Archive

Monthly Archives: October 2015

A Second Open Letter to the Project Management Community

Since my first open letter to the Project Management community, some three years ago now, not much has changed. Not that I expected a single blog post to have much impact.

After Agile. What now?

The rising dissatisfaction with the Agile approach – even amongst the Agile community – and the rumblings around the question “After Agile. What now?”, leads me to update my earlier letter, and broaden its scope to address the Agile Community, too.

Dear All

Dear Project Managers and Agilists everywhere,

I hear you continue to have mixed views about the ongoing, er, “developments”, in the field of Software Development. I won’t call them “advances” as we may not be able to agree that they are, in fact, advancing anything. Incidentally, I share some of your likely skepticism on that front.

I am writing to you today to share some opinions and observations about the changes in train in the software development field, globally. Whilst patchy in their uptake, with many a mis-step, changes are afoot. I can relate to your professional concerns that we retain the best of what we have learned from decades of successful project management (this also, we have to admit, being very patchy, too).

Many who look to advance the field of software development also have concerns. Concerns that some of the received wisdom of project management professionals has been rendered redundant or even dysfunctional by recent advances in fields such as psychology, neuroscience, sociology and evidence-based management.

These bilateral concerns have lead to understandable, yet vexing, tensions and misunderstandings between the various communities. Nowhere have these been more evident, perhaps, than between ‘traditional’ project managers and the Agile crowd.

And now, a third faction has also entered the debate. I’ll call these the After Agilists.

I find it helpful to characterise this conflict as a clash of world-views. In a nutshell, a clash between what McGregor has called “Theory X” and “Theory Y”, compounded by the clash between those who believe Agile is all we need for success, and those who recognise the flaws in both “traditional” project management and “conventional Agile” and wish to move on, correcting them as we go

I hope I’m right in thinking that we all share a common objective – a desire to see better outcomes for everyone involved, to see the needs of all stakeholders much better met than has been the case to date. Oh, and maybe improving the levels effectiveness of the organisations within which we work, too (another need, for many).

Whilst it may appear the arguments and contentions arise from our different ways and means for achieving this objective, I’d like to suggest that the conflict – as a product of conflicting world-views – is more deep-seated, and all the more pernicious for that. We can hardly expect folks, of any persuasion, to change their world-views overnight, if at all. Nor blame them for that aspect of their humanity.

And given the fundamental differences between these various world-views, it seems overly optimistic to expect these world-views ever to coexist peacefully and productively.

All we might hope for is a little more understanding, a little less fractiousness, and a future where we can all at least agree to disagree.

More optimistically, we might also realise that everyone has much to learn – and unlearn – from each other. That, perhaps, is something we can all work on together.

Thanks for listening,

– Bob

Further Reading

Power And Love ~ Adam Kahane
Power and Love – RSA video

A Difficult Message To Hear

I grew up in Kent, by the seaside. My mother, working long hours in the City to earn a crust for the family, was away from home most days. Consequently I was very close to my maternal grandmother, Ivy, who ran our seaside family business. Literally chief cook and bottle washer.

Ivy’s one vice, and pleasure, was cigarettes. Even then, her doctor regularly told her she needed to cut down or give up, lest her fragile health get worse.

Of course, like most people advised to change their lifestyle to something more healthy, she ignored the advice. After all, she had been smoking with little observable ill-effect for thirty years already,

Later on in life, when the family business (a guest house) was but a fond and distant memory, she retired from being a cook. Not long into retirement, and when I was working in Munich, she fell gravely ill. The tobacco had finally caught up with her. I flew home to be at her hospice bedside. After a mercifully brief but very distressing illness, she died there, of the cancer, aged 81 years.

Doctors Know This

In terms of health and long life, doctors are forever advising us to change our lifestyle – permanently.

“I think most people are put off by the fact that what we usually promote is life-long change”

~ Robyn A. Osborn, RD, PhD, dietician and psychologist

People need to feel that the benefits of changing their behavior will outweigh the costs, Osborn says. For many people, the psychological cost of giving up their current unhealthy lifestyle seems too great. So they opt for the “quick fix”.

For example, people may not think about whether a weight-loss plan touted by an attractive celebrity is healthy or logical. They just like the way he or she looks and they’d like to look like that, too.

“Maybe that’s one of our problems as nutrition health professionals, because we so much focus on the long-term health consequences rather than how you look. We would prefer that people are comfortable with the way they look but they’re more concerned with their health.”

~ Lisa Dorfman, RD, dietician and mental health counsellor

And there’s no getting away from the difficult message – if we want to be healthy, we have to change our lifestyle. And that implies changing how we see ourselves, and our relationships with the world.

So It Is With Business

And so it it with business. If we want to have a healthy business, company or organisation, we have to change our lifestyles. And that implies changing how we see ourselves, and our relationships with the world.

That is a hard message to hear. And even harder to act on. People die rather than change. Every day. So what chance we’ll act when something less than our personal health, our life, is at stake?

No matter how far-fetched, faddish ideas continue to appeal to business folks. We are very much intrigued by those things that seem to demystify the whole thing – there’s some magic pixie dust, or some new wonder method that others have been claiming to get great results with. That has to be it. It couldn’t be something as simple as “I need to see things differently and change how I relate to myself and others”.

My gran was the world to me, and with her passing I died a little. Every time I see folks go for the easy “fix” rather than the difficult message, the self-change, I remember her, and I die a little more, too.

– Bob

The Inner Space Race

SpaceHead

At Rice University, Houston, on September 12, 1962 – a little over 53 years ago – John F. Kennedy declared a New Frontier:

“We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people. For space science, like nuclear science and all technology, has no conscience of its own. Whether it will become a force for good or ill depends on Man…

We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win.

~ John F. Kennedy

He described the location as “a college noted for knowledge, in a city noted for progress, in a state noted for strength…And we stand in need of all three.”

Organisational Psychotherapy

Organisational Psychotherapy is a new frontier for our times. Billions of people toil daily, and for their whole adult lives, to earn a meagre crust. More and more of these billions toil daily under the shadow of uncaring, totalitarian and draconian organisations. Liberation is no longer a matter of overthrowing tyrannical national leaders, but of overthrowing tyrannical, impersonal systems. Systems over which we all have control, should we but choose to exercise it.

Nonviolent Overthrow

We know that nonviolence has a much better chance of changing things than violence does. Overthrow, then, may sound harsh and oppressive. Better then to call it empathy, compassion, hope and, yes, love. Let us empathise with ourselves for our plight. Let us have compassion for each other in our journey towards the light. Let us find hope and inspiration in what could be. And let us find it in our hearts to love everyone – even the bosses and the one-percent – for they know not what they do.

Above all, let’s no longer tolerate how things are now. Workers are poorly served by the organisations they work for, customers are poorly served by the organisations they buy from and depend on. And even those with the money are poorly served by the returns on their investments.

A New Frontier Beckons

A new frontier beckons us. A fragile light is shining in the darkness. Organisational psychotherapy is one way we can carry that light of hope and joy into the dark hearts of our soulless organisations.

We choose to pursue this path not because it is easy, but because it is hard.

Are you with us?

– Bob

Unilateralism

“Unilateralism” is a word describing a predisposition to actions “undertaken or done by or on behalf of one side, party, or faction only”. This is the opposite to mutualism – a predisposition to actions “undertaken, experienced, performed, etc., by each of two or more with respect to the other”.

Unilateralism abounds in the workplace: individuals or groups taking decisions without regard to the needs, feelings or concerns of others. Unilateralism often contributes to disengagement, pique, frustration, low morale and learned helplessness.

The Advice Process

Many believe that for mutual action we must find consensus. However, another option exists: The Advice Process.

A counterpoint to unilateralism, the Advice Process suggests that whenever we have a decision to make, we first take steps to find out everyone who might be affected by our decision, and then seek their advice. This in itself might require we seek advice – as to who to go ask, for example. Once the needs, opinions and concerns of others involved or potentially affected have been received, we may then advise them as to our intended course of action, and then take that action.

This differs from seeking consensus in that we are not bound to have everyone in agreement before proceeding. It’s up to us, having sought, considered and then reflected advice, to decide whether and how to proceed.

Benefits

The Advice Process allows us to get on with things in the absence of consensus. Folks that have been consulted feel less coerced or ignored and thus more likely to buy into the action, or at least not oppose it. And the mutuality of the advice process means they might feel better placed to act similarly, to the benefit of the organisation as a whole.

Example

Some Scrum Masters and Agile Coaches like to have a checklist against which to check their daily, weekly or monthly performance. Unilaterally composing this checklist can alienate the team and serve as a negative example re: taking advice. Drawing up a checklist through consensus can take forever, and again may serve as a negative example for the team (they see the time and pain it takes, and resolve not to have checklists for themselves).

Drawing up a checklist using the Advice Process can however serve as a positive example, it being speedy and relatively painless. And having, and from time to time updating, the checklist can help everyone focus on the positive aspects of the role of Scrum Masters, and checklists, alike.

Other People

If you’re bugged by others’ unilateralism – and who isn’t? – options are fewer. After all, we can’t make them change their behaviour. And the very idea smacks of unilateralism, in itself. May I invite you to consider the benefit of empathising with those unilateralists? At the very least, it might make you feel better. And there’s an outside chance they might come round to being ready to hear your concerns – and even to hearing your advice on dealing with those concerns.

– Bob

Further Reading

The Advice Process ~ Daniel Tenner

After Agile

AfterAgileBlue

In recent workshops and conferences I’ve been inviting people to explore the question of “After Agile, DevOps, what now?”

There’s a line of argument, and of exploration, that goes something like this:

Idealised Design

What does the Ideal software development organisation / business look like and work like? If our existing organisation / company / business was totally destroyed last night, what would we choose today in rebuilding it? What are the key concepts and principles that we would choose to focus on in creating our ideal organisation? Cf. Idealised Design, Russell L. Ackoff.

The Role of Mindset

We may find “culture” or “mindset” amongst our idealised key concepts. By which I mean organisational mindset (Cf. Rightshifting and the Marshall Model). If so, then we may want to discover means to “shift” our present organisational mindset towards our ideal model.

Organisational Psychotherapy

How to shift an organisation’s mindset? I propose Organisational Psychotherapy as a means for approaching that in a structured way. What are the issues involves in such a shift? What does therapy have to offer? What does therapy feel like? And what kinds of therapy might suit?

If you’d like to explore these ideas in your own organisation and context, via a workshop or similar, I’d be happy to oblige. Please get in touch.

– Bob

Rightshifting In A Nutshell

rnut1

Folks’ different perspectives can seem very alien to each other.

Whilst in Sweden and Finland last week, I twice had the occasion to present this short (around ten minutes) set of slides, both times in the context of “After Agile”, explaining the very basics of Rightshifting and the Marshall Model. My friend Magnus suggested I turn them into a blog post with some supporting narrative. So here it is.

After Agile, DevOps. What Now?

The Agile approach to software and product development has been around for something like fifteen years now. Its roots go back at least another fifteen years before that. In all that time, more and more folks have tried it out, and more and more of those folks have found it wanting in some degree. This presentation explains where Agile fits in the broader scope of organisation-wide effectiveness, and suggests what needs to change to move on from the Agile approach.

Effectiveness vs Efficiency

Rightshifting observes that most organisations are much less effective than they believe themselves to be, and much less effective than they could be. Let’s not confuse effectiveness with efficiency:

Effectiveness

Doing the right thing.
(creating & deploying value)

Efficiency

Doing the thing right.
(maximising the gain, minimising the cost)

Normal Distribution Assumed

In the chart below, we see a distribution of all the world’s knowledge-work organisations, with respect to their relative effectiveness (horizontal axis). Most folks assume that it’s a normal bell-curve distribution, with some few ineffective organisations (to the left), some few highly-effective organisations (to the right), and the bulk of organisations somewhere in the “average” effectiveness centre ground:

rnut2

What most folks assume

In actuality, though, the distribution is highly skewed and looks like this:

rnut3

In actuality

Here (above) we see that fully half of all organisations have a relative effectiveness of less than one (the median), while there’s a long thin tail of increasingly effective organisations stretching out to the right (hence, “Rightshifting”). The most effective (rightmost) organisations are something like 5 times (500%!) more effective than the average (median).

Aside: For those interested in evidence, ISBSG data and NPS data correlate well to this distribution.

Waste (Non-Value Add) And Productivity

Overlaying lines for waste (a.k.a. muda: non-value-adding activities) and productivity on the above chart illustrates the consequences of such ineffectiveness. Median organisations for example are wasting around 75-80% of their time, effort, money and resources on doing things that add zero value from the perspective of any stakeholder:

rnut4

Where Does Agile Fit?

So, how effective are those organisations that are using Agile (as intended)? Let’s look at where Agile fits on this chart:

rnut5

As we can see, organisations using the Agile approach span the range circa 1.2 through 2.0. And that’s for organisations in which Agile being done well. (There’s not much point talking about AINO – Agile in Name Only. That buys us nothing in the effectiveness stakes.) The exact position in this range of Agile’s effectiveness depends, in part, on how well the rest of the organisation is aligned to the Agile practices in e.g. the development, ops or DevOps groups within the organisation. Closer alignment = a more effective organisation as a whole.

From the above chart, we can see there’s a whole swathe of effectiveness (from circa 2.0 rightwards) not open to us through the application of the Agile approach. Organisations must find other approaches to access these higher levels of organisational effectiveness.

Explaining Effectiveness

So just what is it that accounts for any given organisation’s position on the Rightshifting Chart? What do the highly ineffective organisations to the left do differently from the average? What do the highly effective (Rightshifted) organisations do differently from the rest? What explains any and every organisation’s effectiveness? It’s very, very simple:

Effectiveness = f(Collective mindset)

That’s to say, any organisation’s effectiveness is a function of its collective, organisational mindset. A function of the assumptions and beliefs it holds in common about work, and how work should work. We can characterise the spectrum of organisation mindsets (a.k.a. memeplexes) into four basic categories: Adhoc, Analytic, Synergistic and Chaordic. This forms the essence of the Marshall Model.

The Adhoc Mindset

Least effective of all the mindsets is the Adhoc mindset. This is characterised by a near-complete absence of organisational structures and disciplines.

rnut6

Adhoc-minded organisations have no managers, no processes, no standards and no accepted ways of doing things. Every day is more or less a new day, a clean slate, as far as running the business is concerned. In these organisations, the value of discipline has not yet been discovered. I like to think of these organisations in terms of the typical Mom-and-Pop family business.

Some of these organisations, of course – if they, for example, find a profitable niche in which to do their business – can grow despite their ineffectiveness. And with that growth, sooner or later, comes the realisation of the need for some discipline. At this time these organisations will likely start appointing managers, splitting the business into departments (silos) and thereby begin transitioning into the next mindset.

The Analytic Mindset

More effective than the Adhoc-minded organisations, those organisations with an Analytic mindset are typified by the corporates, large and small, that we have come to know and love(?) over the past one hundred years or so.

rnut7

Central to the Analytic mindset is the belief that organisations are machines, and that just as with machines, if they are broken into parts, with each part performing well, then the whole will perform well. As Russell L. Ackoff (source for this sense of the term “analytic”) points out, this is a fallacy, although one very widely held in businesses everywhere.

Other common beliefs in the Analytic mindset include:

  • Theory X (Douglas McGregor) – people are idle and shiftless and have to be beaten with a stick in order to get any work out of them.
  • Extrinsic motivators such as perk and bonuses enhance performance (demonstrably false in knowledge-work).
  • Managers do the thinking and workers do the doing.
  • Check your humanity, emotions and passion at the door.

Eventually, a few organisations in pursuit of effectiveness may stumble – for it’s rarely intentional – out of the Analytic mindset and into the next mindset – Synergistic.

The Synergistic Mindset

The real uplift in effectiveness starts with an organisation’s transition into the Synergistic mindset. We’ve been hearing about some exemplars of this mindset for years (W.L. Gore, Semco) and others, more recently (Morning Star, Buurtzorg, et al.).

rnut8

At the heart (sic) of the Synergistic mindset is the belief that organisations are much more like organisms than machines. Complex adaptive social systems rather than complicated yet predictable “mechanical” systems. The term “Synergistic” comes from R. Buckminster Fuller, and his statement that the performance of synergistic (synergetic) systems can never be predicted from an examination of their parts considered separately. This is not a comfortable concept for many of those more traditional business people.

Other common beliefs in the Synergistic mindset include:

  • Theory Y (Douglas MgGregor) – people are keen to do a good job, if only they have the opportunity.
  • Intrinsic motivation enhances performance (demonstrably true in knowledge-work).
  • The people doing the work must decide how the work works.
  • Alignment – and effectiveness – is a consequence of a shared, common purpose.
  • Management  – the social technology invented around one hundred years ago – is dead.
  • Bring your humanity, emotions and passion with you into work, every day.

Eventually, a few organisations in pursuit of effectiveness may stumble – for, again, it’s rarely intentional – out of the Synergistic mindset and into the fourth and most effective organisational mindset – Chaordic.

The Chaordic Mindset

Most effective of all are those very few organisations embracing the Chaordic mindset.

rnut9

Key to the Chaordic mindset is the continual, active, systematic searching for new business opportunities. The term “Chaordic” comes from Dee Hock – the originator of the Visa organisation back in the 1960’s.

The Chaordic mindset inherits from the Synergistic, with some additional common beliefs, including:

  • Dynamic market sweet spots – tracking and exploiting the ever-changing high-margin sweet spots in the market.
  • Instability – always teetering on the cusp between stability (order) and chaos (disorder).
  • Inevitable collapse – occasionally, the organisation will collapse into (temporary) chaos and disorder.

Transitions

Even more interesting than the four mindsets, though, are the three transitions (shown in orange, below). Each transition is an enormous wrench for most organisations.

rnut10

The Adhoc to Analytic transition is relatively easy, going with the flow, as it were, in that wider society and most people in work mostly believe organisations should be run along the lines suggested by the Analytic mindset. Much more challenging are the other two transitions, being very counter-intuitive for most people.

Where Does Agile Fit In Terms Of Mindsets?

So, where does Agile fit amongst these four mindsets?

rnut11

Here we can see how Agile straddles the Analytic-Synergistic transition. This explains just why sustainable Agile adoption is so difficult for most organisations. If part of the organisation makes the transition and the remaining parts do not, then Organisational Cognitive Dissonance ensues, and its eventual, inevitable resolution rarely results in the whole organisation shifting its mindset. Much more likely is either a) the now-synergistic part is dragged back, kicking and screaming, into the (old) Analytic ways of doing things or b) the (newly) synergistic folks find they cannot or will not go back, and thus quickly quit for pastures new.

From the above chart we can also see what is to come After Agile: More Synergistic thinking, more of an approach embracing the beliefs of the Synergistic mindset, and for some brave few, Chaordism.

– Bob

 

What If #8 – Agile Never Happened

Alternate realities are a staple of many science fiction series. Exploring what our world might be like if this or that had or hadn’t happened can help shed light on the significance of a particular event.

The Agile approach to software development, although neither conceived nor born at Snowbird in 2001, coalesced and started to gain traction from around then.

What if the Snowbird gathering had never happened? What if the seeds which led to Snowbird had not been planted, or had fallen on barren ground?

Here’s a few hypotheses, or scenarios, to consider:

The Business Hypothesis

Maybe, in the absence of developers trying to wrangle some effectiveness into the work they were obliged to do, business folks might have got a grip. Unlikely, I grant you. But absent some existing movement to suborn or seize upon, maybe the pain of software and product development might have persuaded the “business side” to find better ways of creating and delivering products.

The Together Hypothesis

Maybe everyone involved in software and product development might have got together and pursued the finding of a joint solution. Also unlikely, I guess.

The More Of The Same Hypothesis

Another possibility is that nothing much would have changed. Developers would have continued, more or less frustrated, in prevailing waterfall or ad-hoc projects and ways of working. Outcomes would have continued to be poor for all concerned. Some may say that this is really what did happen, only the names have been changed.

The Extrapolation Of Prevailing Trends Hypothesis

Maybe trends prevailing circa Y2K would have continued to evolve. Organisations seeking to improve might have embrace and evolved things like project management, CMMI, and so on. I can’t see this as effecting significant change or improvement, but maybe things might have improved slowly, in the order of a percentage point or two annually.

The Radical Hypothesis

Finally – in the list of alternate realities I’m presenting here – we might have seen a (more) radical alternative to Agile arise. Without convenient, ready-made, and packaged “Agile solutions” to adopt, maybe folks who cared might have studied their problems for themselves. Maybe this study might have found the root conditions. Maybe it might have surfaced more radical, more fundamental solutions. Solutions explicitly directed at communities of collaborative knowledge work, at the core role of collective mindsets, people and relationships, and at a system (business) wide approach to both adoption of new approaches and the ongoing use of those approaches.

What do you imagine might have happened if Agile had never been?

– Bob

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 #5 – Continuous Improvement Is Useless
What If #6 ~ Agile Nirvana
What If #7 – No Work

%d bloggers like this: