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It’s About Time

It’s about time we moved beyond Agile. It’s only sensible to abandon what twenty years of failure has proved almost entirely useless. 

Cul-De-Sec

Ironically, moving beyond Agile means retracing our steps, the steps that have led us into the Agile cul-de-sac. We cannot move beyond Agile by building on Agile. Its multiple flaws disqualify it as the basis for moving forward. We must not only seek a new path, a new game, and learn new things, but unlearn a whole passel of Agile-related ideas that just tie us to the dysfunctional past.

Needs

It’s about time we recognise that any approach that addresses the needs of only one constituency – i.e. the software developers – disqualifies that approach from serious consideration. 

It’s about time we considered approaches that embrace the needs of all constituencies – of all the Folks That Matter™️. Approaches that design-in means to “prepare the soil” – means to effect the socio-technical environment necessary for effective development and learning to take place.

Quintessence

I offer Quintessence as one such approach.

It’s about time we started talking about the Quintessential organisation. And building it. Again.

– Bob

The New Game In Town

For decades now, decision-makers have been faced with two quandaries in connection with software development for their organisations.

Quandary One

On the one hand, software – and software development – remains slow, costly, unpredictable and of poor quality. On the other hand, the need for software to support business initiatives, new products, and customer demands grow every day.

See: Software is Eating the World.

Quandary Two

Traditional approaches to software development have clearly had their day in the sun. No company today would consider a transition into e.g. Waterfall or the V model to be a viable way forward. Even though many, through inter, are still stuck in those relatively unproductive approaches. On the other hand, Agile – the natural way forward for many – has proven itself a busted flush.

Until now, these two options (remain with the untrendy and unproductive Old School, or adopt the faddish and unproductive new school) have been the only options available to companies concerned with reducing the costs, and increasing the speed and quality, of software development.

Until Now

I say until now, because there’s now a new game in town. Proven in over twenty years of diligent, practical, real-work application. Aligned to progress in e.g. psychology, sociology, neuroscience and group dynamics. Expressly designed for collaborative knowledge work (i.e. software and tech product development).

I invented this new approach, and I call it Quintessence. You can find it laid out in meaningful detail in my recent book of the same name.

There’s also a self-help book titled “Memeology” for organisation wishing to pursue Quintessence on their own terms.

And an earlier, foundational book titled “Hearts Over Diamonds” which puts everything into context.

So now, organisations of every stripe have a viable, and much more effective option for improving their software development efforts. A means to building quintessentially effective organisations. No longer is Agile the only game in town.

Chat in Confidence

If you’d like a brief, confidential and no obligation chat about how your organisation could benefit from wasting less time, money, energy and effort, please get in touch via e.g. LinkedIn:  – or via whichever channel you may prefer.

– Bob

Local Optima – Updated

[First posted as Local Optima on July 21, 2014]

I’ve heard that a picture is worth a thousand words. And more recently, some research has shown that information presented visually has more likelihood of convincing.

So, here’s a chart. It illustrates the relative effectiveness of the different approaches to e.g. developing software products and systems. The X-axis is the relative effectiveness, increasing towards the right. This same axis also maps from a narrow, local focus on parts of a system (left-hand side) to a broad, global focus on the interactions between the parts of a system (right-hand side).

Note: This chart represents aggregates – any given development effort may show some deviation from this aggregate. And also note, we’re talking about effectiveness from the broader perspective: meeting customer needs, whilst also satisfying the developers and other technical staff, managers, executives, sales folks, suppliers, etc. – i.e. all Folks That Matter™️. I also assume the aggregates exclude LAME, Wagile and other such faux approaches where folks claim to be working in certain ways, but fail to live up to those claims.

What Is a Local Optimum?

This post is primarily about the pernicious and dysfunctional effects of using approaches predicated on local optima. By which I mean, taking a narrow view of (part of) a “system of problems” aka mess. Or, in other words, respecting the boundaries of functional silos within an organisation.

Many folks seem to believe that improving one part of the whole organisation – e.g. the software development function, or an individual team – will improve the effectiveness of the whole organisation. As Ackoff shows us, this is a fallacy of the first order: it’s the interactions between the parts of the organisation-as-a-whole that dictate the whole-system performance. In fact, improving any one part in isolation will necessarily detract from the performance of the whole.

This performance-of-the-whole is most often the kind of performance that senior executives and customers (those who who express a preference) seem to care about – very much in contrast to the cares of those tasked with, and incentivised for, improving the performance of a given part (e.g. team, group, department or function).

“When a mess, which is a system of problems, is taken apart, it loses its essential properties and so does each of its parts. The behavior of a mess depends more on how the treatment of its parts interact than how they act independently of each other. A partial solution to a whole system of problems is better than whole solutions of each of its parts taken separately.”

~ Russell. L. Ackoff

Ad-hoc

Also known as code-and-fix, hacking, messing about, and so on. Coders just take a run at a problem, and see what happens. Other skills and activities, such as understanding requirements, architecture, design, UX, testing, transfer into production, etc., if they do happen, happen very informally.

Batch & Queue

Perhaps more widely known as “Waterfall”. In this approach a big batch of work – often a complete set of requirements – passes through various queues, eventually ending up as working software (hopefully), or as software integral to a broader product or service.

Scrum

One of the various flavours of agile development. Other dev-team centric approaches (xp, kanban, scrumban, FDD, etc.) have similar relative effectiveness, whether combined or “pure”.

DevOps

DevOps here refers to the integration of dev teams with ops (operations/production) teams. This joining-up of two traditionally distinct and separate mini-siloes within the larger IT silo gives us a glimpse of the (slight) advantages to effectiveness resulting from taking a slightly bigger-picture view. Bigger than just the dev team, at least.

Lean

Lean Software Development aka Lean Product Development. The (right)shift in effectiveness comes from again taking an even broader view of the work. Broader not only in terms of those involved (from the folks having the original ideas through to the folks using the resulting software /product) but also broader over time. Approaches like TPDS – including SBCE – improve flow and significantly reduce waste by accepting that work happens more or less continuously, over a long period of time, not just in short, isolated things called “projects” nor for one-off things called “products”.

FlowChain

(Including e.g. Prod•gnosis and Flow•gnosis.) My own thought-experiment at what a truly broad, system-wide perspective on software and product development could make possible in terms of improved effectiveness.

Quintessential

The best conceivable approach in the real world. I’ve included this (as an update from my 2014 post, therein named “Acme”) as a milestone for just how far we as an industry have yet to go in embracing the advantages of a broad, interaction-of-the-parts perspective, as opposed to our current, widespread obsession with narrow improvements of individual parts of our organisations. NB My recent book “Quintessence” sets out a map or blueprint of this Quintessential organisation, as well as the means to get there (i.e. Organisational Psychotherapy).

Please do let me know if you’d like me to elaborate any further on any of the above descriptions.

– Bob

Postscript

For some reason which made sense inside my head at the time, I omitted Theory of Constraints from the above chart. For the curious, I’d place it somewhere between Lean and FlowChain.

There Are Koalas In My Kitchen

Who works on the way the work works in your organisation?

Have they seen this?:

Further Reading

Marshall, R.W. (2021). Quintessence: An Acme for Software Development Organisations. Falling Blossoms (LeanPub).

An Open Letter To All Organisations

Having been involved in software (and hardware) for some fifty years now, I thought it might be time to mark the occasion with this open letter to all organisations. Especially to those organisations engaged in CKW (Collaborative Knowledge Work), such as product development and software development.

Enormous Levels of Waste

You’re wasting 80% of your time, effort, money, and human potential on bullshit work*.

You may know this already, but are too embarrassed, fearful of the consequences, or indifferent to admit it.

Or maybe your owners have so much money that wasting 80% of your operating costs is of little or no consequence to them, and thus to you.

Or you may be unaware of the potential upside of adopting modern organisational practices, and of the downside of retaining your traditional management assumptions and beliefs**.

*Bullshit work: a.k.a. busywork – work that consumes time, effort and energy yet adds no value, and meets no needs of any of the Folks That Matter™️.

Rightshifting

The Rightshifting Chart illustrates just how much time and effort gets wasted in CKW organisations:

The Marshall Model

And the Marshall Model explains the source of such waste (it’s the consequence of the collective assumptions and beliefs a.k.a. mindset, or memeplex, of these organisations):

Over the years, various independent consultants have validated these models.

Consultation in Confidence

**If you’d like a brief, utterly confidential, and no obligation chat about how your organisation could benefit from wasting less of your time, energy and effort, please get in touch via e.g. LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/bob-marshall-flowchainsensei-3a2a5b164/ – or via whatever channel you may prefer.

– Bob

Seeds of Failure

Agile has become widespread and popular mainly because it promises “improvements” without demanding that the decision-makers change. Of course, without people changing (in particular, managers changing their collective assumptions and beliefs) Agile has zero chance of delivering on its promises. It then becomes “just one more packaged method to install in the development teams” – and just one more debacle.

As the French say:

“Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”.

Thus Agile carries with it the seeds of its own inevitable failure.

“But what if managers DO change?” I hear you ask.

Well, if they change themselves in ways that move them and their organisations towards the quintessential, they won’t chose Agile.

Seeds of Success

And if you’re wondering what the seeds of success might look like, you may like to take a look at my recent book “Quintessence” (Marshall 2021).

– Bob

Further Reading

Marshall, R.W. (2021). Quintessence: An Acme for Software Development Organisations. Falling Blossoms (LeanPub).

The Organisational Psychotherapy Solution for Staff Attrition

What with The Great Resignation, record levels of disengagement in the workforce, and a decade and more of low productivity, management knows that losing staff – a.k.a. “attrition”, “turnover”, or “churn” – is a sure and quick route to disaster.

Why Do Folks Quit?

All the data (surveys, research, etc.) points to folks leaving their jobs because:

  • Feeling unappreciated.
  • Burn out.
  • Absence of flexible work options. 
  • Unable to work when and when best suits their needs.
  • Stress (distress).
  • Difficult relationships with colleagues _ and especially, management.
  • Corporate culture.
  • Bullshit jobs (lack of purpose, especially shared or common purpose).
  • Being bored.
  • Limited career development a.k.a. a feeling of being “stuck in a rut”.
  • Violence.
  • Lack of fairness.
  • (For folks in Collaborative Knowledge Work organisations) feeling like “order takers” or factory workers.

The Single Root Cause

All the above reasons are just aspects of one root cause: folks quit when their needs are not being met (or not even attended to).

Different folks have different needs, so any broad brush approach is unlikely to bear fruit. Better to talk with people individually about their specific needs, and how well – or more often, poorly – the organisation is doing in attending to those needs.

This is not an approach that is even possible, absent organisation-wide support for it.

The Organisational Psychotherapy Assist

Organisational Psychotherapy can assist in reducing employee attrition levels in a number of ways:

  • By helping your organisation build a culture that prioritises and actively attends to folks’ needs (see also: The Antimatter Principle).
  • By surfacing your organisation’s existing collective assumptions and beliefs – assumptions and beliefs which most typically lead to some or all of the above-listed reasons for folks leaving.
  • By identifying the cognitive biases which lead to folks feeling their needs are of no consequence.
  • By convincing folks that your organisation takes them and their needs seriously, and that you are determined to build an environment in which they can do their best work (see also: Harter & Buckingham, 2016). 
  • By adopting well-established organisational practices, best suited to CKW.
  • By awareness of Management Monstrosities and how to avoid them

– Bob

Further Reading

Harter, J., Buckingham, M. & Gallup Organization (2016). First, Break All The Rules: What The World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently. Gallup Press.

Marshall, R.W. (2021). Memeology: Surfacing And Reflecting On The Organisation’s Collective Assumptions And Beliefs. [online] leanpub.com. Falling Blossoms. Available at: https://leanpub.com/memeology/ [Accessed 11 Feb. 2022].

Wanna Be More Productive?

Not that many organisations have much of an interest in software or product development productivity. But just in case yours does, here’s a chart showing the effectiveness of various common approach to software development, set against the Rightshifting / Marshall Model context:

Note that all the common approaches don’t get you very far in the effectiveness stakes. Maybe you might like to take a look at “Quintessence” for ideas on how to move much further to the right?

Apologies for mentioning “waterfall” – not even Royce suggested anyone use that approach.

– Bob

Managing Differently

Long-time readers of this blog will recognise that my core value proposition is, as the title states, helping organisations to think differently. The most significant thinking that benefits from a different perspective is management thinking – not least because this typically has the most leverage and impact for the organisation.

Hence, my approach with organisations is to support them in coming around to a fundamental change in their management thinking.

Aside: It’s very clear by now that traditional management thinking and new ways of collaborative knowledge work (CKW) working are fundamentally incompatible. Zero benefits and increased dysfunction (costs, stress, effort, frustration) will be the consequences for cleaving to traditional management thinking in CKW organisations.

Aside: In the Rightshifting vernacular we might call this shifting from the Analytic mindset to the Synergistic (and, ultimately, the Chaordic) Mindset.

The Point

If thinking differently were just a matter of fashion, or taste, then there would be little point. And even less, motivation. 

But the fact of the matter is that for collaborative knowledge work (CKW), traditional management (as typified by implicit violence, command and control, Theory-X, and so on) is a train wreck and a tyre fire all in one.

I’m not the first to point out the need for a different management approach with collaborative knowledge work organisations, but with 40+ years practical experience as a manager, leader, coach and advisor in CKW organisations, I can attest to the power of managing differently.

As I write in my most recent book “Quintessence”:

In the Quintessential organisation, everybody does things differently…the Manager’s role looks very different. So different, in fact, that the term “manage” ceases to be relevant. Managers in a quintessential organisation have relinquished ideas of control, and embraced a role of enablement, resourcing and support.

This is not an easy message to hear, especially for managers who’ve spent their entire working lives being (marginally) successful with traditional management thinking.

Machiavelli knew this nearly five hundred years ago:

It should be borne in mind that there is nothing more difficult to arrange, more doubtful of success, and more dangerous to carry through than initiating changes. The innovator makes enemies of all those who prospered under the old order, and only lukewarm support is forthcoming from those who would prosper under the new. Their support is lukewarm … partly because men are generally incredulous, never really trusting new things unless they have tested them by experience. 

~ Niccolo Machiavelli

And what chance to experience thinking differently, when the manager’s in-group is so intolerant of revisionism?

Organisational Psychotherapy helps with freeing these in-group shackles, and liberating managers to step up to a very different way of managing.

– Bob

Further Reading

Harter, J., Buckingham, M. & Gallup Organization (2016). First, Break All The Rules: What The World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently. Gallup Press.

Marshall, R.W. (2021). Quintessence: An Acme for Software Development Organisations. Falling Blossoms (LeanPub).

Marshall, R.W. (2018). Hearts over Diamonds: Serving Business and Society Through Organisational Psychotherapy. Falling Blossoms (LeanPub).

http://www.managementexchange.com. (2022). Management Innovation eXchange |. [online] Available at: https://www.managementexchange.com.

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