Monthly Archives: May 2014

Using The Marshall Model

I’m guessing most folks don’t see themselves as change consultants, a.k.a. change agents. Which I find ironic, given the number of times folks have asked me questions like “how do I change my organisation?”.

The major reason I created the Marshall Model was to help folks approach change in their organisations. Absent an appreciation of where the organisation is, mindset-wise, any interventions (attempts at introducing change) are likely to be rather fraught, and involve much wasted time, effort, and yes, credibility, too.

Hence the subtitle for the Marshall Model – “Dreyfus for the Organisation”. Just like the Dreyfus Model of Skills Acquisition, the Marshall Model describes the different kinds of organisation a change agent might encounter (or be working in, or for, or with).

“All models are wrong – some are useful.”

~ George Box

Aside: The Dreyfus Model typically has five categories (of student), the Marshall Model, seven (organisational mindsets). As a quick reminder, these are:

Dreyfus Model


Has an incomplete understanding, approaches tasks mechanistically and needs supervision to complete them.

Advanced Beginner

Has a working understanding, tends to see actions as a series of steps, can complete simpler tasks without supervision.


Has a good working and background understanding, sees actions at least partly in context, able to complete work independently to a standard that is acceptable though it may lack refinement.


Has a deep understanding, sees actions holistically, can achieve a high standard routinely.


Has an authoritative or deep holistic understanding, deals with routine matters intuitively, able to go beyond existing interpretations, achieves excellence with ease.

Marshall Model

Novice Analytical
Competent Analytical
Early Synergistic
Mature Synergistic
Early Chaordic
Proficient Chaordic

The Marshall Model suggests that, in each of these seven kinds of organisation (discriminating by collective mindset), change agents may find they get better results (quicker, cheaper, less push-back, more sustainable) if they adapt their style of intervention, and the advice they offer, based on the specific needs of that kind of organisation.

For example, there’s not much point in suggesting advanced project management techniques to non-Analytical-minded organisations. Ad-hoc organisations typically won’t have even discovered projects and the project approach. And Synergistic- and Chaordic-minded organisation will have likely transcended the typical project approach, and therefore project management as a discipline, too.

Of course, this example is, by design, somewhat simplistic. Anyone with their eyes open could probably see quite quickly whether the project approach was a given in the organisation, and refrain from providing project-management related advice if not. For a wide range of other aspects of organisational life and performance, though, just looking at what’s visible – what appears to be happening – can be misleading.


The Marshall Model also illustrates the memes associate with each category of mindset. It does so in the belief that, once so informed, change agents can be more sensitive to the specific needs of their clients. And suggest (more effective) strategies for getting those needs met. Strategies more likely to be acceptable to the organisation, in its prevailing mindset.


Many change agents – and in particular, outside consultants – may spend their entire careers working in, with, or for Novice Analytical and Competent Analytical organisations. This is what the Rightshifting curve tells us – that the large majority of organisations everywhere are of this kind of (BTW relatively ineffective) mindset. In fact, the mainstream consulting industry is set up to serve organisations of these mindsets, almost exclusively. No surprise, really, given the commercial drivers (size of market, willingness to buy, suggestibility, etc.).

And given the preponderance of organisations having these two mindsets, many change agents may naturally assume that only these mindsets exist. And that their “standard” (Analytical-mindset friendly) approaches to consulting to their clients are all that is needed. So when they stumble into organisations having other mindsets, there can be some nasty surprises in store. Consultants and clients alike can wonder “what went wrong?” when these “standard” approaches – approaches tailored to the typical Novice Analytical or Competent Analytic organisation – prove unsuited and unsuccessful.

And more than this, the situation is compounded by the reluctance of organisations outside the Novice Analytical or Competent Analyticsl categories to entertain the idea of bringing in outside consultants, in any case.

Aside: Ad-hoc-minded organisations have little or no experience with using outside consultants, and hence little capability to use them well and get value out of them. Synergistic– and Chaordic-minded organisations see little value in outside consultants for other reasons: They are aware of how few consultants can adapt to providing advice suited to their situation and mindset. And aware, too, that their own people are likely more useful, capable and valuable than most outsiders

Main Postulates of the Marshall Model

The Marshall Model implies the following postulates:

  • Mindsets are interlocking, self-reinforcing collections of “memes” stored in the collective consciousness of an organisation.
  • Effective interventions in an organisation must by definition take into account the prevailing collective mindset.
  • Migrations (“transition”) from one mindset to another is a form of punctuated equilibrium.
  • The model holds only for organisations largely or wholly engaged in knowlege-work.
  • The relative effectiveness of any knowlege-work organisation can be explained with this model.
  • Organisational effectiveness does not necessarily equate to commercial success.
  • The model implicitly views shifts in organisational mindset as an evolutionary process in several dimension: suddenly or gradually, over time; individually or collectively; smoothly or disruptively.

Brass Tacks

If you’re a change agent, whether internal or external, experienced or beginner, the Marshall Model provides categories that, once assigned, allow you to assess the likelihood of success for intervention ideas, without necessarily having to pilot or fully implement such ideas.

[I would love to have your advice and help in deciding what more to add, just here].

– Bob

Further Reading

Novice to Expert: the Dreyfus model of skill acquisition ~ Stan Lester (pdf)

Things We Could Be Doing

I’ve spent much of my career exploring the world of knowledge-work, and especially the world of software and product development. I’ve seen many businesses, most of whom share a common view of the way work should work, the way to design products, the way to find and organise people to staff the business, and so on. I’ve seen how these common approaches fall way short in terms of results. And I’ve seen, or imagined, other, less common ways which could make a huge difference to the success and profitability of businesses everywhere.

There’s a whole passel of things we could be doing, that we’re not, presently. We could be…

Creating Environments Better Suited To Knowledge Work

Most “environments” in which I have seen folks trying to get work done are woefully ill-suited to doing effective knowledge work. Very few businesses seem to understand even the interplay between environmental factors and outcomes. And fewer yet, those who have actually created and sustained effective working environments.

Aside: By “environment” I have in mind various aspects:

  • Physical – the floor layout of the office space; the decor, lighting and general ambience; the architectural style of the office buildings; the situation of the office buildings themselves (city, parkland, countryside, wilderness); facilities (shared spaces, dining, leisure and recreation, etc).
  • Technical – webtone; the choice of hardware, OS, tools; and so on.
  • Social – how people generally relate to one another and treat each other.
  • Dynamics – High-energy or plodding; stressful or laid-back; studious or action-oriented; high-risk or safety-conscious; etc.

Reliably Designing Products Which Buyers Crave

We know now that people don’t buy products or services on rational bases. Rather, they buy on emotional bases, and then, maybe, use rationality to justify those decisions, post-hoc. Why then do so many businesses still spend so much time and effort designing their products to appeal to rational buyers?

Designing “Whole Products”

Most businesses cobble together new products and services, conducting a more or less random walk through their vertical silos for each new product development. And then stuff these new products into the existing silos in the hope that sales and profits will accrue. We could be recognising that development of new products is the lifeblood of most organisations, and organising along those lines.

Organising Around Flow

One common strategy for businesses has long been managing to reduce cost. Much more effective would be to manage (e.g. constraints) so as to improve flow (of new products to market, value to customers, or of needs, to all stakeholders).

Having Everyone On the Same Page

Most businesses I have seen have folks running around like headless chickens, hither and yon, with precious little alignment or general understanding of common goals, strategies, and so on. Many tools, techniques and other means to get and keep folks on the same page exist. Few business use any of them. Nor realise the cost and other impacts of such chaos.

Improving The Effectiveness Of Our Businesses

More-or-less random local improvements seems to be the best most businesses aspire to. We could be systematically and progressively improving our businesses on a near-continuous or continuous basis. We only have to look as far as e.g. Toyota to see the stupendous rewards this can bring in the long term.

I see very little of any of the above happening in any businesses. After all these years, I still wonder why. How about you? Would you be willing to share your perspective?

– Bob



The Words We Use

Violence is so endemic in our society and workplaces that we rarely notice it. Nor notice its effects.

Why does it matter? Well, we humans generally feel less happy when victims of violence – however minor or unremarked. But setting aside that general point, anything that negatively impacts our state of mind has similarly negative implications for knowledge workers’ productivity and the quality of that work.

“Most of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to get their work done.”

~ Peter Drucker

And one wildly underreported source of such difficulty is the unwitting violence that happens every day in our relationships at work.

To illustrate how unaware we can be about the violence we do to ourselves and others, you might like to consider some examples. Examples of some commonly used words which not only seem innocuous, but even carry imagined positive connotations. Even these oft-lauded words can harbour implicit violence:

Discipline (verb)

Most folks take this to mean e.g. self-discipline = forcing, compelling or otherwise obliging ourselves to do things we feel we should be doing. And disciplining others = forcing them, mainly through fear, obligation guilt, shame (FOGS), or the threat of punishment, to do the things we feel they should be doing.


Many folks take “professionalism” to mean “constrained by expectations about how something should be done”. Here again, if we but reflect a moment, we may see the violence inherent in this idea. For example, the fear of e.g. a sanction such as ridicule or shame, when one’s behaviour does not conform to that expected of a “professional”.


This notion often translates to an expectation of obligation. If we are responsible for something, then we (or others) expect us to act in certain ways. Once more, we may choose to see this as raising issues of self-violence (where we take a responsibility upon ourselves) or violence done to us (where the responsibility is conferred – explicitly or implicitly – by other people, or even by rules, policy, social mores, etc.).

We Can Choose Our Words

There are, of course, hundreds if not thousands of other words, in many languages, which carry an implication of violence. How often are we aware of those implications when choosing words, and of the consequences of such choices?

Would you be willing to share some words which you find violent, in effect?

– Bob

Further Reading

Domination Systems – Duen Hsi Yen

I Didn’t Sign Up For All This People Crap

A crowd of people

You didn’t? Well, truth be told, neither did I.

When I started in Computing, I was interested in the bits, the bytes, the blinking lights. It took years for that to pale. Not that it’s ever gone away entirely. I still write code and solder things, most every day. Just for fun.

But an easy familiarity rubbed the shine and sparkle off the new toys, and a deepening dissatisfaction with the way things worked – or more exactly, the way the work worked – set in. So I set myself the task of understanding why it was so. That was some thirty years ago.

It’s been a long and winding path since then. I followed the Better Process Path for some years, thinking process was the answer. Then the Better Management/Leadership Path, believing *that* was the answer.

And then – rather late, you may say – I chose to spend some time better understanding the problem, rather than other people’s suggested or reported solutions.

Of course, it’s your career (or not – maybe you’re just filling-in until something else comes along) and I’m not writing this to oblige you to follow any particular path. I’m happy for you to decide how to proceed.

But I do come across many folks who seem to be trying to get one or more of their following needs met:

  • To do good work
  • To not waste time on stuff that’ll never be used
  • To build crazy wicked cool tech things
  • To be successful (however you, personally, might define that)
  • To change things for the better
  • To make a positive difference in the world

Would you be willing to ask yourself:

  • “What is the nature of the things that are preventing me from getting my needs met?”
  • “Are my current strategies effective? And if not, why not?”
  • “Are there other strategies, maybe that I’m not aware of, that I could be using to better effect?”

Maybe, just maybe, you might come to the same conclusion as I have – that to get the above needs met, getting to know people and how they tick – the People Path – is one possible effective strategy.

– Bob

%d bloggers like this: