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Antimatter principle

“Please, just attend to my needs”

This is the silent plea of everyone in your organisation (and everyone in our lives, for that matter).

Silent because of fear of appearing weak or needy. And silent because those in need rarely realise they have unmet needs, let alone realise that their needs could be attended to.

Are you hearing their requests? Are you doing something, anything, about them?

How would you feel if your heartfelt pleas continually fell on deaf ears? Do you care how others might be feeling?

– Bob

Paul Taylor

Believing in the good of humanity is a revolutionary act – it means that we don’t need all those managers and CEOs, kings and generals. That we can trust people to govern themselves and make their own decisions.

Rutger Bregman

It looks like this pandemic is, for the UK at least, coming to end. In terms of a narrative arc the story of Covid-19 started with people stockpiling toilet roll, hand sanitiser and eggs and ended with confirmation of something we had guessed long ago – that those who create the rules for the little folk rarely stick to them.

People really are shit aren’t they? Left to our own devices social order breaks down and we reveal ourselves to be self-centred, selfish and uncaring.

Except there’s little evidence that’s the case.

Whilst the media has delivered us a daily stream of bad behaviour – with even community street parties…

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Needs or Wants

Don’t give folks what they want, nor what you think they need, nor even what they think they need. 

Give them what they really need. It can take time, effort and skill to discover what they really need (a.k.a. the “Mafia Offer” – Goldratt 2015), but it’s the only legal path to sustained success.

Further Reading

Goldratt, E.M. (2015). It’s Not Luck. Gower Publishing.

The Way Forward

By way of a counterpoint to my previous post “What’s Holding Us Back“, I’m interested in the way forward for the software industry, businesses, and society in general.

It’s become delightfully obvious to me that a whole raft of helpful assumptions and beliefs constitute that way forward.

In my most recent books (Memeology, Quintessence) I detail these helpful assumptions and beliefs at length, and again in keeping with my preference for short blog posts, I’ll just summarise, here…

Here’s some of the major assumptions and beliefs helpful to enabling organisations better achieve success:

  • Generalising specialists form the core of quintessential organisations (see e.g. Paint Drip People).
  • Continual small changes in assumptions and beliefs (kaizen), with occasional larger step changes (Kaikaku) are the way to effect improvements.
  • Change is desirable, best left to serendipity, and better seen in small daily increments.
  • Dialogue is at the core of improvements, in relationships and the way the work works, both.
  • Everyone’s needs matter (at least for all the Folks That Matter). See also: the Antimatter Principle.
  • Clarity and honesty on what constitutes “success” is the only way to align folks and see everyone’s real needs are being attended to.
  • Culture is the visible by-product of the invisible set of prevailing assumptions and beliefs, and is amenable to intentional change through eg Organisational Psychotherapy (be that facilitated or via self-help).
  • There are many possible organisational structures other than hierarchy. They have all be tried at one time or another. Most have proven more successful that hierarchy.
  • Change always requires revisions to existing policies and rules. See: Innovation ALWAYS Demands We Change the Rules.
  • Talent is unnecessary when we have thriving relationships, and a focus on the way the work works.
  • Interpersonal relationships are core to success.
  • Interesting work and the prospect of community, meaning, and other “soft” elements trumps high pay as a motivator and attractant, every time.
  • Productivity ensues from optimising the way the work works, which in turn requires a focus on collective assumptions and beliefs.
  • Efficiency is a distracting red herring, effectiveness is the path to productivity and success.
  • Business problems are almost never the fault of certain individuals.
  • Breaking the organisation into parts and managing these parts separately is a recipe for significant sub-optimisation and shortfalls in success.
  • In collaborative knowledge work, intrinsic motivation is much more powerful than extrinsic motivation. The latter serves as a demotivator.
  • The social dynamic and listening are the only means to effect changes in people’s behaviours.

…and so on, and so on. 

All the above assumptions have been proven time and again through decades of research. By listening, experimenting and being interested in the science and outliers, our ignorance can be assuaged and enlightened.

– Bob

Compassion Makes For A Better Developer. Period.

I’m loving the book “Compassionomics” by Steve Trzeciak, Cory Booker and Anthony Mazzarelli. I’m finding oodles of research-based data and information of immense relevance to software development organisations, and to businesses generally. 

Not that research, science, and evidence is going to sway folks much if at all. Yet, for those already swayed, the information in the book might be useful. 

There’s a bunch of terms – terms widely in use in the medical business field – explained in the book. Here’s a brief introduction to some of them: 

Burnout

“Decades of rigorous research have identified three hallmarks of burnout: emotional exhaustion (being emotionally depleted or overextended), a lack of personal accomplishment (the feeling that one can’t really make a difference), and depersonalisation. Depersonalisation is the inability to make that personal connection.”

~ Trzeciak & Mazzarelli

Depersonalisation also results in reduction in empathy for patients, and in treatment with compassion.

Compassion Fatigue

Literally, running our of compassion for patients.

Adherence

In the field of medicine, adherence is defined as the extent to which patients are able to follow treatment recommendations from health care providers. Non-adherence is, of course, the opposite: patients patients not following treatment recommendations.

The most common example of non-adherence is when a patient is supposed to be taking prescribed medication but is not taking his or her pills. But non-adherence can be about much more than just not taking medication. It’s also a factor with other treatments, like patients with kidney failure who do not show up for scheduled dialysis treatments. Or when a physician recommends that a patient modifies a certain behaviour – like quitting smoking, losing weight, or exercising regularly – but that patient doesn’t follow through.

Compassion Satisfaction

Compassion satisfaction is the degree to which a person feels pleasure or satisfaction from their efforts to relieve others’ suffering. Aside: It’s this idea that informs the Antimatter Principle.

Compassion Fatigue

Compassion fatigue (emotional exhaustion, depersonalisation, and, in this case, also taking on stress from taking care of those that are stressed from being sick)

“A lack of compassion leads to increased workforce issues”

“A new field of research is suggesting that when organizations promote an ethic of compassion rather than a culture of stress, they may not only see a happier workplace but also an improved bottom line. Consider the important—but often overlooked—issue of workplace culture…Employees in positive moods are more willing to help peers and to provide customer service on their own accord…In doing so, they boost coworkers’ productivity levels and increase coworkers’ feeling of social connection, as well as their commitment to the workplace and their levels of engagement with their job. Given the costs of health care, employee turnover, and poor customer service, we can understand how compassion might very well have a positive impact not only on employee health and well-being but also on the overall financial success of a workplace.”

~ Dr. Emma Seppälä, “Why Compassion in Business Makes Sense”

Emotional Labour

Emotional labour is the management of one’s emotions (both one’s experienced emotions as well as one’s displayed emotions) to present a certain image.

For decades, researchers in management and organisational behaviour have been studying emotional labour by service workers across all types of service industries. For health care providers, emotional labour includes the expectation of compassionate behaviours toward patients, even if those providers aren’t actually feeling an emotional connection with the patient in that particular moment. (A word of caution here: Please resist the temptation to trivialise emotional labour as “faking it.” It goes much deeper than that…)

Neuroplasticity

Recent advances in neuroscience have overturned the long-held belief that the brain’s structure and function was essentially fixed throughout adulthood, in favour of neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity refers to the human brain’s ability to form, reorganise and grow new synaptic connections, even through adulthood. 

Summary

Are you really telling me the all this research has no relevance to the software industry? That developers, etc., have no need of compassion? That compassion won’t make for a better developer? Tcha!

– Bob

Further Reading

Trzeciak, S., Booker, C. and Mazzarelli, A. (2019). Compassionomics: The Revolutionary Scientific Evidence that Caring Makes a Difference. Studer Group.

Crosby’s Four Absolutes of Quality Reframed

I recently posted a quickie repeating Phil Crosby’s Four Absolutes of Quality.

I accept that many folks find his choice of vocabulary less than clear. So, here’s a reframing of his four absolutes, reframed in the Antimatter Principle vocabulary (a reframing which you may or may not find more helpful).

  1. The definitions of quality is meeting all the needs of all the Folks that Matter™️.
  2. The behaviour that causes quality to happen is paying attention to folks’ needs.
  3. The performance standard for quality is “all needs met, for all the Folks that Matter™️”.
  4. The measurement of quality is the cost of focus.

– Bob

The Quintessential Developer

In my recent book, “Quintessence” I write, of the Quintessential organisation, that “everybody does things differently”. By which I mean, every role in a quintessential organisation looks very different from its counterpart in more conventional organisations, even though the name of the role may be similar, or the same..

This post looks at the role of the developer, and how – in quintessential organisations – this role differs markedly from the role in more conventional organisations.

Here’s a contextualising excerpt from Chapter 2 of Quintessence:

Everybody Does Things Differently

The quintessential organisation invites everyone involved to surface and reflect on their individual and collective assumptions and beliefs about work and how work should work. Progress towards the quintessential depends on progress with respect to changing these assumptions and beliefs.

This is the foundational reason why we see so few quintessential organisations, and why making the transition to a quintessential organisation is so difficult, and so rarely achieved successfully.

Here’s a brief outline of roles that look very different from the quintessential perspective:

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.

The Developer’s role looks very different. So different, in fact, that “software” and “technology” cease to be relevant. Developers in a quintessential organisation have downplayed a focus on “hard” technical skills, such as coding, and embraced and learned social skills, including skilful dialogue, empathy, self-organisation and compassion.

The Tester’s role looks very different. So different, in fact, that “testing” a.k.a. “inspection” ceases to be relevant. Testers in a “quintessential organisation have have relinquished a focus on inspection skills, and embraced means of preventing defects, and ensuring that attending to the need of the Folks That Matter™️ is “baked in” to how the work works.

The Customer’s role looks very different. Customers of a quintessential organisation get to have conversations about their needs, and have those needs attended to, more often and with more clarity than customers of more traditional organisations.

Even though a rational explanation of these differences serves little purpose, and will convince no one, we’ll take a more detailed look into the rationale later in this book.

Quintessence presents my experiences from over forty years of leading, working in, and advising software development shops and companies. I invite you to find inspiration, motivation and connection from my journey. Quintessence presents an ideal approach to making money (and other things) via attending to folks’ needs

Note: I say an ideal, not the ideal. There may well be other ways of achieving the same ends.

The Quintessential Developer Role

Note: This section describes the role of developers in a quintessential organisation. That is, the adjective “quintessential” applies to the organisation within which developers work, rather than the developers themselves.

In a quintessential organisation, developers pay much less attention to “technical” competencies such as coding, and much more attention to identifying the Folks That Matter™️, and understanding their (evolving) needs (cf. the Needsscape).

Developers in a quintessential organisation (being self-organising, self-managing and self-directing) focus on understanding what needs to be done (and for whom), compared to developers in conventional (poorly effective) organisations.

Necessary developer skills, in order of significance (most significant first): 

  • Dialogue skills – for conversations with the Folks That Matter™️ about their needs, and identifying other folks that may also matter.
  • Empathy – for establishing and maintaining humane relationships with all the Folks That Matter™️. Assuming, of course, that the organisation permits developers to actually talk with e.g. customers. A fairly rare scenario, to be sure.
  • Self-organisation – absent middle managers, project managers, etc., organising the work and then assigning work items to individual developers (and teams), developers in quintessential organisations have the freedom to to organise the work, and their assignments, themselves. This can range in scope from a single work item of a few hours, all the way through to new product features and indeed whole new products.
  • Risk Management – cultivating awareness of risks, their likely impact, and identifying and implementing active mitigations.
  • Opportunity Management – one step further than risk management.
  • System thinking – for reflecting on how the work works, with a view to continuous improvement.
  • Quality – building quality into the way the works works (as contrasted with hand-offs to e.g. testers and other QC personnel).
  • Researching and Learning – to discover and apply new ideas and techniques, both regarding how the work works and new technical skills/tools..
  • Investigating solutions – especially #NoSoftware solutions. 
  • Technical skills – including various implementation technologies, such as human systems (solutions staffed by human beings), paper prototypes and implementations, and, in extremis, writing software (a.k.a. programming, coding).

To recap:

Working/playing for/with a quintessential organisation is a fabulous experience (both literally and metaphorically). But the developer role is awesomely different from the conventional developer role. Can you grok it?

– Bob

Further Reading

Marshall, R.W. (2012). So You Really Want to be an Agile Developer? [online] Think Different. Available at: https://flowchainsensei.wordpress.com/2012/05/22/so-you-really-want-to-be-an-agile-developer/ [Accessed 30 Dec. 2021].

Quintessence: Who Matters?

A sample chapter excerpted from my new book “Quintessence“ – book available now on Leanpub (free sample also available).

Note: Each of the eighty-odd chapters in Part II of the book takes a specific meme, and describes the collective beliefs and assumptions that quintessential organisations hold in regard to the meme. By taking all the memes in toto, we can understand the way quintessential software development organisations see the world of work – and what makes them so effective. This particular sample meme is about who matters.

Chapter 15. Who Matters

Quintessentially

Quintessential organisations regard the needs of their customers, staff, managers, investors, etc. as central to the way the work works. Collectively, these folks are sometimes called The Folks That Matter™️. These organisations invest much effort in:

  • Identifying the various constituencies and the people who belongs to these constituencies.
  • Tracking the set of constituencies, and the changing membership of these constituencies, over time. 

“Understand stakeholder symmetry: Find the appropriate balance of competing claims by various groups of stakeholders.”

~ Warren G. Bennis

The quintessential organisation exhibits the following (collective) attitudes and feelings towards the Folks That Matter™️:

  • A keen urge to understand and track the needs of all the Folks That Matter™️.
  • Inviting folks to come up with explicit policies for defining and tracking membership of the set of all Folks That Matter™️.
  • Practices to both discover and attend to these needs.
  • Defining organisational success in terms of needs met.

Quintessential organisations recognise the major costs and other risks arising from missing out key members from the set of all Folks That Matter™️. These risks receive their continuous scrutiny – both in terms of accurately identifying members and in terms of ensuring these members’ needs are attended to, and ultimately, met. All work of the organisation is geared towards meeting the needs of the Folks That Matter™️. Maximising the amount of work NOT done is achieved by cautious (risk-aware) exclusion of insignificant groups and individuals from the set of the Folks that Matter™️, whilst striving to drive towards zero the instances of omission of significant groups and individuals from the set of the Folks that Matter™️.

Stakeholders

Quintessential organisations recognise the distinction between stakeholders and The Folks That Matter™️. The needs of some stakeholders sometimes don’t much matter, and some of The Folks That Matter™️ aren’t actually seen as stakeholders (employees, for example).  Given these distinctions, choosing different terms helps communication and, more significantly perhaps, improves Cost of Focus.

Further Reading

Kleiner, A. (2003). Who Really Matters. Currency.

Unbelievable

“Those who are able to see beyond the shadows and lies of their culture will never be understood let alone believed by the masses.”

~ Plato

Adapting Plato’s wisdom to the Antimatter Principle frame:

Those who are able to see beyond the shadows and lies of their community’s collective assumptions and beliefs will never be understood let alone believed by their fellows.

– Bob

Drop-In Experiment Terminated

Despite early uptake, the Think Different drop-in experiment is now terminated (a failed experiment, with uptake tailed off to zero). I guess folks don’t have a need to seek experience or help with their challenges these days. Or maybe it’s just me.

I’m with Voltaire’s rhetorical question:

“Is there anyone so wise as to learn by the experience of others?”

~ Voltaire

– Bob

Techniques

Let’s take a look at one (of many) nuanced distinctions between coaching and Organisational Psychotherapy: techniques.

Suggesting

Many coaches will suggest techniques to their coachees, techniques to make their lives easier, and to tackle certain challenges. For example, software coaches might hear their coachees remark that code quality could be better, and invite their coachees to look at TDD as a technique to help the coachees improve it. Or coachees might complain that their code is too difficult to change, and the coach might suggest looking at the idea of connascence, and the techniques derived from that.

Contrarywise, organisational psychotherapists will typically refrain from making suggestions, in this case regarding techniques. Instead, they are likely to ask open, Socratic-style questions inviting reflection, such as: “Are there known techniques techniques that might help improve code quality?” and “Are there ideas that might help with making your code more amenable to change?”

Clean Language formulations of such questions may help further:

Client: “We suspect we have some issues with our code quality.”
Therapist: “What kind of issues are those issues?” …conversation continues…

(Note: The above are rather contrived Organisational Psychotherapy examples, as such topics seem relatively unlikely in the context of Organisational Psychotherapy).

Continuum

Of course, Clean Language and Socratic questions are not the sole domain of the Organisational Psychotherapist. Both coaches and Organisational Psychotherapists may move on a continuum from leading questions to open questions, and back. The distinction I’m trying to illustrate here is that coaches may tend towards leading questions, therapists toward open ones.

And rigid adherence to purely open (Socratic) questions may rankle with clients and coachees, who may just want a straightforward answer, from time to time. One skill of the therapist and coach both, is to be able to resolve this kind of situation to the best satisfaction of the client.

– Bob

Further Reading

Sutton, J. (2020). Socratic Questioning in Psychology: Examples and Techniques. [online] PositivePsychology.com. Available at: https://positivepsychology.com/socratic-questioning/.

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