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Monthly Archives: September 2013

Bravery

arlington

I found myself with a spare day in a sunny, autumnal Washington DC and, wanting to avoid the crowds of the city, decided to drive over to Arlington National Cemetery and take a walk around.

This was years ago. Long before I had learned about Nonviolent Communication, Domination Systems, the Myth of Redemptive Violence, and so on. Walking past the monuments and graves dating back to the Revolution, I could see America’s past was bathed in blood. And tears. And pride. And patriotism.

I tried to imagine all the emotions the place had seen over the years. And failed. I tried to imagine the enormity of the wars represented by the multitude of
dead. And failed. I tried to reflect on the bravery of the deceased, and their kin. And came up empty.

For me, the overwhelming impression was of the waste. The appalling, senseless waste. And then, sorrow. Sorrow for all the fine young men, their sweethearts, their families, their townsfolk, their nation. And for our species. Sorrow for all the people who had unwittingly bought into the myth that fighting and dying for one’s country was a noble thing. The height of laudable self-sacrifice.

And respect, too. respect for the dead. And also for the living. Those, like the groundsmen, so devoted to trying to bring something good out of so much suffering.

Courage

I read the chiselled tributes to the courage of the fallen. And felt pity. Pity for their gullibility. Pity for their victimhood. And anger. Anger against the men who had sent them, indifferent to their potential. Just cannon fodder.

That day was a very sobering and influential day in my life. It was perhaps THE day that caused me to resolve to think different. To reject the comfortable platitudes of authority.

To see beyond the Myth of Redemptive Violence, and to reject it utterly.

And to question the value and nature of bravery. If bravery and courage means being willing to go like a lamb to the slaughter, I don’t want it.

– Bob

From Here to Eternity

Eternity

 

What Do You Want?

“Finding deficiencies and getting rid of them is not a way of improving the performance of the system. An improvement program must be directed at what you want, not at what you don’t want. And, determining what you do want requires redesigning the system, not for the future, but for right now, and asking yourself what would you do right now if you could do whatever you wanted to. If you don’t know what you would do if you could do what you wanted to do how could you ever know what you would do under constraints?”

~ Russell L. Ackoff

I work a lot with new folks. That is, teams and organisations that I have not worked with before, or for long.

One regular question I put to these folks is something like “where are you going?” As in, where would they like to be, what kind of future do they have in mind.

I have ceased to be surprised by the lack of coherent answers which ensue.

Most folks have no ides of what a “better future state” might look like, either in general, or specifically for them and their fellows.

I have found several reasons for this, including:

  • Too busy on delivery stuff to think ahead
  • Lack of motivation – no personal stake in the future
  • Absence of support and encouragement from the wider organisation
  • Lack of awareness of the possibilities inherent in a “better future”
  • A disconnect between folks’ needs and their assumptions about possible futures

Does your troupe discuss your common future? Do you have any kind of picture – fuzzy or coherent – about the kind of development shop you’d like your shop to become? How broad is your picture? Does it stretch beyond your own personal future to encompass your team, your shop, your whole organisation? And how far ahead do you look – today, a month, a year, eternity?

– Bob

Playing with Other People’s Money

play2

I’ve been trying to reconcile the idea of play:

“Don’t do anything that isn’t play. ”

~ Marshall B. Rosenberg

with the reality of spending other people’s money:

“There’s been one underlying basic fallacy in this whole set of social security and welfare measures, and that is the fallacy – this is at the bottom of it – the fallacy that it is feasible and possible to do good with other people’s money. That view has two flaws. If I want to do good with other people’s money, I first have to take it away from them. That means that the welfare state philosphy of doing good with other people’s money, at it’s very bottom, is a philosophy of violence and coercion. It’s against freedom, because I have to use force to get the money. In the second place, very few people spend other people’s money as carefully as they spend their own.”

~ Milton Friedman

By “other people’s money” I mean the money we get paid to do things on behalf of e.g. employers or clients.

I’m not sure I agree with Milton Friedman on anything, including the above quote. But it does raise an interesting question: How we feel about “spending” our clients’ or employers’ coin. And by “spending” I’m specifically talking about us, deciding when and how to spend our time – time for which they are notionally paying.

Aside: I say notionally, because by far the most prevailing mental model I see is that of a “time-and-materials” basis for the exchange of money for services.

Thrift

I have throughout my career felt anxious to spend my time – and thus my client’s money – wisely. Often it has seemed like I have been much more anxious – or I might say, diligent – about this than they.

But recently, in the context of e.g. nonviolent communication, I have begun to wonder about the dynamics of this, and whether it’s truly beneficial. Either for me or the “payer”.

Play

What does Marshall Rosenberg’s advice about play really mean? What are the implications for the workplace? Here’s my interpretation:

Play is the opposite of obligation. When kids play they’re not thinking “how can I see a decent return to my parents / teachers / kindergarten for the time and effort they’ve invested in my toys, my playroom, my food?” Neither “Am i playing well? Is the quality of my play good enough?” Nor even “How might we play better?” – at least, not consciously.

Play is an obligation-free zone. Most adults seem truly constipated when it comes to free play. I guess the weight of obligations in our lives, bearing down on us, might have something to do with that.

The Value of Play

Of course, many might regard it as preposterous to suggest that play has any value in the workplace. The notion of work is the very antitheses of play, in most people’s minds. Work is stuff we have to do, are obliged to do, isn’t it?

Aside: I see the opposite of “play” as “depression”, not work. Although, God knows, most work without play is terminally depressing.

“Whatever you’re doing, if it’s purpose is more important than the act of doing it, it’s probably not play.”

~ Stuart Brown

Surely if we deny purpose and instead emphasise play, then the whole edifice of society will come tumbling down around our ears? (And maybe that might be a good thing). And don’t the Agile, Lean and other progressive management folks bang on about the need for (shared, common) purpose?

I can’t convince you that it would be otherwise, but the idea of obliquity affords us the opportunity to believe that instead of the world coming to an end, it might become a more joyous and wonderful place. And that through more play, and more emphasis on play, we might come to achieve our purposes more effectively?  This is what Marshall Rosenberg is getting at, I think.

“The basis of human trust is established through play signals”

~ Stuart Brown

Neoteny

Neoteny means: the retention of immature qualities into adulthood. Humans are the most neotenous of all creatures. This gives us as a species a leg-up in adaptability. Dare I say, in agility? Denying play, then, downgrades our neoteny, our adaptability, our agility. Not to mention the connection between neoteny and innovation.

The Lean View

“Don’t work simply to be working – if work is finished, go play.”

~ Taiichi Ohno

Ohno kind of understood. Long before in-depth research came to the same conclusion.

Except I like to think that these days he might choose to go further:

“Don’t work simply to be working – even if work isn’t finished, go play.”

Money and Responsibility

I must thank @neilkillick for a twitter conversation recently which prompted me to string these ideas together into this blog post.

He writes about his feelings of self-obligation to “provide sound professional advice and courtesy”. And, I infer, a near-continous state of self-judgement, asking “am I providing best value?”

My view: If we feel obliged to do something, we are doing violence to ourselves, albeit unwittingly in most cases. Ditto with self-judgment. And violence, even self-violence –  means less joy, and fewer “good things” – like engagement, energy, flow, cognitive function and invention. Which in turn means we are NOT providing the best service to our clients that we could be – in a more obligation-free, non-judgmental, playful environment and state of mind.

In fact, I feel we OWE it to ourselves, to our clients, to our employers, to our friends, and to our society to live by Rosenberg’s words. Never do anything that isn’t play.

That’s one notional obligation I can live with.

“Play is the purest expression of love.”

~ Stuart Brown

Would you be willing to play along with me and playfully share your perspective on this topic?

– Bob

Further Reading

Obliquity ~ John Kay
Play Is More Than Just Fun ~ Stuart Brown (TED video)
The Importance of Play for Adults ~ Margarita Tartakovsky
Play, Creativity, and Lifelong Learning ~ Gina Kemp, Melinda Smith et al
The Importance of Play for Adults ~ Julie Baumgardner
New Theory: People Need to Play More ~ LiveScience

Why Improvement

goldencircle

Some of my previous posts have discussed several aspects of organisational improvement and change, and in particular continuous improvement. I don’t think any of them really address the core reason I personally champion improvement as “a good thing”. Nor why I do my best work in a climate of intentional improvement of “the way the work works”.

For me, it’s about the people. I have often confessed in public to my motivation for putting so much effort into Rightshifting, the Marshall Model, and so on:

To reduce or end the egregious waste of human potential I see rampant in almost every knowledge-work organisation I visit.

Let’s set aside the rather thorny question of why I’m concerned about what’s happening to others. Instead, let’s focus on the drivers behind improvement, generally, in most organisations. And in this context, let’s also see if we can’t help explain why so few teams and individuals really care about – or seriously engage with – improvement.

Motivation to Improve

You might think that folks would be at least slightly interested in making their lives at work “better” in some way. Yet having seen so many workplaces where this is patently not so, I have to ask: “Why?” Why is it that folks do not generally seek to make things better?

I suspect at least part of the answer lies in the narratives organisations use to talk about improvement. These narratives almost always focus on outcomes such as improving profits, increasing returns to shareholders, or improving customer satisfaction. I have never heard a narrative that even mentions outcomes involving the opportunity for healthier and more fulfilling lives and relationships for the folks involved.

Can we really be surprised that folks are not very engaged with the idea of meeting the imagined needs of other, faceless groups of anonymous people, through some collection of notional “improvements”? Non-specific altruism is all very well, but it’s mayhap a bit dubious to base one’s entire improvement strategy on it? Especially when the core message so often is “we want you to work harder and longer, to make (other, rich) people even richer.”

It’s likely, as you read this, that your reaction falls into one of two camps.

Either “Yes – wouldn’t it be great if my organisation could see past the traditional “motivators, expectations and implicit employment contract, and understand that folks are capable of so much more – and stand to derive so much more – than is possible as things are.

Or, “Harrumph! We pay these people to do the things the company wants, and they damn well should put in their full effort”.

Which camp do you fall into?

Afterword

It’s become crystal clear to me over the years that the only effective way to build a so-called “continuous improvement culture” is to create the conditions under which folks might want to engage with the idea, and then afford them the free choice to so engage, or not. And if not engaging meets more of their needs than does engaging, don’t be surprised that they’ll do just that – not engage. Take it as a signal that you haven’t gone far enough (yet).

And then again, if the whole notion of building a culture of continuous improvement seems like too much trouble, or of dubious value, then folks may just intuit that you’re not so serious about seeing it happen.

And are those the best conditions pour encourager les autres?

– Bob

Further Reading

Start With Why ~ Simon Sinek

The Management Violence Inherent In The Golden Rule

GoodyTwoShoes

I’ve never had much time for compassion. For me, the concept seems too violent, too manipulative to embrace it. I’m all for “connecting with others in meaningful ways”, and for generosity, and kindness, (although, niceness, not so much). And for a life of meaning and purpose, too.

com·pas·sion 

noun
1. a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.

I just don’t find it useful to lump all these ideas together under the banner of “compassion”.

Of course, compassion, especially compassion in the workplace, is going to be better than a lack of compassion. I just feel we can, if we but think about it for a moment, do so much better.

The Golden Rule is a great example of what I’m talking about.

It’s the sheer, brazen unilateralism of the Golden Rule that bugs me. At least, as it is most often, simplistically, perceived. Oh, and the violence inherent in the very notion of “rules”, too.

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

George Bernard Shaw spotted the flaw:

“Do not do unto others as you would that they should do unto you. Their tastes may be different.”

~ G. B. Shaw

So To The Platinum Question

And thus the Platinum Rule (or here, the Platinum Question) comes into sight:

“How about treating others the way they want to be treated?”

Of course, this means finding out how others might actually want to be treated. Which opens a whole new can of worms regarding dialogue, enquiry, empathy and, yes, humane relationships.

So how about we eschew compassion in favour of empathy and non-violence? How about we consider other folks’ tastes in relating to us, and others? How about we embrace not the Golden Rule, but the Platinum Question?

Would you be willing to give this a go in your workplace, with your colleagues, peers and (God forbid you have any) higher-ups?

– Bob

Further Reading

The Rise of Compassionate Management (Finally) ~ Bronwyn Fryer
The Compassionate Mind ~ Emma Seppia

Octavian and the Seven Sisters (Working Notes)

Notebook

Octavian Holdings has a problem. They are suffering as new technologies disrupt their existing product lines and change fundamentally what their markets demand – and what their employees want to do, too. What’s more, everyone in Octavian feels distinctly uneasy about the fact that their Iceberg Is Melting.

In an attempt to do something about it, Octavian has commissioned seven product development companies to write the software for a new line of products, products intended to meet the new demands of its key customers. It just so happens that each of the seven suppliers has a different one of the seven mindsets described in the Marshall Model.

[Why seven? So I can illustrate, through stories of how each one of the seven ‘sisters’  approaches the same basic brief, how each’s approach is a consequence of their respective collective mindset. 😉 ]

Please note: This post is simply some working notes describing the elements that I’ve chosen to illustrate through the narrative of each sister’s story. NB I mentioned this idea in my previous post. I’m minded to give each story its own separate post, but if you have any better ideas, I’d love to hear them. In fact, I’m publishing these notes not least so that folks can get an insight into my story-building approach, and interact with the evolving work whilst things are still malleable.

Here are the Seven Sisters

Prima – bio and key characters
Secunda – bio and key characters
Tertia – bio and key characters
Quarta – bio and key characters
Quinta – bio and key characters
Sexta – bio and key characters
Septima – bio and key characters

Prima’s Story (Ad-hoc, circa RI 0.4)

making it up as they go along
repeatedly solving the same or similar problems
unconscious incompetence

Theory X (unconsciously)
Autocracy (owner decides)
Random “management” styles (no real management tier)
Hands-on “management”, likelihood of micromanaging
Single loop learning
Lots of undiscussables, crucial conversations not had, folks oblivious to this
SDLC: Code&Fix
Massive WIP “Keep starting, not finishing”
Random (stochastic) flow
Lack of self-awareness
Ignorance of folks needs
Ignorance of covalence
Random feedback delay (up to a year, much feedback ignored or lost forever)
High cost of delay
Ultimately, delays lose Prima the contract
No project management
Little conscious respect for the individual
Much liking for heroism (overtime, firefighting, seat-of-pants)
Nothing measured (No operational measures)
Some joy and fun
Contemptuous of theory, principles, emphasis on practices and JFDI
Dismissive of tools
Absence of testing, no awareness of quality as an issue
Many defects seen by users and other stakeholders
Much waste (8 wastes) – unknown concepts though
Humane relationships rely on individual personalities
Everyone’s in it for themselves (Maslow)
Individual purpose
Blind to risks (and the very notion of the “risk/reward” curve)
Nothing learned, except by a few so-disposed individuals
Learning seen as something that we did at school. No relevance to the real world.
Lots of design loopbacks (missteps, rework)
Chronic and acute failures in due date performance (conformance to schedules)
Use of third parties considered abhorrent (for some number of reasons)
Failure to invest in e.g. test environments
Chronic and acute deployment and post-deployment problems (discourages small deployments)
Everyone believes that success is a result of hard work and individual rock stars.
People work 9-5 , with some “special exceptions” for the “favourites”. If the company can afford an office, then folks (excepting the favourites) work in the office.
No explicit metaphor for “work”

Secunda’s Story (Novice Analytic, circa RI 0.7)

rigid adherence to rules
little or no discretionary judgement
potential to fall back to ad-hoc thinking
unconscious incompetence

Theory X (unconsciously)
Oligarchy (board decides)
Autocratic, command & control “management” styles (“mythic” management, rather than “scientific”)
Separation of “decison-making” from “work”
Some narrowly-skilled individuals (and many unskilled) with no real support system
Low levels of trust (cf lencioni pyramid)
Company policies actively (unwittingly) undermine trust (but there are as yet few of them)
Nascent project management – Gantt, Pert, MSProject, the whole useless nine years
Little respect for the individual
Much liking for heroism (overtime, firefighting, seat-of-pants)
Very few operational measures
Little joy
Dawning that maybe theory, principles have some value, still emphasis on practices and JFDI
Everyone’s in it for the money (extrinsic motivations)
Very local shared purpose (pairs, triples) working at odds with everyone else
Risk averse (no formal risk management, no appreciation of risk/reward)
Learning == training (and nothing else, from the org’s point of view)
Learning is in the domain of individuals – nothing much for the organisation to do other than some training
Lots of design loopbacks (missteps, rework)
Acute failures in due date performance (conformance to schedules)
Use of third parties considered only in extremis (for some number of reasons)
Investment in eg test environments is rare and exceptional
Chronic and acute deployment and post-deployment problems (discourages small deployments)
Most people believe that success is a result of imposed discipline, hard work and individual rock stars.
People work 9-5, in the office, with few “special exceptions”
Explicit metaphor for “work” as “office work” aka admin, non-creative

Tertia’s Story (Competent Analytic, circa RI 1.2)

situational perception still unwittingly focussed on local optima
all areas of the business are treated separately and given equal encouragement to improve
results across the organisation and through time vary widely in terms of quality and predictability
unconscious incompetence

Theory X (unconsciously)
Oligarchy (chain-of-command decides)
“Professional” command & control “management” styles (Taylorist, MBA style)
Separation of “decison-making” from “work”
Narrowly-skilled individuals with a limited support system
Low levels of trust (cf lencioni pyramid)
Company policies actively (unwittingly) undermine trust (and there are now many of them)
Very little respect for the individual
Some liking for heroism (overtime, long hours)
Almost no joy
Understanding that theory, principles have value, still emphasis on practices and JFDI (cog diss)
Everyone’s in it for the money etc
Local shared purpose – working at odds with every other silo/group
Risk averse (much formal risk management, little appreciation of risk/reward)
Lots of design loopbacks (missteps, rework)
Some acute failures in due date performance (conformance to schedules)
Use of third parties considered normal (but not well managed)
Investment in eg test environments is standard but costly
Chronic deployment and post-deployment problems
Most people believe that success is a result of imposed discipline, long hours, “process” and teamwork (teams of rock stars).
People work 9-5, in the office, with “special exceptions” being dictated by management according to company policy
Explicit metaphor for “work” as a factory (manufacturing, production line)

Quarta’s Story (Early Synergistic, circa RI 1.7)

coping with complexity (multiple concurrent stakeholders, needs)
action now partially seen as part of longer-term systemic goals
conscious, deliberate consideration of the organisation as asystem
potential for reversion to Analytical thinking
reduction in variability of results
conscious incompetence

Theory Y (unconsciously)
More consensus-style decision-making
Emergent self-organisation (i.e. not deliberate or systemic yet)
Some multi-skilled individuals with an early version of a operationalised support system
Good levels of trust (cf lencioni pyramid)
Joy
Emphasis on theory, principles having key value, still lingering affection for practices and JFDI
Almost everyone’s in it for the community (some liggers still)
Shared common purpose
Nervous of risks (formal risk management, appreciation of risk/reward)
Lots of design loopbacks (missteps, rework) – Agile reduces their impact but compounds their frequency
Good due date performance (conformance to schedules)
Use of third parties considered normal and desirable (for some number of reasons)
Investment in test environments is rarely necessary (and cost effective when it is needed)
Few deployment and post-deployment problems (movement towards small deployments)
Some confusion, argument and discussion about what accounts for “success”.
Most people want to believe that success is a result of intrinsic motivation, e.g. autonomy, mastery and shared common purpose.
People work flexibly, re: time, location, etc., with variable results and no common consensus on how to make it work effectively. At least the folks get to choose.
Explicit metaphor for “work” as a design studio (creative learning environment)

Quinta’s Story (Mature Synergistic, circa RI 3.0)

holistic view of situations, rather than fractured and faceted
awareness of constraints, system throughput and capabilities
appreciation for what is truly valuable (to customers, other stakeholders)
can distinguish between common and special causes of variation
streamlined decision-making, often evidence-base
uses maxims for guidance; meaning of maxims may vary according to context
results routinely fully acceptable
conscious competence

Theory Y (consciously)
Universal consensus-style decision-making
Intentional and systemic self-organisation (cf Sociocracy by design e.g. deliberate and systemic)
Multi-skilled individuals with an effective support system
High levels of trust (cf lencioni pyramid)
Much joy
Combining of theory, principles with experimentation, PDCA, practices
Everyone’s in it for the (learning) community (liggers choose to bail)
Shared common purpose – including continual improvement ethos
Loving risks (effective opportunity management, joy in appreciation and embracing of risk/reward)
Fewer design loopbacks (less missteps, rework). Adoption of SBCE
Excellent due date performance (conformance to schedules)
Both strategic and tactical use of third parties built into BAU (cf Keiretsu, Mittelstand)
Investment in test environments is rarely necessary (and cost effective when it is needed)
Almost no deployment and post-deployment problems (many, frequent small deployments)
Consensus yet ongoing discussion about what accounts for “success”.
Everybody believes that success is a result of intrinsic motivation, e.g. autonomy, mastery and shared common purpose., plus a laser focus on the core business fundamentals.
People work flexibly, re: time, location, etc., with consistent results and a common consensus on how to make it work effectively. Work per se is becoming irrelevant, replaced by e.g. “adding value” and “meeting needs”.
Explicit metaphor for “work” as a collection of fixed value streams

Sexta’s Story (Early Chaordic, Circa RI 3.5)

no longer reliant on rules, guidelines, maxims
intuitive grasp of situations, based on deep tacit understanding
driven by vision of what is possible
can integrate new idea, approaches, technologies with ease
conscious competence

Theory Y (consciously)
Systematic (sociocratic) decision-making
Intentional and systemic self-organisation and re-organisation
Multi-skilled individuals with an effective support system
High levels of trust (cf lencioni pyramid)
Much joy
Going beyond PDCA (scientific method) cf Feyerabend, Zen, Koen (Against Method)
A fresh (much wider/deeper) perspective on risks (effective opportunity management, joy in appreciation and embracing of risk/reward)
Some few design loopbacks (missteps, rework). Competence in SBCE, Trade-off curves, etc.
Due date performance (conformance to schedules), whilst excellent, is becoming irrelevant
Rapid delegation of work to to third parties built into BAU
Test environments continuously available
Few deployment and post-deployment problems (continuous deployments)
Consensus yet ongoing discussion about what accounts for “success”.
Most people want to believe that success is a result of positive opportunism – arbitraging fleeting market opportunities, and see intrinsic motivation, humane relationships, fellowship etc. as the only practical means to run an organisation that can do that effectively.
People spend as much time as they believe necessary to meet needs and add value. Hours, locations etc have become conscious means rather than ends.
Explicit metaphor for “work” as a collection of ephemeral value streams

Septima’s Story (Proficient Chaordic, circa RI 4.5)

knowledge of the evidence base and underlying knowledge in entirety
can teach chaordic mindset to new starters, partners in the extended supply chain
can use the knowledge interlinked with other knowledge
excellence achieved with relative ease
intuitively responds to unusual situations
results regularly delight and surprise
unconscious or reflective competence

Theory Y (consciously)
Optimised systematic (sociocratic) decision-making (optimised for speed)
High-speed, highly flexible self-organisation and re-organisation
Multi-skilled individuals with a comprehensive and highly responsive support system
High levels of trust (cf lencioni pyramid)
Much joy
Absence of management
Operationalisation of eg Deming, Ackoff, Senge, Lencioni, Feyerabend (Against Method), Zen, Koen etc.
Humane relationships are automatically strengthened and enhanced daily by many integrated behaviours and systems
Risk/reward at the heart of all decisions, all systems, all BAU
Almost no design loopbacks (missteps, rework). Competence in SBCE, Trade-off curves, etc.
Due date performance (conformance to schedules), whilst excellent, is almost entirely irrelevant
Rapid and highly cost- and quality- effective delegation of work to to third parties built into BAU
Test environments continuously available
Zero deployment and post-deployment problems (continuous deployments)
Consensus yet ongoing discussion about what accounts for “success”.
Everybody believes that success is a result of positive opportunism – arbitraging fleeting market opportunities, and sees intrinsic motivation, humane relationships, fellowship etc. as essential organisational capabilities.
People spend as much time as they believe necessary to meet needs and add value. Hours, locations etc have become unconscious, taken-for-granted – yet systemically part of work-as-usual – means rather than ends.
Explicit metaphor for “work” as a social phenomenon (community, organism, play, etc).

Common story template

Each of the seven stories follows this general form:

  • The phone rings (or email, tweet arrives) at (company).
  • A player reads, (discusses) and responds – illustrating the company’s general tenor in dealing with e.g. sales enquiries (ad-hoc, organised, etc).
  • Some players discuss the brief.
  • They close the deal with Octavian
  • Work starts
  • There’s some issues along the way
  • Deliveries happen
  • Octavian responds to the deliveries
  • Wrap-up

– Bob

Rightshifting and the Marshall Model – Class 101

Blackboard saying "Class 101"

Several kind souls have recently suggested to me that they might like to read an overview or simple summary of Rightshifting and the Marshall Model. Further, some have suggested I might write some illustrative stories – e.g. situated in organisations holding different mindsets – such that they might better relate personally to these ideas, and gain some understanding of what life might look like and feel like for people in organisations at each one of the seven stages of the Marshall Model.

Being happy to oblige, but yet slight daunted by the prospect, I’m nevertheless game for it.

So this (first) post, in what may well become a series, takes a look at the “why” – the rationale for my work, and then describes the seven stages of the Marshall Model of Organisational Evolution (Dreyfus for the Organisation).

After that, we’ll see what feedback I get, and let that feedback suggest some directions for further posts (if any) in this series. Would you be willing to explain your needs to me and make some requests for future content?

Why Rightshifting?

Having spent some twenty years in the Software Development industry trying to understand why things are so broken, just about everywhere we look, I eventually came to a small epiphany.

Regardless of the root conditions of the issue, making any kind of progress – either within individual organisations or across the industry as a whole – would require folks at all levels to first become aware of just how ineffective they and their organisations were. At the time – and even now, for that matter – I see scant evidence of folks even beginning to comprehend how ineffective (relatively) their organisations actually are.

It seemed to me that only after achieving some basic level of awareness would some folks seek to take responsibility for their situation and then, maybe, commit to doing something about it. (cf. ARC – Awareness; Responsibility; Commitment – from Sir John Whitmore’s Coaching For Performance).

Rightshifting, then, was and is my attempt to spark folks’ curiosity, to offer them the opportunity to gain that entry-level awareness, and thence to begin asking themselves basic questions such as:

  • What is “organisational effectiveness”?
  • How does that relate to “efficiency”?
  • What do we want for our organisation (effectiveness or efficiency or some balance thereof)?
  • How effective are we presently?
  • How effective could we realistically become?
  • What have other organisations managed (sic) to achieve by way of effectiveness?
  • What would “improved effectiveness” mean for us, practically, as an organisation?
  • Do we want some of that?
  • How much of it do we want, and over what kind of timescales?
  • What might it take to get us some of that?

Why The Marshall Model?

A couple of years after embarking – with a few friends and colleagues – on this awareness campaign, I saw some folks working through this list of questions, and, with some difficulties along the way, arrive at the final question, above.

I’d also has the opportunity to study some number of organisations – large and small, effective and ineffective – from the Rightshifting perspective. These opportunities – along with the mental re-processing of many more previous engagements and experiences – furnished me with some insights into just what accounted for the wide disparity in effectiveness of such (knowledge-work) organisations. My presentation for Agile North 2008 attempted to share these insights – and answer some basic related questions:

  • What is life like – and what accounts for the disparity – in organisations at various different points along the Rightshifting axis?
  • Why are some (few) organisations much more effective at pursuing their goals than all the rest?
  • Is there something reproducible, i.e. a strategy or approach, that less effective organisations could adopt to become significantly more effective?
  • As a change-agent what might help me serve my clients better?
  • Which changes might work well for a given client, and which might be just “noise”?
  • How might I tailor my interventions to best suit each client?

The latter question is, of course, where I began to see the parallels with the Dreyfus Model of Skill Acquisition. And the origin of the Marshall Model.

The Seven Stages of the Marshall Model

The Dreyfus Model (of Skill Acquisition) may be familiar to the Agile Coaches and ScrumMasters amongst you. This model was the inspiration – in term of structure, at least – for the Marshall Model. Dreyfus proposes an explanation for how student acquire skills through formal instruction and practising. It’s value lies in helping e.g. instructors, teachers, coaches and the like think about effective ways in which they may help their students acquire the skills they seek. I suggests that an instructor’s approach is often best tailored to the current skill level (i.e. Novice; Advanced Beginner; Competent; Proficient; Expert) of each individual student (or group).

Similarly, the Marshall Model proposes an explanation for how organisations acquire increasing levels of effectiveness – skills in meeting their organisational goal or goals, if you like.

The Marshall Model proposes some seven stages of organisational evolution. Each stage signifying notably more effectiveness, relative to the prior stage.

Here’s the seven stages, with some characteristics that organisations typically exhibit at each stage:

  1. Ad-hoc
    • making it up as they go along
    • repeatedly solving the same or similar problems
    • unconscious incompetence
  2. Novice Analytical
    • rigid adherence to rules
    • little or no discretionary judgement
    • potential to fall back to ad-hoc thinking
    • unconscious incompetence
  3. Competent Analytical
    • situational perception still unwittingly focussed on local optima
    • all areas of the business are treated separately and given equalencouragement to improve
    • results across the organisation and through time vary widely interms of quality and predictability
    • unconscious incompetence
  4. Early Synergistic
    • coping with complexity (multiple concurrent stakeholders, needs)
    • action now partially seen as part of longer-term systemic goals
    • conscious, deliberate consideration of the organisation as asystem
    • potential for reversion to Analytical thinking
    • reduction in variability of results
    • conscious incompetence
  5. Mature Synergistic
    • holistic view of situations, rather than fractured and faceted
    • awareness of constraints, system throughput and capabilities
    • appreciation for what is truly valuable (to customers, otherstakeholders)
    • can distinguish between common and special causes of variation
    • streamlined decision-making, often evidence-base
    • uses maxims for guidance; meaning of maxims may vary according to context
    • results routinely fully acceptable
    • conscious competence
  6. Early Chaordic
    • no longer reliant on rules, guidelines, maxims
    • intuitive grasp of situations, based on deep tacit understanding
    • driven by vision of what is possible
    • can integrate new idea, approaches, technologies with ease
    • conscious competence
  7. Proficient Chaordic
    • knowledge of the evidence base and underlying knowledge in entirety
    • can teach chaordic mindset to new starters, partners in the extended supply chain
    • can use the knowledge interlinked with other knowledge
    • excellence achieved with relative ease
    • intuitively responds to unusual situations
    • results regularly delight and surprise
    • unconscious or reflective competence

– Bob

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