Monthly Archives: July 2015


“Open to me, so that I may open. Provide me with your inspiration. So that I may see mine.”

~ Rumi

This quote spoke to me, so I thought I might write this post.

I often find inspiration in the words of Rumi, as I do in the lives and works of a significant number of my “Giants“.

More fundamentally, though, I’ve not really dwelt on what inspires me. Now taking the chance to reflect on that, since my youth I’ve always been curious about how things work. And that curiosity has inspired me to study, take things apart, find out how they tick.

That same curiosity, I guess, has driven me to make things. From Meccano, Lego, Airfix and Hornby, through analog and digital electronics, R/C aircraft, helicopters, tanks and boats, to real cars and motorcycles, carpentry, and food. And software, of course. Making things – and fixing things – helps me understand the fundamentals, and satisfy my curiosity.

Early in my career I made some small speciality out of fixing or upgrading software systems where all documentation – and often, source code – had been lost. And from time to time, taking research or prototype systems, again absent documentation or original authors, and turning them into commercial products. Even these days I find a certain self-indulgent catharsis in that kind of work.

And for the longest time, or so it seems, I’ve found inspiration in trying to understand social systems and how they work. Which in no small measure involves trying to understand people. At least, en masse.

And, I guess, I’ve sometime found much inspiration in exploring things together. With other folks who share my curiosity.

I’d love to hear about what inspires you. Would you be willing to share?

– Bob

What If #2 – No Process

What if “process” is one of those concepts from manual work a.k.a. manufacturing that has no place or value in knowledge work? What if “process” is a relatively very poor means (strategy) for getting everyone’s needs met in knowledge work organisations?

What Do We Mean By Process?

“Process” can mean so many different things, to different people. I’ll use the CMMI-style definition as a basis:

“Process: A set of activities, methods, practices, and transformations that people use to develop and maintain [software] systems and associated products.”

In the context of this post, I’m mainly talking about some kind of more or less defined process, somewhat analogous to CMMI Maturity Level 3 (ML3). Generally, I’m talking here about “activities, methods, practices, and transformations” which are defined by some people, and more or less mandated for all people in a team, group or organisation to follow.


Manufacturing seems to find value in “process” because of the need to reduce variation. When the goal is to produce millions of identical items, any variation is undesirable.

In collaborative knowledge-work, is variation our enemy, or our friend?

It depends.

What is the flawed assumption that is at the root of the conflict here?

Is all knowledge-work alike? Is it homogeneous?

What if there are aspects of e.g. software development that could benefit from a smidgeon of “process”, and some aspects where “process” is a major drag?

Standard Work and Compliance

Even though Ohno made the distinction between “standard work” and compliance to a standardised process, this distinction seems lost on most organisations that place their faith in “process”. People are expected to do the work, not as they find most effective, but as the process specifies. And often, too, little thought is given to how to continually adapt the (standardised) process to keep it effectively aligned to changing conditions.

Typically, then, standardised processes drift away from alignment and effectiveness, toward irrelevance, annoyance, and increasing ineffectiveness.

Process Myopia

If all we have is the idea of process then can we ever see improvement as anything other than “process improvement”?

Aside: This is the origin of the term “Rightshifting” – my attempt to disassociate ends i.e. improvement from means e.g. process.

And if process has no value, then process improvement, however many £thousands or £millions we spend on it, has no value either.

If we attribute performance, productivity to process, and we want more performance and productivity, then naturally we’ll look to improve the process. What if other factors are actually at the root of performance and productivity in knowledge work?

We’d look pretty silly ploughing effort and resources into process improvement then, wouldn’t we?


In essence, process thinking is a throwback to Taylor’s Scientific Management, and the idea that workers should simply work and e.g. managers should have absolute dominion over how the work is done. Again, this may have been a sound idea when many manual workers were illiterate and poor local language speakers. And when managers and supervisors knew the work much better than their workers. In today’s knowledge-work organisations, exactly the opposite conditions pertain.

Today’s knowledge workers, then, can only feel frustrated and alienated when unable to work in ways they find effective. Inevitably, this leads to disengagement, low morale, stress, lower cognitive function, learned helplessness, and other undesirable psychological states.

– Bob

Other Posts In This Occasional Series

What If #1 – No Management
What If #3 – No Telling
What If #4 – No Answers
What If #5 – Continuous Improvement Is Useless
What If #6 ~ Agile Nirvana
What If #7 – No Work
What If #8 – Agile Never Happened




Those Bastards Need To Get A Grip

I see many, many people projecting their needs onto others. And most often with no awareness that they’re doing that. Or of the consequences.

Examples of Projecting Needs

Here are some examples which might help clarify what I’m talking about:

“My son needs to clear up his room.” No, he probably doesn’t need to do that, from his point of view. More likely the parent needs him to clean up his room. And maybe that’s because the parent has an (unmet) need to live in an orderly, clean house.

“Politicians need to stop lying.” No, they don’t. If they did need to do that, they would do that. More likely the speaker has an (unmet) need for politicians to be more open, transparent, honest, or whatever.

“Minorities need to stop whingeing and suck it up.” No, they don’t need to do that. From their perspective, they probably have a whole bunch of needs they feel are not getting met. And in this case, the speaker probably doesn’t need them to “to stop whingeing and suck it up”, either. More likely the statement is a proxy for some deeper need that the speaker is not even aware of. Maybe he or she needs some special consideration themself, and feels that others (said minorities) getting attention and special consideration is detracting from their own need.


Would you be willing to consider the possible consequences of framing your needs in terms of things you believe other people “should” be doing?

–  Bob

Further Reading

Speak Peace In A World Of Conflict ~ Marshall B. Rosenberg


I’ve been on the receiving end of a bunch of presentations recently. Presentations generally along the lines of “I assume you have this (business) problem, here’s my/our solution for fixing it”.

To most of them, my response has been “Hmmm, plausible”.

And then I channel Feynman:

“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.”

– Richard P. Feynman

Then my own natural skepticism kicks in and I end up thinking “Meh“. Followed closely by “Witch doctors”. And “Pseudoscience”.


Feynman suggests we look for all the details that could cast doubt on an idea.

“In summary, the idea is to give all of the information to help others to judge the value of your contribution; not just the information that leads to judgement in one particular direction or another.”

– Richard P. Feynman

I have to confess I’m crap at this myself.

The Laity

Feynman goes on to discuss the relationship between scientists and lay people. Maybe his assertion holds equally for the relationship between specialist or expert, and non-expert, too:

“If you’re representing yourself as a scientist, then you should explain to the layman what you’re doing – and if they don’t support you under those circumstances, then that’s their decision.”

– Richard P. Feynman

I’d very much like to act congruently with Feynman’s admonitions. I’d really like to be able to test my ideas. I just don’t understand how to do that in my field (broadly speaking, social science). And so I often prefer to keep my ideas to myself. And take the stance of therapist, rather than pseudo-scientist.

I do wonder how many prospective clients would give a damn about “scientific” results in any case. It seems like most are just fine with Witch doctors and cargo cult science, thank you all the same.

– Bob

Further Reading

Cargo Cult Science ~ Richard Feynman

Why Me?

Not, not some lament about the unfairness of life. Rather, an explanation of why, these days, I choose to call myself an Organisational Psychotherapist.

I’ve spent the majority of my 30+ year career studying many “systems” of software and product development (the way the work works). And studying the relationships those systems have to the organisations (a.k.a. systems) they serve. I’ve come to hold some considered opinions about the nature of the problems that most organisations (still) face:

  • Just about all organisations are much less effective than they could be.
  • Their relative ineffectiveness is a consequence of the beliefs these organisations collectively hold about the nature of work.
  • These collective beliefs generally go entirely unexamined.
  • Left to their own devices, organisations are unlikely to devote attention to examining these collective beliefs.

Complementing these opinions, I have some observations about human beings, as individuals and as groups:

  • People generally do not act on, nor deeply learn from, received advice.
  • Very occasionally, advice may trigger someone or some group to go find out (experiment) for themselves.
  • Behavioural changes go hand in hand with changes in assumptions and beliefs.
  • Most often, advice can rob people of their ownership of a problem, reducing the chances of their choosing to find out for themselves.
  • Canned, labelled and pre-packeged solutions offer a crutch to the unengaged and disinterested, substituting for curiosity, inquiry, and deep learning, and exacerbating learned helplessness.
  • Only deep learning (of e.g. governing principles) can afford the possibility of long-term, sustainable change.

Putting these things together, I long ago gave up selling advice for a living. (You might recognise that role as something many choose to call “consulting”).

For years I felt comfortable in the role of coach. Until that too became obviously of little help to most of those on the receiving end. Particularly, as is so often the case in so-called Agile coaching, where those receiving the coaching have no say in the choice of coach or their own part in the whole sorry affair.

And so I’ve come to the role – and stance – of the therapist. As in:

“A person who helps people deal with the mental or emotional aspects of situations by talking about those aspects and situations.”

I find it meets my needs, in that I can help those who seek it to find meaningful connections with themselves and each other, and to see more of their innate potential realised in the context of “work”. And it affords me the opportunity to do something different to the norm.

So now I don’t tout, sell or give advice. I don’t coach. I just try to listen, hold the space, empathise, do what I can to relate to people as fellow human beings, and walk together for a while, as we each pursue our journeys.

– Bob

The First Step

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

~ Lao Tzu


Last week I posted about Rightshifting the HiveMind Network. Since then I’ve been reflecting on where and how to make a start. Not wishing to take anyone or anything for granted, I feel most comfortable starting out low-key, and without any kind of agenda. That meets my need for allowing folks the choice of whether and how to participate, and indeed to shape what it might be they’re choosing participate in.

Rightshifting Is Not The First Step

Let’s not assume that there are folks who have the time or inclination to engage in e.g. improvement. Certainly in most organisations I have worked with, any kind of explicit improvement, a.k.a. “continuous improvement”, has come way down the list of most folks’ needs. The very idea of change, even when it’s for “the better”, does not garner universal support, nor automatically attract folks to participate in it.

The Journey

So, to the first step. This week, on the HiveMind Network infrastructure, I’ve launched a new “group” – an online forum of sorts – named “The Journey“. I have no idea what will transpire. For me, this is part of the delight of the first step. It’s a new adventure.

Here’s how I’ve described the new group to the HiveMind Network folks:

“What is the HiveMind Network? What could it become? What do people need it to be? I have as yet no answers to these questions. But I’m curious to discover, learn and co-create them. I suspect you may be similarly curious. I invite you to join us and journey together for a while – on a journey of discovering and co-creating the kind of HiveMind Network that meets all our needs.

The journey ahead is uncertain and I know not where it will lead. Or who will walk it with me. But it feels like destiny, somehow. Will you join us?”

I have few illusions about the road ahead. At least I have a next step: actually having folks in the network get to see the invitation.

“Certainty of death. Small chance of success. What are we waiting for?”

~ GImli, Son of Glóin

– Bob

Further Reading

The Organisation’s Therapy Experience ~ FlowChainSensei

Business Development

The word “development” in the phrase “business development” has always meant something very different than in the phrases “product development” or “software development”. The term “business development” is generally taken to mean finding new customers, building customer relationships, and such like. And thus responsibility primarily resides in the Sales & Marketing silo.

Maybe this is one reason why the idea of “developing” a business, in the same sense as developing a product or a software system, is pretty much unknown to business folks. Many’s the time I have invited business folks to consider the merits of taking a “development”approach to the construction and evolution of their business, only to receive little response other than a sea of blank faces.

Which makes me sad, because there’s an enormous amount of “development” practice, expertise and skills available to apply to the challenges of developing a business or other organisation. I’d say that some 80% of the know-how involved in developing products or software systems is directly applicable to “developing” an organisation.

Have you ever suggested to business folks that “development” know-how could have a massive impact on their bottom line? Or otherwise effectively meet many if not all of their core needs? What kind of reactions have you seen?

– Bob

Further Reading

What, Exactly, Is Business Developoment? ~ Scott Pollack
Prod•gnosis In A Nutshell ~ FlowchainSensei

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