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Advice Process

The Folks That Matter™

Stakeholders, team members, the Big Team, customers, users, snakeholders – call them what you will, they’re the people that we’re doing the work for. They’re the people to whom we deliver the fruits of our efforts. They’re the people whose reactions – and emotional responses – decide the success or failure of our endeavours.

Personally I like to call them The Folks That Matter™.

By way of example, Here’s a partial list of the groups and individuals that are candidates for inclusion in the set of The Folks That Matter™.

  • Your organisation’s Core Group
  • Your manager
  • Your project manager
  • Senior managers and executives
  • Your dev team
  • Other dev teams
  • Ops people
  • The PMO
  • Testers (when separate from the dev team)
  • QA folks (when present)
  • The Process Group (when separate from the dev teams)
  • Your business sponsor(s)
  • Other people across your organisation
  • Your (end) customer(s) (and their purchasing departments)
  • Commercial partners
  • Regulators
  • Wider Society
  • The Planet (Gaia)

The Interesting Angle

For me, when I’m involved building stuff, I have a need know who we’re trying to please, delight, satisfy, or otherwise engage with and deliver to. I need to know what folks need, and who to ask about the details of those needs, if and when the detail moves to front of mind. I need to know whose needs we can successfully discount when the inevitable resource (time, money, effort) crunches come. Whose needs we can reasonably consider as outside the scope of the endeavour in which we’re involved? And I need some heuristics to guide us in decisions on including, excluding and prioritising folks and their needs.

But there’s something much more interesting than who’s on and who’s off the list of The Folks That Matter™, at any given time. The much more interesting question for me, as an Organisational Psychotherapist, is: What governs the choices? How do folks get added to or removed from the set of The Folks That Matter™? Are the means the product of rational thought, discussion and evolution, or maybe they’ve just happened, or been cargo-culted. And what are the consequences of the prevailing means? What impact do those means have on the success or failure of our endeavours? And therefore on our bottom line?

By way of example, here’s some common means for tackling the question of means:

  • Consensus
  • The Advice Process
  • Autocracy
  • Dictatorship
  • HiPPO
  • Cost of Focus

(Aside: Each collective mindset in the Marshall Model has its own popular choice for these “means”: Autocracy for the Ad-hoc, Dictatorship or HiPPO for the Analytic, Consensus or the Advice Process for the Synergistic, and e.g. Cost of Focus for the Chaordic).

Is it helpful for folks on the dev team to be involved in some way in maintaining or keeping the list of the The Folks That Matter™? Is that possible, in any given organisation? Is the question even discussable?

When Resources Are Limited, Some Folks, Needs, HAVE To Not Matter

And what about the folks that don’t matter (that don’t appear in the set of The Folks That Matter™? I know many readers will baulk at the idea that some folks and their needs don’t matter. But, please, get over yourselves. In any situation where resources are constrained (i.e finite, not infinite), choice HAVE to be made. Lines drawn. Resources committed to some areas and held back or withdrawn from others. How could it be otherwise? Inevitably then, in this particular frame, there must be Folks Who Don’t Matter™.

Cost of Focus

Don Reinertsen states that the Cost of Delay – the financial or economic cost of prioritising one feature over another – is rarely considered in most organisations. Put another way, the way in which delivery priorities are selected and adjusted, the frequency and means of such adjustments, etc., are rarely discussed, and rarely even discussable.

I propose that Cost of Delay is a subset of the wider question stated above. The question of Cost of Focus.

By definition, we are not meeting some needs when we choose to or otherwise exclude certain folks with their particular needs from the set of The Folks That Matter™.

Maybe those excluded folks and their needs are indeed irrelevant, or their exclusion has little impact – financial or otherwise – on the success of our endeavour. But maybe, contrariwise, some of those excluded needs are in fact critical to our “success”. How would we know? The arguments for Cost of Focus are much the same as for its golden child, Cost of Delay.

FWIW, I’ve seen countless projects stumble and “fail” because they inadvertently omitted, or chose to omit, some crucial folks and their needs from the their list of The Folks That Matter™. Get Cost of Delay wrong, and we lose some money. Sometime a little, sometime a lot. Get Cost of Focus wrong, and we more often lose big time. Cost of Focus often has a much more binary impact.

What is Cost of Focus?

Cost of Focus is a way of communicating the impact, on the outcomes we hope to achieve, arising from excluding or including specific folks and their needs. More formally, it is the partial derivative of the total expected value with respect to whose needs we focus on.

“Cost of Delay is the golden key that unlocks many doors. It has an astonishing power to totally transform the mind-set of a development organisation.”

– Donald G. Reinertsen

Similarly, I’d say that unless and until we have a handle on Cost of Focus, the golden key of Cost Of Delay remains firmly beyond our grasp.

Put another way, until we have a means for deciding whose needs to attend to, the particular order in which we attend to those needs (cf. priority, Cost of Delay) is moot.

– Bob

Further Reading

Who Really Matters ~ Art Kleiner

The Advice Process – Flaws and Fixes

“The advice process is a tool that helps decision-making via collective intelligence. Much depends on the spirit in which people approach it. When the advice process is introduced, it might be worthwhile to train colleagues not only in the mechanics but also on the mindset underlying effective use.”

We’ve been using the Advice Process for several months now. Whilst we’re still very much committed to its use, and wish to see the changes it promotes, all has not been going smoothly with its uptake.

Potential

We chose the Advice process as a means to devolving and distributing decision-making. We like its potential for quicker – and more impactful – decisions, raised levels of trust, improved communication, and higher levels of involvement and engagement. This list describes this potential, as described by its early promoter, Dennis Bakke of AES, in more detail:

  • Community: it draws people, whose advice is sought into the question at hand. They learn about the issue. The sharing of information reinforces the feeling of community. The person whose advice is sought feels honored and needed
  • Humility: asking for advice is an act of humility, which is one of the most important characteristics of a fun workplace. The act alone says, “I need you“. The decision maker and the adviser are pushed into a closer relationship. This makes it nearly impossible for the decision-maker to ignore the advice.
  • Learning: making decisions is on-the-job education. Advice comes from people who have an understanding of the situation and care about the outcome. No other form of education or training can match this real-time experience.
  • Better decisions: chances of reaching the best decision are greater than under conventional top-down approaches. The decision maker has the advantage of being closer to the issue and has to live with responsibility for the consequences of the decision. Advice provides diverse input, uncovering important issues and new perspectives.
  • Fun: the process is just plain fun for the decision-maker, because it mirrors the joy found in playing team sports. The advice process stimulates initiative and creativity, which are enhanced by the wisdom from knowledgeable people elsewhere in the organization.

Practice

In practice, we have not yet seen full realisation of this potential. Overall, we attribute this to poor implementation of the Advice Process, which we’re now intent (sic) on fixing – whilst not undermining its original intent (see above).

Flaws

Some of the implementation flaws we have experienced include:

  • Permission-seeking. Some folks have not yet overcome their established reflex of seeking permission. The Advice Process as conceived rejects permission-seeking, placing implicit responsibility for outcomes on the individual or team with the intent, not on the permission-giver. This shift (i.e. from authoritarianism to co-creation) requires a degree of courage from all parties.
  • Trust. Some advisors have found it challenging to trust the intentions or competence of those seeking advice.
  • Belief. Some with intentions have found it challenging to believe that they now have the power/authority to make key decisions.
  • Misunderstanding/clashing frames of reference. Sometimes, advice sought and then given has been received/interpreted as denial of permission.
  • Impatience. The delay between announcing intent and receiving advice has proved a source of friction, leading on occasions to proceeding without waiting to receive considered advice from advisors who may hold key pieces of the puzzle (often, these are the busiest of people).
  • Criticality. Some people have voiced concerns that key business decisions with serious negative commercial or reputational risks could proceed to action, even when some key risks go unappreciated or unaddressed (due to advice being sought from the wrong quarters, ignored, or not understood).

Fixes

We’re intending to experiment with addressing the above concerns through a couple of refinements:

  • Shared responsibility. The onus of communication will rest equally with those communicating intent and those from whom for advice is sought. Those announcing an intent are requested to actively pursue advisors to confirm their intent has been heard and understood by all the necessary parties; those from whom advice is sought are requested to respond promptly and with due consideration of the significance of their role and advice.
  • Time-outs. In those cases where someone believes there is a problem – maybe they feel the Advice Process has not been followed correctly or not used when it should have been – that someone may call a Time-out. The intention or action in question – which may already be in train – will then be suspended, pending a go-around (i.e. another taking of soundings, general proposal of intent, seeking of advice, confirmation that the intent has been understood, and consideration of advice received). Note: This does not imply that the intention itself has been denied or overruled. Rather, some party to a particular instance of the Advice Process believes the Advice Process has not been followed or used appropriately, and that the risks implicit in the intention or action are likely not being duly considered or attended-to.
  • Arbitration. We’ll see if we need to introduce some arbitration or conflict-resolution mechanism to handle repeated time-outs being called against a given intention or action, or to handle occasions where parties disagree on whether the Advice Process has indeed been followed correctly or not.

I’ll keep you posted on how our experiment is going.

– Bob

Further Reading

Decision Making ~ ReinventingOrganisations Wiki

The Advice Process – Definition and Usage Tips ~ Daniel Tenner

Advice Process for Effective Organizational Decision-Making ~ Agilitrix

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