Monthly Archives: March 2014

The Antimatter Decision Filter

Yuval wrote a thoughtful post today about team liquidity. In this post, in passing, he mentions the Lean Decision Filter:

Lean Decision Filter

• Value trumps Flow – Expedite at the expense of flow to maximize value

• Flow trumps Waste Elimination – Increase WIP if required to maintain flow even though it will add waste

• Eliminate waste to improve efficiency – Do not pursue economy of scale

It reminded me about the core issue I have with Lean (real Lean – whatever that might mean, not e.g. LINO or LAME). My issue is about depth. For all its merits, Lean fails to address the heart of what makes us tick. Our humanity. Our nature as social animals. The way millions year of evolution have wired us (with the possible exception of the sociopaths). In other words, Lean has nothing to say about the role of emotions in driving everything we, as humans, do.

Oh yes, the Toyota Way stresses the human dimension, in terms of e.g. respect for people. Not that many non-Toyota implementations of Lean major on that aspect, compared to e.g. Kaizen, JIT, Lead times, Quality, Cost, Jidoka, Heijunka, Pull, Flow, etc..

But where’s the humanity? Where’s the emphasis on attending to folks’ needs? And i’m not claiming a moral imperative here. Simply pragmatism, in the light of what science tells us about people involved in collaborative knowledge-work.

The Humane Filter

So, here for your delectation, is an Antimatter Principle version of the Lean Decision Filter:

  • Needs trump Emotions – Or more exactly, needs drive our emotions. When our needs are being well-met, we feel joy and similar “positive” emotions. When our needs are not being met too well, we feel some range of “negative” emotions.
  • Emotions trump Value – All appreciation of value, every kind of value, resides in the domain of emotions. Things are only valuable to the extent that (some) people feel that those things meet – or could meet – their needs.
  • Value trumps Flow
  • Flow trumps Waste Elimination
  • Eliminate waste to improve efficiency

If you’re considering applying Lean principles, or in the process of applying them, how deep will you go?

– Bob

Further Reading

Nonviolent Communication ~  Marshall B. Rosenberg
“if you don’t understand people, you don’t understand business” ~ Simon Sinek (video)

Why Talking About Feelings Can Help

Step Two in Marshall Rosenberg’s four-step Nonviolent Communication process involves us in talking about how we’re feeling. More specifically, talking about what we’re feeling upon seeing or hearing something specific (cf step one).

The “amygdala hijack” is a term coined in Daniel Goleman’s book, Emotional Intelligence, his first book on the subject. The amygdala is the emotional part of the brain, which regulates the fight or flight response. Also known as the lizard brain. When threatened, it can respond irrationally. A rush of stress hormones floods the body before the prefrontal lobes (regulating executive function) can mediate this reaction.

Recent functional MRI research has shown us that that identifying and labelling our feelings actually helps reduce their intensity and returns some of the brain’s activity from the amygdala back to the prefrontal cortex. This allows us to regain more cognitive (rational) control. Psychiatrists refer to this as “affect labelling”.

Why does this matter?

“When we are emotionally upset or stressed we can’t think straight.”

~ Dr. Relly Nadler

Related research has illustrated that when the amygdala is active with blood and oxygen, there is less activation in the prefrontal cortex. This results in our thinking power being disrupted, with consequent deficits in our ability to solve problems, because the blood and oxygen are in the amygdala versus the prefrontal cortex. It is like losing 10 to 15 IQ points.

Long story short, “getting emotional” can make us dumber. And as social animals, “getting emotional” can be contagious, and the dumbness can quickly spread through a team, group or whole organisation.

But simply suppressing our emotions is no answer either. Research has shown that suppressing or avoiding emotions can in fact make them stronger. (Cf. The “rebound effect of thought suppression” – Wegner).

Effects of consistent emotion suppression also include increased physical stress on your body, including high blood pressure, increased incidence of diabetes, and heart disease. In addition, people who engage in emotion suppression regularly are more likely to experience stiff joints, bone weakness and more illnesses, due to lowered immunity.

Research has also shown a connection between avoiding emotions and poor memory, as well as more misunderstandings in conversations with others.

Finally, men and women who avoid emotions, especially negative ones, are more likely to experience high anxiety and depression.

Getting Back to Smart

And let’s not forget steps three and four in the NVC process. When we’ve identified our feeling(s), step three allows us to consider which of our needs are not getting met, and step four affords us the opportunity to make a request so as to move closer towards getting those needs met. This all helps in reducing the activity in the amygdala and returning control to the prefrontal cortex. And in us getting smarter again. Or at least, returning to our pre-impairment level of smarts.

Recognise Your Emotions

How do you and your peers deal with emotions in the workplace? By suppressing them? How’s that working out for you?

Maybe “affect labelling” might help make you and your team a little smarter.

And how do you feel about that?

– Bob

Further Reading

What Was I Thinking? Handling the Hijack ~ Dr Relly Nadler
Emotion Suppression: Effects on Mental and Physical Health ~ Article


I Don’t Want Agile Back


Agile was always just a step on a path to better things. For many, it has become a destination. Get to Agile (whatever you decide that means), and… rest. In peace.

It’s Time to Kill Agile

Dave Thomas, one of the original Snowbirders, writes: “Agile is Dead”. For me, it’s been a dead man walking, for many years now.

Let’s Not Abandon All Hope, Though

Tim Ottinger writes: “I want my agile back”. I don’t.

I can sympathise with all those folks who have invested so much hope in agile, Agile, agility, etc.. For many I’m sure it looked like a way out of the soulless machine organisations that frustrate and depress so many smart folks on a daily basis. A new hope for peace in the galaxy.

But I believe it’s better to move on, rather than back.

I’d prefer we move forward, recognise the contribution that agile has made, and start dealing with some of the more fundamental aspects of writing software, running software businesses, and so on, that the ten plus years of Agile brouhaha has largely obscured.

I’d prefer we started attending to folks’ needs, and encouraging and supporting folks in sharing, discussing and meeting those needs, rather than adopt some set of vanilla assumptions about what folks need, however well-meaning.

I don’t want agile back. I want a world where we’re not all wasting 90% of our time – our lives – every day, A world where people matter. I haven’t abandoned the hope that we can build such a world, together. Let’s just not call it ‘agile’?

“Let’s abandon the word ‘agile’ to the people who don’t do things.”

~ Dave Thomas

– Bob

Further Reading

Different Worlds, Different Roads ~ Think Different

We Have The Technology…

Did you know that some companies have applied development/engineering principles to their organisations as a whole? Very few, granted. But it does happen. I mean, they intentionally design their organisation, its structures, processes, systems (human- and technology- both), interactions, the way the work works, etc. to better meet certain business goals.

And the resulting organisational “operating systems” look very different to the copycat, zombified, cargo-culted, grow’d-like-topsy majority.

The general idea gained some attention – and then notoriety – under the label Business Process Reengineering, circa the late nineteen nineties. Of course, like many ideas before then – and e.g. Agile, Lean, etc. since – those folks of the Analytic mindset bought into the reported benefits, without realising the change in mindset that successful adoption/application of BPR required. When the expected benefits failed to appear, they both canned and vilified the idea. It wasn’t long before the whole shebang was consigned to the trashcan of history.

Why bring up the whole sorry tale once again?

I’ve been musing on what it means to be a world-class software (software) engineering organisation. What happens when we happily apply engineering principles to the development of products, but ignore those principles when it comes to how the organisation operates across the board? To the development of the organisation itself? Is that a sure-fire recipe for Organisational Cognitive Dissonance?

And if we have a cadre of folks who understand and embrace engineering disciplines and principles in the building (development) of products, why not put those talents to good use in the service of building an organisation with world-class operational capabilities? In all aspects of running the business?

Although, there’s always the possibility that an organisation espouses becoming a world-class engineering company, yet has insufficient grasp of what “world-class engineering” means to be able – or willing – to apply it in the whole-business context.

Would you be willing to share your thoughts?

– Bob



For this, my three hundredth blog post, I thought I’d mark the occasion by proposing something so irrational, so preposterous, so unbelievable that you might think I’ve lost my marbles.

Here it is:

“In knowledge-work, people work with their brains. So nurturing brain function is central to effective knowledge-work.”

And, in situations involving collaborative knowledge-work – as opposed to simply one or more individuals working with their individual brains:

“In collaborative knowledge-work, people work in concert with other people, all using their brains to some common purpose, or end. So not only is individual brain function central to effective knowledge-work, but nurturing collective brain function is central to effective collaborative knowledge-work.”

I see, time and again, organisations ignorant of this. Or, if not expressly ignorant, then wilfully choosing to ignore it. I can’t say for certain why this is. I suspect some number of different reasons are involved.

The Challenge

In any case, if you accept my basic premises stated above, then it follows that if organisations want to get the best out of their people, never mind doing the best for their people, then the real challenge is to create environments, situations, circumstances in which people can liberate and apply the enormous (untapped) potential of their creative minds, and of their innate social skills.

If you’re now wondering just how we might go about aligning our organisations to these new premises, how we might go about creating suitable conditions, you may like to check out some of my previous posts, including e.g. the Antimatter Principle.


And through our creating such conditions, people working in these organisations may also come to feel better about both themselves, and their work. More appreciated, less distressed, and generally happier. We might call this a win-win scenario. A virtuous circle, even.

Is this something you’ve ever given thought to? Discussed with colleagues? Taken steps to do something about? Or is it so unbelievable you’d feel an idiot for even mentioning it? I’d love to hear.

– Bob

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