his peers by suggesting that belief is subject to ethical scrutiny. And I’ve suggested that most executives’ belief that things are OK within their software development shops fails that ethical test.

But I feel it goes further than that. Not only is executives’ naïve belief in the productivity of their workforce unethical in itself, but the consequences – for individuals, the business and wider society – are immoral too: waste, misery, stress, friction, conflict, disrespect, under- achievement, despondency, profligacy, demoralisation and frustration, to name but a few.

the ethical way forward

So what to do? First, even before looking at the reality of the situation, on the ground, in their own organisations, I would suggest that responsible executives need to take a look at themselves – and their own motivations and culpability. Have they “honestly earned the right to their belief through patient investigation” – or are they merely “stifling their doubts”?

Have executives “honestly earned the right to their belief through patient investigation” – or are they merely “stifling their doubts”?

If the latter, then I suggest executives are ethically bound to go look for themselves at the reality of the situation in their organisations. Some may feel uncomfortable doing this, lacking the necessary technical skills, or even simply the time. This should be no bar, however. Various specialist organisations exist to offer the necessary audit and review services. These organisations can conduct Clifford’s “patient investigations” and furnish the objective evidence.

Having the necessary evidence in mind, executives may then take pride that their beliefs pass the ethical test.

Of course, having real evidence to hand will likely show that the business has much work to do to by way of Rightshifting. So then let the journey commence!

And finally, executives with a new-found or renewed ethical sentiment may begin to examine their peers’ beliefs in an ethical light, too. Thus, ethical business, and a more ethical society at large, grows stronger. Or is that too much to hope for?

In closing, I leave you with the words of Bertrand Russell:

“What is wanted is not the will to believe, but the wish to find out, which is its exact opposite.“

– Bob

copyright ©2008 

Emotioneering at the BCS

Last Wednesday (4 April 2012) @papachrismatts and I presented a session on Emotioneering at the BCS. For the folks who could not attend, here’s a brief reprise of the evening.


We started out by introducing ourselves, and then declared our two objectives for the evening:

  • To introduce the audience to the concept of Emotioneering.
  • To inspire some folks to apply the idea to their own product development efforts.

What is Emotioneering?

The term “Emotioneering” is not widely used or known – the only fields in which I have come across it being video games, and product development. For the latter field, I’m the only person I know of that’s using the term –  and applying its ideas in practise. “Emotioneering” is a portmanteau word, formed from “Emotion” and “Engineering” i.e. “engineering emotions into products”.

Emotioneering is two ideas linked together:

  1. The appreciation that modern neuroscience research has shown unequivocally that people make buying decisions on an emotional basis, not a rational basis, and therefore that successful products – highly-saleable products – are best designed from the perspective of the emotional responses they evoke, rather than the features or functions they contain.
  2. Given than many existing software products do evoke emotional responses in buyers and users alike, product designers and developers can imagine applying engineering disciplines to ensuring that their products actually evoke the emotions they think will appeal to buyers.

The Neuroscience of Buyology

Martin Lindstrom (see photo, above), a Marketing Guru, spent $7million and three years on a study using FMRI and EEG brain scanners to discover what was going on inside people’s brains when they were in the process of deciding whether and what to buy. This research is detailed in his book “Buyology”.

Brain Scanning

Chris had brought along a mock EEG machine, and we proceeded to demonstrate, with the able assistance of a volunteer from the audience, how the brain scanning technique works.

Real-world Emotioneering

Chris and I then moved on to talk about some real-worl examples of companies that have realised the power of designing products (actually, “whole products“) to evoke emotions in their customers. These examples included:

  • Zara (fashion) and Madonna concerts
  • Coke (soft drinks) and America’s Got Talent
  • Manga (baby eyes)
  • Typhoo tea (“Two Thumbs fresh” TV adverts)
  • The Nokia ringtone (negative associations)
  • Apple (Jonathan Ive)
  • Others (see the book)

Note: As far as I know, none of these companies actually use an explicitly Emotioneering approach.


In the middle of talking about Zara and Madonna, Chris received a phone call on his mobile, which he had “inadvertently forgotten to switch off”. After chatting to the caller for a minute or two, he handed the phone to me and I continued the conversation. After perfunctorily apologising, we resumed the presentation.

How Did You Feel About That?

After the examples, we returned to ask the audience how they had felt about the interruption. They were intrigued to examine their various reactions to the “rude” and “inappropriate” phone conversation. I wonder how (more) memorable the evening will have been because of this “gag”?

The Game

Through presenting “Real Options”, Chris and Olav (Masssen) have found that people only take the ideas on board when their emotions are engaged. In other words, a strictly rational appeal does little to inspire folks to look at Real Options more closely. Chris and I presented a very simple “game” to engage folks kinaesthetically and emotionally in the Emotioneering ideas. (BTW, if you were there, how did this work for you?)


We had a brief Q&A session to recap on the idea the people do not buy on a rational basis, but rather on an emotional basis.

The Engineering Angle

I then segued into the second idea linked to Emotioneering: The idea that products – particularly software products and products containing software – can be engineered to evoke specific emotions in potential purchasers, customers, users, etc..

I have long favoured Use Cases as a means to capture functional requirements or product features. Many folks like to use User Story cards to the same end. I showed a very simplistic Use Case diagram which I have adapted as a notation for Emotioneering and thus renamed to a “Feel Case diagram”. In this example we had just two “Feel Cases” for the product in question (a car). See diagram, below:

Aside: To my delight, Tom Gilb was in the audience and we all too briefly discussed the role of quantification in such “Feel Cases”.

Some folks opined afterwards that this part of the presentation had been too short. I am resolved to remedy this if I have the honour of ever presenting again on this topic.

Final Q&A

We had a lively set of questions from the audience, and then adjourned to continue same “down the pub” (the Lyceum Tavern).  My two questions to the audience were:

  • “Our first objective was to introduce you to the idea of emotioneering. How many folks think they have a grip of the idea?” Most all of the room signified in the affirmative.
  • “Our second objective was to inspire you to apply these ideas in your work. How many folks might now do that?” Around 50% of the room signalled in the affirmative.

– Bob


In case anyone’s interested, here’s the fruits our our planning session, pre-event:

Pearls Before Swine

Good Home Cooking

My maternal Grandmother was a wonderful cook. And when she and my mother were running the family business – a seaside guest house – when I was a wee lad, she used to cook all the meals for the guests (and the family and staff too). She really cared about her cooking, selecting quality ingredients from local fishermen, farmers and grocers, and lovingly crafting the best meals she could – within the budget allowed by the business.

Most of the guests loved the food, many paying compliments and returning year after year. Locals would also dine-in regularly. But there were always some, a very few, for whom the food did not meet their expectations, or more likely, suit their palates. In her consummate, inimitable style, when faced with a particularly unreasonable complaint, she would say “…pearls before swine”. Meaning, she knew her food was excellent, and if some folks didn’t like it, then they probably didn’t know how to appreciate it.

“Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.”

Matthew 7:6

Software Pearls

Do you believe that great knowledge-work will be recognised by the folks paying for it? Some teams may be lucky and find a good customer that appreciates what they’ve achieved, the quality they’re delivered, the efforts they have made – many times, above and beyond the call of duty (or the terms of the contract). But very often, customers receive excellently-crafted products with absolutely no clue as to the quality of the things they’ve just received. Unlike a great plate of food, they have no means to evaluate what they’ve just been served. The converse is also all-too-frequently true; oftentimes customers get delivered a real dog of a product, and have no clue that they’ve just been completely rooked.


Of course, some customers don’t feel that suppliers should be especially thanked, recognised or otherwise noted for simply delivering what was asked-for, regardless of any unforeseen difficulties or outstanding innovations that may have occurred along the way. I would not regard these as desirable customers.

In Japan, for example, in the Keiretsu – the supplier networks of the major manufacturers – suppliers are appreciated, helped and long-term relationships fostered, with the understanding the the supplier-customer relationship thrives with long-term commitment and mutual effort.

Keiretsu member companies own small portions of the shares in each other’s companies…; this system helps insulate each company from stock market fluctuations and takeover attempts, thus enabling long-term planning in innovative projects. It is a key element of the automotive industry in Japan.

Few indeed are the Western companies that see value in this kind of arrangement, and fewer still the companies that act to cement long-term relationships with software suppliers.

Market for Lemons

What this means in practice is that the market for software services (e.g. custom software development) is effectively a Market for Lemons.

And what that means, is that software suppliers will rarely receive a fair price for their labours. Lacking appreciation of quality, buyers will automatically assume that whatever they are buying is a Lemon, and discount the price accordingly.

This is as much true for software supplied in-house by e.g. the IT department to the rest of the organisation as it is for software supplied by external commercial software development services (e.g. software houses)

Finally, the Point

So why am I writing this post? For three main reasons, really:

  • To invite those organisations buying software services, either from external third parties or internal e.g. IT departments, to focus some effort on better understanding good service / quality software from the dross. A Market for Lemons affords benefits to no one.
  • To remind suppliers to choose their customers carefully, and where that is infeasible, to pay some attention to managing customers’ expectations and educating them as to the quality aspects of what they’re receiving.
  • [TBD – Can you guess?]

– Bob

The Familiar Credo

When starting Familiar, ten of us came together for a day to discuss the possibility of starting a company, explore and exchange our personal values, and take a look at our enthusiasm for working together on something radical. This is what we came up with:

Our Credo

We believe…

On People
  • People are capable of amazing things. With a just little support and encouragement, people can achieve just about anything. No limits.
On Purpose
  • We exist as a community solely to help as many people as possible come to better understand themselves and what’s important to themselves as individuals; and to help each of them (us) make those important things happen.
  • We must subordinate everything else, even our very existence, to this Purpose.
  • To continue to fulfil our Purpose we must meet the basic needs of the group: food, money, shelter, peer respect, etc. (c.f. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs).
  • Just as creatures need air to live but do not live for air, we regard these basics as necessary prerequisites to continue living, but in no way the purpose of life.
On Success
  • We must measure our success in terms of the degree to which we meet our Purpose.
  • We can only gauge our success when we agree what it is we’re trying to achieve.
  • Success, particularly in the Information Age, depends utterly on having the full commitment of well-informed people who really want to make a difference.
  • Commercial success counts for nothing if we lose sight of our deeper Purpose.
  • We must constantly guard against gauging our success in terms familiar to other businesses (such as growth, profitability, financial wealth, fame, etc.).
  • Our emphasis on our Purpose will bring far more material success (as an inevitable by-product) than would ever be possible if we tried to make material success the end in itself.
On Sustainability
  • We can sustain our ideas, ideals, values, understandings, improvements and the like only by identifying or inventing suitable mechanisms and implementing them as integral elements of our enterprise.
On Work
  • Work can be the most fulfilling, exciting and absorbing activity known to man.
  • We oppose the notion that work has to be mundane – Death to Greyness!
  • Work exists both to provide people with an environment to find out more about themselves and what motivates them as individuals, and as a valuable forum for social interaction and exchange.
  • People must demonstrate their suitability for particular assignments – no one has an automatic right to meaningful work; it’s not part of the contract, folks!
  • People should regard working through Falling Blossoms as a form of social contract. So long as and to the extent that it suits all parties, it may continue – when it ceases to suit any party it need not continue (and no hard feelings!).
  • Combining all the various facets of life often seen as separate and distinct, such as work, play, social, domestic, fun, earning a living, etc. are all but different facets of the holistic entity that is Life.
On Trust
  • To allow personal growth and learning, and as a matter of simple respect, we have no alternative but to trust intelligent people to make their own choices.
  • People cannot reasonably demand or expect trust, they have to earn it.
On Respect
  • People must expect to be treated no better and no worse than they themselves would treat others.
  • People cannot reasonably demand or expect respect, they have to earn it.
  • Our operational objectives (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) must always underpin and strengthen our Purpose, rather than undermine or sideline it.
On Commitment
  • Having someone take responsibility for resolving an issue requires them to have gained a certain awareness of the need to resolve that issue.
  • Having someone’s commitment to resolving an issue always requires them to have personally and intimately accepted responsibility for the issue.
  • Commitment therefore comes from an informed view of what needs doing, along with a basic necessary willingness to pitch-in and make a difference.
  • Our job is therefore to help folks become aware of what’s needed, and then help them become aware of ways of meeting those needs.
On Process
  • Intelligent, committed, experienced people still perform better, accomplish more, and have more fun, when supported by established ways of doing things (accepted local best practice).
On Competition
  • Even if we’re not constantly getting better at meeting our Purpose (and all the things that go to help make that happen), we can be certain our ‘competitors’ are.
  • In line with our view of Familiar as primarily a ‘community of practice’, we do not compete so much with other businesses, but rather other forms of community experience.
  • If we fail to compete on these terms, we cannot expect to retain people’s interest, involvement and commitment (at least, none who share our particular Purpose).
On Growth of the Enterprise
  • Growth for its own sake has little merit.
  • We will look to grow when and only when that growth allows us to move closer to meeting our Purpose, or to bring our Purpose to a wider community.
– Bob

This is Not a Blog Post

Picasso was sitting at a table outside a Paris cafe. A woman came up to him and asked him to draw something for her on a napkin. He complied, doodling as only he could. After he quickly finished he requested the French equivalent of $5,000. Agast the woman said — “but it only took you 2 minutes!” Smiling, the great man replied — “no Madam, it took me my whole life.”

Similarly, this blog post – and others – did not take just a few minutes. Rather each takes me my whole life. And although I am no Picasso of the prose, you might just appreciate each post a little more if you take them as a whole. I’m sure the same goes for others’ blogs and posts, too. Not to mention developers and developing, testers and testing, managers and managing, etc..


– Bob

Agile Development Doesn’t Work

How to build great software?
Build a great team, and have them build it for you.

Dave Rooney, in one of his blog posts last year wrote “Waterfall Works“. Somewhat tongue-in-cheek, he made a useful point. The waterfall style of development actually did, and continues to, deliver some projects successfully. Agile also delivers some projects successfully. Even in the absence of any particular style of development, some projects have been and continue to be delivered successfully. What conclusions can we draw from this observation? That projects are the common denominator for success? I don’t think so.  So what is the common denominator for successful delivery of great software products?


Engaged, committed people.

People that really want to make a difference.

“Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

~ Margaret Mead

If you buy into this, then everything else pales into insignificance. Agile doesn’t matter, Waterfall doesn’t matter, processes in general don’t matter. People will find their own way. Some of those people will like Agile, and use it. Their success will come from the sweat of their brows and their commitment to making things work.

Actually, Agile started out from this premise. Software folks, distressed by the continual dilution of their energy, commitment and talents caused by dysfunctional ways of working, dysfunctional management, dysfunctional clients, etc. took matters into their own hands and “uncovered better ways“. Somewhere along the way since, this premise was lost.

So, why do we continue the specious and pointless arguments about which method, approach, style, is better? If we are going to argue (and I can’t see that ending anytime soon) then how about we start talking about how to get the best out of people? (By which, I mean, “how to arrange circumstances such that people can come together and discover what fulfilment means to each of them personally?”. About how best to organise and arrange the work such that, as Herzberg demands, we ensure that “people have good jobs to do”?

How about we stop studying processes, methods and tools, and rather study theories of motivation, engagement, sociology and psychology instead?

And how about we come together to explore these issues? Because I’m certain about at least one thing. Imposing yet another management fad on long-suffering workers is definitely not the way to go.

– Bob

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