Discipline (or lack thereof) is a criticism often levelled at Agile software developers, and the Agile approach itself, too. This is a fallacy, at least in the case where Agile principles are in fact actually being followed  – as opposed to some kind of faux Agile.  BTW I have seen some developers and managers claim (faux) Agile chops in an attempt to avoid “discipline”.

Discipline contributes much to organisational effectiveness – we may prefer to label it “professionalism”, “engineering” or even “craftsmanship” – but there are at least two different forms of discipline, the one much more effective, from an organisational perspective, than the other.

Continuing a Conversation

This is a post partially in response to a request from Zsolt Fabok and Kev Austin, arising from something Zsolt learned at the excellent Lean Agile Scotland 2012:

Zsolt’s tweet relates, I believe, to the Marshall Model, and in particular to the notion of transitions between each of the four mindsets. I have blogged about this before, but to recap:

Learning From Transitions

Each transition, from one mindset to the next (to the right, on the chart), implicitly teaches an organisation the value of certain things (most often, these organisations only realise they have learnt something in retrospect).

(The three transition zones appear as the orange walls, or hurdles on the above chart).

The Ad-hoc to Analytic Transition

From this transition – when successfully accomplished – an organisation and its people have learned (primarily) the value of discipline. Discipline in Ad-hoc organisations is generally conspicuous by its absence.

Ad-hoc organisations may contain some individuals with their own self-discipline, but even these individuals remain mostly unaware of this talent, and the organisation overall sees little or no value in discipline per se – even though the few folks with some self-discipline may be seen as “star” performers. with an “amazing” ability to get things done.

After the transition, the discipline Analytic organisations come to appreciate is almost always “external” discipline – coercively imposed on people and teams through things like command-and-control management, processes, process conformance, audits, standards, inspections and the like. Because this is imposed, however benevolent the intent, the Analytic mindset form of discipline significantly diminishes folks’ engagement and joy in their work.

“We all pay dearly when people respond to our values and needs not out of a desire to give from the heart, but out of fear, guilt, or shame. Sooner or later, we experience the consequences of diminished goodwill on the part of those who comply with our values out of a sense of of either external or internal coercion.”

~ Marshall Rosenberg

I believe that a large part of the improved effectiveness afforded by the Synergistic mindset comes from the removal of this coercion.

The Analytic to Synergistic Transition

This second transition – for those organisations fortunate enough to achieve it successfully – teaches, again mainly in retrospect, the value of a shared or common purpose.

Note that dwelling in the Analytic mindset for a while affords at least one advantage – the instilling of an appreciation of discipline. Folks get to see how e.g. being organised and disciplined, as a group, helps them get things done more regularly and predictably. It’s just a shame that aspects of the Analytic mindset (e.g. Theory X) are seen to require coercion and compulsion.

Discipline in the Synergistic organisation transforms from external to internal, from coercive to collaborative. Language transforms from manipulative “Jackal” to heart-felt “Giraffe”. And motivations transform from extrinsic and joyless to intrinsic and joyful.

“As [we] replace our old patterns of defending, withdrawing, or attacking in the face of judgment and criticism, we come to perceive ourselves and others, as well as our intentions and relationships, in a new light. Resistance, defensiveness, and violent reactions are minimised.”

~ Marshall Rosenberg

Note: Internal discipline is probably more commonly known as self-discipline.

The Synergistic to Chaordic Transition

Discipline in the Chaordic mindset looks a lot like the internal discipline learned by an organisation whilst in the Synergistic mindset. The distinction, if any, is that the Chaordic organisation applies its discipline not least to acquiring and applying a capability to move rapidly and confidently into new domains and new markets, almost literally overnight. (What I refer to as “Positive Opportunism”).

In Summary

Ad-hoc organisations generally have little or no appreciation of the value of discipline.

Analytic organisations most often develop Brasil-esque coercive discipline, and accordingly become somewhat more effective for their pains.

Synergistic organisations retain their appreciation of the value of discipline, but change its form and compound it with a shared common purpose, seeing a further uplift in effectiveness.

Chaordic organisations build on self-discipline (of individuals and the organisation both) and on common purpose – and apply these to the ever more effective exercise of “positive opportunism”.

– Bob

Further Reading

William Glasser’s Noncoercive Discipline – Online Article
Let It Bleed: Libertarianism and the Workplace – Online Article
Coercion – The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy

  1. Have been eagerly awaiting a post like this which so eloquently explains the different organisational mindsets and the journey one might take to transition to the right. And reading this post makes me realise that “discipline” plays such an important part in binding together the rightshifting theory. The irony is that discipline in employees is sought after by analytic organisations but the prevailing culture discourages it, while in synergistic organisations discipline is inherent in the work ethic due to the culture of trust, honesty, collaboration and the autonomy, mastery and purpose found by employees, hence there is no need for coercion.

    I would really be keen to hear about some concrete examples of such transitions, with a before and after quantification of “effectiveness”. I feel that organisations further to the left (especially) would want empirical evidence of how their collective mindset manifests itself into low effectiveness before embarking on a transition. If they feel they are effective in reaching their goals, even if they are not as determined by the Marshall Model, then they may not seek a transition.

    More simply put, does one require a more rightshifted mindset to even appreciate rightshifting at all (or be likely to ever use it?)

    • Hi Neil,

      Thanks for your comments. I read you would like some concrete examples. I feel frustrated that I have been unable to find any that highlight the role of discipline, or that contrast external vs internal discipline i.e. before and after a “transition”. Although I doubt whether even detailed evidence would persuade many folks, my need for honesty and integrity in my work compels me to keep looking.

      I also read your “simpler” question: “does one require a more rightshifted mindset to even appreciate rightshifting at all (or be likely to ever use it?)”. I feel encouraged that you wonder about this. It meets my need for meaningful connection, and in particular, engagement with my work.

      As to an answer; maybe it’s a bit like travel. “Travel broadens the mind” they say. And G. K. Chesterton’s version may have relevance, too: “They say travel broadens the mind; but you must have the mind.” (1921)

      How about “The practice of Rightshifting broadens the organisational mind”? Or put another way, the more rightshifting an organisation does, the more it realises the the scale of the opportunities? The more it sees additional possibilities, and scope, for further improvement?

      – Bob

  2. I like the analogy with travel very much. I also share your doubt about evidence necessarily persuading folk. But I do wonder if there is a practical way to deal with the paradox that an organisation requires some form of learning mindset before it may be willing to embark on a journey toward such a mindset?

    Organisations seem willing to adopt methodologies in order to “improve” (on their terms) in some way, i.e. if something has a set of steps, roles and rules that can be adopted with minimum disruption and can “promise” some kind of measurable/tangible improvement then they seem open to the idea. The actual goals of the methodology may not be fully understood (unconscious incompetence) but that’s ok, because it is a learning journey and therefore seems appropriate that the organisation wouldn’t fully understand why they adopted the methodology until they actually see the benefits and fully grok why they got those benefits.

    Despite this being somewhat contrary to the ultimate aim of rightshifting, I wonder if there is a way to manufacture some kind of “practical guide to rightshifting” which simply captures some reasons and steps organisations can take to start their journey toward better effectiveness via mindset shift – a rightshifting “method” (for want of a much, much better phrase)? I see this simplification as similar in some ways to the concept of the Sprint Retrospective in Scrum – while it is abused in adopting companies, at least it introduces the concept of taking time out of the working week to dedicate to process improvement.

    Without a practical application for the organisations that need it most, I fear rightshifting will be ignored or not even heard of by the majority of adhoc and analytic organisations. Scrum isn’t perfect but at least it has marketed itself well enough for organisations to adopt in a simplified, method-driven form and gives a hint to the kind of principles and values which breed success in software delivery. I would love to see more and more companies recognise the culture and mindset shifts required to become more successful at software delivery, and I hope the rightshifting message can be conveyed in such a way that the companies (and people) on the left side of the curve can understand why taking a first step is a good thing for them.

    • Thanks Neil,

      Your comment makes me feel grateful you choose to be part of the Rightshifting community. It meets my need for mutual support and encouragement, for mutual learning, and for a sense of being together in e.g. a fellowship.

      The question of how to embrace (Adhoc, Analytic) minded organisations and offer their folks acquaintance with the possibilities of rightshifting is never far from my mind.

      I feel conflicted about a Guide of some sort, though.

      One the one hand, I concur that e.g. Analytic-minded organisations, constrained as they are by their mindset, are limited in their approaches to trying new things, and catering to that (via e.g. something in a ‘box’) seems eminently sensible.

      On the other hand, I wonder if Vanguard UK may not have more of a handle on this stuff? “Make execs curious enough to get them to go to their gemba (with a guide-in-person, to help them see with fresh eyes)”. It’s the dis-inclination to go get knowledge, and the inability to see (with fresh eyes) that seems to me the key issue.

      And BTW let’s not overlook the fact that incremental rightshifting is generally fine – in-between the transitions. Many organisations regularly have kaizen-like improvement initiatives, albeit out-of-band ones (c.f. https://flowchainsensei.wordpress.com/2011/01/02/451/ )

      – Bob

  3. Hi Bob,

    thanks for the post! I’m wondering where the result/application of theory X, Y, and Z appears in the model. X is quite obvious, but I don’t see a benefit or need for Y and I can see Z around 2.3 and onwards. What do you think?


    • I’ve changed my mind, because theory Y must show up somewhere and now I think it is in the adhoc phase, and then comes X and Z.

      • Hi Zsolt,

        I’m feeling misunderstood, but encouraged by your interest in the topic of discipline. Would you be willing to say more about your point of view and, specifically, why you might place Theory Y in the Adhoc mindset?

        – Bob

      • Hi Bob, sorry for getting back so late, but it appears that the notification doesn’t work as I expected and I cannot reply on your comment.

        I went a bit off-topic with the theory-Y. Theory-Y trusts the people that they know what they have to do, they are motivated to do it and will do it. A typical real live example: “you know how to do it, you did it before, so please do it and notify me when it is done”. If one applies this thinking without knowing the maturity of the people who are involved, then they will go and do whatever they think was good. But not all the groups are on the same level, and this attitude backfires. So the work may get done somehow, usually showing similarities to the student syndrome (doing irrelevant things for a long time, and when the deadline is up, do it in the old way: fast and dirty).

        From the definition of ad-hoc: “The Ad-hoc mindset says that if there’s work to be done, just get on and do it – don’t think about how it’s to be done, or how it may have been done last time.” To me, the result of poorly executed Theory-Y management technique is exactly the one you are talking about in the Marshall model on the ‘ad-hoc’ level.

  4. Nice post – I like the idea that discipline exists on several levels from the individual to the organisation and moves up that hierarchy as an organisation shifts right.

    Not sure I would of chosen that image though… When I think discipline, I’m picturing more of a martial arts master, Zen Monk kind of discipline.

    • Hi Ric,

      I feel satisfaction in the belief that I wrote a post that some folks (e.g. yourself, at least) find interesting and thought-provoking. That meets my need to be relevant and make a difference.

      I intended the image (“Dark Mistress” a.k.a. Dominatrix) to convey the classical Analytic view of discipline – domination and violence and “you should enjoy it being done to you, you poor deluded sap”. I was hoping that might resonate more viscerally with more folks’ experience than the more progressive forms of (self) disciple to which you refer? (And I used to love playing Dungeon Keeper, from whence the character and illustration are drawn).

      – Bob

  5. Totally agree. My mother was a Psychiatrist and used to say “life is a sado-masochistic balance”. Too true in our society and organisations unfortunately. I think people need to recognise that there are two roles and that if you “take the pain”, which most people do, it’s just a re-enforcement of that paradigm. Luckily as an “old grizzly contractor” I don’t put up with that shit and just move on from toxic environments beyond my threshold.

    I’m liking the fellowship feel though – used it on my last contract to great effect with all the people I worked with. Although I had two great levels of management above me, above them did not seem good. Luckily, because of my managers, I was was never exposed to them, but I know one of my managers was really looking forward to his holiday so he “could get away from work” – we can but try…

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