Monthly Archives: August 2015


If you’re in business for anything more than a one-hit-wonder, you may have given some thought to your next product. Albeit probably not much more than a few cursory thoughts, given the attention that you current product(s) demand of you.

Product Development And Delivery Flow

Some lucky few may have moved from the idea of economies of scale, maximising utilisation, etc., to the idea of flow. Flow of products from raw materials to finished and sold goods (or services). And flow of product ideas and new features into those products and product lines.


Fewer again may have adopted something like Prod•gnosis, where ideas for each new product or service get deliberately “developed” into a new operational value stream:

(click for larger image)

(click for larger image)

With this kind of approach, people (in the green box) who specialise in creating new operational values streams can bring their talents, expertise and continuous improvements to bear on each new operational value stream (blue boxes) they “develop” for the organisation.

Aside: The Toyota Product Development System (TPDS) works much like this, with circa 100 people co-located in a Big Room, or Obeya, for the 15 months or so that it takes Toyota to transform a new product line (vehicle) idea into a new, running operational value stream (blue box).


If we consider the whole organisation, over time, then whether we use the above approach or no, there will a whole series of operational value streams (blue boxes) starting up, operating for a time, e.g. whilst profitable, and eventually shutting down:

(click for larger image)

(click for larger image)

We might like to see our blue boxes flow into the organisation (start up), with as smooth and effective a flow as possible. This is what I call metaflow: the effective flow of operational value streams “into” an organisation.

Ultimately, I guess it depends on how much you need new products and services to flow, and how much you need the benefits that can bring you.

– Bob

Further Reading

The Principles Of Product Development Flow ~ Don Reinertsen

The Shift


When it comes to transforming our organisations, good intentions will only get us to the starting line. The idea of “managing” change has largely failed us, yet we must find some means for effecting change if we are to realise our hopes for more effective organisations. For enhanced performance, sustained success and altogether better experiences of work for all concerned.

Like many others in the business change business, I share the view that the top-down approach is about as practical as a chocolate teapot in the desert. While top-down change may have worked for a very few organisations, I note an undeniable trend toward innovation, collaboration and inclusiveness. If we want to remain competitive and profitable, we’d do better to empower our people and unleash their creativity and enthusiasm.

The Interview

I don’t get interviewed that often, so why not interview myself?:

ThinkDifferent: Can you briefly discuss the “Marshall Model” that is an important component of your work?

FlowChainSensei: It’s a model that explains exactly what makes for more, or less, effective knowledge-work organisations. The Marshall Model’s primary focus is on helping change agents understand how best to engage with any given organisation. Hence its subtitle – Dreyfus for the Organisation. It also has some utility as a diagnostic tool that can help organisations discover their hidden strengths and weaknesses in a range of areas. After the diagnosis, we work with clients on producing an action plan to leverage strengths. This plan is the “how” tool of The Shift. The two most critical areas are collective mindset, and the social dynamic. Strengths in these two areas can shift the entire organisation to a new level.

ThinkDifferent: How exactly does the Marshall Model work?

FlowChainSensei: An organisation gets to assess itself via a 25-dimension questionnaire. We generally recommend a half-day workshop for this, but we can also conduct a longer and more in-depth bespoke project too. Then we jointly build key recommendations and action plan for teams and the organisation as a whole. We monitor the impact of the changes and repeat the diagnostics in 6 to 9 months to see how scores have shifted.

ThinkDifferent: In your work, you indicate that the Marshall Model is built on Marshall Rosenberg’s “Nonviolent Communication”, which describes a four step process to improve the social dynamic; how members of an organisation engage with their work and with each other, as well as how the company makes progress. Can you explain further?

FlowChainSensei: I have been using the Nonviolent Communication process for several years as part of helping C-level executives and executive teams to shift from e.g. Analytic to Synergistic. I’ve realised that helping one person or one team at a time to shift was not good enough, not fast enough, and with a high risk of failure. I love big ideas and I love making them happen even more, so I decided that I needed to figure out how to help an entire organisation – many organisations, in fact – to shift at the same time.

So I’ve moved from the “what” to the “how.” I went back to my own experiences of running and working with software businesses, stretching back some 20 years. I’ve read over two thousand books and articles. I’ve looked at the data from more than fifty case studies, hundreds of interviews and collected additional data. I’ve managed to connect the dots and realised that many different dimensions. many interrelated memes, have to be balanced and managed together, holistically, as a living organism. I’ve grouped these factors into five key questions, drawing on the Marshall Model.

ThinkDifferent: Generation Y employees generally prefer a collaborative culture and, compared with older employees, tend to disapprove of an authoritative leadership style. What can executives and co-workers do to help make the transition easier for older employees?

FlowChainSensei: In a few years, Generation Y will form a majority of the workforce, and, indeed, they seem to prefer a collaborative Synergistic-type culture. In particular, they want to have purposeful work and flexible working patterns. But it’s not about age or generation, per se. Generation Y generally has a different take on what “work” means. A different mindset. More experienced people can often hold different, more Analytical assumptions about work. These Analytical-minded folks can be supported through communication; raising awareness; coaching and mentoring processes; focus groups; self-organized communities of interest; and training and development programs. But above all, through empathy and the Antimatter Principle – the latter another consequent of Nonviolent Communication.

– Bob

Meeting Folks’ Needs At Scale

Scaling Agile is one of those oxymorons that has, nevertheless, consumed endless column-inches and hours of debate. I have no time for it. Agile was meant for development-in-the-small. For teams of five to seven people, give or take. Even at that “scale”, I have serious reservations about its efficacy and effectiveness. The idea of scaling it up to multiple dependent teams, or even to whole development departments or groups of hundreds or thousands of people, seems just crazy.

The Demand

Yes. There are organisations with hundreds or thousands of developers working on more or less dependent things. Huge systems. Ginormous products. And these organisations have problems. Boy, do they have problems. They’ve had the same kind of problems for decades now. Advances in tech and tools seems to have made little dent in those problems. Similarly, advances in methods and processes have barely scratched the surface.

So there is a demand. A demand for something better. A demand for a packaged solution that can be simply (ha!) “installed” and run with. And the folks with the problems have money. Lots of money. Bags of moolah.

No wonder it looks like an interesting problem to solve. The thing is, I don’t see many people, either on the demand or the supply side, that actually understand the nature of the problem.

Absent an understanding of the problem, and given their desperation, the demand side will embrace any and all solutions that bear even a vague whiff of credibility. And the “Agile” label these days confers that smell.


All product development is, in essence, an exercise in attending to folks’ needs. The more kinds of folks with needs, the more of their needs we bring into scope, and the quicker we want to see those needs met, the more people we might choose to commit. The question of agile (or not) is a huge irrelevance. Things like communications overheads, coordination, partitioning of needs, a regular cadence, flow, and effective use of resources (time, money, equipment) hold sway. TPDS had these issues sorted out (mostly) years ago with e.g. the Obeya or “big room” concept, set-based concurrent engineering, etc.

I have suggested that something like FlowChain might afford an effective model for organising to meet folks’ needs at scale. I have yet to hear anyone suggest why this model is flawed. Until that day, I will continue to invite you to consider its merits.

The demand side continues to have needs that are not being well-met (due to e.g. a host of pathological beliefs). The supply side has needs that are being more-or-less well met by selling solutions largely disconnected from the real problem. Scaling agile seems to me a very one-sided, cynical and exploitative bargain.

– Bob

Further Reading

Moving Past the Scaling Myth ~ Michael Feathers
Lean Product and Process Development ~ Allen Ward

The Care And Training of Your PET TEAM®


You are now the owner of a genuine, pedigreed PET TEAM®


© 1975
Team Bottom® Productions

Item 1

Your new team is a very sensitive pet and may be slightly traumatized from all the handling and shipping required in bringing you all together. While you may look in on your new pet from time to time, it is essential that you leave your team in its shipping container for a few days. It is advised that you set the container in an area of your office that is to become your PET TEAM’s “special place”. Some PET TEAM owners have found that the rasp of an old dot-matrix printer operating near the shipping container has a soothing effect; especially at night. It takes most PET TEAMS exactly two weeks days to acclimate themselves to their new surroundings. After ten working days have passed you may remove the team from its shipping container and begin enjoying your new pet.


If, when you remove the team from its shipping container, its members appears to be excited, place them on some old newspapers. The team will know what the paper is for and will require no further instruction. They will remain on the paper until you remove them.


Your PET TEAM And You

Your PET TEAM will be a devoted friend and companion for many years to come. Teams enjoy a rather long life span so the two of you will never have to part – at least not on your PET TEAM’s account. Once you have transcended the awkward training stage your team will mature into a faithful, obedient, loving pet with but one purpose in life – to be at your side when you want, and to go lie down when you don’t. A PET TEAM is perfect for people who hate animals, are allergic to animals, or who are not allowed to keep animals. When you own a PET TEAM you never have problems with leash law violations, you’ll never have to clean up nasty messes, and your pet will never keep you and the management awake at night. PET TEAMS are welcome everywhere.

Know Your Team

Your PET TEAM didn’t come out of any old Team factory, you know. There is nothing common about genuine, pedigreed PET TEAMS. They descend from a long line of famous teams. Their ancestors can be found amongst the workers of the pyramids; the slaves of Ancient Rome; and the plantations of the Caribbean and Southern States. PET TEAMS descend in one unbroken line that can be traced back to the beginning of time and even farther. PET TEAMS are found with the aid of a specially-trained Team Hound. They are then examined for congenital defects prior to intelligence evaluations. Only teams that have demonstrated a strong capacity for learning and obedience are allowed to wear the name PET TEAM. Upon passing initial tests they are prepared for shipping, packed into their cartons and sent throughout the world to anxious owners.


Your team is a one of a kind.

There Are Hundreds Of Breeds Of Teams

Of the hundreds of breeds of teams known to Man, only a few show the necessary aptitude required of a PET TEAM. The more important traits associated with genuine PET TEAMS are gentle disposition, eagerness to please, and a profound sense of responsibility.

Initial Training

Nobody, but nobody likes a surly, misbehaving team. Therefore, it is most important that you begin training immediately. Your PET TEAM should be made to know who is the boss, and that you will demand certain good manners and impeccable behavior if you are to all have a happy, well adjusted relationship.

A few of the more popular breeds.

Limit your training sessions to fifteen minutes, twice each day. One half-hour session is not recommended as a team’s attention span is rather short. Remember; a bored team is an unhappy team. The first section of this training manual will address itself to simple obedience—COME, SIT, STAY, etc. Amusing tricks will be covered in Section Two. No special equipment is required in training your new PET TEAM. Amazingly, a team is one of the few pets that will respond to training without the aid of leash or choke chain. First, select a special training area. Use the same area for all training sessions until your team is showing good progress.

SECTION ONE Simple obedience


It is essential that your PET TEAM learn this command. A team that doesn’t come when it’s called will cause its owner endless embarrassment.

Command gently but firmly.

It is assumed that you have given your PET TEAM a name by now. If you have not, do so before proceeding with obedience training. To teach the command COME, place your team on the floor or carpet and take a few steps backward. Next, bending over from the waist, place your hands upon your knees and face your team. Now, with firm authority, say, COME CODESTARS. (If you have not named your team CodeStars you may wish to say something else.) Repeat the command, COME CODESTARS. Assuming your team is normal it will probably not respond. Start again. Bending over from the waist, face your team, clap your hands, and let your face light up as you say, COME CODESTARS, C’MON GUYS, OVER HERE, and stuff like that. Now, start walking slowly toward your team. Incredibly, as you walk toward your team you will notice that it actually is coming closer. This means your PET TEAM is learning the command, COME. Praise your team and give them pats of approval.



Many PET TEAMS have tremendous difficulty learning the command, COME. PET TEAM owners have complained that their teams were stupid, dimwitted and slow because of it. Well, this is ridiculous. To be sure, training a team to come when it’s called requires extraordinary patience. It is a rare team indeed that will leap into its master’s arms the first time it hears the command. And, while it takes quite a while to train a team to come when its name is called, the problem lies not in the team’s inability to learn commands; the problem lies in the fact that a team has an extremely hard time learning its name. Be patient, calm and gentle.


The next command to teach your team is STAY. It is very important that your PET TEAM learn this command as it is disconcerting to have a team that will wander around while you are in a meeting or having a massage. Return to your training area and set your team upon the floor or ground. Look at your team intently, like you really mean business, and give the command, STAY. Surprisingly, most teams have no difficulty learning this command and respond quite obediently the first time they hear it. Repeat the command, STAY, and slowly back away from your team. If your team should move, and this is highly unlikely, shout the command while gesturing dramatically with the palm of your outstretched hand. In no time at all your PET TEAM will be responding to this obedience command each and every time. With further patience you can train your team to STAY by using only the hand signal.


This is not a difficult command to teach a PET TEAM as most teams spend the bulk of their time sitting around anyway. However, a refresher course is certainly in order since you will want your team to sit when you want them to, not when they want to. Place your team in its training area and give the command, SIT. Many teams will attempt to deceive you by lying down, thinking that you won’t know the difference. This should not be encouraged If you say, SIT, then your team PET TEAM should sit and that’s all there is to it. Here is a simple method to ensure your PET TEAM always obeys your commands: Repeat the order, SIT, and slowly walk away from your team. Now, hide in another office and, from time to time, peek in on your team to make sure they haven’t moved. If they lie down, when they should be sitting, storm into the room and shout, BAD TEAM, BAD TEAM Your PET TEAM will know it has displeased you and will return to the sitting position. It will also know who’s the boss.

Once your PET TEAM learns the command, SIT, add the command, STAY. Your team will now remain sitting until further notice.


It would be cruel to leave your team in the sitting position forever. Therefore, it is necessary that you teach it the command, DOWN. After sitting for a long period of time your team will appreciate the chance to relax. It is also nice, when you have e.g. visiting clients, to own a PET TEAM that will lie, unobtrusively and lovingly, at your feet. Teaching the command, DOWN, is best accomplished in conjunction with the command, SIT. After your PET team has been in the sitting position for a while, give it the command, DOWN. If you’ve made a big fuss about your team sitting properly they may be reluctant to move. Place your foot upon your team and push each on in turn firmly into the carpet or dirt. It won’t take long before your team understands what you want them to do. DOWN is another of the training commands that most teams respond to with a minimum of teaching.

It is in a PET TEAM’s nature that it learns to get down so easily. Praise your team and give them all a gentle, reassuring hug.


You’re a little confused if you think a PET TEAM can be taught to STAND. There is no f-e-e-t in t-e-a-m.


It is extremely unusual to see a team strolling around unaccompanied – there’s a very good reason for this. Most PET TEAM owners have had the patience and good judgment to teach the command, HEEL

To teach your PET TEAM to HEEL, simply follow these easy steps. First, place your PET TEAM on the floor or carpet directly behind your right heel. Next, give the command, HEEL, and stand absolutely still. Slowly, without moving your feet, turn and look down at your team. You will be both pleased and amazed to see they are still there, right where you want them be, directly behind your right heel. Your PET TEAM has learned the command. Praise your team.

SECTION TWO Amusing Tricks

Few pets are more anxious to please their masters than are PET TEAMS. It is surprisingly easy to teach your team cute tricks that will entertain you and your peers for hours.

Roll Over

Your PET TEAM will learn this trick the very first time you give them a lesson. That statement may be hard to believe but it is, nevertheless, quite true. The best place to teach your PET TEAM to ROLL OVER is on a relatively steep slope, or failing that, your office. Place your team on the floor at the top of the slope and, still holding on to them, give the command, ROLL OVER. Now, let go of your team. It’s that simple!

Your team will roll end-over-end and will not stop until they tire of the game. PET TEAMS usually get tired of the game when they reach the bottom of the slope. Follow your team to the bottom of the slope and praise them profusely. This praise will make your PET TEAM very happy and they will repeat the trick as soon as you return them to the top of the slope. You will tire of this trick long before your PET TEAM does.

Performing its first trick.

Play Dead

Your PET TEAM will take to this trick like a duck takes to water. It is one of the most entertaining tricks a team can learn, and a trick that is sure to get many affectionate laughs and approving glances from you and your peers. Take your PET TEAM to its training area and, when you have their undivided attention, give the command, PLAY DEAD. If your team is like most teams it will not have to be told more than once. Immediately, it will go completely limp as though shot through the head, and will remain in this posture until you give a different command. Teams enjoy this trick so much that often, when you’re not even looking, they’ll actually practice it on their own. It’s not unusual to walk into a room and see a PET TEAM playing dead.

Shake Hands

Don’t be ridiculous. You can’t teach a team to shake hands.


PET TEAMS really enjoy their food and drink, but, as nearly everyone knows, they are atrocious nutritionists. Therefore, teaching your team to eat well and drink plenty of water is very important. To do this, first find e.g. a pizzeria or company canteen. DO NOT ATTEMPT THIS TRICK IN AN EXPENSIVE RESTAURANT. Hold your team firmly in hand, give the command, EAT, and stand well back. More often than not, and depending upon your nimbleness, your PET TEAM will eat happily until they’re stuffed. If your Team does not make it happily through all the items of the menu, it may be terminally ill. If that happens, you’ll be needing a new one. Too bad.


To teach your PET TEAM to FETCH, declare a challenging BHAG or stretch goal. Next, send your PET TEAM after it. Rarely, if ever, will your PET TEAM return with the goal completed, but that’s the way it goes.

Attack Training

A PET TEAM is a loyal, devoted pet that can easily be trained to protect you and your company. Woe be to the competitor or other teams who venture into the offices guarded by a PET TEAM – or the client or supplier who attempts to cross a PET TEAM’s master. There are two basic attack methods to teach your PET TEAM.

1) Long Distance Attacks
2) Close Range Attacks

Long Distance Attacks

In those instances when your adversary is at a distance (such as when another manager finagles your budget and keeps laughing about it from their own offices), your PET TEAM will respond to the challenge instantly and effectively in assuring that it never happens again. First, clear the rage form your brow. Next, pick up your PET TEAM. Shout the command, ATTACK , and send your team to the swine’s office with all speed. This method of protection is sure-fire and results are guaranteed, although you may want to practice your plausible denial abilities before attempting this manoeuvre.

Close Range Attacks

If you are threatened at close range always use the Close Range Attack Method; it is the ultimate form of personal protection. The element of surprise enters into this attack method, thereby making it doubly effective.


When the adversary approaches within arm’s length and demands all your staff, budgets and other valuables, follow these easy steps: Reach for your laptop or mobile phone as though you were going to comply with your adversary’s demands. Summon your PET TEAM. Shout the command, ATTACK. And together bash your adversary’s head in. PET TEAMS really seem to enjoy this exercise and, in most cases, come away from the attack little the worse for wear.


Owners of Attack Trained PET TEAMS have a responsibility to society to use their dangerous pets for protection only, and not for instigating trouble of any kind.

Health Care

A healthy team is a happy team, everybody knows that It is, therefore, extremely important that you learn health care and emergency first aid techniques as they regard your PET TEAM. PET TEAMS are, to be sure, quite hardy. However, an occasional accident or disease may befall your team and you should know how to care for it. Also, visits to the company nurse’s station can be very time-consuming. Here are some of the more serious problems that can befall a PET TEAM, along with instructions for their cures.

A team in perfect health. A team in obvious distress.

Rock Bottom

If your PET TEAM appears nervous and fidgety, it’s a better than even chance it’s suffering from dreaded Rock Bottom. No other disease is as debilitating to PET TEAM as Rock Bottom. The first symptoms are manifested in an almost unbelievable forgetfulness. Your PET TEAM will not remember a single command or trick. All the hours of training will be forgotten. It will be the saddest day of your life. From simple loss of memory it gets worse. So bad in fact, that we won’t go into it here. Suffice to say that, should your PET TEAM contract Rock Bottom, get a new PET TEAM immediately. There is no known cure.

Teams in the wild

Perhaps you have seen a particular team in the wild and thought it would make a nice pet. DO NOT APPROACH THAT TEAM. This is to be discouraged. Wild teams can give you nothing but headaches. They can be surly, vicious, and unpredictable. They are nearly impossible to domesticate and show practically no learning abilities whatsoever. There’s an old saying in team circles, “Once a wild team, always a wild team.” A genuine, pedigreed PET TEAM will make a much more suitable companion.

In Closing

As the owner of a PET TEAM you have assumed a responsibility to love and care for this new addition to your family. If your team should misbehave, be patient. If it should cause you problems, be forgiving. Under no circumstances should you turn your PET TEAM loose. The world is already overcrowded with discarded, unwanted teams, and millions must be destroyed each year. These poor, unfortunate teams meet brutal ends in death marches, financial and government organisations, or as land fill. Don’t allow your PET TEAM to meet an untimely demise at the bottom of an obscure pile of ordure. Remember; if you take care of your PET TEAM, your PET TEAM will take care of you.

© 1975
Team Bottom® Productions

What If #5 – Continuous Improvement Is Useless

What if our faith in continuous improvement is misplaced? What if one of the central tenets of Lean and Agile ways of working is just a delusion? Cargo culting? What if knowledge work is sufficiently unlike manufacturing that the whole idea of continuously and incrementally improving the way the work works has no payback? No point? What if, indeed, it’s useless – or even actually harmful?


For the avoidance of confusion, let me define what I mean here by “continuous improvement”. In general, I mean any change to the way we work, collectively, that makes us in any way more effective. That is, any change to a certain kind of task, or practice, which reduces the time and effort we take to get a certain kind of thing done.

For example, I saw one team swap out Planning Poker in favour of Silent Grouping, saving maybe 30 minutes * 10 team members = 5 hours for every fortnightly sprint planning session. On the face of it, this seems a small, but useful, improvement to the way the work works. But was it, really?

Some Of The Issues


If the working domain is merely complicated, as is largely true for production lines in a factory, then a standard process might make sense. Assembling e.g. a car has many steps, but those steps are largely definable. Improving any single step is fairly straightforward. Shorten the bolt to reduce the number of turns required to reach the necessary torque setting. Redesign the part(s), replacing the bolt and nut, or threaded hole, with a snap or push-fit fastener, thus speeding the operation (step) and maybe saving on parts costs too. Work in a complex domain, such as much of knowledge work, whether collaborative or not, does not much resemble this scenario.


In manufacturing, a standard process is relatively straightforward to sustain. Jobs (steps) are pretty much self-contained, and simple for new workers to pick up. Experiments (with e.g. improvements) are fairly simple to conduct. Cause and effect are fairly obvious. Change a thing. See (objectively) if that change makes a positive different. Again, knowledge work, particularly collaborative knowledge work, is not much like this. Change a thing. And guess whether the thing you changed made any kind of difference. Or did the difference (if detectable) come from a myriad of other uncontrolled – and uncontrollable – factors?


All the time we buy into the assumption that continuous improvement is something we want, we’ll naturally spend time on trying to make it happen. Time which might perhaps be better spent on other aspects of making ourselves, or team and our organisations more effective. How many teams, organisations have any idea what continuous improvement is doing for them and their relative effectiveness? And even for those few that do, how often is continuous improvement a delusional frame, obscuring other reasons for the improvements they track?


Even when a change does bring some positive uplift to effectiveness (or even efficiency), that uplift is most often marginal. Maybe we could better use our time, effort and focus on seeking out changes that bring a significant uplift to effectiveness. These may be rarer and more difficult to find, but maybe the payback is, overall, more worth having.


Often, I’ve seen folks make a change which does bring some notional benefit, but not a benefit that translates to the better meeting of anyone’s needs. This is called out in e.g. Theory Of Constraints as “improving a non-bottleneck” and is a total waste of time, and money. The need to be seen to be improving something every day is a need in itself, of course. <wry smile>


For me, this is the biggest issue. If “process” is indeed one of those concepts from manual work a.k.a. manufacturing that has no place or value in knowledge work then even if we find an improvement that looks worthwhile, by what means do we “lock it in” for the future? The core premise of continuous improvement is that we build effectiveness, improvement upon small improvement, over time. By this path we become ever more effective. As a team, as a group, as an organisation, as an industry, as a society. I now question this assumption. I’ve never seen it work in practice. Not over the long haul. Humans, individually and collectively, are just too fickle, inattentive, capricious and random, Yes, we can continuously improve a machine. Continuously swapping out less effective parts for upgrades, like with an F1 car. But a complex adaptive social system is NOT a machine. Nothing like. And not much like a process, either.

Alternative Frames

Can we imagine an alternative to continuous improvement, as we generally understand it? How might we possibly become more effective without improving this step or that practice in the way our work works?

Just by way of an example, how about we focus instead on improving the quality of relationships in the workplace, both within teams and across teams? How about we focus on introspection and mindfulness in the hope of becoming “better” (more capable, more effective) people? How about we work on being more skilled at dialogue? How about we apply ourselves to (better) understanding some (more) of the principles underpinning the way the work works? How about we work on improving the healthy functioning of the complex adaptive systems we call “work”? How about we continuously examine our collective assumptions and their fitness to our shared goals?

These are all ways to improve, ways which lie outside the traditional scope of what we call “continuous (process) improvement”.

What if our unexamined assumptions around the value of continuous improvement are in fact a major blocker? For those of us who seek more effective knowledge-work organisations, maybe continuous improvement isn’t the most effective way to get there. I leave you with the following timeless wisdom:

“The unexamined life is not worth living.”

~ Socrates

– Bob

Further Reading

Why Continuous Improvement May Need To Be Discontinued ~ Ron Ashkenas
What’s the Problem with Continuous Improvement? ~ LeanCor article
How Continuous Improvement Went Horribly Wrong, for Some ~ Alan Nicol

Other Posts In This Occasional Series

What If #1 – No Management
What If #2 – No Process
What If #3 – No Telling
What If #4 – No Answers
What If #6 ~ Agile Nirvana
What If #7 – No Work
What If #8 – Agile Never Happened


Do Something

People sometimes ask me why my blog is so negative. I don’t accept that criticism. I always take pains to offer a more effective alternative to whatever’s irking me. But I can see how some folks might take my posts that way.

If there is any doom or gloom it’s because I’d really like to see folks wasting rather less of their time, and potential, at work. Despite an internet full of advice on how to do things that little bit better, there’s one grossly unpalatable truth: Incremental improvement is essentially a huge waste of everyone’s time. My chagrin arises from knowing that, yet being seemingly unable to perceptibly move the needle through anything I write or do. Some call this the Cassandra Metaphor. I guess that frustration comes across from time to time.

Knowing What To Do

Tobias wrote a post today which I found both inspiring and depressing. Inspiring because I share his viewpoint that individuals can make a difference. That it’s down to us. And depressing because it said nothing about how.

“It is not enough to do your best; you must know what to do, and then do your best.”

~ W Edwards Deming

Don’t JUST Do Something

So until you know what to do – and my Cassandra-spidey-senses are telling me you’re not going to be believing me on that – may I offer the same advice that some attribute to Taiichi Ohno on speaking to so many of his managers:

“Don’t just do something, stand there!”

~ Taiichi Ohno

Stand there (in Ohno’s case it was a chalked square on the factory floor), and mindfully observe what is happening. For as long as it takes to come to an understanding of what is happening and why, and what needs to change. Not an understanding of every single thing, of course. That could take a life time. Believe me on that, at least. I can vouch.

But at least for as long as it takes to come to some understanding of some piece, some fragment, of the big picture. Then do something. Although I’d call that mindful observing “doing something”, too. Inspect (and experiment) and adapt. Repeat.

What I Know

I know that significant change, change where all our lives will be more joyful and meaningfully spent, absolutely necessitates a shift in our collective beliefs. By all means start with yourself. Indeed, where else could we start?

But the task at hand is to shift – Rightshift – everyone’s belief system. Doing that locally, with a person or team or group, is only storing up problems. Organisational Cognitive Dissonance will do for us every time.

Even doing it for a whole organisation, cross-organisalonal value chain or industry is ultimately doomed. Reversion to the mean will do for us at the larger scale. Unless and until we shift that mean.

Mankind Is Our Real Work

Ultimately. the collective beliefs of Mankind is our real work. That may seem like boiling the ocean for a cup of tea. Especially if all you want is e.g. to have the chance to write some cooler code.

And how can we change the beliefs systems of others, anyhow? I choose to do so by example. And by sharing what I see, and how I feel about those things. This may not perceptibly move the needle. But I have faith it’s making some difference. How about you? Would you like to make some difference?

We want, need, a better life at work and I’m saying the only way is to understand what’s going on with the Universe and live a better life as an example to Mankind and hope it all works out? Sorry if you thought it was going to be easy. At least we’re in good company. The Buddha, not least.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

~ Margaret Mead

– Bob


Antimatter Emotioneering

Well, that’s quite a mouthful. What does it mean?

The Antimatter Principle says “attend to folks’ needs”. Emotioneering says “design things specifically to evoke positive emotions, because that’s how people decide to buy – emotionally”.

Put these two together and we have a recipe for awesomely effective product development:

Appeal to folks’ emotions
by designing things (products, services) that
attend to their fundamental emotional needs.

Here, “folks” and “their” refer to everyone involved, not just buyers, customers or users.

  • Don’t get hung up on features or utility. It’s our emotional responses that rule our lives.
  • Don’t get hung up solely on the customers’ perspective. Everyone involved can find joy in attending to folks’ needs.
  • Be aware of the scope for attending to folks’ needs through the course, the activities of product development, and not just the end result.

– Bob

What If #4 – No Answers

What if we refrained from inviting answers, at least until we had sought our own? What if we refrained from providing answers, at least until someone had unequivocally asked?

“I don’t understand this” is a pretty common admission. Although not perhaps as commonly admitted as it is thought or experienced. And what do we do when our friends, peers, colleagues, loved ones make this admission to us? We jump to fill the void. To provide some answers. To help them in their understanding. Helping people to understand is a natural human reaction. But how helpful is it, really?

How often do we tell ourselves that we’re helping someone to understand, when we’re actually just helping them adopt our interpretation?

And what if we helped them to understand something and they came to their own understanding of it? An understanding at odds with our own? How would we feel then?

Personally, the joy I find in helping people understand something is as nothing compared to the joy I take in folks finding their own understanding. Even, and perhaps especially, when it differs from mine.

There are occasions when someone asks me directly. “Just tell me the damn answer!”. On these occasions I mourn for the loss of opportunity. For the lost chance to explore together. For the missed joy we might both have taken from finding answers together. And yet most times I’ll accede to the demand. Albeit with a heavy heart.

What if we refrained from inviting answers, at least until we had sought our own? What if we refrained from providing answers, at least until someone had unequivocally asked us? What if we just tried to listen, to hold the space, to empathise, and to do what we could to relate to people as fellow human beings, walking together for a while, as we each pursue our journeys?

NB. I’m not looking for answers here – at least, until you’ve found some of your own.

– Bob

Further Reading

What Is Clean Language? ~ Marian Way

Other Posts In This Occasional Series

What If #1 – No Management
What If #2 – No Process
What If #3 – No Telling
What If #5 – Continuous Improvement Is Useless
What If #6 ~ Agile Nirvana
What If #7 – No Work
What If #8 – Agile Never Happened


Antimatter And Deming’s 95/5


I note a distinct schism in business, with one camp which utterly rejects Deming’s 95/5,

“95% of variation in the performance of a system is caused by the system itself; only 5% is caused by the people.”

~ W. Edwards Deming, Introduction to The Team Handbook

and another camp which wholly embraces the idea. Few sit on the fence, and pretty much never the twain shall meet.


The Antimatter Principle is agnostic on the subject of Deming’s 95/5, but, depending on your camp, its relevance may be different for you.

The Rejectors

If you reject Deming’s assertion, then you most likely believe that an organisation need not change its systems (i.e. its processes, technology, work design, regulations, workspaces, “social dynamic”, etc.) to see improved productivity from its workforce. Individual talent and effort is what counts, and individuals can, just as a consequence of their own grit, choose to be productive, or not.

For this camp, the Antimatter Principle is something than anyone can choose to adopt. Each person can choose to begin attending to the needs of the folks around them, of the folks for whom they’re doing things, and of themselves. Training can help. As can leadership. Leaders visibly attending to folks’ needs can spread the behaviour across the organisation. As more people adopt and model the behaviour, discovering and sharing the joy which it brings, others will, through e.g. social contagion, begin to adopt the behaviour too. Over time, the social dynamic of the organisation will change to one where people are more inclined to care about what they’re doing, where they find more intrinsic motivation, and where they may want to become more engaged in their work.

The Embracers

If you embrace Deming’s assertion, then you most likely believe that an organisation must change its systems (i.e. its processes, technology, work design, regulations, workspaces, “social dynamic”, etc.) to see improved productivity from its workforce. Individual talent and effort counts for very little, and individuals, despite their willingness to be productive, will not be able to accomplish much if the prevailing system prevents or discourages them from doing so.

For this camp, the Antimatter Principle is something that can be built into the system. Working practices, tools, processes, methods, regulations, policies, workspaces, and the way the work works can all incorporate the twin ideas of identifying who matters, and then attending to their needs. As more aspects of the system incorporate the principle, more and more people will discover and share the joy which it brings. Others will, through e.g. social contagion, also begin to adopt the principle and incorporate it in the way their work works. Over time, the social dynamic of the organisation will change to one where people are more inclined to care about what they’re doing, where they find more intrinsic motivation, and where they may want to become more engaged in their work.

– Bob

Further Reading

Deming Institute Red Beads ~ The Deming Institute
The Red Bead Experiment With Dr. W. Edwards Deming  ~ The Deming Institute

A Rose By Any Other Name


Unless that name was something like “stinkwort”? No matter. I digress.

Choosing the Antimatter Name

Many’s the occasion I’ve related my reasons for choosing the name “Antimatter Principle“. Some are listed in my post explaining the metaphor.  It seems though that I’ve never actually written down the prima facie reason.

First There Was The Golden Rule

There’s long been this thing called the Golden Rule. Which says “do unto others as you would wish to be done unto”. It has found some favour over the years as a maxim for people to live by. I find some issue with it, though – best summed up for me by George Bernard Shaw:

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

~ G. B. Shaw

Then Came The Platinum Rule

Consequently I found more affinity with the Platinum Rule, beloved of Agile Coaches (amongst others):

“Treat others the way they want to be treated.”

Beyond Platinum

Yet the Platinum Rule also bothered me. From a Nonviolent Communication perspective, It’s not folks’ wants that matter. It’s their needs. I had this in mind when I was naming the thing that I’ve come to call the Antimatter Rule (a.k.a the Antimatter Principle”:

“Attend to folks’ needs.”

Why “Antimatter”?

Simply because, as Platinum is something more valuable than Gold, Antimatter is something more valuable than Platinum. The other reasons listed in the Antimatter Metaphor are mostly post-hoc justifications.

Ugly As A Virtue

Some have conveyed their dislike for the name, describing it as ugly or unhelpful. Personally, I dislike the whole notion of naming things. I remain mindful of Taiichi Ohno’s admonition: “do not codify method” (not that the Antimatter Principle is a method, really). So I see the name’s perceived ugliness as a virtue. The more people that are embarrassed or otherwise dissuaded from using the name, the less likely it is to get seized upon by the hype merchants and snake oil salesman that have so corrupted names like “Lean” and “Agile”. Maybe. If we’re lucky.


To sum up, in order of increasing effectiveness:

Golden Rule -> Platinum Rule -> Antimatter Rule

– Bob

What If #3 – No Telling

What if we all refrained from telling people what to do, how to do it, how they should behave, and so on? Outrageous! Would the world collapse in chaos and disharmony? Or would people just get on with things and sort things out between them?

Definition: Here I’m using “tell” in the sense of : instruct, order, judge, announce, analyse, advise or proselytise.

Here’s some fundamental shifts that not telling might imply:

No More Consulting

The entire consulting industry is predicated on telling people and organisations things. I’ve long felt this creates situations dead set against what the folks involved would generally like to have happen.

No More Training Or Teaching

At least, we would see an end to the tedious and unproductive style of training based on lecturing (telling) from the front of the room. This might provide an opening for more effective means of helping people learn.

“You know that I don’t believe that anyone has ever taught anything to anyone. I question that efficacy of teaching. The only thing that I know is that anyone who wants to learn will learn. And maybe a teacher is a facilitator, a person who puts things down and shows people how exciting and wonderful it is and asks them to eat.”

~ Carl R. Rogers

No More Experts

Experts love to tell people things. Like what they should be doing, what they’re doing wrong, and how to fix it.

“Labelling and diagnosis is a catastrophic way to communicate. Telling other people what’s wrong with them greatly reduces, almost to zero, the probability that we’re going to get what we’re after.”

~ Marshall Rosenberg

We might not see an end to experts, but we might see a shift in their style of interaction. Perhaps something more Socratic?

No More Managers

The commonest role of any manager, in practice, is to tell. Absent telling, would managers have anything to do that we could recognisably label as “managing”?

No More Process

“Process”, by and large, has come to mean coercing, obliging or otherwise telling folks what to do and how to do it.

More Therapy

The therapist’s stance is by default one of refraining from telling people things. Of encouraging people to find their own answers. Of simply being there, rather than being there to tell.

How do you feel about the whole issue of telling? And has this post brought to mind any other shifts you might be willing to share?

– Bob

Other Posts In This Occasional Series

What If #1 – No Management
What If #2 – No Process
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



The Antimatter Principle – The Anti-Kanban For Almost Two Decades Already

Increasingly this year I’m being asked to comment about Kanban – and its offshoot, the Kanban Method, being offered in the market by David Anderson (and others). Some are pushing the Kanban Method very heavily with their clients as a solution to the increasingly recognised challenge of effective and sustainable organisational change. It has been gaining some market traction. In two specific examples, both large corporations, one in the financial sector and one in the media sector, developers and development managers have had some concerns about their firm’s move to adopt the Kanban Method and asked me to share my thoughts with them. I thought I’d share them with everyone else too…

To be honest, I don’t know a great deal about the Kanban Method. I haven’t taken the classes or spent much time studying it. Most of what I know is reported second hand from those who have taken the classes or are working in organizations that are now going through Kanban adoption. I am much more focused on solving the root problems of software development – and more importantly, the broader and deeper question of organisation-wide effectiveness – still plaguing organisations everywhere. I’m focused on real clients, and on addressing issues in the market which are appropriate for the Antimatter Principle. Plus, I’m inviting others to examine and learn what those root problems are. I’m not so occupied with learning about the Kanban Method. However, from a brief skimming of Kanban material and things reported to me, I can make the following observations about how it differs from the Antimatter Principle

The Kanban Method – Yet Another Method

“As to methods there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble.”

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Kanban Method is just that – a method. It appears to specify a collection of techniques from Lean Manufacturing processes going back to the 1950s. It offers these as one packaged collection of principles and practices. Individually, these techniques are considered successful and there are positive case studies showing their adoption and benefits. The Kanban Method posits that its collected set of individually successful principles and practices will also be successful in aggregate. I would compare this assumption to individually testing a thousand individual car components and then declaring that as each of the components are know to work, the entire car composed of those parts will work! The idea at the very root of the Kanban Method – as with so many other methods – is that improving the way people work – how they set about their various tasks and the principles and practices involved in accomplishing each task, and how those task are strung together – is the key to improved productivity. This means that adopters are getting off on the wrong foot even before Day One. Whether a new suite of principle and practices is implemented incrementally, “starting from where you are” as the Kanban Method advises, or the new suite is implemented in a single change, it’s still placing the idea of process-as-the-solution at the core. It isn’t getting away from the source of the software crisis: ignoring that people (and their relationships) are what make the difference. One hundred and fifty years of sociology, anthropology, psychology and cognitive science warns of the risks in taking a principles-and-practices-oriented – as opposed to people-oriented – approach.

The concept for Kanban adoption within an organization is a familiar one – clients should employ a (so called) “Certified Kanban Trained” specialist to assist them in applying the three Foundational Principles and six Core Practices of the Kanban Method, in the context of their organization. To me this seems awfully similar to a raft of previous methods, including SAFe, RUP, Scrum, etc.. The Kanban Method strikes me as trying to distance itself from these ancestors, through its emphasis on incremental uptake, on a “people-friendly” easing-in to “drive out fear”, and to “reduce people’s natural resistance to change”. These admonitions seem to serve some need to include every current buzzword and show that, somehow, Kanban has “people inside.” I’m not impressed with the so-called people-related aspects of the Kanban Method, nor its emphasis on the role of leadership. I guess it has to make itself look attractive and saleable to the progressive yet still Analytic-minded organisations out there.


Where the Kanban Method really differs from the Antimatter Principle and why I chose the title for this blog post, is in a combination of the approach to adoption and the underlying assumptions about how to drive and manage change in knowledge work and creative industries. Kanban is delivered as a set of principles, to be applied and understood incrementally. Ideally you (the management) have them (the workers) do this. They find their own path, built on the principles provided (via a management-appointed Kanban specialist), and then they (the workers) own the evolution of the existing processes in the organization. This approach fits right in with the assumptions already prevailing in the typical organisation: that there are workers and managers; that there will continue to be processes (and projects); that the senior management continues to own the agenda; and that folks’ needs, ways of relating, and collective assumptions need no examination. It could be straight out of a 2000s textbook on agile adoption. It’s a status-quo-centric approach delivered using change management techniques that are 50 years old and most strongly associated with the likes of e.g. Virginia Satir and Peter Drucker. So Kanban offers you individually proven principles and practices from the previous five decades delivered with a decades-old intervention model developed for 20th Century knowledge-work industries. There is an underlying assumption that people resist change and thus ways need to be found to countervail that resistance. This is becoming a popular and successful model for many specialist firms, so we must assume that it is meeting some clients’ needs too, or surely they would not be buying these services? It is fair to say that this approach is the antithesis of the Antimatter Transformation Model.

Peter Drucker associated the term “knowledge worker” (in the 1960s) with someone who knows better how to perform their work than their supervisor. He didn’t think to add the phrase, “or process consultants, coaches or specialists from outside the firm.” It seems we continue to live in an era where we continue to believe that telling people what they need, particularly in the way of mechanisms, methods and models, will help the workers learn how to better do their work. Kanban remains an approach that is underpinned by the assumption that telling is a valid approach. The Antimatter Transformation Model abandons this notion. With a therapeutic approach we assume that everyone involved is just trying to get their needs met in the best ways they know how, and the key to unlock performance is to hold a space, and invite those that want to, with support, to consider if there may be other strategies for getting their need met that might work better for them. The Antimatter Transformation Model delivers this. The Antimatter Principle creates and nurtures an environment in which the quality of collaborative relationships, and folks’ intrinsic motivations, can thrive, for the mutual benefit of all involved. There is no assumption of “improvement” being the goal, or of any specific outcome excepting what meets the needs of all involved.

“The curious paradox is that when we accept ourselves just as we are, [only] then we can change.”

~ Carl R. Rogers (paraphrased)

The Antimatter Principle And Complexity

The Antimatter Principle is about creating and nurturing a healthy work environment, about taking a community-led approach to examining folks’ collective assumptions. Everyone’s needs matter. In attending to folks’ needs, everone has the opportunity to find deep joy and fulfilment that significantly impacts the health and thus the performance of the business of which they are a part. Carl Rogers observed that: “It is the client who knows what hurts, what directions to go, what problems are crucial, what experiences have been deeply buried”. And so it is the people that have what it takes to set their own agendas, pursue their own collective and individual needs, and find their own solutions.

It is well understood that knowledge work involves complexity and that a complex situation requires an adaptive approach in order to be robust to the uncertainties and unknown events that may emerge. Kanban was specifically designed as a method that posits that people resist change. The Antimatter Principle rejects that assumption, in favour of the belief that people love to change when they participate in and unequivocally see folks’ needs being met. The Kanban approach is appealing to some buyers and sellers because it comes with idealistic aspirations and fine words. It appeals to some people’s need for hope. What it doesn’t account for is that people are just trying to get their needs met.

The Antimatter Transformation Model is specifically designed as a invitation to a series of conversations. The concept is to uncover folks’ needs and go about meeting them. Whilst at the same time examining folks’ strategies for getting those needs met. You start with what folks are seeing and hearing, how they feel about those things, and what those feeling tell us about folks’ needs. As we go along, we get better at at expressing feelings, and at divining needs from feelings, and as we experience the successes of alternative strategies, gradually shift over to those new, more effective strategies rather than stick with the old, less effective ones.

What makes the Antimatter Transformation Model new and fairly unique is that it embraces the social sciences and is designed to work with what science tells us about human nature – rather than what most people believe human nature to be. Organisations adopting the Antimatter Principle evolve in their own ways through a series of collective and individual decisions – decisions made by a fellowship of social beings.

Abandoning a Method-Centric Approach to Improvement

One organization, I was told, adopted Kanban “because Kanban offered a gently-gently incremental, evolutionary yet methodical approach to software development”. Indeed this need – more effective software development methods – comes up often. I am often asked, “Can you show us a better way to develop software?”. My answer is always, “Yes, I could, but it is not the business I am in these days.” I prefer to focus on the organisation as a whole. That’s where the real opportunities for better meeting folks’ needs reside. Teaching improved software development methods is not the business I am in.

I came to develop the Antimatter Principle precisely because a methodology-based approach – including the Kanban Method – generally fails to address people’s real needs. The real failure is the failure to recognise that people are human beings. And a failure to recognise that play, community, joy, doing things for others, and self-actualisation are what people ultimately thrive on. After several decades of what I might call the Analytic approach (processes, methods, change programmes, etc.) in 1996 I decided to focus on a whole different problem – the problem of creating a healthier (and hence, more effective) working environment. Incremental, start-where-you-are approaches, per se, weren’t working. What was needed was to stop saying what was needed. I see it as heavily ironic that the Antimatter Principle came about for me because of the problems of scaling Agile adoption in large corporations – problems that I recognized as early as 1994 as a recurrinng pattern. Two more disparate solutions to the challenge of delivering organisation-wide effectiveness, such as Kanban and the Antimatter Principle, are hard to imagine.

Silver Bullets and Panaceas

This brings me to my final observation about Kanban and the Antimatter Principle. Another company told me that they adopted Kanban because it was a known solution (and they could find people with relevant skills). This is very convenient, but does it work? The buyer wants to believe in a “silver bullet” – that one solution that will solve all of their problems. Some vendors will seek to make offers and package a method of principles and practices as a single solution, as they know there is a market for it. I am afraid I don’t believe in “silver bullets”. The Antimatter Principle is complete in the sense that it delivers what it claims – an environment in which people can be more human, and humane. It is not a process definition or a method to be adopted. It will not directly help you architect software or perform tests or write requirements. For these technical practices there are many place to look. What the Antimatter Principle enables you to do is create an environment in which people are more likely to choose to give of their best. A community of which people are more likely to want to become, and remain, a part. It enables great products to emerge, and everyone’s time and goodwill to be spent wisely. I’m cynical about cure-alls, panaceas. It’s difficult in this maelstrom of change to be an expert at one thing, never mind a great many. Developing the Antimatter ecosystem globally, we’re trying to be good at one thing – a hedgehog concept, if you like. We are seeking to be good at contributing to meaningful, positive social change through more humane workplaces. We do this by heeding Carl Roger’s advice:

“In my early professional years I was asking the question: ‘How can I treat, or cure, or change this organisation?’ Now I would phrase the question in this way: ‘How can I provide a relationship which this organisation may use for its own personal growth?’.”

~ Carl R. Rogers (paraphrased)

It is inevitable that many people in the market will find it convenient to choose a method, to select what they believe is a methodical solution to all of their problems, and to believe that this solution can work when it involved the workers and is allowed to find its own answers. And I am fine with that. The Antimatter Principle was never about a religious conversion of the masses or an attempt to bring the world of knowledge work to the one true way of behaving. It has always been about meeting folks’ needs, including the collective needs of those things we call “organisations” through an approach that is humane, aligned with the human condition and grounded in the social sciences. It’s about helping people who need help and have sought out a new radical approach, a different way of working to see their needs better and more often met, and to deliver greater satisfaction for all involved.


The Antimatter Transformation Model will coexist with the Kanban Method in the marketplace. People will choose between a modern 21st Century approach to human social challenges or a more familiar approach to change. Choice is good in a marketplace. The Antimatter Principle offers a counter-intuitive, innovative modern approach. The Kanban Method offers something more familiar. People may appreciate having alternatives to evaluate, and from which to select the approach which they feel best meets their needs. Many will choose something that feels familiar and intuitive and we have to accept they know their needs better than we, and rejoice in that. Coexistence of the Antimatter Principle and Kanban is a good thing. Providing alternative approaches to more effective organisations is a good thing. Both approaches will champion the role of people. Both will be marketed as approaches that place people at the heart of the organisation. I find considerable hope and joy in that.

– Bob


Realistically, all the above is so much fluff. Attempting to rationalise the benefits of the Antimatter Principle, or the Kanban Method, or indeed any other approach misses the whole point that people don’t make rational choices. They make emotional ones. Engaging with folks’ emotions – their feelings and needs, not least – offers a much more fruitful path to communicate, and hopefully, help.

Are You Just Another Adjunct Of A Unimatrix?


Are you a drone? Are you amenable to being programmed and reprogrammed? Can someone change your behaviours by simply uploading a different code package? Or by swapping out your knowledge database for another one?

Yet how often do you find yourself being treated as if this were true? As if you were no more than a tiny, swiftly replaceable cog in some faceless bureaucratic machine?

What About Adoption?

Methodologists of all stripes seem to behave as if adoption of their shiny method, process or tool were a given. Create a method that promises to “deliver value to customers faster” and then just believe people will find a way to adopt it. Ideally with lots of expensive consultancy as part of the deal. Or, more naively still, believe that people can be reprogrammed through e.g. training, presentations, documentation, change programmes, extrinsic motivators and managerial edicts to change the way they behave.

I have yet to see even a single method that pays any attention at all to the issues of adoption. Uptake. Transition. Let alone to the sustainability of such adoptions.

It’s About Psychology

I posit this blindness to the issues of adoption arises because, even though a method is seen as largely a process issue, adoption is seen as largely a psychology issue. And process wonks don’t grok psychology. Not at all.

The Antimatter Transformation Model

My previous post introduced a series of transformative questions. Questions which can lead to fundamental transformation of an organisation – the way it works, and the way it thinks. And a consequent fundamental transformation in its effectiveness, too.

What We Now Know About People

What the scientific community “knows” about people, how they relate, socialise and work together, how the brain works, what motivates people, and so on, has changed markedly in recent times. What the general population believes about these topics now lags way behind the science. The Antimatter Transformation Model’s questions emerge from a background of more than a hundred years of Mankind’s directed research into people and how they tick. Specifically:

  • People naturally form ingroups around a sense of shared common purpose.
  • People are almost entirely driven by emotions (primarily seated in the amygdala), rather than logic (the neocortex). Cf. Kahneman, Ariely, Goleman, Lindstrom, et al.
  • People like to have a sense of agency.
  • Folks’ behaviours stem from trying to get their needs met (in the best ways they know how). Cf Nonviolent Communication
  • Collaborative work stands or falls on the quality of the interpersonal relationships between the folks involved.
  • Folks rarely examine their personal or collective assumptions.
  • Collective assumptions limit the strategies available to folks for getting their needs met.
  • Changing folks’ strategies for getting their needs met requires normative learning (learning by doing) and support with e.g. meta-strategies. Cf Seddon, Schwartz-Hebron.
  • Effective cognitive function depends on low distress, high eustress and intrinsic motivation.

– Bob

Further Reading

Watch Out For The Toolheads ~ John Seddon

The Antimatter Transformation Model


Lean bugs me. For no other reason than its blindness to the social sciences. Yes, Toyota and Lean proponents pay lip service to the “Respect For People” principle supposedly at the heart of Lean. But how often does this actually happen in any meaningful way?  And I have issues with the idea of “respect” in any case. I much prefer the idea of empathy to respect.


Maybe ignorance of psychology is not seen as an issue in the world of manufacturing. But I’d suggest application of psychology seems quite relevant in e.g. software development, and in the knowledge-work space more generally. Seeing as how knowledge work, and in particular collaborative knowledge work, involves, you know, people – and relationships.

It beats me why so many folks have this blind spot to applying 100+ years of psychology research to the thorny questions of making our efforts at knowledge work more effective. Not to mention more rewarding. And more joyful.

This is one of my key issues with the whole Lean thing. Its blithe disregard for applying know-how from psychology, sociology and other related disciplines. I’m guessing that disregard comes about not least because Lean implementations are most often left to the auspices of engineers. Folks who inevitably tend to see the world, and the organisation, in terms of a machine metaphor. And people, mainly, as cogs in that machine.

Lean Is A Busted Flush

I’m with John Seddon and his assertion that “Lean is a busted flush”. (Seddon & O’Donovan, 2015)

To illustrate my case, how about we take a look at one of the central planks of the Lean approach, the Lean House:


And specifically, John Shook’s Lean Transformation Model


Here’s the five elements of John Shook’s Lean Transformation Model:

  1. What is the purpose of the change–what true north and value are we providing, or simply: what problem are we trying to solve?
  2. How are we improving the actual work?
  3. How are we building capability?
  4. What leadership behaviors and management systems are required to support this new way of working?
  5. What basic thinking, mindset, or assumptions comprise the existing culture, and are we driving this transformation?

The Antimatter Alternative

I offer by way of contrast the Antimatter “Bear sitting under a tree” Transformation Model. Here’s a Chinese pictogram which represent the idea of human relations. I like to see it as a bear – wearing an asian conical hat or dǒulì (斗笠) – sitting taking shade under a tree.

Basic Lun
The Chinese pronounce this symbol as Lún (Hanyu Pinyin). Which means, amongst other things, “Human relations”. I like the image for its organic connotations (bear, tree), compared with the stark, mechanical, engineered “Lean House”. And for the relationship between the bear and the tree – both living things. And for evoking the idea of planting a tree under which future generations might take shade.

“A society grows great when men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”

~ Greek proverb

The basis of the Antimatter Transformation Model is the application of aspects of psychology and sociology to the challenges of making our organisations more effective, more (emotionally) rewarding places. And more joyful places. These being entirely complementary aims. The Bear-under-a-tree Model consists of five questions:

  1. What would we all like to have happen?
  2. How do we all feel about the way the work works, now and in the future?
  3. What are our needs, collectively and individually?
  4. In what ways do we all relate to each other presently, and would other ways of relating better help meet our needs?
  5. What do we believe about the nature and purpose of work, generally, and would other beliefs serve us better?

In Detail

Let’s take a look at each of the five questions in a little more detail:

Lun-31. What would we all like to have happen?

In Synergistic organisations, everyone is more or less on the same page with regard to what we’d like to have happen. This shared, common purpose provides the crucible within which productive dialogue can take place, and meaningful relationships can be created and developed. And let’s not talk about problems we have, but rather the way we would like things to be. Maybe some Solutions Focus perspective can come into play here – looking at what’s working well already, that we’d like to see more of.

Lun-42. How do we all feel about the way the work works, now and in the future?

What if we encourage folks to explore and share their feelings? With a safe environment where people feel comfortable and happy to do that. Positive feelings highlight needs that are already being met (and that we’d like to keep right on meeting), while negative feelings point to folks’ needs, often unrealised, that we’d like to start attending to.


Lun-53. What are our needs, collectively and individually?

Discussions around feelings lead naturally into discussions around people and their needs. Here also we admit the needs of the organisation itself. When we’ve an honest view on the needs people have, we can use these needs to guide the work we have to do. There’s not much point spending time and effort on meeting needs that no one has, or on needs that are already being well-met.



Lun-24. In what ways do we all relate to each other presently, and would other ways of relating better help meet our needs?

In collaborative knowledge work, the most significant factor is how folks relate to each other. The canopy of our tree provides the shade in which we can kick back and take the time to build these personal relationships. We might also like to ask ourselves whether our present ways of relating to each other complement or undermine the things we’ve decided we’d like to have happen.

Lun-15. What do we believe about the nature and purpose of work, generally, and would other beliefs serve us better?

The trunk of our tree acts to support the way folks relate to each other, and also as a prop to 1-3 (the bear leaning against the trunk). This is the collective set of assumptions, beliefs and memes (a.k.a. memeplex) held in common across the organisation. These beliefs can either  contribute to, or detract from, the things we’ve decided we’d like to have happen.


Designed For Adoption

The Antimatter Transformation Model is not a prescriptive implementation approach, but rather a set of fundamental questions which, if considered and discussed amongst all involved, in the form of an ongoing dialogue or series of conversations, can lead to a fundamental transformation of thinking, and thereby, of organisational culture.

It is not a value-driven approach, but rather a needs-driven approach. Needs always trump value. It makes no assumptions about the efficacy of process, management, or any other concepts in common currency in organisations today. (I call these baggage).

More fundamentally, it builds on research from a range of social sciences, in the belief that this offers an approach much better suited to successful adoption by us fallible, fragile, vulnerable, flaky, human beings.


By working through these questions, any organisation can examine its fundamental assumptions and concepts, maybe for the first time ever. Whatever comes out of this collective self-examination will be a context-dependent outcome closely suited to the needs of all the folks involved.

Finally, I leave you with a couple of Chinese proverbs which resonate with me and with the Antimatter Transformation Model:

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”

~ Chinese Proverb

“If you are planning for a year, sow rice; if you are planning for a decade, plant trees; if you are planning for a lifetime, educate people.”

~ Chinese Proverb

– Bob



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