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The Organisational Psychotherapy Standup

Daily stand-ups rapidly become tedious to the point of irrelevance. They rarely address core issues, participants generally preferring to gloss over issues so they can get back to “the real work”, e.g. coding, as soon as possible each morning.

Here’s how the Scrum Institute describes the Daily Scrum (Standup):

The Daily Scrum Meeting is a maximum of 15 minutes. These meetings take place every working day at the same time in the same place.

It’s best to conduct Daily Scrum Meetings with direct access to the Sprint Backlog and Sprint Burndown Chart. So the Scrum Team can direct the Daily Scrum Meeting based on the facts and progress which are visible to everyone in the team.

Daily Scrum Meeting aims to support the self-organization of the Scrum Team and identify impediments systematically.

All members of the Scrum Team, the Scrum Master and the Scrum Product Owner need to join Daily Scrums. Other stakeholders can also join these meetings, but only as a view-only audience.

Daily Scrum Meetings are structured in the following way. Every member of the Scrum Team answers three questions.

Question #1: What activities have I performed since the last Daily Scrum Meeting?

Question #2: What activities am I planning to perform until the next Daily Scrum Meeting? What is my action plan?

Question #3: Did I encounter or am I expecting any impediment which may slow down or block the progress of my work?

Impediments

Q: What are the biggest impediments to a team’s progress?

A: The collective assumptions and beliefs of the organisation as a whole (and, marginally, of the team itself).

How often are these impediments discussed or even surfaced at the Daily Scrum/standup? Almost never. Or never.

How much do they impact the progress of the team? Lots. Really, lots.

So, for Question #3 (above), who’s going to raise the organisation’s – and team’s – collective assumptions and beliefs impeding or blocking the team’s progress? And who’s going to address these impediments/blockers on behalf of the team?

– Bob

Further Reading

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

Marshall, R. W. (2021). Memeology: Surfacing and Reflecting On The Organisation’s Collective Assumptions And Beliefs. Falling Blossoms (LeanPub)

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

 

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/.

The Rightshifting Cause

[Here’s a post that’s been languishing in my “Drafts” folders for ten years now. It dates back to the time when I was just beginning to make my way into Organisational Psychotherapy, as a therapist. Not that I knew it then…]

The Agile Coaching Agenda

I used to to introduce myself to people as an Agile coach. Not anymore. Nowadays, I don’t really know what to introduce myself as. Here’s why.

The term ‘coaching’ is overloaded. There’s sports coaching, agile coaching, life coaching, business coaching and many others. All of them have things in common, but they’re not the same. As well as coaching, there’s mentoring, consulting, advising and whatnot. These terms are sometimes used interchangeably and sometimes they seem to overlap. I’m guessing I’m not the only one who’s had trouble differentiating between them.

Lately I’ve studied coaching with Results Coaching Systems. They have a very strict definition for coaching, which says coaching does not have an agenda. In coaching, according to their definition, the goals are always set by the person being coached. I’ve grown to like their definition of coaching.

However, this does raise a conflict. How can anyone (myself included) call themselves an agile coach if coaching shouldn’t have an agenda? Agile is an agenda. Agile is a solution that I – or my clients – are proposing. And coaching shouldn’t have an agenda. Calling anyone an agile coach actually starts to sound very contradictory if you see coaching as not having an agenda.

So I’ve started introducing myself as a software development coach. That’s more honest. Right? Well…

John Seddon has recently thrown more fuel into my existential fire with his talks. John is the father of Vanguard, a systems thinking approach for service organizations. One of his key points is that if the organization as a whole is doing the wrong things the significance of the method(s) used in its software development efforts is very small. He says “Agile is about doing the wrong things faster”. And I think I’m sure he has a point.

The fact that Agile revolves so much around software development has started to feel like a constraint. Like a sub-optimization. I’ve had this feeling for quite a while, but John seems to have reinforced it. This is also a discussion that has been on going in the Agile community for quite a while.

I would like to see myself as someone who looks at the whole. The whole organisation. The whole business. And of that whole, software development is only a small – mostly inconsequential – part. I want to help organizations do the right things with the right methods. Focusing on software development is not enough.

Thanks to John, even ‘software development coach’ feels weird. So what am I suppose to call myself now?

[Spoiler: As you may have noticed, I’ve come to describe myself as an Organisational Psychotherapist.]

– Bob

If Coaches Were More Like Therapists

In retrospect, back when I was an Agile Coach, my style was always towards the therapy end of the stance spectrum (see table, below):

This did tend to rile management, most of whom seemed to think that a coach should be directive, more like a manager or project manager than anything else.

I guess many experienced Agile coaches would recognise part of their roles as working with the organisation as a whole, rather than their immediate team(s) and people.

Nowadays, in the role of Organisational Psychotherapist, I monitor my interactions for any signs of non-therapeutic coaching, and nip such things in the bud. When I can.

It’s pretty obvious I believe there’s more value in therapy than coaching, both other for my clients and myself. Put another way, in working with tech people, tech teams and tech organisations, I find Organisational Psychotherapy attends to folks’ needs better than coaching.

So, if coaching were more like therapy, what differences might we see?

  • Less advising and guidance, and creating more opportunities for people to discover their own answers.
  • Increased belief and trust that people are capable of taking responsibility for their work.
  • A shift of focus away from technical skills and processes, towards quality of interactions and interpersonal, interdepartmental relationships.
  • A change in practitioner:player ratios (therapists can serve more folks concurrently) with concomitant reduction in costs.
  • A more enjoyable experience at work.
  • Increased initiative-taking and innovation.

What difference might you expect to see if coaching were more like therapy? And would you expect to see any advantages in that?

– Bob

Five Reasons Why Agile Coaching is Bullshit

By popular demand, here’s a short post expanding on a recent pithy tweet of mine:

“Agile coaching” is bullshit – for various reasons.”

1. Agile is a Means to an End, not the End In Itself

“Software development coach” might be a (slightly) less bullshit title. For many organisations, and people, quick and cheap software development is the goal. Setting aside why “software is the goal” in itself is a bullshit concept (see: #NoSoftware), “Agile coaching” implicitly excludes other approaches and other means to improving software development. Other approaches which have proven more effective than Agile. And other approaches which the players (coachees) might reasonably seek to explore or experiment with, yet find themselves unable so to do because those other approaches are deemed beyond the pale. Why not start down a road towards the goal that matters (better products, higher margins, more profits, to make money now and in the future or even – and most realistically – maximising the bosses’ well being), instead of driving into the Agile cul-de-sac?

2. Individual Technical Focus

As coaches, (in theory) Agile coaches follow the interests of the folks they’re coaching. In most coaching contexts (i.e. outside of the software domain) coaches have no agenda of their own beyond assisting their players (coachees) grow and develop their skills and abilities – as those players themselves see fit. In practice, technical folks generally seek to develop their individual technical skills and abilities – which hardly matter in the grander scheme of things, such as from the broader business perspective) – and recoil from any suggestion that other skills and abilities might also be important. Things like interpersonal skills, dialogue skills, business skills, serving the needs of the users and other folks that matter, etc..

3. Agile Coaching is an Imposition

I’ve never seen an Agile coach get hired at the request of the people they’ll be coaching. Nor selected by the folks they’ll be coaching. I hear it happens, but so rarely as to be an extreme anomaly.

4. Coach as Manager

There’s a lot of talk about (middle) managers becoming coaches to their people. In most practical scenarios, Agile coaches are expected by the people that appoint them to become managers of the people they’re coaching. I’d call that regressive. And bullshit.

5. Kaizen vs Kaikaku

In theory (for example, with Scrum), Agile coaching supports the team in reaching out across the organisation to address systemic issues affecting the team’s performance (kaikaku). In practice, for all the above reasons, this almost never happens. The Agile coaches, sensitive to not biting the hands that feed them, avoid raising issues that might disrupt other parts of the organisation, and limit their focus on improvements local to their team (kaizen). Which is entirely understandable, given the coaches’ brief and the dynamic of their position (who’s paying them and keeping them in a job). As Shakespeare wrote :

“To be [remain in a job, helping locally], or not to be [rocking the boat and being vilified and let go]: that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune [refrain from raising thorny organisation-wide issues],
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles [raise those issues and thanklessly suffer the consequences],
And by opposing, end them? [’Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished.]“

– Bob

Agile Coach to Organisational Psychotherapist

My thanks to Beatric Düring for her recent Twitter question:

“If I wanted dive deeper into org psychotherapy – what would be crucial knowledge I would have to acquire working as an agile coach? Where can I draw the line requiring professional psychotherapy education/training?”

Is it feasible to transition from an Agile Coach into the Organisational Psychotherapist role?

Considerations

Given that I was an Agile Coach for years before making the shift myself, I’d say it’s demonstrably feasible. Why might any Agile Coach consider making the shift?

Organisation-wide Scope

For me, it was down to an increasing dissatisfaction with the (limited) value I was able to deliver in the role of Agile Coach (and latterly, Enterprise Agile Coach). Over a number of years it was becoming clearer and clearer to me that the real dysfunctions in any organisation lie outside the domain of any one functional silo. In the white space between people, and between silos, if you like. It became obvious that to deliver real change, change that’s worth having, change that makes a significant impact both on the lives of everyone involved and on the bottom line of the organisation, a more holistic, systemic intervention pays major dividends. And the Organisational Psychotherapist role implies the necessary whole-organisation scope to do that more effectively, and more often, than the Agile Coaching role.

It’s the Client’s Agenda That Counts

There was also, for me, the increasing realisation that I was not actually helping things for a client by making suggestions and having an agenda (a bunch of my ideas about what future would be best for them). Organisational Psychotherapy allows us to cut through that particular Gordian Knot.

It’s About The People

Organisational Psychotherapy is about people, and their relationships – with each other and with the collective psyche of the organisation. I hear from many Agile Coaches that this is a dawning realisation that creeps up on us over several years, at least. Process and management issues fade in importance the more we coach. Ultimately, into utter insignificance.

The Questions

So, to Beatric’s two questions:

What Knowledge is Crucial?

What knowledge, accessible to an Agile Coach, is crucial to diving deeper into Organisational Psychotherapy ?

The journey, for me, was eased by various spells as an Enterprise Agile Coach. This helped me acquire a practical angle on the whole Lean / System Thinking / Synergistic perspective, looking at organisations as a whole, rather than being limited to intervention horizons within a single function (most often, the Software Development or Software Engineering function). Maybe an Agile Coach could transition into Organisational Psychotherapy without that system-wide appreciation. I’d be interested to hear about folks’ experiences in that regard.

On the other hand, there’s a whole world (more than a hundred years in some cases) of work and results across the more than 400 different schools of therapy that comprise the world of psychotherapy as it pertains to individuals. Much of my learning has come from reframing individual therapy techniques for application in the organisational context. I wrote a post some time ago, describing some of these, entitled My Organisational Therapy Toolkit.

Where to Draw the Line?

How far can the Agile Coach progress in his or her personal journey towards mastering Organisational Psychotherapy, before it makes sense to seek professional psychotherapy education/training?

As far as I know, there is no recognised professional education or training for Organisational Psychotherapists. I’m entirely self-taught, and most of my most profound learning has come as a result of interacting with real live clients in real live situations. I do try to share my learnings with others, and when the demand is there I’d be happy to make that more formal, if needed.

I guess one could train as a “normal” psychotherapist, although that looks like a six to eight year full-time study commitment, at least. And I wonder just how useful much of that individual-therapy training would be useful in the context of organisational therapy?

Personally, I’ve always favoured apprenticeships or communities of practice over education/training per se.

And then there’s the whole can of worms labelled “certification”. I’m sure I could rattle up a two day “Organisational Psychotherapy Master” (COpM) certification course, with an honest-to-goodness certificate at the end of it. £2000 a pop seems like a fair price for that. But REALLY? Certified Mastery of Organisational Psychotherapy in two days? I doubt. It’s taken me ten years so far, and I’m still only scratching the surface (and being so far from Mastery, even now).

I’d feel more comfortable seeing folks apply themselves to the subject, gain some early practical experience – possibly under the wing of someone with some relevant experience – and build their own skills and experience through application and interaction. I’d suggest the watchword here is “congruence”:

Congruence means that the therapist is genuine and authentic, not like the “blank screen” of traditional psychoanalysis:

The first element [of the three core conditions of the person-centered approach to psychotherapy] could be called genuineness, realness, or congruence. The more the therapist is himself or herself in the relationship, putting up no professional front or personal facade, the greater is the likelihood that the client will change and grow in a constructive manner. This means that the therapist is openly being the feelings and attitudes that are flowing within at the moment. The term “transparent” catches the flavor of this condition: the therapist makes himself or herself transparent to the client; the client can see right through what the therapist is in the relationship; the client experiences no holding back on the part of the therapist. As for the therapist, what he or she is experiencing is available to awareness, can be lived in the relationship, and can be communicated, if appropriate. Thus, there is a close matching, or congruence, between what is being experienced at the gut level, what is present in awareness, and what is expressed to the client. (Rogers, 1980)

– Bob

Further Reading

Carl Rogers On Person-Centered Therapy (pdf article)

Coaching, Scrum Mastering, and Expertise

[Tl;Dr: Is it more, or less, effective for coaches, etc. to have technical (non-coaching) abilities?]

Over the years I’ve heard every kind of opinion on whether technical expertise is an asset or liability for coaches, Scrum Masters, and the like. Some folks, mainly executives, have sworn they would never hire a Coach or Scrum Master with technical expertise. Others, mainly coaches and Scrum Masters, have held much the opposite opinion. Those being coached have rarely expressed an opinion (although I suspect that’s because they don’t get asked, or think it won’t count, and not because they’re indifferent on the subject).

Personally, I tend to the opinion that, if it were down to me, I’d look for folks with excellent and demonstrable coaching skills, and not worry about the presence or absence of technical abilities unless they seemed intrusive and likely to interfere with the coaching dynamic. I recognise the argument that technical people lend more credibility to like-minded (i.e. technically capable) coaches because they find it easier to respect and identify with such folks. I also believe this argument to be a red herring, at least in the case where the coach or Scrum Master is effective and capable in the Coaching or Scrum Mastering skill-sets.

This is probably a good place to mention the Inner Game, and the suggestion by one of its founders, Sir John Whitmore, that “technical” knowledge and experience is a decided handicap for coaches and the coached, alike. In his book “Coaching For Performance” he tells several stories about this phenomenon, in particular that of the tennis group who, deprived of their regular tennis coach (and tennis expert) improved much more quickly under a substitute coach (with much coaching and skiing experience but no tennis experience).

Given that opinions on this topic seem all over the map, and many (mainly fruitless) discussions continue, I wonder if you have any experiences you’d be willing to share here?

– Bob

Further Reading

Coaching For Performance ~ Sir John Whitmore

The Organisational Psychotherapy Approach To Agile Coaching

GroupTherapy

What’s the point of an Agile Coach? I guess the most common answer would be “to make development teams more productive”. After all, Agile Coaches cost money, and they don’t do much in the way of development work themselves. If they’re not a “force multiplier” for one or more dev teams, then where’s the cost-benefit justification?

Personally, I’d suggest the most common reason, although rarely articulated as such, is “to raise the pace of improvement”. Or, worst case, to reduce the pace of degradation of performance (given that things are always changing, and some teams may not be able to even keep abreast of change).

There are two essential problems with seeing the appointment of an Agile Coach as a means to improve a development team’s productivity: The Motivation Fallacy and the Local Optimisation Fallacy.

The Motivation Fallacy

Many development teams have little to no manifest interest in improving, nor therefore in the pace of any improvement. This is often compounded or aggravated by the appointment (a.k.a. imposition) of a coach to “encourage” them. An iron first of coercion, even in a velvet glove of a smiling, happy coach, often offends. And rarely is the agenda for improvement part of any joined-up initiative. Much more often it occurs at the behest of one or two people looking to secure their personal bonus or make a name for themselves as innovative go-getters. Such personal agendas also serves to alienate people further, both the folks in the development teams and those folks up-stream and downstream on whose cooperation any joined-up approach would depend.

The Local Optimisation Fallacy

Unless the development team is the current constraint limiting the throughput of the whole organisation, improving the team’s productivity has little to zero effect on the productivity of the whole organisation. Some authorities on the subject go further and suggest that in these (non-bottleneck) cases, improving the team’s productivity will actually make the performance of the organisation as a whole worse. (Cf. Ackoff)

Even when the development team IS the current bottleneck, improving it soon moves that bottleneck elsewhere in the organisation. Agile Coaches and other folks in the development function rarely have the remit or authority to follow that moving constraint. And so rarely if ever does the improvement initiative continue in the newly-constraining area of the business.

Where Organisational Psychotherapy Comes In

Both of the aforementioned fallacies arise in organisations with low levels of congruence. Such organisations have a gulf between how they perceive themselves (self-image), their ideal self, and how they actually experience life. To paraphrase Carl Rogers:

“Organisations behave as they do because of the way they perceive themselves and their situation.”

Where an organisation’s self-image and actual experience are consistent or very similar, a state of congruence exists. Rarely, if ever, does a total state of congruence exist; all organisations experience a certain amount of incongruence.

Organisational therapy serves to help willing organisations reduce the gulf between their self-image and their actual experience. In other words, to improve congruence. Agile Coaches could do this, given the brief (remit) and skills – and some of the more effective ones likely do already. Albeit intuitively rather than with an explicit understand of what’s happening. Oh so rarely is this remit conferred, or sought, however.

The practical side to Roger’s Theory of Self states that being in a condition of incongruence is uncomfortable; therefore each organisation seeks to become more congruent. When the distance between the self-image and actual experience becomes too great, the organisation is more likely to exhibit both distress and anxiety. Likewise the people within it.

Thus organisational therapy helps to:

  • Increase congruence.
  • Reduce stress and anxiety levels.
  • Broadly improve cognitive function (through e.g. lower levels of stress and anxiety).
  • Indirectly, address a wide range of pathogenic beliefs, which in turn may lead to…
    • Improved motivation.
    • Increased collaboration across silos.
    • More joined-up initiatives (fewer local optimisations).

The Therapist’s Stance

All the above is predicated on the Agile Coach – if indeed it is he or she who becomes the agent in this kind of intervention – adopting more of a therapist’s stance:

Tweet20151124

– Bob

 

What If #4 – No Answers

What if we refrained from inviting answers, at least until we had sought our own? What if we refrained from providing answers, at least until someone had unequivocally asked?

“I don’t understand this” is a pretty common admission. Although not perhaps as commonly admitted as it is thought or experienced. And what do we do when our friends, peers, colleagues, loved ones make this admission to us? We jump to fill the void. To provide some answers. To help them in their understanding. Helping people to understand is a natural human reaction. But how helpful is it, really?

How often do we tell ourselves that we’re helping someone to understand, when we’re actually just helping them adopt our interpretation?

And what if we helped them to understand something and they came to their own understanding of it? An understanding at odds with our own? How would we feel then?

Personally, the joy I find in helping people understand something is as nothing compared to the joy I take in folks finding their own understanding. Even, and perhaps especially, when it differs from mine.

There are occasions when someone asks me directly. “Just tell me the damn answer!”. On these occasions I mourn for the loss of opportunity. For the lost chance to explore together. For the missed joy we might both have taken from finding answers together. And yet most times I’ll accede to the demand. Albeit with a heavy heart.

What if we refrained from inviting answers, at least until we had sought our own? What if we refrained from providing answers, at least until someone had unequivocally asked us? What if we just tried to listen, to hold the space, to empathise, and to do what we could to relate to people as fellow human beings, walking together for a while, as we each pursue our journeys?

NB. I’m not looking for answers here – at least, until you’ve found some of your own.

– Bob

Further Reading

What Is Clean Language? ~ Marian Way

Other Posts In This Occasional Series

What If #1 – No Management
What If #2 – No Process
What If #3 – No Telling
What If #5 – Continuous Improvement Is Useless
What If #6 ~ Agile Nirvana
What If #7 – No Work
What If #8 – Agile Never Happened

 

Why Me?

Not, not some lament about the unfairness of life. Rather, an explanation of why, these days, I choose to call myself an Organisational Psychotherapist.

I’ve spent the majority of my 30+ year career studying many “systems” of software and product development (the way the work works). And studying the relationships those systems have to the organisations (a.k.a. systems) they serve. I’ve come to hold some considered opinions about the nature of the problems that most organisations (still) face:

  • Just about all organisations are much less effective than they could be.
  • Their relative ineffectiveness is a consequence of the beliefs these organisations collectively hold about the nature of work.
  • These collective beliefs generally go entirely unexamined.
  • Left to their own devices, organisations are unlikely to devote attention to examining these collective beliefs.

Complementing these opinions, I have some observations about human beings, as individuals and as groups:

  • People generally do not act on, nor deeply learn from, received advice.
  • Very occasionally, advice may trigger someone or some group to go find out (experiment) for themselves.
  • Behavioural changes go hand in hand with changes in assumptions and beliefs.
  • Most often, advice can rob people of their ownership of a problem, reducing the chances of their choosing to find out for themselves.
  • Canned, labelled and pre-packeged solutions offer a crutch to the unengaged and disinterested, substituting for curiosity, inquiry, and deep learning, and exacerbating learned helplessness.
  • Only deep learning (of e.g. governing principles) can afford the possibility of long-term, sustainable change.

Putting these things together, I long ago gave up selling advice for a living. (You might recognise that role as something many choose to call “consulting”).

For years I felt comfortable in the role of coach. Until that too became obviously of little help to most of those on the receiving end. Particularly, as is so often the case in so-called Agile coaching, where those receiving the coaching have no say in the choice of coach or their own part in the whole sorry affair.

And so I’ve come to the role – and stance – of the therapist. As in:

“A person who helps people deal with the mental or emotional aspects of situations by talking about those aspects and situations.”

I find it meets my needs, in that I can help those who seek it to find meaningful connections with themselves and each other, and to see more of their innate potential realised in the context of “work”. And it affords me the opportunity to do something different to the norm.

So now I don’t tout, sell or give advice. I don’t coach. I just try to listen, hold the space, empathise, do what I can to relate to people as fellow human beings, and walk together for a while, as we each pursue our journeys.

– Bob

How To Connect With Folks’ Needs

“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”

~ Carl R. Rogers

My key focus as a therapist is providing the wherewithal through which folks can conduct their own inner dialogues. That’s to say, providing an opportunity, a time, a space, for folks to each have a conversation with their own self. And in a group setting – my more common scenario – for the folks in a group or team to have conversations with and amongst themselves.

Unusual

I find that many groups and teams – and I hear this applies to individuals too – rarely have any kind of meaningful, purposeful or skilful internal dialogue. So, rarely does a group explore its needs, or the needs of its members. And even more rarely, in any kind of effective way.

Therapy

When I’m working with a group, I’m looking for opportunities to open up their internal dialogue and allow it to flourish. Assuming that’s what they want, of course. I say working, but ideally it’s not work but rather play. Playfully looking for opportunities to support the group’s needs for effective internal reflection, play, sharing, connection and mindfulness.

It’s Mostly About Them

I’m way less focussed on me understanding their needs, and way more focussed on helping them uncover, surface, explore and accept their feelings and needs, for and amongst themselves.

“The kind of caring that the client-centered therapist desires to achieve is a gullible caring, in which clients are accepted as they say they are, not with a lurking suspicion in the therapist’s mind that they may, in fact, be otherwise. This attitude is not stupidity on the therapist’s part; it is the kind of attitude that is most likely to lead to trust…”

~ Carl R. Rogers

And to myself, I generally ask: “How can I best provide a relationship through which the folks in this group or team may best connect with – and thereby attend to – their own personal and collective needs?”

– Bob

Further Reading

Attending To The Needs Of Others ~ FlowChainSensei
On Becoming A Person: A Therapist’s View Of Psychotherapy ~ Carl R. Rogers

 

 

Twelve Signs Of A Great Agile Evangelist

HolyAgile

1. Don’t Talk About Agile.

The first rule of evangelising Agile is: You do NOT talk about Agile. The only folks who want to hear the word – or the gory details – will be those who are looking for a badge of some kind. Or for bragging rights at the golf club. Or tyre-kickers. Strong prospects will not be interested in the label, or the details, but rather in the fact that you understand and care about their problems (empathy) and have useful – and proven – solutions for them to apply. Some of these useful solutions may involve Agile things. Shhh. For example: Talk about their business issues, and the issues common to their business domain. Telcos might be interested in better customer service, and better customer experiences when using their online services, apps, etc..

2. Know Your Cause

“Doing Agile” is not much of a cause, really. Even “being Agile” doesn’t quite cut it. Why are you enthused by Agile? Personally, I see it as a means to move folks closer to a workplace – and a way of working – that allows those folks to realise more of their potential and get more of their needs met – whilst seeing others’ (customers, suppliers, managers, shareholders) needs better met, too. For example: “Effective agile means people more engaged with their work, more focussed on our customers – and our customers more engaged with our products.”

3. Get down with your motivation

Whatever it is that motivates you, embrace it. People can sense half-heartedness and dilettantism. For example: “We’ve seen major steps forward in happier workers, and organisations which are a joy to work in, and with.”

4. Work With Fertile Soils

Plant your cause’s seeds in fertile minds. With folks that are ready or at least willing to listen. If they think they know what their problems are, and that their existing strategies are good for addressing those problems, don’t waste your – or their – time. There will be a few folks who are either unaware of their problems – these may listen, or aware but dissatisfied with their current strategies (solutions). For example: Engage with new prospects, equipped with a checklist of those things that you believe signify fertile soils. Make it an early priority to gather the information needed to complete the checklist. If a new prospect rates poorly on the checklist, decline their kind offer to take things further.

5. Connect To Folks’ Needs

Make your cause relevant and specific to individuals and their existing needs. Help them see how your cause is a more effective strategy for them than their existing ways of working, and thinking. Of course, to connect with folks’ needs, you’ll have to attend to (explore) those needs. For example: Ask your contacts in the organisation what they need. Enquire as to whether there might be others they could suggest with whom you might have similar conversations. Discuss how new ways of working might address some of their needs, individually and collectively.

6. Supply Metastrategies

Many folks need help in acquiring a suitable metastrategy or two before they can move on from their existing strategies and adopt the one(s) you are proposing.

7. Be Honest About The Pitfalls

In many sales situations, standard advice is to avoid talking about the negatives. In Agile adoptions, avoiding mention of the pitfalls only sets up the client for failure. As DeMarco and Lister said in Waltzing With Bears “Risk Management is Project Management for grown-ups”. Maybe your audience has few to no adults? Then RUN! For example: Talk about the rates of failure (generally estimated at somewhere between 50% and 95%). Talk about the common failure modes (faux agile, management discomfort and resistance, change fatigue, organisational cognitive dissonance, etc.). And talk about some possible mitigations for those common modes.

8. Talk About The Benefits

What are the benefits? Not the old chestnuts of “faster, cheaper, quicker”. But benefits that directly address their own particular specific pain point(s). For example: “I understand your biggest competitor can add major new features to their flagship product in six weeks or less. With the necessary changes, we believe that your team could do the same, in timescales as short as two weeks.” In my post “Pitching Agile” I describe using The Three Box Monty as a sales tool in “selling agile” to executives.

9. Make The First (Or Next) Step A Small One

The Kanban Method, for example, cunningly says “start where you are”. Although this begs the question – where else could one start? In any case, engage the prospective client in discussing options and help them come up with their own way forward. For example: Visualisation (of a part of the current workflow) or explicitly limiting work-in-progress (recognising current implicit limits) might be places to start.

10. Don’t Try To Motivate People

Rah-rah motivational speeches and miraculous stories are best left for the God Squad. They have an audience that responds to that kind of thing. Use empathy rather that motivation.

11. Be Organised

Wow. Really? Not “appear well-organised” But actually be well-organised. For example: Have standard templates, checklists, and other documents and planning tools ready and to hand for each new prospect. Keep track of contacts, needs, dates, conversations, and so on. Again, clients and prospects can tell when you’re organised.

12. Be Humble

Don’t proselytise dogma. Don’t make grandiose claims. Don’t make any claims at all. Not even when you have ironclad evidence. Evidence rarely sways anyone. Great evangelists connect with people, and their existing needs. If what you’re selling isn’t what they need, then smile, wish them well, and move on.

– Bob

Further Reading

The Art Of The Start ~ Guy Kawasaki
The Art Of Evangelism ~ Guy Kawasaki
Value Forward Selling ~ Paul DiModica

Are You Stuck?

stuck

Are you stuck between a rock and a hard place? Is your heart telling you to do something, when your head is telling you not to? Or maybe it’s the other ways round – but still as problematic?

Do you see no way forward? No light at the end of the tunnel? Just endless busywork?

Are outside pressures getting to you? Do you have people relying on you? Is your job on the line? Your self-image under threat?

I see this kind of dynamic all too often. I say all too often because it bothers me. To see someone in a quandary bothers me. And it bothers me all the more because, so often, someone can be so stuck that they can’t even see how to find help. Or that “help” might actually help. And I know there are people that can help. Coaches, therapist, friends, fellows. Including me. It’s what I live for, actually.

Is there anything to be done? Yes. And I’m not going to use fear, obligation, guilt or shame to “help” you to get unstuck. Actually, I’m not going to use anything. Just invite you to consider if you are stuck at the moment. And if so, invite you to check out the many, many articles, posts, etc., out there on the intarwebs, offering ideas on getting unstuck.

Because, I’ve found the key to getting unstuck is recognising one’s stuckness in the first place. Oh, and then doing something about that. Natch. There’s even an app for that.

“Getting unstuck is half the fun in life.”

And if you find something that works for you, maybe you’d like to share it, through a comment, here?

– Bob

Further Reading

16 Ways To Get Unstuck ~ Tiny Buddha
7 Ways To Get Unstuck ~ Sura

 

Write Your Own – Flow

One of my core specialisms these days is organisation-wide product development flow. I was about to write a new blog post on the subject when I saw this, which reminded me there could be a better way:

Students learn better when they think they’re going to have to teach the material.

This set me to thinking. Why write a blog post? That’d be a bit like teaching on the subject, wouldn’t it? How about posting e.g. an outline of topics (using something like the Pyramid Principle) and see if folks would enjoy researching and writing their own version of the post (or article, or mini- e-book)?

So, here’s my outline for a book on Product Development Flow. If you’re inspired to fill in some of the blanks, like you were trying to inform/teach others, great. I’d be happy to help with some pointers, etc. Just drop me – @FlowChainSensei – a line on e.g. Twitter. And if you’d like some wider audience for what you write, please feel free to post the URL or whatever in the comment section below, or tweet me so I can retweet for you.

And if you’d value someone to whom present your writing directly, I’ll be delighted to volunteer to read it.

Here’s the outline:

Product Development Flow

  • Introduction
    • Purpose of this book
  • Overview
  • Definitions
    • What is a “Product”?
    • What is “Value”?
    • What is “Product Development”?
    • What is a “ValueStream”?
      • Where do value streams come from?
      • Prod•gnosis
    • What is “Flow” (of e.g. Value)?
    • What is “Product Development Capability”?
    • What is “Product Development Capacity”?
  • Key Organisational Capabilities / Concepts
    • People
      • Collaboration
      • Motivation
    • Innovation
    • Entropy
    • Continuous Improvement
      • Kaizen
      • Kaikaku
    • Variation and SPC
    • Work In Progress (WIP, WIP limits)
    • Making things – like Flow – visible
    • Organising Intent (a.k.a. Commander’s Intent, Auftragstaktik)
    • Relative Effectiveness
    • Quantification
    • Emotioneering
    • Lean
      • Lean Product Development
      • Lean Startup
      • Lean Service
    • Idealised Design
    • Systems Thinking
    • Queueing Theory
    • Organisational health
    • Philosophy and doctrine
    • Financials
      • Cost of Delay
      • ROI
  • Foundations
    • Russell L. Ackoff
    • W.E. Deming
    • Peter Drucker
    • John Gall
    • Douglas McGregor
    • Taiichi Ohno
    • Eliyahu M. Goldratt
    • Peter Senge
    • John Seddon
    • Donella Meadows
    • Allen C Ward
    • Michael Kennedy
    • Don Reinertsen
    • Tom Gilb
    • Steve McConnell
    • Nancy Kline – Thinking environments
    • Argyris, Isaacs, Bohm et al. – Skilled dialogue
  • Exemplars
    • TPDS – The Toyota Product Development System
    • FlowChain
    • Product Aikido
  • Other / miscellaneous

– Bob

Further Reading

Lean Product and Process Development ~ Allen Ward
Product Development for the Lean Enterprise ~ Michael Kennedy
The Principles of Product Development Flow ~ Don Reinertsen
Lean Product Development Flow ~ Bohdan W. Oppenheim (pdf)
Sketching User Experiences ~ Bill Buxton
Managing the Design Factory ~ Don Reinertsen
Learning To See ~ Mike Rother

TDR – Test Driven Relationships

TDD (Test Driven Development) seems fairly well known as a software development technique these days – even though uptake and understanding remains “patchy”. TDD purports to improve the quality of code by focusing on the intended behaviour of a piece of code before writing that code.

I believe that relationships – interpersonal relationships, relationships between people – are what really matters in work – and particularly in collaborative knowledge-work. Far more than code quality – although that’s handy, too.

One question which folks ask me regularly is “how might we go about improving the quality of our relationships?” I propose TDR – Test Driven Relationships might offer a way forward.

What is a Quality Relationship?

Psychology and psychotherapy have quite a lot to say about what makes for a quality relationship.

Gregg Henriques offers the “5 Cs” model (Conflicted -> Civil -> Cordial -> Close -> Connected)

Patrick Lencioni has his “5 Dysfunctions” model (Trust -> Positive conflict -> Commitment -> Accountability -> Results)

The Fundamentals of TDR

In improving relationships, it’s often helpful to try things out. For example, if we’re wanting to be more empathetic, it can be useful to try to guess how someone is feeling, and then ask them how close to the mark our guess is.

“In relationship, business, classroom, and parent-child conflicts, we can learn to hear the human being behind the message, regardless of how the message is framed. We can learn to hear the other person’s unmet needs and requests. Ultimately, listening empathetically does not imply doing what the person wants; rather, it implies showing respectful acknowledgment of the individual’s inner world. As we do that, we move from the coercive language we have been taught to the language of the heart.”

~ Marshall Rosenberg

Taking this principle and extending it, TDR says “define the results you expect – or desire – from an upcoming interaction with someone, plan an approach, have the interaction, and then compare the results against those expected / desired”. If the results don’t match up, refactor you approach to the interaction and try again.

As a reference and comparison, here’s the vanilla TDD four-step red-green-refactor process:

  1. Add a test – the simplest possible
  2. See it fail (red)
  3. Make all tests (to date) pass, using the minimum amount of instructions (green)
  4. Refactor

Why It Works

TDR helps us clarify our intent, and experiment in small increments with the way we relate to others, adjusting as we find things that don’t work so well, aw well as things that work particularly well.

“Every time I mess up is a chance to practice.”

~ Marshall Rosenberg

TDR also allows us to better keep the idea of “relationship quality” in our minds, and provides us with a practical means to focus on improving that quality.

For those who object to TDR on the grounds that it’s somehow fake, I offer the following advice:

“Fake it ‘till you make it.”

~ Neil Gaiman

How important is relationship quality to you? And what are you already doing about that, by way of e.g. deliberate practices?

– Bob

The Words We Use

Violence is so endemic in our society and workplaces that we rarely notice it. Nor notice its effects.

Why does it matter? Well, we humans generally feel less happy when victims of violence – however minor or unremarked. But setting aside that general point, anything that negatively impacts our state of mind has similarly negative implications for knowledge workers’ productivity and the quality of that work.

“Most of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to get their work done.”

~ Peter Drucker

And one wildly underreported source of such difficulty is the unwitting violence that happens every day in our relationships at work.

To illustrate how unaware we can be about the violence we do to ourselves and others, you might like to consider some examples. Examples of some commonly used words which not only seem innocuous, but even carry imagined positive connotations. Even these oft-lauded words can harbour implicit violence:

Discipline (verb)

Most folks take this to mean e.g. self-discipline = forcing, compelling or otherwise obliging ourselves to do things we feel we should be doing. And disciplining others = forcing them, mainly through fear, obligation guilt, shame (FOGS), or the threat of punishment, to do the things we feel they should be doing.

Professionalism

Many folks take “professionalism” to mean “constrained by expectations about how something should be done”. Here again, if we but reflect a moment, we may see the violence inherent in this idea. For example, the fear of e.g. a sanction such as ridicule or shame, when one’s behaviour does not conform to that expected of a “professional”.

Responsibility

This notion often translates to an expectation of obligation. If we are responsible for something, then we (or others) expect us to act in certain ways. Once more, we may choose to see this as raising issues of self-violence (where we take a responsibility upon ourselves) or violence done to us (where the responsibility is conferred – explicitly or implicitly – by other people, or even by rules, policy, social mores, etc.).

We Can Choose Our Words

There are, of course, hundreds if not thousands of other words, in many languages, which carry an implication of violence. How often are we aware of those implications when choosing words, and of the consequences of such choices?

Would you be willing to share some words which you find violent, in effect?

– Bob

Further Reading

Domination Systems – Duen Hsi Yen

Can You Use A Scrum Master?

A giant tied down by little people

I don’t mean “do you have an opening for a Scrum Master right now?”. I mean, “if you hired a Scrum Master today, would you, your development teams and your organisation be able to get any real value out of him or her?”.

There’s a whole bunch of pathologies I see time and again in Agile adoptions. One set of such pathologies is around the role of Scrum Master. These pathologies, unchecked, result in situations which demoralise the new hires and the development teams alike, and rob the organisation of any value from having a Scrum Master, and even from the Agile adoption itself.

Fools Rush In…

The line of so-called reasoning which leads to this particular group of pathologies generally runs like this:

“I’ve just heard about this thing called Agile. Could we use it?”

“We need to do something about our software development around here. It costs too much / takes too long / is not predictable enough / produces low quality resulting in a poor customer experience / insert your gripe here.”

“I know, this new-fangled Agile thing looks like it solves all our problem. I read as much in an inflight magazine last week. Let’s get our tech folks to adopt agile.”

“What flavour of Agile?”

“Um. There are flavours? I’ve heard of something called Scrum. Seems quite common. Let’s go for that.”

“Right! The development teams will start using Scrum next Monday.”

“But they don’t know anything about Scrum. It’s quite different to how they’re working now, I guess. They’ll need someone to show them the ropes and train them in the whole thing. The Scrum book says so. That person is called the Scrum Master.”

“Ok. We’ll hire one of those, then. Now they can jolly well get on with it. It’ll be great. Problem solved – at last. Golf this afternoon?”

And so the scene is set for another train-wreck. Here’s an explanation of some of the pathologies implicit in this dialogue:

Scrum is a Thing

It’s not. It’s an entry point, an on-ramp, a way to get started. The sooner a team becomes comfortable with the basic principles of Agile, the sooner Scrum-By-The-Book can fall away, and the team can continue its journey in whatever directions it deems best, according to the unfolding and evolving situation.

Scrum Can be Mandated

It can’t. If the development teams have no choice but to adopt Scrum, are not involved in the decision, they will likely resent it from the very outset. And resentment breeds opposition.

The Scrum Master is a Management Appointee

They’re not. Or rather, all too often they are – which only compounds the issue of the involvement of the development team in key decisions. Lack of autonomy is not a good foot upon which to get started with e.g. Scrum. Giving a development team little or no say in who gets to be their Scrum Master will again exacerbate their sense of learned helplessness, and breed dissatisfaction and disengagement.

The Scrum Master Is a Trainer

They’re not. Maybe they have some Scrum knowledge, maybe not. (And no, certification will not provide you with any assurances about that, one way or the other). The Scrum Master is no policeman, either, despite some opinions to the contrary. Primarily, the Scrum Master is someone who speaks for the “improvement” of the way the work works, offering some counter-balance to the daily pressure to get stuff shipped. (See also: Two Masters). If they do bring some Scrum expertise to the party, that can afford some short-term acceleration for the team, but often at the cost of longer-term progress – delaying the onset of a team’s confidence in itself and in its ability to learn.

Change is Bounded to the Dev Teams

It’s not. Most of the issues impacting development teams will lie outside the control of the development teams themselves. The Scrum Master will act as a catalyst for the team to bring these issues to the attention of senior management – the only folks in typical organisations that have the scope of authority to get these issues sorted out. This means that the Scrum Master and/or Team will be a regular – and demanding – visitor to the executive suite. Have you space in your schedule for this?

The Problems are Known Beforehand

They’re not. Scrum was created to shine a light on each dysfunction in the organisation. Many of these dysfunctions will have been around for years, if not decades, hiding in plain sight. Managers may think they know what the problems are, Scrum will say something different. Are you prepared to revisit your fondest assumptions?

Hire and Forget

Many folks hiring Scrum Masters assume they can just hire and then leave the Scrum Master to just get on with “fixing the team”. Any Scrum Master worth their salt will demand much time from the senior managers outside the development function. Do you have the time to commit?

All Scrum Masters Are Much of Muchness

Certification can make it seem that all Scrum Masters offer much the same level of skill, experience, and ability to contribute. Not so. Scrum Masters, being human beings, are just as variable as other humans. Do you know the kind of person that will best suit where you want the organisation to be in three, six, twelve months from now?

The Individual Can Trump the System

Many organisations look to the Scrum Master hire to come in and “fix” the dev team, with little understanding of how the existing assumptions, policies, structures, etc., of the organisation can cripple even the best Scrum Master. Deming’s 95% applies here as much as elsewhere. Are you ready to change such things, to enable the Scrum Master to add real value?

The Scrum Master is an Interim Hire

If you believe that the Scrum Master is there to “kick-start” the team, then you’ll miss the key value-add of any Scrum Master (or Agile Coach, or Organisational Therapist, for that matter). Every dev team can improve faster, feel better, and produce better software with the full-time, long-term availability of a competent coach. If it works for e.g. sports teams, why not for dev teams?

The Scrum Master is a Management Patsy, Stooge or Dupe

There are undoubtedly some Scrum Masters out there that are just doing it for the money, willingly toeing the management line, caring little for real improvement or the well-being of their teams. Most, however, will push against the status quo. Which kind do you want to hire?

Scrum Masters Are Selfless

They’re not. They’re just human beings too. They have needs. Most often, the need to make a difference is strong in them. Stronger than the need to conform. Or the need to make money. Making a difference is what you’re hiring them for? But they’re not super-men and -women, able to wave a magic wand to make things happen. So are you prepared to see the changes the teams propose regularly get actioned? Or is their morale and continued engagement not so important to you?

Summary

Most times, those appointing a Scrum Master find themselves in a Market for Lemons – being unable to discern a good candidate from the rest. Making a “good hire” then becomes largely a matter of pot-luck. (See also: Make Bad Hires).

And once a hire IS made, the challenges, far from being over, are only just beginning. Are you creating the kind of conditions in which your new hire can thrive and add real value to your development efforts, or are you just tossing them into a maelstrom and letting them sink or swim unaided?

Good luck!

– Bob

Further Reading

The Perfect Scrum Master ~ Agile Scout

Wolf Magic

Wolves chilling

In a recent blog post I thanked @davenicolette for drawing my attention to an article by Eric Barker, and more specifically to the concept of the Omega Wolf. Setting aside the question of whether the behaviour in wolves is natural or forced, I share Dave’s view that the notion of Omega Wolf makes for a fine metaphor for a particular role in our organisations.

“A really successful team needs at least one person who is not a team player. Someone who’s willing to stand up to authority, to rock the boat. To not make everybody happy. To not pat everybody on the back.”

~ Eric Barker

“Every wolf pack has an omega who bears the brunt of pack members’ frustrations. This individual functions as a sort of social glue for the pack, defusing conflict and aggression before it harms the group’s cohesion…”

~ Dave Nicolette

When I read this, I instantly recognised myself and my roles in various organisations over the years. I also saw the way in which the Omega Wolf complements the Chaos Monkey so well.

And as with Chaos Monkeys, folks in the role of Omega Wolf can easily be misunderstood – as troublemakers, lamers, losers, doormats, clowns or maybe even worse, idealist.

“Looking at the big picture and the long view, the lowest ranking wolf—the omega wolf—may actually be the ‘cornerstone wolf’ — keeping the pack together and peaceful.”

~ Robert Lindsay

Looking at human organisations – and particularly the dysfunctional ones (there are other kinds?) – I’d suggest that the people in the Omega Wolf roles are the great unsung – and often unappreciated – heroes of highly effective – and joyful – teams.

My Omega Wolf Credo

  • I aspire to help people by defusing stressful situations and bringing people together in increasingly authentic fellowship and harmony.
  • I aspire to care for the young cubs, the new hires, and the other folks who may be feeling disoriented and wondering how to become more part of “the team”.
  • I aspire to help people by being playful and encouraging others to “play” more, too.
  • I aspire to help organisations and the folks therein by championing the value of joy and humane relationships in work.
  • I aspire to improve the quality of individual and collective relationships by illustrating the value of nonviolence.
  • I aspire to improve the cohesion of the team(s) and the organisation more widely.
  • I aspire to raise awareness of the value of authentic harmony, the role of the Omega Wolf in contributing to that, and to make Omega Wolf behaviours not only acceptable but highly sought-after.

Who are the Omega Wolves in your company? How much do they contribute to the well-being of the organisational “community”? And how well-understood are they – and the value they add – in this role?

– Bob

Further Reading

Wolfpack Programming

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