Monthly Archives: July 2021

Agilists: They Just Want Your Money

And they’re not concerned with providing you with value for your money. If they WERE so concerned, they wouldn’t be Agilists. After twenty years of dicking about with Agile, we can safely say that Agile per se provides ZERO value. 

Oh, some folks and teams that say they’re Agile may achieve results greater than the norm (although the norm is itself so woefully inadequate that claiming results greater than the norm is saying very little). The Rightshifting chart (below) illustrates this point.

But the fact is, that the success of folks and teams that achieve and deliver up to and beyond expectations is not down to Agile. It’s down to other factors that people often mistakenly attribute to Agile.

Things like:

  • thriving and joyful humane relationships
  • attending to folks’ needs
  • treating they way the work works – across the whole organisation – as a system
  • collective assumptions and beliefs – across the whole organisation
  • and yes, even, sometimes, to effective engineering practices. 

Agilists will claim that they are doing these things, because they’re “core agile themes”. And yet, they’re paying lip-service to these themes, not actually doing them. 

So, if you need predictable, on-time deliveries of solutions to support your business objectives, don’t be taken in by all the Agile bollocks. It’s all snake oil. Place your money wisely, find people who really know how to provide value (hint: not “Agilists”) – and caveat emptor!

– Bob

Further Reading

The Complete Rook ~ Two Ronnies sketch

Cthulhu-Shaped People

Complementary to Kent Beck’s paint-drip people, I also like the notion of “Cthulhu-shaped people”.

Cthulhu (normally pronounced ke-TOO-loo or ka-THOO-loo) is a fictional god-like monstrosity invented by 20th-century horror writer H.P. Lovecraft. First appearing in Lovecraft’s short story “The Call of Cthulhu”, this creature is a cosmic being of terrifying power.

The most defining feature of Cthulhu is its head, which closely resembles an octopus. The head is mostly a large, bulbous, pulsating sac, and numerous writhing tentacles sprout from where one would expect a mouth to be. Cthulhu’s height reaches hundreds of metres tall, but it is capable of altering its size and shape at will, being anywhere between the size of a man to the size of a continent and capable of spawning any number of limbs as it chooses.

Translating this to people and their skills/capabilities, for me the Cthulhu-shaped person has multiple powerful skills, which sprout, writhe and grow (and sometimes shrink) in mysterious and unpredictable ways.

Plus, I like Lovecraft.

– Bob


Kent Beck’s Paint Drip People


I repeat Kent Beck’s “Paint Drip People” article here for the benefit of all those having trouble finding or accessing it, or just hate having anything to do with Faceberks.

Keith Adams worked on kernels at VM Ware. Then virtual machines. Then search performance at Facebook. Then the HHVM implementation of PHP. Then machine learning. Now he’s Chief Architect at Slack. In between he worked on hundreds of little projects that lasted hours or days or weeks. Keith is a Paint Drip Person.

I was a big fan of the T model of skills, introduced by David Guest in 1991: know about a lot of things, be really good at one. The more I taught it, the more unhappy I got with the metaphor:

  • Skilled people are good at several things.
  • Skilled people’s interests develop over time.
  • Skilled people don’t plan their next focus area. Sometimes it seems completely unrelated to their previous focus area.
  • Skilled people are always exploring, just for the sake of curiosity.
  • Skilled people resurrect interests sometimes.

All of these metaphor fails led me to the paint drip model of skills.

  • You draw a brush across the top of the canvas.
  • Sometimes enough paint accumulates that a drip starts to roll.
  • Once a drip starts to roll, it’s not clear how far it will go.
  • You keep drawing the brush across the canvas, regardless.

“Moving the brush” is the curious exploration. Keith reports that he tries a project a week or so, but that most “don’t go anywhere” (I beg to differ). The drip rolling down is an area of specialization. Once it starts rolling, it’s not clear how far it will go. In any case, the brush keeps moving. Eventually the last drip stops and a new one starts.

Lost Business

At Familiar (1996-2000) we regularly “lost” work to other companies making lower bids than us. Like many suppliers we were initially both angry, frustrated and disappointed when this happened.

Over time, we studied the phenomenon, saw a pattern emerge, and came to understand these scenarios.

Years later, I wrote a blog post – The Inductive Deductive Schism – explaining the phenomenon of clients commissioning software development work with suppliers who were clearly going to screw up and cost the client much more over the full duration of the commission.

The Schism Summarised

In summary, non-technical, non-engineering clients approach decision-making – i.e. who to commission – in entirely the reverse order to how technical, engineering people might approach the same decision. The follow chart illustrates the order in which clients might approach the question:


Note how trust (actually credibility of the supplier) takes first place, followed by solution fit, and then details of the solution. “Will the proposed solution work?” comes a poor fourth.

Compare with the approach favoured by “technical” people:

Here, the viability of the proposed solution takes first place, and “trust” a.k.a. credibility of the supplier comes fourth.

Bottom Line

So we see that technical suppliers who fail to understand the decision order of their prospective (non-technical) clients will inevitable fail to understand why the commissions go to suppliers who appear inept and likely to produce inappropriate and/or non-viable solutions.

If you’re a “technical” supplier pitching for business with non-technical clients, you might like to focus on your credibility, followed by the “fit” of your proposed solution to the client’s needs – and downplay the details and viability of your proposed solution.

– Bob

Two Suits, No Hoots

Two suits stood in the aisle of the busy open-plan office.

“These people really are dumb,” John said, “even whisper ‘the bottom line’ and they all jump to it.”

“Yup. No one realises that us managers are in it for ourselves, not the bottom line,” Ralph said.

John smiled. “Sure thing. Wouldn’t do to have them find out, though.”

“No problem. They’ve been so brainwashed by life that even if we shouted our self-interest, they’d not believe it.”

John raised his thumb. “Safe, then.”

Ralph grinned.

Where’s the flaw in John and Ralph’s assumptions and beliefs?

– Bob

Further Reading

Your REAL Job ~ Think Different blog post

Changing Culture

Let’s say you’re driving along in your car, and you want to change your speed. Would you grab hold of the speedo needle and bend it, expecting the car to change speed accordingly?

Of course not. Yet this is how organisations often attempt to change their “culture”. Grab hold of the culture “needle”, bend it and expect the culture to change.

Like the car speedometer, culture is just a visual indicator instrument, a read-only device.

To actually change the speed of the car requires an understanding of how the throttle pedal controls the amount of air/fuel mixture entering the engine, how the engine is connected via the transmission to the wheels, and how the rotational speed of the wheels (minus tyre/road slip) dictates the speed of the vehicle. More simply, an understanding of how one’s right foot on the throttle controls the speed of the car, not the needle on the speedo.

Similarly with organisations, controlling the culture invites an understanding of how changing assumptions and beliefs (gas pedal) changes the culture, not bending the culture “needle”.

– Bob

Awesomely Powerful New Ideas

Most organisations are very closed to new ideas about management (amongst other topics). Tech organisations are no exception in this regard.

Ideas that are new, or alien, come with a price tag of uncertainty and fear.

Uncertainty – will these ideas work for us?
And fear – what long-established rules will we have to change to make them work for us?

The ideas themselves are often as old as the hills. But for various reasons don’t make it past the motte and bailey of the organisations that could benefit from them.

BTW Through organisational psychotherapy, I help tech organisations open themselves up to awesomely powerful new ideas.

Here are just a few of the ideas with awesome potential benefits to adopting organisations:

  • Agile Software Development ~ Beck, Gilb, et al.
  • Compassionomics ~ Trzeciak
  • Idealized Design ~ Ackoff
  • Interactive Planning ~ Ackoff
  • Lean ~ Ohno, Liker, Ward, Kennedy, Rother, et al. Incl Lean product development, lean software development
  • Learning Organisations ~ Senge, Kleiner
  • Metrics ~ Fenton, Gilb, et al.
  • Organisational Excellence ~ Shingo, Juran, Peters
  • Psychology ~ Deming, Schwartz, Ohno
  • Quantification ~ Gilb
  • Risk Management ~ DeMarco, Lister, et al.
  • Statistical Process Control ~ Shewhart, Deming, Juran
  • Systems Thinking ~ Ackoff, Deming, Seddon
  • Tameflow ~ Tendon
  • Theory of Constraints ~ Goldratt
  • Throughput Accounting ~ Goldratt, Corbett
  • Value Streams ~ Rother, Shook, et al.
  • Variation ~ Deming, Tribus
  • OODA Loop ~ Boyd
  • Auftragstaktik ~ von Clausewitz
  • Toyota TPS and TPDS ~ Ohno, Shingo, Toyota et al.

And some of mine:

  • Rightshifting
  • The Marshall Model
  • FlowChain
  • Product Aikido
  • Prod•gnosis
  • Flow•gnosis
  • Emotioneering
  • The Antimatter Principle
  • Organisational Psychotherapy
  • Covalence
  • Javelin

Adoption is all.

How are YOU going about opening up YOUR organisation to awesomely powerful new ideas?

– Bob

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