The Antimatter Manifesto

The Antimatter Manifesto

I’m not a great fan of manifestos, including the Agile Manifesto. But, knowing what I now know about software development, if I’d been at Snowbird I might have argued for the following:

Antimatter Manifesto for Software Development

We are uncovering better ways of meeting people’s needs (through software)
by attending to folks’ needs and helping others do the same.
Through this work we have come to value:

Humane relationships over coercion and control
Self-directed play over work directed by others
Attending to folks’ needs over working software
Making and responding to requests over following obligations and rules

That is, while there is next to no value in the items on
the right, we value the items on the left much, much more.

Would this make for more sustainably successful – and joyful – software development than e.g. following the Agile Manifesto? And is success and joy what we’re looking for? Are they what we – and our organisations – need?

– Bob

Afterword

Some folks seem to have some discomfort with the third line, above: “Attending to folks’ needs over working software”. I expressly chose this wording to highlight that the “folks” we’re talking about include the people “in charge” of the business. Surely they would like to see their own needs (and the needs of i.e. their customers) met with as little software as possible? After all, software (code) is a liability, not an asset. Indeed, if we can meet everyone’s needs with zero software, wouldn’t that be the best-case scenario?

13 comments
  1. Ged Byrne said:

    I really like this, but I do think the opening is a little circular. “We are meeting people’s needs better by attending to people’s needs.”

    The snowbird equivalent would be ‘We are uncovering better ways of developing software by developing software better.’

    What is it that we are trying to achieve when we attend to people’s needs?

    If attending to people’s needs is the means, what are the ends?

    Also, is this really specific to software? It seems to be far more reaching than that.

    • Hi Ged,

      Thanks for your interest. I take your point, although “meeting” is the goal, “attending to”: is the means – and these are not at all synonymous – at least, in my head.

      Re: “What is it that we are trying to achieve when we attend to people’s needs?” – I feel energised by this question. Would you be willing to volunteer an answer of your own here? BTW Have you seen: http://www.cnvc.org/learn-online/spiritual-basis/spiritual-basis-nonviolent-communication ?

      And yes, I can envisage a wider-ranging manifesto, beyond just software development.

      – Bob

  2. Nice, thought provoking.

    I think the deal-breaker may be “Attending to folks’ needs over working software”. That point alone kills any chance of widespread business uptake. One of the reasons “agile” has taken over the world is because the people with the purse strings, the power players, interpret agile as a way of getting software *faster* – which correlates to lower co$ts. I think the mental distance between “attending to folks’ needs” and “getting software faster” is too great for many of these people to put 1 + 1 = 2 together in their minds.

    I think Ged’s question is also valid and I’ve been perplexed by it since day one: “What is it that we are trying to achieve when we attend to people’s needs?” Since “attending to people’s needs” is the cornerstone of your Rosenberg-based philosophy, perhaps you should answer that question first so that at least I (and many others?) can understand your approach better. Different people have different needs – and some of them will be at odds with each other. Even if there is some golden set of universal needs (like Maslow’s hierarchy), people will prioritize them differently. Material needs like money may be higher in priority than spiritual needs like respect – especially for people in power. Like a list of non-functional requirements, some needs will contradict each other and tradeoffs must be made.

    • Thanks for joining the conversation.

      Yes, I accept that those with the control often want software, faster, cheaper. Never mind that software is rarely the best – or even an effective – answer to the needs of the folks at whom it’s pitched (aka customers, users).

      The few that want to understand how to make that (faster delivery of lower cost and higher quality software) happen might consider the implications of knowledge work (re: intrinsic motivation, cognitive function, a conducive workplace, etc.) and investigate how to make those things happen. Many will stick to their current (ineffective) strategies for getting their own needs met. Nothing I can do about that. Excepting maybe keep writing and inviting folks to think.

      Did you check out the link I mentioned in my reply to Ged’s comment? In any case, I’ll muse on how to convey the “why” – maybe in a future post.

      – Bob

  3. A bit off topic I guess, but since you’re focusing on meeting to people’s needs:
    How do you deal with the need of someone who is not willing to meet people’s needs?

    • Hi Anko,

      The stock answer might be “empathy”. i.e. Empathise with that someone. I can still find joy in attending to their needs. In reality, of course, it’s difficult – at least, I find it difficult – to empathise with someone that seems oblivious to others and others’ needs. But that’s a challenge I can find some pleasure in, too. Even though I might not be able to produce the behaviour I’d like (i.e. my own behaviours) as often as I’d like.

      – Bob

  4. When I read “Attending to folks’ needs over working software”, I wonder how many of the folks who stand to gain most from the idea of attending to folks’ needs are likely to be persuaded to try. My guess is very few will hear it as an invitation. But I can imagine that perhaps, for those few, it’s precisely the sort of challenge that elicits a strong and meaningful response.

    With “Attending to folks’ needs over working software”, I also perceive a false dichotomy. When we’re developing software, I’ve generally found it to be the case that, in doing so, we’re trying (however imperfectly) to meet some folks’ needs. And I’ve also found that better attending to folks’ needs is necessary and sufficient to produce software that does likewise. To those who perceive working software as an end, I’d eagerly suggest that attending to needs is the most effective means available. Certainly not an either/or.

    Would you be willing to say more about your experience challenging folks in this particular way, and/or your intent with this particular phrasing?

    • Agree Amitai, I think too that ‘working software’ is not at the same level as all the other values.

      My 2 cents would be:
      Attending to folks’ needs over creating results fast

  5. Paul Beckford said:

    Hi Bob,

    “Humane relationships over coercion and control”

    You could have stopped there🙂 Unfortunately coercion and control are at the core of our economic life – Capitalism. It was at the core of the slave economy upon which modern corporations are based, and if we go back even further it was also at the core of the feudal “Serf” economy which fuelled the Europe before European invented the transatlantic slave trade …

    Coercing others has been central to western economic life for a very long time… It is the economic backbone of our so called “Western Civilisation”.

    I have been following this thread and the one that followed, and I agree with you “attending to” peoples needs requires no further explanation. If one wants to know what this means then your numerous references to the work of Marshall Rosenberg provides more then adequate detail.

    I do have a bone to pick with you though🙂

    Why work?

    Given the historical context, work is the last place any sane minded individual would expect to have their needs attended to🙂

    Lets be precise about what we mean by needs:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fundamental_human_needs

    The purpose of work (at least in the West) is to provide the material means so that people can attend to their own needs elsewhere🙂 Work provides for the basics of food and shelter, and little else.

    If you look how people operate in the work place (with their elbows in), you can tell that most recognise this and act accordingly. Most have their human needs met within their families, or amongst friends, or in other institutions like the Church or social clubs… But definitely not at work🙂

    As well as slavery, I have also mentioned the Quakers… Individuals who were motivated by a wider social purpose. I agree that this wider purpose is laudable, unfortunately outside a relatively few organisations it doesn’t form the basis for the contract of work.

    My view is that we need to get back to what is actually written on the contract (of employment), and accept the nature of the beast for what it is. As individuals however we still have a choice. We can choose to opt out all together (like the hippy communes of the 60’s) or we can choose to bring as much humanity to our working relationships as we can, given the considerable constraints that exist in that (toxic) environment.

    The Agile Manifesto represented a breakthrough IMHO because it was the first to place *values* on the table. Before that organisational change was a rather dry discussion about means, not motive.

    Yet when it comes to “attending to the needs of others”, motive is key… People that are motivated to do so have an enlightened outlook that recognises the inherent connectedness of all of us… This isn’t the primary tenet upon which our current “civilisation” is based however.

    Maybe in 300 years or so once the Chinese have had ago at leading the worlds economy, we may be ready for the Antimatter Manifesto, but for now, getting past “greed is good” is still the challenge🙂

    Paul.

    • Hi Paul,

      My core message is that we’re now in a world of a different kind of work (knowledge work) – and that the old ways are toxic to this. This is a new and largely unrecognised situation. Coercion and control did not have a great negative impact in the 20th century world of work. In fact one might even argue that they helped (cf Taylorism, Fordism) produce the “manufacturing miracle” of mass production. Time change, yet assumptions have not (yet). Cf Drucker.

      I keep saying, but few seem to listen, that my position is first and foremost UTILITARIAN. If organisations want to be more effective, more successful, then it might help for them to recognise this sea change. Only once recognised will it be possible to begin to consider how to reduce or remove the toxins and nurture the environment necessary for knowledge work to flourish.

      Hence “why work”.

      I agree that broader macro-economic questions arise, such as “will work be the default mode for people to survive and thrive in the future?”. Although an interesting prospect, a world where work is not the default remains some way off.

      I do what I can.

      – Bob

      P.S. These are the kind of needs I most often have in mind when I use the word “needs”: http://www.cnvc.org/Training/needs-inventory

  6. Paul Beckford said:

    I am familiar with that Argument🙂

    My point is that violence (coercion) is central to our (western) culture…

    Also what is obviously UTILITARIAN to you (or me), may appear ALTRUISTIC to others.

    And it is the mindset of those others who count, especially given that (mostly) they are the ones dictating the terms of the contract of work (employment).

    Paul.

  7. Paul Beckford said:

    To be clear. All of us who take the time to read a blog like yours are essentially like-minded (despite our minor disagreements).

    If the “change movement” is to move beyond naval gazing (or self aggrandisement) we need to engage with those who are not of a like-mind. The world “as-is” not as we would like it to be.

    Advocacy hasn’t worked. And as far as empirical evidence is concerned, the jury is still out…

    Remember there are competing philosophies which have gained significant mind-share:

    http://reason.com/archives/2012/08/23/what-liberals-dont-understand-about-ayn

    Engaging with the world “as-is” means exposing the “values in practice” and contrasting them with the “espoused values”. Ghandi did just this to the British in India.

    “I do what I can”

    This means scrutinising the contract of employment and exposing the violence that lies within. There are lots of low hanging fruit here🙂 For me the avoidance of violence is an ends in itself, and can be justified on its own terms.

    Of course since we are subject to such violent contracts ourselves, this could be a career limiting move… (which is why I haven’t taking this approach myself :)).

    Alternatively we can accept institutional violence as a constraint, and offer ways forward that are viable within such a context (which is where most of the Agile movement are today).

    Another alternative is to take control of the means of production, just like the Quakers did in the past (and a number of technology startups are doing now).

    What is your suggestion?

    Paul.

    • Paul,

      I’ve been thinking on your question. I hesitate to offer suggestions, having few, but maybe us folks telling our stories honestly – warts and all, expressing how those things made and make us feel, being clear about our needs as human beings, and asking folks if there’s anything to be done, might be a start? Although, empathising with them and their needs might be the real start.

      – Bob

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