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

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