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How To Run A Collaborative Knowledge Work Business

Collaborative knowledge work (CKW) is not like other kinds of work. And few realise this. Even fewer realise that CKW necessitates a kind of “management” entirely different from traditional management. So different as to be unrecognisable as “management”. 

As the world transitions to CKW as its predominant style of work, this realisation is spreading. And the ensuing confusion and distress spreads also. We see this already.

The Priorities for CKW

  1. Avoiding Cognitive Impairment

CKW involves, primarily, the use of folks’ brains. A.k.a. Cognition or cognitive function. Organisations that cultivate an environment conducive to CKW and “brain-work” are, however, few and far between. Much more often, environment-induced cognitive impairment is the order of the day, every day.

  1. Interpersonal Relationships

The second key aspect of CKW is the collaborative nature of the work. CKW involves folks working together to achieve shared goals.Thus, interpersonal relationships become paramount.

  1. Play

So, how to cultivate an environment conducive to cognitive function and relationship-building? I have found that play best enables and supported these things. Whereas in the above paragraphs I have used the word “work”, we’re better off when we substitute the idea of “play”. Can you see the connection between improved cognitive function and relationship-building, and play?

Aside: We can take some of the sharp edges off the unconscionable idea of encouraging “workers” to play on the company dime by using the term “serious play”. By justifying it as a key to innovation. And by further obfuscating the idea of free play by calling it “simulation” or “gamification”. But that’s only candy-coating.

At The Quintessential Group we’re putting this all into practices, as we did with great success decades ago at Familiar. We’d be delighted to share our learnings and experiences with you, should you be interested.

– Bob

Further Reading

Schrage, M. (2008). Serious Play: How The World’s Best Companies Simulate To Innovate. Harvard Business School Press.

Quintessential Fellows’ Skills

In case you’re intrigued about the possibility of joining The Quintessential Group community of fellows, or building a similar organisation yourself (we’d love to help), here’s a description of the set of skills we consider useful in Quintessential fellows.

Not that skills are the only criteria. Yet, we hope this post will help you consider whether a further conversation with The Quintessential Group and our community might be worthwhile.

Oh, and in case I didn’t mention it already, we’re enrolling our first cohort of fellows soon! Limited places remaining. 

What Skills Does It Take To Be or Become A Quintessential Fellow?

In February, ITPro ranked the humble Software Delivery specialist as the Number One most in-demand tech job, not just of the here and now, but of the future too. And that means competition for the best jobs on the market is exceptionally high. So, how do you set yourself apart from this growing crowd of talented Software Delivery specialists? And how do companies set themselves apart from the mass of lame places also hiring people?

When thinking of technical roles such as software delivery, we often jump to considering skills and qualifications within the realm  of coding, development, DevOps, Cloud security, etc.. While these skills are essential to the role of a Software Delivery specialist, there are a number of other attributes that are just as crucial. Maybe even more so.

With the right soft skills, Software Delivery specialists are better equipped to use their hard skills to the full extent. And customers have their software delivery needs better attended to, too. 

Quintessential Software Delivery Skills

At The Quintessential Group we look for and encourage the following skills and abilities in our fellows:

Top Skills

Dialogue

Skilled dialogue and the ability to hold effective adult-to-adult conversations with clients, peers and others is rare. And dialogue entails listening. Something we find a necessary part of both skilled dialogue and the broader Thinking Environment.

Further Reading

Stone, D., Patton, B. and Heen, S. (2010). Difficult Conversations: How To Discuss What Matters Most. Portfolio Penguin.
Patterson, K., Grenny, J., McMillan, R. and Switzler, A. (2012). Crucial conversations: Tools For Talking When Stakes Are High. Mcgraw-Hill Education.
Kline, N. (2021). Time To Think: listening to ignite the human mind. Cassell.
Isaacs, W. (1999). Dialogue And The Art Of Thinking Together: A Pioneering Approach To Communicating In Business And In Life. Currency.

Listening

Listening, especial NVC (Nonviolence Communication) style listening can contribute significantly to effective dialogue

Further Reading

The 10 components of a thinking environment -Nancy Kline. (n.d.). [online] Available at: https://www.resultcic.com/Downloads/resources/Kline_10_Components_of_a_Thinking_Environment.pdf [Accessed 29 Apr. 2022].

Nonviolent Communication (NVC)

You may not realise that nonviolent communication (and nonviolence more generally) is a skill – until you try to produce it on demand. 

Further Reading

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

Emotional Intelligence

Also known as EQ. Emotional intelligence is the ability to learn about yourself and apply that wisdom to the world around you.

Further Reading

Psych Central (2016). What is Emotional Intelligence (EQ)? [online] Psych Central. Available at: https://psychcentral.com/lib/what-is-emotional-intelligence-eq.

Thinking Different

Using one’s System 2 in preference to System 1 thinking (Kahneman 2011).

Further Reading

Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, Fast and Slow. Farrar, Straus And Giroux.
Marshall, R.W. (n.d.). Think Different (blog). [online] Think Different. Available at: https://flowchainsensei.wordpress.com [Accessed 29 Apr. 2022].

Solicitation And Elaboration Of Folks’ Needs

A more practical skill, this, often found to a greater or lesser degree in the field of “requirements analysis” – which we prefer to call e.g. “needs analysis”. And drawing on a range of skills previously listed above.

Further Reading

Gause, D.C. and Weinberg, G.M. (2007). Exploring Requirements: Quality Before Design. Dorset House Publ.
Gilb, T. and Brodie, L. (2006). Competitive Engineering: A Handbook For Systems Engineering, Requirements Engineering And Software Engineering Using Planguage. Elsevier Butterworth Heinemann.

Ideal Team Player

Described by Patrick Lencioni as consisting of: Humility, hunger and people-smarts.

Further Reading

Lencioni, P. (2016). The Ideal Team Player: How to Recognize and Cultivate The Three Essential Virtues: A Leadership Fable. Jossey-Bass.

Digital Transformation

See: Rightshifting and the Marshall Model. An in-house asset.

Further Reading

Marshall, R.W. (2013). Rightshifting And The Marshall Model – Class 101. [online] Think Different. Available at: https://flowchainsensei.wordpress.com/2013/09/15/rightshifting-and-the-marshall-model-class-101/

Value Streams

The Quintessential Group is presently structured along value stream lines, rather than the typical functional silos model. Some familiarity with value streams and, ideally, Prod•gnosis, will be useful.

Further Reading

Rother, M. and Shook, J. (1999). Learning To See: Value Stream Mapping To Create Value And Eliminate Muda. – Version 1.2. The Learning Enterprise Institute.
Ward, A.C. (2007). Lean Product And Process Development. The Lean Enterprise Institute.
Marshall, R.W. (2012). Prod•gnosis in a Nutshell. [online] Think Different. Available at: https://flowchainsensei.wordpress.com/2012/08/04/prod [Accessed 29 Apr. 2022].

Risk Management

The ability to identify risks which may impact a particular software delivery effort, and manage those risks, on behalf of all the Folks That Matter™.

Further Reading

Demarco, T. and Lister, T.R. (2003). Waltzing With Bears: Managing Risk On Software Projects. Dorset House Pub.
Jones, C.(1994). Assessment And Control Of Software Risks. Yourdon Press.

Other Desirable Skills

  • Defect prevention Cf Phil Crosby
  • Toyota Kata
  • Interaction design
  • User experience
  • Emotioneering
  • Solution architectures
  • Artist
  • Writer
  • PR and (internal) marketing
  • Cybrarian
  • Amanuensis
  • Content Maven
  • CI/CD toolchains
  • Methods and practices maven
  • Metricant
  • Toolsmith
  • Database designer
  • Issues maven
  • Style maven
  • Accessibility maven
  • Subcontracts maven
  • Scrounger
  • Delivery approaches maven
  • Facilitator

See Also

Marshall, R.W. (2015). Skills Chart. [online] Think Different. Available at: https://flowchainsensei.wordpress.com/about/skills-chart/ [Accessed 29 Apr. 2022].

Marshall, R. (2012). Developer Competency Matrix. [online] Think Different. Available at: https://flowchainsensei.wordpress.com/about/developer-competency-matrix/ [Accessed 29 Apr. 2022].

Marshall, R. (2011). The Many Roles in Software Projects. [online] Think Different. Available at: https://flowchainsensei.wordpress.com/2011/02/25/the-many-roles-in-software-projects/ [Accessed 29 Apr. 2022].

Enrolling Now

In case I didn’t mention it already, we’re enrolling our first cohort of fellows for orientation soon! Limited places remaining.

– Bob

Five Whys

Not Five Whys as in the approach to root cause(s) analysis as attributed to e.g. Toyota.

But Five Whys which illuminate the issues within the world’s typical approach to running businesses, and in particular collaborative knowledge work businesses:

  1. Why is the Software Crisis still with us?  
  2. Why is business so locked-in to centuries-old management practices?
  3. Why does the Agile community not want to move on, to progress?
  4. Why are prevailing collective assumptions and beliefs about the way work should work so ineffective and yet so hard to overturn?
  5. Why don’t people engage with these questions?

Contrary to my usual approach – providing answers – I’ll just let these questions stew for a while. I have answers. But I suggest you’re not interested in answers, nor even the questions.

– Bob

Afterword

Personally, I prefer analysing e.g. root cause(s) vie cause-effect trees such as Goldratt’s TOC tool – the Current Reality Tree (CRT). YMMV.

Specific organisational structures are irrelevant. It’s an organisation’s fluidity – the capabiliuty to morph and flow from one structure to another over time, and invent new and intermediate structures, as needs require, that’s the thing. Cf. Donella Meadows:

My Intolerance Of Shit Has Cost Me Several Million Dollars $$$

I’ll admit it. I’m intolerant of shit.

What kinds of shit, you might enquire. Here’s a brief list:

  • Vacillation.
  • Indecision.
  • Wilful ignorance.
  • Nepotism and other cliques.
  • Ineptitude.
  • Dilettantism.
  • Indifference.
  • Exploitation.
  • Naive dialogue (inability to converse).
  • Lack of interaction.
  • Stupidity.
  • …and so on

How Has This Cost Me Millions?

Because the people who pay are full of shit (see above). So I choose to not go anywhere near them. Ever. Which limits my income and revenue opportunities massively, of course.

Does This Bother Me?

Not really. It would bother me big time if money was my driver. But it never has been. I’m motivated by helping people, building interpersonal relationships, community, understanding things, and having a useful life. And there never was much money in any of that.

I’m much happier being poor than spending my life drowning in ordure.

– Bob

Hungry For Improvement

In his book The Ideal Team Player, Patrick Lencioni lists three virtues he considered indispensable for “ideal team players”:

  • Humility
  • Hunger
  • People-smarts

To elaborate:

Humility

Humility means focusing on the greater good, instead of focusing on oneself or having an inflated ego. Humble people are willing to own up to their failures or flaws, apologise for their mistakes, accept others’ apologies and can sincerely appreciate others’ strengths/skills.

In Lencioni’s words, humility is probably the most important virtue:

Great team players lack excessive ego or concerns about status. They are quick to point out the contributions of others and slow to seek praise for their own. They share credit, emphasise team over self, and define success collectively rather than individually. It is no great surprise, then, that humility is the single greatest and most indispensable attribute of being a team player.

Hunger

Being hungry means that you always seek more, e.g. to do more, learn more, or take on more responsibility. Hungry people are self-motivated to work hard, take initiative and go beyond their call of duty. Hungry people are never satisfied, and they always want more. They have a drive and a burning ambition to be more than they are. Some folks call this discretionary effort.

Hunger, writes Lencioni,

“is the least sensitive and nuanced of the three virtues. That’s the good news. The bad news is – it’s the hardest to change.”

Smarts (i.e. people-smarts)

People smarts means having common sense about people, i.e. being aware of and perceptive about other people, asking good questions, listening well and knowing how to respond effectively.

Be aware that “people smarts” doesn’t necessarily mean intellectually “brilliant”; but it does mean emotionally intelligence and a capability for skilful interpersonal interactions.

Of course, you can’t have a team if there’s no team chemistry; and folks who are people smart contribute to this chemistry.

Hungry For Improvement?

Improvement – and especially continuous improvement – doesn’t just happen. In most organisations, it rarely happens at all.

When improvement does happen, it’s because someone needs it to happen. For some reason. Personally, I’m hungry for improvement because I find joy in seeing things improve, and joy in seeing things getting better for the people involved. Simple as.

For me, improvement is not a means to some other end, such as higher profits, increased success, or some other common but similarly specious justification. For me, it’s an end in itself.

I’d go further, and suggest that improvement is rare exactly because few people find an innate joy in it.

How about you? Are you hungry for improvement? Do you need it?

– Bob

How Do You Set Up A Salary Model That Has Everyone’s Approval?

Remuneration policy reflects an organisation’s culture. It’s a calling card for your company and a key lement of employer branding. Given current recruiting challenges, it also determines who wants to join or stay with your company.

What Is A Salary Model?

A salary model, or remuneration policy, is a system of guidance that an organisation uses to determine each employee’s remuneration (a.k.a. package). A typical salary model takes into account things like merit, length of employment, and pay compared to similar positions.

Everyone’s Approval?

You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.

~ John Lydgate

Salary models are almost always contentious, and the source of frequent fractious arguments and ill-will. Few people favour being treated just like everybody else, seeing themselves as individuals. Yes, fairness has a role to play – humans and capuchins both being accutely attuned to the notion of fairness. But who adjudicates what is fair when it comes to salaries and other remunerations?

At Familar, and now at TheQuintessentialGroup, we seek to treat people as adults, and encourage adult-to-adult interactions. Accordingly, we believe that only the individual in question is at all placed to decide what is fair, and thus to determine their personal individual salary or other remuneration. Our experiences at Familiar showed this idea as entirely workable, and helped us learn the amazing up-side to such a salary model.

This perspective also aligns with the Antimatter Principle: “Attend to folks’ needs”. Who else but the individual can truly decide what their needs are, salary-wise? Needless to say, the Antimatter Principle stands proud at the heart of TheQuintessentialGroup’s approach to community-building, and to business.

So, for clarity, this salary model states:

Each fellow decides his or her own salary (or other remuneration, depending on engagement model). Each fellow is free to change salary or other remuneration levels as and when – and as often as – they see fit.

Note: This particulalr salary model is the salary model of choice for TheQuintessentialGroup.

Wrinkles

One wrinkle that did emerge at Familiar, given the totally alien nature of this salary model, was the difficulty some folks had in deciding on the specifics of their package. We discovered that support and dialogue amongst fellows (along with full transparency for all) helped greatly with resolving this difficulty.

Another, more general wrinkle is the collective assumptions and beliefs of the decision-makers and those that sign off – or don’t – on the salary model. The headline of this post is about winning everyone’s approval. Managers and executives that have a sublimated Theory-X view of the world probably won’t approve of this salary model. Which I find sad, for the people and for the performance of the workforce (and thus, of the organisation).

– Bob

Afterword

“Has everyone’s approval” seems to me a pretty low bar. I’d prefer to see a salary model that “everyone loves and raves about”. How about you?

What’s An Expert To Do?

If you’re an expert, there’s little satisfaction or joy in trying to change people such that they begin to adopt the things you know they need to do. They won’t understand nor embrace new ways of doing things, nor new ideas. Not because the expert tells them to, anyways.

You may be lucky and stumble across someone or some group that, by happenstance, has become curious about doing things differently. But in most cases, your expertise is for the birds.

So, taking a job or position in organisations as an in-house expert is most often a stupid punt. Almost exclusively, in my experience.

And in the realm of software delivery, there’s pretty much zero likelihood of decision-makers understanding why doing things differently is the only gateway to better performance.

Obduracy

In my post “Obduracy” of several years ago, I wrote:

“The things organisations have to do to make software delivery successful are well known. And equally well known is the fact that organisations will absolutely not do these things.”

And this ain’t gonna change just because an expert or two gets involved. 

What To Do Instead

The above was observably true back in 1996, when we decided to apply our expertise for our own benefit, baled from any more consulting, and started Familiar.

And it remains true today, some 26 years later. Which is why we’re embarked on a similar venture, second time around. 

Instead of endless frustration in trying to help others move the needle in software delivery, we are, again, picking up the gauntlet and getting jiggy with moving the needle ourselves, through The Quintessential Group.

If you’re an expert in software delivery, I invite you to apply your expertise in starting your own delivery business (we’d be delighted to help). Or, you might like to join us at The Quintessential Group and taste the quintessential experience.

– Bob

Further Reading

Marshall, R.W. (2021). Quintessence: An Acme for Software Development Organisations. [online] leanpub.com. Falling Blossoms (LeanPub). Available at: https://leanpub.com/quintessence/[Accessed 24 Apr. 2022].

Second Time Around

Y’all may like to know that Ian Carroll (of Solutioneers fame) and I are launching a new venture named TheQuintessentialGroup, offering a range of services in the software delivery space. First out of the gate will be “Quintessential Teams“. You can find out more at our shiny new website: TheQuintessentialGroup.com.

TQG-Banner2

Note: We’re looking to revolutionise the world of software delivery, along quintessential lines, and we’d love for you to consider joining us.

First Time Around

Back in 1996 we* found ourselves with the opportunity to demonstrate what we had been telling clients for years – that our** approach to software delivery was way more productive than:

a) the industry norm

b) their current approaches

c) what they could ever believe possible

*myself and some colleagues at the Java Centre within Sun Microsystems UK, along with some mutual friends.

**the company we named “Familiar”.

Second Time Around

Now, we*** find ourselves in the same situation once again. Our**** approach to software delivery is again way more productive than:

a) the industry norm

b) our clients’ current approaches

c) what our clients and prospects could ever believe possible

***Ian Carroll and myself

****the company we’re naming TheQuintessentialGroup

Nothing Like Agile

The first time around, commencing circa 1996, our approach could be described as an Agile approach (Scrum-like, albeit risk-based).

The second time around our – distinctly different – approach can be described as the Quintessential approach (nothing like Agile, Scrum, etc. – albeit still very risk-oriented).

Alien Tech For Human Beings

And this second time around, we again lead the industry in breaking the mould and demonstrating the validity and sheer awesome power of the Quintessential approach.

The Quintessential approach is no secret. It’s all laid out, in detail, in my book(s). And yet we defy anyone to replicate this game-changing alien tech. At least, until they have thrown off the shackles of outmoded and crippling beliefs about work and how work should work.

And that ain’t likely to happen any time soon. Although TheQuintessentialGroup.com can help with effecting such changes, too – see my book Memeology, for starters.

If you’re at all interested in the quality, cost, timescales, and predictability of software delivery, you might like to take a look at our newly launched website: TheQuintessentialGroup.com. We have big ambitions and big plans – and we’re hiring too!

Yes there’s more than a little déjà vu here at Sensei Towers at the moment. Familiar was an outstanding success, vindication, trailblazer and golden goose back in the late 90’s. We have every expectation that TheQuintessentialGroup will surpass even that outstanding benchmark.

Putting a dent in the Universe.

– Bob

Further Reading

Marshall, R.W. (2021). Quintessence: An Acme for Software Development Organisations. [online] leanpub.com. Falling Blossoms (LeanPub). Available at: https://leanpub.com/quintessence/ [Accessed 22 Apr. 2022].

Marshall, R.W. (2021). Memeology: Surfacing And Reflecting On The Organisation’s Collective Assumptions And Beliefs. [online] leanpub.com. Falling Blossoms (LeanPub). Available at: https://leanpub.com/memeology/ [Accessed 22 Apr. 2022].

Marshall, R.W. (2018). Hearts over Diamonds: Serving Business and Society Through Organisational Psychotherapy. [online] leanpub.comFalling Blossoms (LeanPub). Available at: https://leanpub.com/heartsovediamonds/ [Accessed 22 Apr. 2022].

Twelve Invitations for Fellowship

  1. We’ll have a face-to-face catchup (1:1) at least as frequently as once a week. Either of us can cancel whenever we agree to. It’s our time.
  2. Our 1:1 agenda will be in our meeting invite so we remember important topics. But either of us remains free to use the time for whatever’s on our minds.
  3. When we schedule each catchup, we’ll state *at the time we schedule it* what it’s meant to be about. We prefer to avoid chatting without an agenda. The agenda can be as simple as e.g. “social”.
  4. When we drop into each other’s DMs, we’ll always say hello, and what”s on our minds. No suspense. No small talk while we are wondering what the DM is going to be about.
  5. We will share directly any face-to-face news or announcements that significantly impact e.g. us, our several relationships, our teams or our community, not via a big meeting, recorded video or mailshot.
  6. We’ll share feedback when it’s fresh. Feeedback is about our needs and the extend to which they’ve been met (or not). There will be no hint of performance reviews or other judgements.
  7. We trust everyone to manage their own time. No one is expected to clear with anyone in advance re: their time or place.
  8. We will attend to folks’ needs by way of informing them of our whereabout and times of availability – if and when they have a need to know.
  9. Things gets done the way we decide is best. Our focus is on folks’ needs, not outcomes or outputs. Once we’ve agreed on where we’re going, how to get there is up to each of us, in agreement.
  10. A team is most effective when it has a shared purpose, moves forward together, looks after one another, and takes care of each other and all the folks that matter. We choose to continuously look to our left and to our right for opportunities to help our fellows. We request help whenever we need it. Nobody has to do things in isolation except by choice.
  11. There are no reporting lines, chains of command and control, hierarchy, etc. We talk with each other and anyone about anything we feel is relevant.
  12. We attribute credit when attribution serves folks’ needs. We will never exaggerate our own roles or minimize others’ contributions.

If all of this sounds like it might serve your needs, I invite you to reciprocate by giving of the one thing we all need most. Attention to folks’ needs.

I want to hear your feedback, to know when someone’s needs are going unattended, or are being well-attended to. To know when and how we can bring more joy into folks’ lives.

We always welcome folks’ thoughts, listen patiently, and never respond defensively.

If we attend to each other’s needs, we can learn and grow and bond together. That’s how I need to connect with what’s alive in you.

– Bob

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