Monthly Archives: November 2012

Developer Chops

I don’t get to do much development these days, what with all the study I’m putting into Organisational Psychotherapy and Rightshifting, keeping up meaningful connections and helping folks out where I can via e.g. Twitter, and now looking for a paying gig, or even a job.

And it’s hard to convince myself that I should consider development work, when I feel there are other areas where I can add a lot more value.

But I do keep my hand in, especially with Python, Javascript (mainly server side) and e.g. CouchDB, just for my own amusement, and to keep abreast of some of the current trends.

Aside: I was quite busy with the building of a prototype for Newsmice + Dyphoon, earlier in the year.

All that notwithstanding, I have in the past often had to consider folks for developer positions, and would have benefited in that task from some kind of Developer Competency Matrix – as a starting point for some conversations about development topics. CVs just don’t work well in that regard. (Another reason for my NoCV campaign).

So both as an example and as a starting point for conversations, I’ve just added a page to this blog with my own Developer Competency Matrix – something that’s been lying around on my hard drive for a couple of years now.

I wonder how other folks present their development skills and experience? And how, when you’re hiring developers, you like to start a conversation about the art?

– Bob

Agile Tour Riga 2012 Report

I presented the post-lunch keynote session in Riga, Latvia for the Agile Tour RIga 2012 conference last Thursday. This is my overview of the conference in general.

Firstly, the people. I enjoyed the welcoming, friendly vibes from all the organisers, speakers and attendees alike. The venue – Hotel Islande – was a very grand and new hotel and conference centre. The conferencing seemed well-sorted, but other aspects such as break-out areas, a functioning bar, and general support for helping meaningful conversations happen failed to meet my needs.

The Morning Sessions

I found much to like in the opening keynote by Andrea ProvaglioThe Beating Heart of Agile“. He and I seem to be much on the same page on many matters, excepting perhaps why the Elves leave.

i spent the remainder of the morning in the Scrum Lego City Game run by Martin von Weissenberg. More on that in a separate post, later.

After a somewhat rushed lunch (the day’s schedule seemed to take on a life of its own) it was my turn.

My Session

Whilst being introduced – as an Organisational Psychotherapist – I noted the same low-level mirth (a.k.a. tittering, sniggering, or maybe nervous laughter) that I have remarked upon in a previous post. For me, this has ceased to be troublesome and has moved to being very intriguing. I’m sure it contains some deep truth, waiting to reveal itself.

The session itself was intended to be a “beginners'” introduction to Rightshifting, and as such several people expressed their satisfaction with the material.

I mentioned “Parrot Cages” once, but I think I got away with it.

[More soon]

You might like to take a look at the slides, or read more about the Marshall Model.

The Afternoon Sessions

I had wanted to listen to Piotr Burdylo, but the session was so packed that I opted for the session on Chef instead. This was probably a mistake as this was essentially an introduction to Chef, and having spent some months with Chef already, was looking for some insights into the Chef madness. In particular, I’d still like to understand the core design principles behind the tool. Are there any?

The closing keynote was by Matthias Skarin on “Continuous Improvement, Beyond Retrospectives”. Not exactly keynote material, I thought, but congruent nevertheless with my views on the role of experiment in finding improvements.

Due to my travel and the length of the conference day itself, I was sufficiently whacked to skip the post-conference party in favour of a quiet dinner with Mattias and Andre Heie Vik in the hotel. My apologies to anyone that had hoped for a chat in the evening.

Overall Impressions

Overall, I was impressed by the attentiveness of the audience and their eagerness to learn – as well as by the commitment of the speakers and organisers both. I also had the impression that the Latvia community is relatively isolated from the mainstream Agile community and the knowledge therein. A simple show of hands illustrated either a hesitancy to raise one’s hand, or a widespread unfamiliarity with what many in the global Agile community these days take as givens: Ackoff, Deming and Goldratt to name but a few.

The day as a whole also usefully reminded me just how many folks seem to be still struggling with the very basics of software development, things like programming , delivering the right thing, engaging people in their work, and so on.

Would I recommend you attend next year? Definitely. And one tip to make it even more useful: Do some homework before you go. I’d love to hear e.g. how many attendees had read one or more of the speakers’ blogs, looked at their Goodreads page or followed them on Twitter before coming along on the day?

– Bob

Better Conferences – Revisited

As I put together my notes for the upcoming Agile Tour Latvia 2012 conference next week, I’m reflecting back on a post I wrote earlier this year (in March) titled Better Conferences. This post was based on my experiences at, and general dissatisfaction with, some number of conferences I had attended in 2011 (as an invited speaker).

Whilst very appreciate of being invited, I expressed in the post how, for me, conferences in general, and software conferences in particular – although at the better end of the spectrum – place too much emphasis on presentation sessions (“push”) and too little on interaction, dialogue, and, well, conferring:


[kuhn-fur]  verb, -ferred, -fer·ring.

verb (used without object)

  1. to consult together; compare opinions; carry on a discussion or deliberation.

[C16: from Latin conferre  to gather together, compare; from com- together + ferre to bring]

At the time of writing, quite a few folks expressed some sympathy and fellow-feeling with that point of view.

Well, my general dissatisfaction remains at about the same level, although the ACE Conference 2012, and Lean Agile Scotland 2012 were a small step in the right direction, I thought. I guess it’s just that much easier to stick with the old ways.

You may notice I’ve been at fewer conferences recently. That’s both because I’ve been invited less, and because I’ve avoided them more. The latter not least because I’ve chosen to avoid folks whose “conversations” I find entirely unidirectional, like David Snowden, Jurgen Appelo, and Stephen Parry.

I feel my level of attendance is likely to decrease further, which is a shame as each conference does at least provide some opportunities for conferral and dialogue. But the effort/reward equation – particularly as I see myself as an introvert – just seems to continue moving in the wrong direction. In a nutshell, too many presentation sessions, too few opportunities for quiet, considered, thoughtful dialogue and meaningful connections.

So if you’ll be at Agile Tour Latvia 2012, or the Scandinavian Developer Conference 2013, I’ll be so much happier if you come up to me and exchange views, tell me about yourself and your hopes, fears, feelings and issues – and generally just confer. I’ll be doing just that. In quiet corners. And, to the extent that it’s possible, in my “presentations” too.

– Bob


Adrian Segar, author of Conferences That Work, got in touch to let me know about his website, including various free downloads. Might be worth taking a look.


Organisational cognitive dissonance. That’s a bit of a mouthful, isn’t it? And a bit of a weird concept to get one’s head around, too.

It seems like many folks skip over the whole idea, which I feel is a shame, as OrgCogDiss lies at the heart of why Agile adoptions – and other transformative change initiatives – fail so often, and can cause such angst.

Before we talk about OrgCogDiss, let’s look at the related idea of the Organisational Psyche. You’ve heard the story of the research with monkeys and a banana? This illustrates how a group can evolve to the point where some of its beliefs are in some way independent of the beliefs of the individuals in the group. There is much written on the collective psyche, but the general idea relevant here is that a group can somehow posses a “psyche” – much like that of an individual, but independent from the individuals constituting that group, and by extension, organisation.

Aside: As an organisational psychotherapist, I work primarily with this so-called organisational psyche.


OrgCogDiss becomes relevant in times of change. Let’s lay out the kinds of organisational changes where this is so:

These are the kinds of organisation-wide changes which imply a change of perspective, a change of world-view, a change of belief on the part of folks in the organisation. In Rightshifting, we call this a transition from one mindset to another. This kind of change happens less frequently than e.g. incremental change where prevailing belief systems are not called into question.

For example: Many organisations believe in the value and efficacy of a command hierarchy; in the role of professional managers as the planners of the work, as advised by F W Taylor in the early twentieth century:

“Divide work nearly equally between managers and workers, so that the managers apply scientific management principles to planning the work and the workers actually perform the tasks.”

Some people, however, may come to believe something different. That self-organisation of e.g. teams offers a more effective way of getting things done. As this idea spreads through an organisation, some folks will shift their beliefs and adopt the idea, others will still retain the ‘old’ idea that a split between managers and workers is necessary, or simply “common sense”.

At this time, when the organisation is “in transition”, the two belief systems will contend within the organisation. Individuals may fall into one camp or the other on this issue, but the organisation as a whole has two dissonant ideas in play – inside its ‘”collective psyche” – at the same time.

Each camp will, over time, come to see the other as in some way “alien” and unnatural (hence the headline image to this post). This contention is what sets up a state of cognitive dissonance. Not in the individuals necessarily, but in the organisation as a whole. Et voilà: OrgCogDiss.

There’s much research to show the effects of cognitive dissonance on individuals. Less so for the effects of OrgCogDiss.


The issue of transition is compounded by the observation that when an organisation is in transition, it’s rarely just one idea, concept or belief that’s in flux. Rather, it’s much more likely that a whole passel of interlocking ideas are in flux together. Some folks call such interlocking and mutually reinforcing sets of ideas “memeplexes“.

This means that in a transition, the challenge is to replace one memeplex with another, wholesale. And complete the transition before OrgCogDiss forces an unhappy, but inevitable, resolution. Approaching doom can sometimes be deferred or delayed though e.g. a skunkworks approach or French Letters, but rarely avoided.


OrgCogDiss is sufficiently disruptive, disturbing and stressful that it will resolve itself. Typically with a half-life of around nine months. That’s to say, over some sample population of organisations suffering from OrgCogDiss, some 50% of them will have resolved the situation within nine months, 50% of the remainder in another nine months, and so on.

How does OrgCogDiss resolve itself? Usually in one, or some combination, of these six ways:

  • The new memeplex fails to achieve critical mass within the organisation. A tipping point is not reached, and the organisation reverts to its original, pre-transistion memeplex:
    • Some folks who have, individually or in small groups, embraced the new memeplex are unable to give it up and return to the old beliefs, and now see the rest of the organisation as irredeemably alien and stupid. These folks therefore soon choose to exit the organisation.
    • Some folks who have embraced the new memeplex are unable to give it up and return to the old beliefs. The rest of the organisation sees them as irredeemably alien and disruptive, and therefore soon forces them to exit the organisation.
    • Some folks who have embraced the new memeplex are unhappy to give it up, but feign doing so to remain with the organisation. This feigned abandonment is a continual source of regret and demotivation for them, and of ongoing stress within the organisation (OrgCogDiss converts into individuals’ cognitive dissonance).
  • The new memeplex succeeds in achieving critical mass within the organisation. A tipping point is reached, and the organisation adopts the new memeplex across the board:
    • Some folks reject the new memeplex, unable or unwilling to give up their old beliefs, and now see the rest of the organisation as irredeemably alien and crazy. These folks therefore soon choose to exit the organisation.
    • Some folks rejected the new memeplex, unable or unwilling to give up their old beliefs. The rest of the organisation now sees them as irredeemably alien and outmoded, and soon forces them to exit the organisation.
    • Some folks reject the new memeplex, unhappy to give up their old beliefs. Even so, these folks choose to remain with the organisation, feigning adoption. Their feigned abandonment of the old ideas is a continual source of regret and demotivation for them, and of ongoing stress within the organisation (OrgCogDiss converts into individuals’ cognitive dissonance).


One implication of OrgCogDiss is that when embarking on a transition (whether intentional and planned, or accidental and ad-hoc), it can be helpful to approach it in such a way as to minimise OrgCogDiss. A broad-and-shallow approach – whether incremental or big-bang – might prove more helpful in this respect than a narrow-and-deep approach. Adam Kahane writes about this in his book “Solving Tough Problems“. He relates his experiences in helping build a post-apartheid South Africa, noting how a flock of flamingos rises from a lake, slowly, but together, in harmony.

Another implication is that we might choose to use the power of OrgCogDiss – for it is indeed very powerful – to our advantage in accelerating the inevitable resolution, making it succeed (or fail) as quickly as possible. No business wants to be in a state of transition for any length of time, even though the prize for a successful attempt is huge.

– Bob

Further Reading

Managing Transitions ~ William Bridges

What Shall We Do with the Project Managers?

(To the tune of “What Shall We Do with the Drunken Sailor“).

I speak regularly in front of project managers. I phrase it thus because we rarely have a dialogue. I fully accept that I must appear like some crazed loon from their perspective. It’s mutual. Sigh. Our views on the world of work seem somewhat – erm – different (cough).

Back in August I posted an Open Letter to the Project Management Community, making a plea for a little more mutual compassion and understanding of our differences.

And before that, in April, I wrote about the distinction between Management and Managers. Like Eisenhower’s take on plans and planning:

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

~ Dwight D. Eisenhower

I see much need for “project management” in the effective organisation, but good reasons not to have project managers doing it.

Existing project managers do not define the system in which they must work. In most cases they are as much prisoners of “the system” – the way the work works – as everybody else. In some ways, more so, given their “accountability”. So let’s not blame them or start telling them what they should do or must do to adjust to the new world of work.

Instead, let’s listen to what they need. Coz I’m pretty sure that they’re not getting much of what they need as things stand.

And while we’re doing that, let’s explore that new world of work I just mentioned. How about we talk together about where their skills, experience, and – most of all – talents and strengths can best serve their needs and the needs of the organisations in which they work. Here’s some scene-setting…

Regard and Respect

I’m all for celebrating folk’s strengths and talents. With creatives and developers, this happens fairly regularly. Although not as regularly as perhaps we – and they – might like. I tweeted recently:

Of course, as things stand in most organisations, with Project Managers the (often reluctant) policemen and disciplinarians of the piece, this seems unlikely. How might we change the way the work works such that discipline becomes intrinsic rather than extrinsic, and the need for coercion, compliance and that whole nine yards transmutes into something much more collaborative, something more like fellowship?

Of course, it’s not all going to happen overnight. But doing some (joint) planning might help everyone handle the inevitable uncertainty and consequent unease that often accompanies change. And by preserving a sense of agency, maybe we can help enhance folks’ well-being and feelings of security too.

It’s not only the project managers that are facing change – just about everyone will be involved – impacted – in such changes. How about we call them stakeholders?

When we’re considering the future, these are just some of the issues we might like to make discussable. Are they yet discussable in your organisation?

– Bob


I’ve chosen not to open up that other can of worms related to project management, here – the whole question of doing away with projects entirely, in favour of a more flow-oriented approach, like e.g. FlowChain. See the Further Reading section (below) for Grant Rule’s paper exploring the topic.

Further Reading

What’s Wrong with the Project Approach to Software Development? ~ Grant Rule
Compassionate Communication ~ Marshall B. Rosenberg
Jackal And Giraffe Language ~ High Branch Ideas
Discussing the Undiscussable ~ William R. Noonan
Principles of Product Development Flow ~ Donald G. Reinertsen

Seven Reasons Why Every Business Needs a Therapist

It’s probably fair to say that few – other than regular readers of my blog – have ever heard of the term “Organisational Psychotherapy“. And of those who have heard it, there may be many who assume they already know well enough what it means.

This post describes the benefits offered by “organisational therapy”, and invites you to consider to what extent other approaches – such as consulting or coaching – might cover the same ground.


The purpose of the organisational therapist is to improve the well-being of an organisation. As Martin Seligman observes:

“An absence of poor health is not the same as good health.”

~ Prof. Martin Seligman

The proponents of positive psychology say that poor health and good health are not just opposite ends of a spectrum – they are two independent spectra. And although many organisations are undoubtedly in very poor health from a psychological point of view, I believe therapy delivers the greatest benefits when it focuses on improving good health.

Following the idea of Obliquity, popularised by John Kay, the Organisational Therapist is not concerned with the effectiveness of the organisation per se, nor productivity nor bottom-line results. Rather, these desirables follow obliquely as a natural consequence of the increased good health and well-being of the organisation as a whole. Lencioni’s recent book “The Advantage” explores this connection in depth.

Benefits of Therapy

  1. Increased Positive Emotion
    Increasing the positive emotion in an organisation brings higher levels of peace, gratitude, satisfaction, pleasure, inspiration, hope, curiosity and love. One of the most common issues for people working in commercial organisations is the lack of “soul” and “humanity”. Many organisations today see emotion as something to be suppressed or avoided – as somehow “unprofessional” and “inappropriate”.

    “Research shows us that conscious attempts to suppress or avoid thoughts, feelings, or memories will actually increase their intensity. So if you try to suppress an emotion, memory, or thought that you don’t like, it will just come back to you in spades. It’s another paradox: You can’t control which feelings, thoughts, memories, or sensations show up in the first place, but you can make them much worse by trying to suppress them.”

    ~ Kirk Stroshal and Patricia Robinson

    Organisations that take a more progressive view of positive emotion and its role in the workplace offer a more enjoyable experience for everyone. Life can be less stressful, and work can have more “meaning”. People can embrace their humanity and their engagement with their work. Retaining existing staff and attracting new talent both become easier as the organisation becomes a more attractive place for talent to work. A focus on improving positive emotion can also lead to higher EQ, a key element in handling ongoing change.

  2. Connection with a Higher Purpose
    Living a meaningful life is, in essence, related to attaching oneself to something larger than oneself. Many organisations provide their people with little in the way of a meaningful higher purpose, or ways to connect with it. A shared sense of purpose brings alignment of people, a compelling vision, and general sense of direction and well-being. All these positive attributes in turn contribute to a healthier and more productive business.

  3. Engagement
    Achieving a state of flowor total engagement is quite natural, especially when people are involved in activities they love. And although natural, it’s sadly all to often absent from peoples’ working lives. It’s hard enough to create the conditions for “flow” that many organisations leave it to chance, or ignore it entirely. And then there’s the wider question of folks’ general “engagement” in and commitment to their work. We all know about the epidemic that is the lack of engagement in work. When an organisation attends to engagement (both in the sense of flow, and in the broader sense) people accomplish much more, and feel much happier, too.

  4. Positive Relationships
    For many, work is central to their lives because of the relationships they form and share. Man is a social animal, and work provides an almost universal opportunity for “being social”. All too often though, organisations create situations where relationships degenerate into negativity and alienation. A healthy organisation provides for positive relationships, friendships and fellowship, and reducing unhelpful conflict, stress, and anxiety. This scope for positive relations also extends to customers and clients, helping the business do more business.

  5. Accomplishment
    Accomplishment helps to build self-esteem and provides a sense of achievement.  It also strengthens self-belief. Rightshifting illustrates how under-achieving are most organisations today. There is a virtuous circle of accomplishment and self-belief which can shift organisations to incredible levels of performance. Not only do most organisations fail to realise anything like their potential, this under-achievement means most or all of their people are wasting a great deal of their innate potential, too.

  6. Culture Management

    “The thing I have learned at IBM is that culture is everything.”

    ~ Louis V. Gerstner, Jr., former IBM CEO

    “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

    ~ Peter Drucker via Mark Fields, President, Ford Motor Co

    More and more business leaders recognise the fundamental roie of culture – or, more accurately, mindset – in the success of their organisations. But how to effect a culture-change? Few have any experience in this, nor many tools to help. This one thing, beyond all the other benefits of therapy, stands out.

  7. Life Skills for the Individuals
    With all this talk about the benefits of therapy for the organisation as a whole, let’s not overlook the benefits of working to achieve improved organisational health for the folks involved. Being involved with therapy, learning and seeing how it works,  offers folks a way to acquire and enhance their own life skills, appropriate to all aspects of their lives.


Can we leave a change of thinking to chance? Hope fondly that it will just happen? Expect it to take place as a byproduct of other actions? Appoint a “thought czar” or some other single wringable neck?


“If we want to change what we have been getting, then we will have to change what we have been thinking. Otherwise, nothing will change.”

If we want to see a collective change of thinking in our organisations, therapy offers an effective means to making that happen. Every business, every organisation, needs a therapist.

– Bob

French Letters

I have on occasion described the benefits of keeping an Agile team from intimate contact with the rest of the organisation as like “wrapping the team in a condom”.

Why would we wish to do this? Surely intimate contact is a good thing? Fnarr.

The answer lies in the idea of organisational cognitive dissonance. This is the feeling of unease, even pain, that comes from an organisation having two conflicting world-views in play (inside its collective consciousness) at the same time.

For example, a successful Agile team within a more traditional organisation. An organisation that we might call “Analytic-minded”.

Keeping the two world-views (Synergistic and Analytic) apart by some artificial barrier,  like a metaphorical condom, can delay both the onset and severity of organisational cognitive dissonance. We can see this idea of separation, too, in the idea of the “skunk-works“, such as at Lockheed Martin.

Sometimes this can buy more time, time to spread the agile adoption beyond the team. Sometimes it’s no more than a coping strategy.

And of course it’s no substitute, in the long term, for a transition of the whole organisation to e.g. synergistic principles.

But it can serve to protect the team and the organisation both, from cross-infection of world-views, and the almost inevitable dissolution that typically follows.

– Bob

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