Monthly Archives: June 2021

5x Productivity

People ask me where does the 5x uplift in productivity come from when software development is done right. It’s not one factor, but a combination of a bunch of factors that together cause the uplift.

These factors include:

  • Motivated people. As we now know, forget extrinsic motivators – these only serve to reduce productivity in collaborative knowledge work. Intrinsic motivation’s the thing.
  • The social dynamic. This delivers the environment for employee wellbeing and organisational health – the environment in which joy emerges and intrinsic motivation can let rip.
  • Teaming.
  • Defect prevention. It’s more productive to prevent defects before they happen, than to find them after they have.
  • Change. Making experiments and finding new, better ways of doing things, on a regular basis.
  • Skilled dialogue. Understanding emergent problems and collaborating on quickly finding neat solutions requires people to talk with each other. Skilled dialogue has a part to play here.
  • Courage. Courage to attempt novel approaches. Courage to buck trends. Courage to speak up and tackle thorny issues.
  • Attending to folks’ needs. (Key impact: improved social dynamic).
  • Identifying all key Folks That Matter, and their critical needs. And then attending to those needs (and no others). “Maximising the amount of work NOT done.”
  • #NoSoftware. Writing as little software as possible. And minimising the cost of each component of a solution by intelligently selecting the appropriate solution tech (often, not software).
  • Quantification. Bringing clarity to all aspects of work by elimination confusion of qualitative terms by using quantification.
  • Structure. Uplift morale, engagement and discretionary effort with organisational structures – such as self-organising, self-managing teams and flat organisations – suited to collaborative knowledge work.
  • Physical environment. Having available a range of workspaces suited to the modalities of collaborative knowledge work.
  • Tooling. Provide tooling best suited to the work style and preferences of each individual.
  • Hiring for what matters. You know what matters, don’t you?
  • Relationships. See: Social dynamic.
  • Remuneration. Pay people enough that their living expenses are no issue for them. Don’t pay so much that you attract mercenaries. Ideally, give people agency to each decide their own personal wages, hours, places of work, terms and conditions, etc.
  • Treating people like trusted adults. See also: Social dynamic.
  • Flow. Focus on economies of flow, rather than e.g. economies of scale.
  • Failure demand. Reduce and then eliminate failure demand.
  • Shared purpose. Allow folks a real say in the purpose of the organisation. To invite buy-in and a sense of personal ownership.
  • Whole-systems thinking. Steer the organisation as a whole, not as compartmentalised subunits.
  • Monitor variation, uncover the causes and reduce or eliminate.
  • Learning. Invite people to develop themselves (and others). Provide support of all kinds for this.
  • Replacing “work” with “play” (Cf Schrage ~ Serious Play).
  • Building eustress, reducing or eliminating distress.
  • Identifying and managing risks, actively and continuously .
  • Reducing and eliminating conflicts – and the inevitable waste – caused by differing assumptions and beliefs about how work should work.
  • Technical skills and competencies. Yes, there is a place for having folks that know what they’re doing.
  • Working fewer hours. The Rule of Four: Four day weeks or 4 hour days.
  • Obliquity: Don’t chase productivity. 5x productivity comes from chasing the things that result in productivity. In fact, better to forget the notion of productivity entirely.
  • Measuring. By all means measure. But never measure individuals nor teams. Invite folks to identify what matters to the Folks That Matter, and invite them to come up with measures for those things.

What did I miss?

A long list, to be sure. But then, software development always has been a complex adaptive system. If you want simpler: just attend to folks’ needs.

– Bob


Culture Shift

Red hot volcano

The Power of Culture

Giants of industry swear by the power of organisational culture. They could all be mistaken, of course. But the sheer numbers suggest maybe they’re not.

Assuming they’re right, there’s two cases to consider:

Case One: Your organisation has exactly the culture it wants and needs to be totally awesome.

Case Two: Your organisation needs a shift in its culture to become totally awesome.

If case one applies, you’re good. Done and dusted. At least, until the environment (markets, customer demand, technology, society) changes. 

If case two applies, you can continue with that suboptimal culture, or do something about it. If you decide you need to do something, what will that be? How will you shift your culture?

– Bob

The Naming of Familiar

Familiar Limited was a Reading-based software house/consultancy that I started with a colleague in early 1997.

One question I regularly get asked is “How did the name ‘Familiar’ come about?”

I had thought I’d already answered this question, but upon looking for that explanation can’t find it. So here it is (for the record):

I’ve long favoured ambiguous or multi-meaning words (homonyms). We chose the name “Familiar” on that basis. Here’s the three meanings we sought to present:

Familiar as in: well-known, easily recognised.

Our approach to software development was way different to what clients had come to expect from software house suppliers. We were decidedly unfamiliar in our approach, but took pains to appear familiar and comforting from the point of view of our clients interacting and doing business with us.

Familiar as in: Of the Family

We used the family as the metaphor for structuring the company. “Family” were close-knit, and each had equity and a say in the running of the company. “Friends” were (only) a little less invested.

Familiar as in: Witch’s Familiar

What we did for our clients was, for them, largely indistinguishable from magic. Or at least, that was our aim. Our “magic”, our technology, was how we did things. In other words, channelling the Arthur C. Clarke quote:

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

~ Arthur C. Clarke

Note also the coquettish reverse “F” in the name, intended to evoke a quizzical, playful spirit (looking a bit like a question mark).

You might like to read my other posts about Familiar too, if this post has piqued your interest.

– Bob

That’s a Great Idea But…

We’ve all experienced it. Someone comes up with a great idea for doing something different, and better. Everyone agrees it’s a great idea, and better. And yet nothing happens. Nada. Zip.

How to explain this near-universal phenomenon?

Loss Aversion

I choose to looks at the phenomenon in terms of loss aversion (and its kissing cousin, the status quo bias).

We human beings have an outrageous number of cognitive biases. One of the most powerful of these biases is loss aversion. 

Loss Aversion and the Status Quo

“In a nutshell, loss aversion is an important aspect of everyday life. The idea suggests that people have a tendency to stick with what they have unless there is a good reason to switch. Loss aversion is a reflection of a general bias in human psychology (status quo bias) that make people resistant to change. So when we think about change we focus more on what we might lose rather than on what we might get.”

~ Shahram Heshmat Ph.D., Psychology Today 

The notion that losses loom larger than gains, originally formalised by Kahneman and Tversky (1979; Tversky & Kahneman, 1991; cf. Markowitz, 1952, p. 155), has proven to have tremendous explanatory power.

In addition to basic examples, loss aversion can help to explain a wide range of phenomena, including the sunk cost fallacy, the attraction effect, the compromise effect, anticipated and experienced regret, and the status quo bias.

Needs and Relatively Ineffective Strategies

In my work as an Organisational Psychotherapist, I see, daily, folks’ reluctance to give up on their “established” strategies for getting their needs met in favour of new strategies offering more effective means for seeing those needs met. Often, MUCH more effective means.

Where does loss aversion come into it? Loss aversion explains the hold these “established” strategies have over people. The promising new strategy may look attractive, but the fear of not getting their needs met (in case the new strategy doesn’t pan out) hugely outweighs the promise of the uplift in effectiveness from the new strategy, if adopted.

“One implication of loss aversion is that individuals have a strong tendency to remain at the status quo, because the disadvantages of leaving it loom larger than advantages.”

~ Daniel Kahneman (Kahneman 1991)


We fallible humans cling to our established strategies for seeing our needs met for fear of losing out if we choose a different strategy, almost no matter how attractive that new strategy may be.

For me, this goes a long way to explain “resistance to change” – which may more usefully be called “attachment to the status quo”.

Psychology and neuroscience offers some suggestions how to remediate loss aversion and status quo bias. I may explore these suggestions in a future post (given demand).

– Bob

Further Reading

Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, Fast and Slow. Farrar, Straus And Giroux.

Rick, S. (2011). Losses, Gains, and Brains: Neuroeconomics can help to answer open questions about loss aversion. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 21(4), 453–463.

Kahneman, D., Knetsch, J. L., & Thaler, R. H. (1991). Anomalies: The Endowment Effect, Loss Aversion, and Status Quo Bias. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 5(1), 193–206.

Rosenberg, M. B. (2015). Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life. Puddledancer Press.

Memeology – Halfway Mark

My new organisational psychotherapy self-help book “Memeology – Surfacing And Reflecting on the Organisation’s Collective Assumptions and Beliefs” has now crested the halfway mark (52% complete)!

It’s definitely been a labour of love, but completion is now in sight.

The thing is, I first published way early (18% complete) both to give me an incentive to push along with it, and to open it up to feedback from readers.

I was thinking that while it was still relatively incomplete, folks would have more opportunity to help shape and form the contents (and structure too, maybe).

Incentive-wise, publishing early has been a boon. But feedback has been conspicuous by its absence. Hey ho.

Window of Opportunity

Just to let you know, I expect the book to be essentially complete in the next few weeks, so if you were intending to provide some actionable feedback, the window of opportunity is rapidly closing.

Feedback Requested

The kind of feedback I had, and have, in mind includes:


Do you see any missing memes? Ones that might beneficially augment the existing list?
Do you see any extraneous memes? Ones that could usefully be dropped?


For any given meme, do you note any additional question or questions that might contribute to an organisations’ discussions on that meme?
Have you come across any questions which seem unclear, ambiguous or partisan and might benefit from being reworded?


Does the structure of the book serve its purpose, or have you thought of a better structure?


Any other things you’d add, drop, or change?


One other way you could really help me out is to send me a line or two that I can use as a testimonial, either on the LeanPub page or the back cover. Would you be willing to do that?

– Bob

Designing the Memeology Cover

I enjoy designing my own artwork and graphics for my blog posts, papers, articles, and books.

This is a short post about my design for the cover of my latest book “Memeology

The general style (size, fonts, layout, colours) follows that of my previous Organisational Psychotherapy book “Hearts over Diamonds”:

(Note: the gradient fills to the left and right margins helps the cover stand out from white backgrounds on sites like Leanpub.)

The cover for Memeology differs from Hearts Over Diamonds mainly in the central image.

The image is inspired by the ancient mystical diagrams (yantra) used in the Shri Vidya school of Hinduism. A yantra consists of nine interlocking triangles that surround a central point known as a bindu. These triangles represent the cosmos and the human body. Devotees of the Shri Yantra believe the symbol enables achieving of a higher level of consciousness, and that it confers the ability to create one’s own reality. Devotees also believe the Sri Yantra brings peace, harmony and good fortune.

I’ve adopted this image – created by myself – to stand for the natural beauty, harmony and love that I feel in regard to Organisational Psychotherapy. There’s also research suggesting the yantra helps “to bring its viewers to a more meditative state”. Appropriate, I think, for the idea of surfacing and reflecting on beliefs and assumptions.

In Sanskrit, the word “yantra” comes from the root word “yam,” which means “instrument” or “support,” and “tra,” derived from “trana,” meaning “release from bondage.” A yantra is an instrument or tool, for meditation and contemplation and supports spiritual liberation.

Shri Yantra

The Shri Yantra, called the “queen of yantras,” (rajayantra) is the symbol of the great divine mother principle, the source of all energy, power, and creativity.

The Triangles

In the Hindu tradition, the triangles of the yantra have specific associations:

Starting at the lowermost outer triangle and moving in a counterclockwise circle, these associations are: agitation, pursuit, attraction, delight, delusion, immobility, release, control, pleasure, intoxication, an accomplishment of desire, luxury, mantra, and the destruction of duality.

The next circle has the same sequence and direction, starting from the lowest triangle and moving counterclockwise. The first triangle is the giver of all accomplishments. Next is the giver of wealth. The third is the energy of activities that please all. Fourth is the bringer of all blessings. The fifth is the granter of all desires. Next is the remover of all suffering. The seventh is considered the appeaser of death. Eighth is the overcomer of all obstacles. Ninth is the bringer of beauty, and the tenth is the giver of all good fortune.

The ten smaller triangles in the third circle represent, beginning at the same, lowermost triangle and moving counterclockwise: omniscience, omnipotence, sovereignty, knowledge, destruction of all disease, unconditional support, vanquishment of all evils, protection, and the attainment of all desires. The fourth circle of triangles, again starting at the same point and moving counterclockwise, represent: sustaining, creating, dissolution, pleasure, pain, cold, heat, and the ability to choose action.

In the final inner space, the yogi or yogini visualises five arrows representing the world of the senses, a bow, representing the mind, a noose, representing attachment, and a stick, representing aversion. The central triangle is the giver of all perfection. In the middle of the central triangle is a Bindu, representing pure consciousness and the original state of being.

– Bob


The Path to Organisational Psychotherapy

Lots of people ask me a question about Organisational Psychotherapy along the following lines:

“Bob, you’re smart, insightful, brilliant, and with decades of experience in software development. How come you’ve ended up in the tiny corner of the world which you call Organisational Psychotherapy?”

Which is a very fair question. I’d like to explain…


But first a little background.

I started my lifelong involvement with software development by teaching myself programming. I used to sneak into the CS classes at school, and sit at the back writing BASIC, COBOL and FORTRAN programs on the school’s dial-up equipment, whilst the rest of the class “learned” about word processing, spreadsheets and the like. In the holidays I’d tramp across London and sneak into the computer rooms at Queen Many Collage (University) and hack my way into their mainframe to teach myself more esoteric programming languages.

My early career involved much hands-on development, programming, analysis, design, etc.. I did a lot of work writing compilers, interpreters and the like.

After a few years I found people were more interested in me sharing my knowledge of how to write software, than in writing software for them.

Flip-flopping between delivering software and delivering advice on how best to write software suited me well. I allowed me to keep close to the gemba, yet get involved with the challenges of a wide range of developers and their managers.

The years passed. I set up a few businesses of my own along the way. Selling compilers. Supporting companies’ commercial software products. Doing the independent consulting thang. Providing software development management consulting. Starting and running a software house.

By the time I got to Sun Microsystems’ UK Java Center, I had seen the software development pain points of many different organisations. From both a technical and a management perspective. Indeed, these two perspectives had come to seem indivisibly intertwingled.

I spent more and more of my time looking into the whole-system phenomena I was seeing. Embracing and applying whole-system techniques such as Theory of Constraints, Systems Thinking, Lean Thinking, Deming, Gilb, etc..

Slowly it became apparent to me that the pain points of my clients were rarely if ever caused by lack of technical competencies. And almost exclusively caused by the way people interacted. (I never saw a project fail for lack of technical skills. I often saw projects fail because people couldn’t get along.)

By the early 2000s I had arrived at the working idea that it was the collective assumptions and beliefs of my clients that were causing the interpersonal rifts and dysfunctions, and the most direct source of their pain.

So to My Answer

Returning to the headline question. It became ever clearer to me that to address my clients’ software development pains, there would have to be some (major) shift in their collective assumptions and beliefs. I coined the term “Rightshifting” and built a bunch of collateral to illustrate the idea. Out of that seed grew the Marshall Model.

And yet the key question – how to shift an organisation’s collective assumptions and beliefs – remained.

Through conversations with friends and peers (thanks to all, you know who you are) I was able to focus on that key question. My starting point: were there any known fields addressing the idea of changing assumptions and beliefs? Of course there were. Primarily the field of psychotherapy. I embraced the notion and began studying psychotherapy. A field of study to which I have continued to apply myself most diligently for more than ten years now. After a short while it seemed eminently feasible to leverage and repurpose the extensive research, and the many tools, of individual psychotherapy, to the domain of organisations and their collective assumptions and beliefs.

Summing Up

Organisational Psychotherapy provides an approach (the only approach to which I am acquainted) to culture change in organisations – and to the surfacing of and reflecting on the memes of the collective mindset – the organisational psyche. And because I see the dire need for it, I continue.

– Bob

Further Reading

Marshall, R. W. (2019). Hearts over Diamonds. Falling Blossoms.
Marshall, R. W. (2021). Memeology. Falling Blossoms.
Richard Dawkins. (1976). The Selfish Gene. Oxford University Press.
Blackmore, S. J. (2000). The Meme Machine. Oxford University Press.
The Power of Memes. (2002, March 25). Dr Susan Blackmore.

Software Development at Scale

Scaled Agile – or scaling agile – seems like a hot potato at the moment. Here’s a few

Scaled Agile? Don’t. Just don’t. For GOD’S sake don’t.

Agile even at a small scale doesn’t work and scaling something that doesn’t work just leads to an even bigger mess that doesn’t work. Take a look at SAFe if you don’t believe it. Or just listen to Ackoff:

“The righter we do the wrong thing, the wronger we become. When we make a mistake doing the wrong thing and correct it, we become wronger. When we make a mistake doing the right thing and correct it, we become righter. Therefore, it is better to do the right thing wrong than the wrong thing right.”

Mindset (Obvs.)

Mindset (a.k.a. culture, memeplex) over methods, tools, etc.. What an organisation, collectively, believes and assumes has far more impact on e.g. productivity, quality, etc. than any methods or tools. See: Organisational Psychotherapy, the Marshall Model, and my new book, “Memeology“.

The only thing of real importance that leaders do is to create and manage culture. 

~ Edgar Schein

The thing I have learned at IBM is that culture is everything. It took me to age fifty-five to figure that out.

~ Lou Gerstner, CEO, IBM

If you get the culture right, most of the other stuff will just take care of itself.

~Tony Hsieh, CEO,

And Schein also provides us with a definition for “the culture of an organisation”:

Culture is the deeper level of basic assumptions and beliefs that are shared by members of an organisation, that operate unconsciously and define in a basic ‘taken for granted’ fashion an organisation’s view of its self and its environment…

It’s a pattern of shared basic assumptions invented, discovered, or developed by a given group.

~ Edgar Schein

Flow Efficiency

Goldratt wrote the book on Flow Efficiency (see “The Goal”, in case you’re interested).

Flow efficiency is miles better than resource efficiency (a.k.a. utilisation). What is flow efficiency? I’m sure you can look it up. But for the lazy: Flow efficiency suggest a focus on keeping work moving through its various value-adding steps, with minimal or zero queues and wait times, thereby attending to folks’ needs (value to the Folks That Matter) – and prompting feedback – as quickly as possible.

Formalise Innovation

Formalise innovation, evolve into continuous organisational transformation.

What do I mean by “innovation”?
In the context of organisations, here are a few possible definitions of “innovation”:

  •  A process by which a method, a product, or a service is renewed and refreshed by applying new ideas or introducing new techniques to create new value.
  • Turning an idea into a solution that adds value from the perspective of the folks that matter
  • A new strategy (means) for attending to the needs of the folks that matter.
  • The application of ideas that are novel and useful.
  • Staying relevant – keeping pace with changes to the (business) environment.
  • The implementation of something new – until it’s implemented it’s just an idea.
  • Stop talking about innovation. Focus on organisational transformation.

Here’s my preferred definition:

Innovation: Delivering against an idea which meets a specific set of needs, for all the Folks That Matter.

And “formalise”? What the hell does that mean, exactly? In effect, institute trainings, standard work, measures, etc., around the whole innovation (and, a.s.a.p., organisational transformation) piece.

I’ve been brief here to avoid a rant. Do get in touch if you’d like me to elaborate on some of these themes.

– Bob

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