Archive

Community

Zeitgeist

What is the Zeitgeist of the software industry, and software community?

I thought I knew, but upon reflection, I’m pretty sure I don’t have a clue.

If I had to guess, I’d say it involves indifference, learned helplessness, and a Mexican standoff between management and developers. But I could be way off base.

Your thoughts, observations?

– Bob

 

 

 

How Much Do You Care?

In recent times I have noted an upswing in the frequency of conversations about the ethical dimension of software development. Although still early days, many aspects of the social implications of software are beginning to receive more attention.

Effective Software Development

The dog’s breakfast that is Agile in the real world today exemplifies, for me, a key aspect of these ethical questions. Not that ethical questions are at all limited to the software industry.

What am I talking about? I’m talking about how people with a clear understanding of e.g. Agile software development (yes, there are some) tolerate, even support, a pallid, ineffective version in their workplace because their jobs and livelihoods depend on not rocking the boat. I’m talking about how folks go along with an ineffective and crippled approach for an easy life. Although how easy is it to stand by and watch project after project fail or limp along, with the consequent frustration and angst for all concerned?

With the oft-reported woefully low levels of employee engagement in most organisations, it’s hardly surprising that people just let such things slide by with little or no comment, complaint or action.

Satyagraha

We might take a leaf out of Gandhi’s nonviolent campaign playbook. He placed the idea of satyagraha at the heart of his toolkit of civil resistance. What is satyagraha? Online references describe it as “truth-force” or “the force that is generated through adherence to truth”.

Note: In this context, I choose to regard “truth” as referring to ethical imperatives such as justice, fairness and righteousness, and not simply factual truth. And yes, everyone has their own “truths” a.k.a. assumptions and beliefs. As do groups, such as organisations.

At the core of satyagraha is the willingness to suffer for the truth. Spiritual, emotional and physical suffering, borne in public, serves to emphasise the degree to which the satyagrahi care about the issue upon which they are campaigning.

Do You Care Enough to Suffer?

In the case of Agile, as with other aspects of how organisations run themselves today, it’s fair for folks to ask:

“Is it any of my concern? Don’t senior people with much higher pay grades than me hold the responsibility for these things?”

How is this any different from the old defence “I was only following orders?” 

Do you care? Do you care enough to start to say “No.”? In a civil and polite way, of course.

Are you prepared to suffer to see things become better for all concerned?

– Bob

New Teams

Taking on a new role, working with new people. It’s a situation we’ve all experienced, maybe multiple times. And as careers progress, these new roles come with more responsibilities, more scope. Especially in connection with people. We might call these “command” roles. Or at least, “leadership” roles.

And we’ve all experienced, or will experience, the nervousness consequent on preparing to face new colleagues who are almost bound to be sceptical about having a new incumbent as their leader or commander. How to win over these folks? Flattery, favour or folksy friendliness isn’t likely to cut the mustard.

How about showing people that we know what to do with their abilities, expertise and enthusiasm? So they have some confidence that when the chips are down, their efforts won’t be wasted in some doomed enterprise? Here’s a little speech that might play well at the get-go of that new role:

I will never lead you into an action unless I know we can succeed at it. Your job is to become such a brilliant team that there is no action I can’t lead you in to!

We’re not in this for glory, ego-stroking or self-gratification. We are in this to meet the needs of all the folks that matter – any way we can.

– Bob

Who’s Who

This post is an experiment to illuminate the readership for this blog, and maybe to foster an increased sense of community, too.

Would you be willing to add a comment to this post with a brief introduction about yourself and what you need from this blog, and from other readers here, too?

A link to an online bio might also be helpful (if you don’t have an online blog with bio, maybe a link to a LinkedIn profile or Twitter page).

Thanks for participating! 🙂

– Bob

Grendels

I have of late been reading (well, listening-to via Audible) many of the science fiction classics from yesteryear, by authors I missed out on in my youth (in those days mainly reading Van Vogt, Moorcock, Herbert, Harrison and Heinlein).

The most recent of these books is The Legacy of Heorot by Larry Niven et al.

The book has been described as “reworking the Beowulf legend in science fiction”. Niven amplifies Beowulf’s antagonist, Grendel, into a whole species of pseudo-reptilian super-monsters. Without revealing the whole plot, suffice to say that these creatures are portrayed as solitary, voracious, cannibalistic, and murderously territorial.

Whilst reading (listening), I’ve been struck by the parallels between these “Grendels” and prominent figures in the software community (individual consultants, opinioneers, etc.):

Solitary

I see many such figures (including but not limited to folks in the Agile space) ploughing their own furrows, ignoring others of a similar ilk, minimising productive interactions and community.

Voracious

Niven’s grendels are forever eating, and looking to eat. Eating is their core driver. The folks I have in mind seem likewise voracious in their hunt for revenues and clients (prey).

Cannibalistic

I see many such figures taking the ideas of others, retreading them, and selling them on as original and even proprietary. Analagous to intellectual cannibalism.

Fiercely Territorial

The grendels in the book each assiduously guard their own stretch of water (being basically amphibian), murderouly opposing any intrusion into their territory, with the utmost prejudice. I see parallels with (some, most?) of the aforementioned members of the software thought-leaders and opinion-makers “community”.

Upshot

In the book, the human colonists eventually triumph over the grendels, through a combination of technology, self-sacrifice and strategic thinking. “They’re just animals” the colonists remark, by way of explaining their victory.

I’ve long sought to reach out and connect with our grendels, in an attempt to further the collective knowledge and impact of the software community at large. To little or no avail. Maybe our grendels’ fate is predicted by the fate of the grendels in the book – irrelevance and extinction.

– Bob

Some Familiar Experiences

[Note: I regard this post as unfinished – I’m publishing it now in the hope that some kind readers will help me in bringing it to something nearer completion. Also, you might like to check in now and again for possible updates.]

A Conversation

Here’s a transcript of a conversation that didn’t take place, but could have, in the vicinity of Reading, England, circa 1999.

Sam: Thanks for allowing me to get some insights into Familiar and what makes it different from other software houses.

Bob: Thanks for showing an interest. We feel the UK software industry would serve society better if more folks had some exposure to what we’re doing here, and maybe take on board some of the principles that have guided us so far.

Sam: I’d like to start with the one thing that intrigues me most. The way you set salaries here. I’ve heard you allow people to set their own salaries? Is that true? Can you explain why you do that?

Bob: Surely. When we set up Familiar, some three years ago now, we all decided we wanted a company that felt more like a family, both for the folks working in the company, and for all the other folks involved – our suppliers and customers, for example. That’s reflected in one aspect of the name “Familiar”, of course (I won’t go into the other aspects of the name, just now). At the time, I was reading the book “Families and How To Survive Them” by John Cleese and Robin Skynner. That book led me to Eric Berne’s work on Transactional Analysis. Berne’s work got me thinking about building a community where Adult-Adult interactions and relationships were the norm.

Sam: So how does having folks set their own salaries play into that idea?

Bob: Well, our approach to salaries – and the same with equipment, working times, locations and the nature of the relationship between the community and the individual – is to have people choose for themselves. If we want folks to behave more often like adults, it makes sense to us to treat them like adults. Folks capable of making their own decisions about the things that matter to them, and to the community as a whole. Moreover, who is at all equipped to decide what salary, etc., suits their needs – other than each individual?

Sam: That sounds really out there. How do people find it?

Bob: It’s true it’s not without its challenges. Firstly, people just starting with us often haven’t thought very much about their commercial value. In other words, at what level they might set their salaries. What might be “fair”. And if someone asks for any given salary, cap-in-hand like, I push back. As far as I’m concerned – and speaking on behalf of the community, too – it’s not a negotiation. Someone announces their intent to bill at a certain rate, or get paid a certain monthly stipend, and that’s what happens. I see it as a positive, all round – for them, others, and the community as a whole – for someone to think about what they charge. You might say “what they’re worth” – but that’s too crass a phrase for me. And then there are other challenges, too.

Sam: Such as?

Bob: Folks billing or getting paid too little. Strange as it seems, our overall staff costs are rather lower than we expected for a software house such as ours. Nobody’s complaining, really. But I’d like to see folks reap greater financial rewards, not just the – less tangible but no less important – rewards of community, fellowship and interesting projects. Americans call wages “compensation” – I guess folks here don’t have to receive as much compensating for the crap as in other companies.

Sam: So you don’t get anyone “trying it on”?

Bob: Not to date. We subscribe to McGregor’s Theory-Y, which invites us to believe that employees are internally – or ‘intrinsically’ – motivated, enjoy their job, and work to better themselves without a direct (financial) reward in return. We’ve found this to be a valid assumption in our case. We strive to make Familiar a place when folks love to get together and do interesting, meaningful things. As our Credo states: “Familiar exists for folks to come together and explore what ‘fulfilment’ means for each one, individually”.

Sam: And as for the other things folks can choose? You mentioned equipment, locations, working times, and the nature of the relationship with the community?

Bob: Again, we want folks to feel like we regard them as adults, with the capacity to choose what’s best and most suitable for them, and thus for the (extended) community too. So everyone gets to choose their development computer(s), monitors, keyboards, etc., and development platform (operating system, tools, languages and such). Some folks have their own kit, and for others Familiar buys some or all of the kit. Some interoperability considerations apply, of course, and the customer often has some requirements relating to the operational/production environment. Project teams organise themselves to factor all this into the mix as part of their development process.

Sam: And locations?

Bob: Everyone works where they feel most comfortable, convenient or productive. Different issues affect different people. And folks are invited to vary their location as they see fit – and as suggested by the nature of the task they’re involved with at a given hour or on a given day. We have our office here, of course, with the public cafeteria, bookable meeting rooms, and our private community office space divided into bullpen, library/lounge with couches, a number of personal offices and the kitchenette. But folks work from home – and each others’ homes – as often as not. We also make a point of getting out as a group, both for meals and drinks in local restaurants and pubs, and for longer weekends away at comfy hotels. One chap who would otherwise have a long commute has a satellite office nearer to his home location. Again, “everybody’s different” – and capable of making their own choices.

Sam: Working times and the relationship with the company/community?

Bob: Folks work the hours that suit them, with the only proviso that the clients’ schedules get consideration. We have some early birds, some late birds, and some bird-of-a-feather (folks who like to regularly pair or work in sub-groups). The latter means they coordinate (self-organise) their schedules and locations, to some extent. As for relationships with the community, I’m talking about what some other companies might describe as the “contractual relationship”. We have some hour- and day-rate “contractors”. Some weekly paid and monthly paid “employees”, and a couple of folks – like myself – whose relationship falls outside those categories. And while we’re talking about pay, I guess I could mention the bonuses. We don’t have any formal bonus scheme as such, but when a particular project goes well, folks get together to consider the costs and revenues and decide if a team bonus is appropriate and what level and split would suit.

Sam: Would you do anything different if you found yourself involved in a different community in the future?

Bob: Nothing significantly different. Excepting that circumstances prevailing when we started Familiar allowed us the opportunity to trial these “wacky” ideas in practice. Such circumstances may not present themselves next time around. Folks have to be open to the ideas of doing things differently, or I suspect a similar scenario might never even get off the ground.

Sam: Do you have any advice for others thinking about building this kind of environment for their businesses?

Bob: I hate giving advice – I find it rarely followed. But one thing I would say – don’t underestimate the time needed for, and the value of, supporting folks who might feel uneasy from time to time about the choices they’re enabled to make. I’ve put in much time supporting people here when the way forward has seems unclear for them personally. But I feel it’s never been enough support, and I always want us to do more. And one word of caution: Time. It’s taken us three years of daily practice to even begin to understand how these ideas all fit together. The benefits are definitely there, we’re demonstrated that, but few companies seem to have a longer-term view. Along the way, we have discovered some useful shortcuts.

Sam: Thanks, Bob, for sharing your experiences with me, and my readers.

Bob: My thanks to you also, Samantha. It’s been fun.

[End]

– Bob

Further Reading

The Starting of Familiar ~ Think Different blog post

The Marshall Plan

I guess most people, when they start a new job or client engagement, have in mind the things they want to do and see happen. Most likely, things they’ve seen or made happen in previous jobs or engagements. Along with, maybe, some things they’ve read or heard about and are minded to try out, given the opportunity. (And what better opportunity than the honeymoon period of a new job or client?)

We might choose to call this an agenda.

My Agenda

I’m no different, excepting perhaps the items that feature on my agenda:

  • Invite participation in discussing “who matters?” (with respect to i.e. the work and the way it works)
  • Empathise with the emergent community of “folks that matter” (not exclusively, but as a priority)
  • Invite folks to listen to each other’s volunteered observations, hear each other’s feelings, and explore each other’s needs.
  • Invite folks to solicit and then begin attending to each other’s requests (explicit and implicit)
  • Offer and provide support to folks and communities in their journeys

Note: I’ve not included on my agenda anything about specific actions that I myself might want to do and see happen, beyond the items listed. Specifically, although I’ve written often about strategies such as Flowchain, Prod•gnosis, Rightshifting, the Marshall Model, self-organising/managing teams, the quality of interpersonal relationships and interactions, etc., I don’t bring these into my agenda. If folks discover these strategies for themselves, they’re much more likely to understand their fundamentals, and maybe come up with even more effective strategies.

The Antimatter Principle is the only strategy I’ve regularly written about that recognisably features on my prospective agenda, and then only by extending invitations to participate in that strategy. (Note: Attentive readers may just notice the tip of the Organisational Psychotherapy iceberg peeking out from the above agenda).

I’ve reached a point in my journey where, keen as my ego is to see all my ideas (strategies) made manifest, my experience tells me that’s not the way to go for the best outcomes for the community as a whole.

As for the Marshall Plan, I believe it’s best, in the longer run, to have the folks involved (in particular, the people that matter) do their own discovery and learning. Discovering for themselves, over time – through means they also discover for themselves – effective strategies for attending to folks’ needs (often including the principles underlying those strategies). I see my role in this Plan as supporting – in whichever ways folks request, or say they need – this collective endeavour. Such support quite possibly to include actively helping the discovery and learning, whenever there’s an explicit (albeit refusable) request for me to do so.

– Bob

Further Reading

The Benefits of Self-directed Learning

The Twelfth Principle

There are four values and twelve principles connected with the Agile Manifesto. As the folks at 12thPrinciple say,

“the four values and eleven of the twelve Agile principles do not address the wider organization at all.”

This is one of the key reasons why so many Agile adoptions (circa 80%) fail to deliver on the Agile promise.

I have this weeks added my name to the list of signatories at 12thprinciple.org.  Not because I totally and wholeheartedly embrace the “Twelfth Principle” in its current form. But because I wish to lend support to the idea that it’s the wider organisational context that utterly determines whether any kind of progressive change effort or initiative succeeds or fails.

The Twelfth Principle (n.b. actually appearing fifth in the list of Principles behind the Agile Manifesto) reads:

“Build projects around motivated individuals.
Give them the environment and support they need,
and trust them to get the job done.”

I see some basic flaws in this, but it does serve to highlight (at least, implicitly) the role of the wider organisation.

Here’s my take on these “flaws”:

  • Projects. I see little point in using projects to frame development efforts. Personally, I subscribe to #NoProjects, and FlowChain as a practical means to replace the whole idea of projects, in favour of product development flow.
  • Individuals. Yes, teams consist of individuals. But Man is a social animal, and collaborative knowledge work – such as software and product development requires society, not individuals. I get the idea that we’re really taking about a focus on people, here. As opposed to say structure, hierarchy, process, or what have you.
  • Give. Not so much give as in charity or largesse, but give as in make available, enable.
  • Them. Shades of them and us? Unfortunate choice of pronoun.

With a free hand, and the awesome benefit of hindsight, I might represent this principle thusly:

“We accept that collaborative knowledge-work proceeds best when we place people at the core of our focus.
We recognise that people do best within a supportive environment,
where needs are shared and attended to by all.”

How might you rephrase this principle?

– Bob

 

 

Seven Research-Based Principles for Making Organisations Work

In The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, written with Nan Silver, renowned clinical psychologist and marriage researcher John Gottman, Ph.D, reveals what successful relationships look like and features valuable activities to help couples strengthen their relationships.

Gottman’s principles are research-based. He and his colleagues studied hundreds of couples (including newlyweds and long-term couples); interviewed couples and videotaped their interactions; even measured their stress levels by checking their heart rate, sweat flow, blood pressure and immune function; and followed couples annually to see how their relationships fared.

He also found that nine months after attending his workshops, 640 couples had relapse rates of 20 percent, while standard marital therapy has a relapse rate of 30 to 50 percent. In the beginning of these workshops, 27 percent of couples were at high risk for divorce. Three months later, 6.7 percent were at risk. Six months later, it was 0 percent.

Below are his seven principles, adapted to organisations, along with a few organisational-health-strengthening activities to try.

1. Enhancing “Love Maps”

Love is in the details. That is, flourishing organisations are very much familiar with their folks’ worlds, and needs. Such companies have “a richly detailed love map” — an informal map interweaving all the relevant information about folks and their lives. People in these companies know many things about each other – everything from their favourite movies to what’s currently stressing them out, from what their needs are to some of their life’s dreams.

2. Nurture Fondness And Admiration

In flourishing organisations people respect each other and have a general positive view of each other. Gottman says that fondness and admiration are two of the most important elements in satisfying and long-term relationships. If these elements are completely missing, relationships degenerate into something purely transactional (and “engagement” goes out the window).

Gottman includes a helpful activity to connect people with the humanity of their colleagues. He calls this “I appreciate”. He suggests folks list three or more of a colleague’s positive characteristics along with an incident that illustrates each quality. Then share these lists with others – including the subjects.

3. Turn Toward Each Other Instead Of Away

Working with others isn’t about a few amazing moments. Rather, positive connections live and thrive in the everyday, little things. Channelling Gottman, “[positive regard] is kept alive each time you let a colleague know he or she is valued during the grind of everyday life.”

For instance, positive regard is leaving an encouraging message for a colleague when you know she’s having a bad day. Or we can signal positive regard when we’re really busy but still take a few minutes to listen to a colleague’s anxiety and arrange to discuss it later (instead of dismissing it with something like “I don’t have time”).

This might seem humdrum, but turning toward each other in these ways is the basis for connection and positive regard. Organisations where colleagues turn toward each other have more in their “emotional bank accounts”.  This positive balance distinguishes flourishing from miserable ones. Flourishing organisations have more goodwill and positivity stored in their bank accounts, so when rough times hit, their emotional savings cushion conflicts and stressors.

4. Invite Colleagues To Influence You

Flourishing organisations are places where people consider each other’s perspective and feelings. Folks make decisions together and search out common ground. Letting your colleagues and co-workers influence you isn’t about having someone hold your reins; it’s about honoring and respecting each other.

5. Solve solvable problems

Gottman says that there are two types of problems: conflicts that can be resolved, and perpetual problems that can’t. It’s important for people to determine which ones are which.

Sometimes, though, telling the difference can be tricky. “One way to identify solvable problems is that they seem less painful, gut-wrenching, or intense than perpetual, gridlocked ones.” Solvable problems are situational, and there’s no underlying conflict.

Gottman devised a five-step model for resolving these conflicts:

  1. Soften your startup, which simply means starting the conversation without criticism or contempt.
  2. Make and receive “repair attempts” – any action or statement that deescalates tension.
  3. Soothe yourself and then each other. When you feel yourself getting heated during a conversation, let other folks know that you’re overwhelmed and take a 20-minute break. (That’s how long it takes for your body to calm down.) Then you might try closing your eyes, taking slow, deep breaths, relaxing your muscles and visualising a calm place. After you’ve calmed down, you might help soothe your colleagues. Ask each other what’s most comforting and do that.
  4. Compromise. The above steps prime people for compromise because they create positivity. When conflicts arise, it’s important to take each other’s thoughts and feelings into consideration. Here, Gottman includes a valuable exercise to help people find common ground. He suggests that each person draw two circles: a smaller one inside a larger one. In the smaller circle, people make a list of their nonnegotiable points. In the bigger one, make a list of what you can compromise on. Share these drawing with each other and look for common ground. Consider what you agree on, what your common goals and feelings are and how you can accomplish these goals.
  5. Remember to be tolerant of one other’s faults. Compromise is impossible until you can accept everyone’s flaws and get over the “if onlies.” (You know the ones: “If only he was this” “If only she was that.”)

6. Overcome Gridlock

The goal with perpetual problems is for people to “move from gridlock to dialogue.” What usually underlies gridlock is unfulfilled needs. “Gridlock is a sign that you have [needs] in your life that aren’t being addressed or respected by each other”. Flourishing organisations believe in the importance of everyone – the organisation included – helping each other attend to their needs.

So the first step in overcoming gridlock is to determine the need or need that are causing a conflict. The next steps include talking to each other about your needs (never easy), taking a break (since some of these talks can get stressful),  airing (and thereby making peace with) the problem, and ultimately sharing a (refusable) request aimed at addressing the need.

“The goal is to ‘declaw’ the issue, to try to remove the hurt [and negative feelings] so the problem stops being a source of great pain,” Gottman writes.

7. Create Shared Meaning

Working together isn’t just about projects, deadlines, cakes and and getting drunk together. It can also have a spiritual dimension that has to do with creating an inner life together — a culture rich with rituals, and an appreciation for your roles and goals that link you, that lead you to understand what it means to be a part of the community you have become.

And that’s what it means to develop shared meaning. Flourishing organisations create a community culture that attends to everyone’s needs. In being open to each other’s perspectives and opinions, flourishing organisations naturally thrive.

– Bob

Further Reading

Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being ~ Martin Seligman
7 Research-Based Principles for Making Marriage Work ~ Margarita Tartakovsky

Taking Wings

In line with my previously announced intention, our fledgling Organisational Psychotherapy community is moving to a new wordpress.com site at noon today (Monday 16 November 2015).

It’s open to read-only access for anyone. For those who would like editing access, you’ll need a) a WordPress login and b) to drop me a line or post a comment to that effect, with your WordPress id.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all those fellows who provided advice regarding this move.

I’d also like to thank my regular blog readers for their forbearance over the past few weeks. This blog’s editorial will now resume to something approaching normal. Please do drop in to our new site from time to time and catch up on our progress if you have any interest in the emergence of a self-organising community of principle.

– Bob

 

An Intention Announced

In line with the advice process, I’m posting here my intention to set up a new WordPress.com site to provide us with a dedicated online space for our interactions and archives. This will provide us with a shared home, replacing the use of my blog for this purpose, and is both in response to and anticipation of requests from our fledgling community of principle for such a facility. How long this facility will prove useful before we choose to move on again, I can’t say. I suspect somewhere between several weeks and a year or more.

I intend using the P2 theme on this site.

Would you be willing to provide some advice before I act on this intent? I intend to act on this intention circa: Monday 16 Nov 2015, Noon GMT.

– Bob

 

Discombobulated

Discombobulated

I’m feeling discombobulated. Other emotions, too, of course. Both positive and negative. But for the time being, discombobulation predominates. I’m guessing some of you fellows might be experiencing some of the same sensations. Bruce Tuckman described this as common for groups in the “forming” stage – stage one – of his model.

Knowing it’s common, and even being ready for it, doesn’t seem to lessen its impact much, if at all. I just wanted to share, in case you felt it was just you. You’re not alone.

I’ve been trying to process and arrange folks’ recent comments, and form some responses. Many things are still in motion in my head, and my heart, but here’s the first clutch of thoughts:

Who’s In Charge Of Us Fellows?

I have little inkling as yet as to the kind of mental models fellows have about organising for collaboration. Do those models follow the Rightshifting distribution, or do we have a preponderance of more synergistic thinkers? I don’t know – but I’m looking forward to finding out. I’m assuming at least some folks will be coming from more traditional (Analytic-minded) backgrounds. In which case I guess it’s only natural to think in terms of “who’s in charge”.

Who do you want to be in charge? What does “in charge” mean? And what are the merits and demerits – a.k.a. consequences – of the idea of having one or more people “in charge” in any case?

Personally, the sooner we get to some effective, functioning self-organisation, the happier I’ll be. I have ideas, sure, but I’m betting everyone does. I have some notions of what we could be doing first (priorities). Again, I’m sure everyone does. Can I act on that? Discombobulation.

Who do you go convince that you have a good idea worth consideration? Who will give the green light to your suggestion and put things in motion?

And, above all perhaps, how does this question of “who’s in charge?” play into the bigger picture of Organisational Psychotherapy? For example, how might the answer impact our relationships with clients (I’m using Carl Rogers’ term here). Who’s in charge of that?

 

And further, who’s in charge of the various stakeholders, and the emerging “business” itself?

Aside: I use the term “business” loosely, as it could emerge that we can best serve the needs of our various stakeholders as a charity, foundation, loose or tight network of affiliates, or any number of other forms of association. And although our emergent “association” might be essentially commercial, I’d like to explore all our options about how we might feed and water our association.

Enough for now. Looking forward to your responses. More next time.

– Bob

Further Reading

Reinventing Organizations ~ Frederic Laloux

 

A Deliberate Approach

“Take time to deliberate, but when the time for action has arrived, stop thinking and go in.”

~ Napoleon Bonaparte

In response to your kind questions and comments regarding my previous post, I mentioned that I would be writing a post to address some of those questions and comments. This is not that post (I’m still in the middle of that).

In the meantime, and hopefully to preserve some sense of momentum, might I invite you to advise me on your feelings about approaching the journey ahead (e.g. building a thing we may come to refer to as a community of principle) with a modicum of deliberate intention? Specifically, it has been my habit to follow an approach evolved over many years for this sort of thing. Presently this bears the name “Javelin”. There’s a paper on Javelin which you might care to read. Please accept my apologies in advance for labelling it a process, and for its anachronisms.

In a nutshell, the approach entails, at its heart:

  • Choosing a name, for easy referencing of “this thing which we have come together to build/grow” (Name).
  • Discussing our various perspectives re: our (common) purpose, leading to a Statement of Purpose.
  • Listing key stakeholders and their respective needs (what they say they need, not what we’d like them to need).

The approach aims to address a bunch of risks inherent in this kind of endeavour, including the risk of spending precious time and effort on building the wrong thing(s).

Put another way, what’s the minimum amount of structure that will serve us in approaching our joint endeavour?

How does this sit with you? What advice can you offer me? Upon receipt of this advice I will be better placed to decide whether this kind of  approach might fly, and what else to do instead or in addition.

– Bob

Further Reading

Our Javelin Process ~ Bob Marshall

 

An Invitation To Contribute And Share

Invitation

I would like to invite you all to join with me in creating a new global intervention and treatment specialty. I’m presently naming this specialty “Organisational Psychotherapy” – although I see this as a working title, and like most else in prospect, open for discussion.

The Pitch

Organisations of every kind are struggling to cope with the many challenges thrust upon them – by rapid technological and social change, changing markets, and changing stakeholder demands. Organisations which better engage their staff, suppliers and others in meeting these challenges will do better than those which do not.

Crucial to creating better engagement are the assumptions, ideas and expectations by which these organisations operate. How might organisations better adjust their prevailing assumptions, ideas and expectations – their collective mindset – to create conditions in which e.g. innovation can thrive and folks can better contribute – even unto the utmost of their abilities, enthusiasms and potentials?

Few organisations are well-served, in themselves, in regard to making these kinds of adjustment to their collective assumptions, ideas and expectations. Unless and until they grow their internal capabilities, external partners can serve to provide the necessary skills and expertise.

The Invitation

Are your needs for effective workplaces going unmet? Are you frustrated and dispirited by the kinds of workplaces we so often see – and suffer – today? Are you feeling concerned, outraged, even, by the things people have to tolerate at work?Do you want to contribute in a meaningful and positive way, with the support and encouragement of a community of other like-minded souls, towards doing something about it?

Can we together get something inspiring and worthwhile off the ground? I have some ideas, knowledge and experiences to bring to the party, and I’m sure many of you out there do too. Would you be willing to play an active role in a community dedicated to learning and sharing and to making this happen?

Community Based

I’ve see too many transaction-oriented initiatives fail to want to make “finding work” the foundation of this endeavour. On the contrary, in the early days I predict there will be lots in the way of work to be done, and little in the way of (monetary) recompense. If you’re looking for another revenue channel to backfill your spare capacity, this is very likely not for you. Maybe one day we can look to become self-funding – God knows there’s enough value in the proposition – but I’d suggest that choosing to regard this as a calling or vocation is much more in keeping with our implicit ethos of helping people.

Note: The word “community”, for me, means things like self-organisation, equality, diversity, joy, shared purpose, fellowship and the paramountcy of social connections. Forging and maintaining meaningful social connections can be hard in an online world without e. g frequent face to face meetings. Yet without the social dimension, I foresee an early bath. Maybe we can cross that hurdle when and if we get to it?

Aside: The notion of Communities of Practice seems widely understood. I propose our community might better serve our needs – individually and collectively – as a Community of Principle. Just which principle(s) we choose to adopt I invite you to consider, and share.

Ethos

I have learned over the years that proposing solutions to people – with or without understanding their needs – offers little in the way of benefit. Better by far to hold a space and invite them to explore their own needs and (maybe, in time) find their own solutions. In this vein, I see our new specialty not as a solution to anything, but as a kind of social service. I accept this may not be popular until understood.

Open To All

For those of you that decide you’d like to contribute, learn and share in bringing a gloriously bright new specialism into the world, please join us. I’m willing to handle the limited admin of keeping track of fellows (non gender-specific term) – at least until it needs more time than I have available. Maybe some others might like to share in that.

I propose that the only criterion for joining our community is that you subscribe to the idea, and are in principle willing to put some non-negligible effort into making it happen.

“The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”

~ Alan Kay

To get started, for those of you wanting to know more, to share ideas, and to put your hat in the ring, simply post a comment, below. And please, please tell your friends.

Stakeholders

I presently envisage three kinds of participants in this endeavour: Fellows, Sponsors, and Clients. More may come later.

Community Members

Community members, also known as fellows, are you and me. We contribute ideas and efforts into the community, with the aim of establishing our new specialty as a viable and beneficial option for clients, and an attractive proposition for sponsors.

Sponsors

Sponsors, whether individuals or organisations, may wish to contribute to our aims, in the manner of a charitable trust or similar. I anticipate we have some work to do to understand such sponsors’ needs – and attend to them.

Clients

Clients are those organisations, or more exactly people in organisations, that wish to benefit from our capabilities to help them better get their own needs – collective and individual – met. With a nod to Lean Startup, I propose there is NO MANIFEST DEMAND for our new specialty at this time. I personally have no doubt as to the latent need for our new specialty, so anticipate much work ahead in seeing that demand become manifest.

Don’t Worry

No matter whether you’re feeling intrigued, puzzled, casually interested or enthusiastic, don’t worry about making a commitment. I hope our community can thrive on the ideas of ‘do nothing that is not play’, and non-violence. I for one will not be obliging fellows to do anything beyond the things we freely choose to do.

And don’t worry about choosing to get involved and wanting to start doing things right off the bat. I can coordinate, and maybe act as a tie-breaker on occasion, but I propose we take advantage of the Advice Process, and adopt a motto, from the wonderful Grace Hopper, that i learned during my time at Sun Microsystems:

“it’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission.”

~ Grace Hopper

I look forward to us all creating, sharing, learning and playing together – and making an amazing difference to the world of work. How about you?

– Bob

Next Steps

My next post will summarise your feedback and set out some common themes and next steps to get this show on the road.

Afterword

Following on from my previous post “I Have Nothing Left To Say”, I am resolved to abjure saying anything more here on this blog – and in life – in favour of actually doing something. And that something is the bringing of a new thing into the world – the specialty of Organisational Psychotherapy. Look to this mission to be the common theme of future posts.

Further Reading

The Advantage ~ Patrick Lencioni
Joy, Inc. ~ Richard Sheridan
Reinventing Organizations ~ Frederic Laloux

 

 

A Second Open Letter to the Project Management Community

Since my first open letter to the Project Management community, some three years ago now, not much has changed. Not that I expected a single blog post to have much impact.

After Agile. What now?

The rising dissatisfaction with the Agile approach – even amongst the Agile community – and the rumblings around the question “After Agile. What now?”, leads me to update my earlier letter, and broaden its scope to address the Agile Community, too.

Dear All

Dear Project Managers and Agilists everywhere,

I hear you continue to have mixed views about the ongoing, er, “developments”, in the field of Software Development. I won’t call them “advances” as we may not be able to agree that they are, in fact, advancing anything. Incidentally, I share some of your likely skepticism on that front.

I am writing to you today to share some opinions and observations about the changes in train in the software development field, globally. Whilst patchy in their uptake, with many a mis-step, changes are afoot. I can relate to your professional concerns that we retain the best of what we have learned from decades of successful project management (this also, we have to admit, being very patchy, too).

Many who look to advance the field of software development also have concerns. Concerns that some of the received wisdom of project management professionals has been rendered redundant or even dysfunctional by recent advances in fields such as psychology, neuroscience, sociology and evidence-based management.

These bilateral concerns have lead to understandable, yet vexing, tensions and misunderstandings between the various communities. Nowhere have these been more evident, perhaps, than between ‘traditional’ project managers and the Agile crowd.

And now, a third faction has also entered the debate. I’ll call these the After Agilists.

I find it helpful to characterise this conflict as a clash of world-views. In a nutshell, a clash between what McGregor has called “Theory X” and “Theory Y”, compounded by the clash between those who believe Agile is all we need for success, and those who recognise the flaws in both “traditional” project management and “conventional Agile” and wish to move on, correcting them as we go

I hope I’m right in thinking that we all share a common objective – a desire to see better outcomes for everyone involved, to see the needs of all stakeholders much better met than has been the case to date. Oh, and maybe improving the levels effectiveness of the organisations within which we work, too (another need, for many).

Whilst it may appear the arguments and contentions arise from our different ways and means for achieving this objective, I’d like to suggest that the conflict – as a product of conflicting world-views – is more deep-seated, and all the more pernicious for that. We can hardly expect folks, of any persuasion, to change their world-views overnight, if at all. Nor blame them for that aspect of their humanity.

And given the fundamental differences between these various world-views, it seems overly optimistic to expect these world-views ever to coexist peacefully and productively.

All we might hope for is a little more understanding, a little less fractiousness, and a future where we can all at least agree to disagree.

More optimistically, we might also realise that everyone has much to learn – and unlearn – from each other. That, perhaps, is something we can all work on together.

Thanks for listening,

– Bob

Further Reading

Power And Love ~ Adam Kahane
Power and Love – RSA video

On Becoming An Organisational Psychotherapist

People occasionally ask me what it would take for them to become an organisational psychotherapist. Eager to help, I might jump at the chance to answer the question. And that would be a mistake. How could anyone provide an answer to that question in a way that would be useful? Socrates spent a long life eschewing answers in favour of questions. Socratic questions. Questions intended to help those, that wished it, to know themselves a little better.

How Well Doth Thou Know Thyself?

Even in Ancient Greece, the maxim “Know Thyself” was accepted as long-established wisdom. Plato suggested that understanding oneself would enable thyself to have an understanding of others as a result.

“People make themselves appear ridiculous when they are trying to know obscure things before they know themselves.”

~ Socrates, via Plato

For The Love Of It

I choose to describe myself – in part, at least – as an organisational psychotherapist because I see the joy that can follow when organisations become more whole (in a spiritual or community sense of the term). For me, that defines the purpose of organisational psychotherapy. In short, I love what can happen. Might you love it? Or might you find other needs of thyself that a role as an organisational psychotherapist could serve?

Personal Transformation

Here’s the questions from the Antimatter Transformation Model, recast just slightly in an attempt to pique some curiosity in those interested in the kind of personal transformation I see integral to organisational psychotherapy:

  1. What would I like to have happen?
  2. How do I feel about the spiritual and mental health of organisations, and the people in them?
  3. What are my needs, personally – and in relation to others?
  4. In what ways do I relate to people and groups presently, and would other ways of relating better help meet my – and their – needs?
  5. What do I believe about the nature and purpose of communities of work, generally – and would other beliefs serve me better?

– Bob

What If #5 – Continuous Improvement Is Useless

What if our faith in continuous improvement is misplaced? What if one of the central tenets of Lean and Agile ways of working is just a delusion? Cargo culting? What if knowledge work is sufficiently unlike manufacturing that the whole idea of continuously and incrementally improving the way the work works has no payback? No point? What if, indeed, it’s useless – or even actually harmful?

Definition

For the avoidance of confusion, let me define what I mean here by “continuous improvement”. In general, I mean any change to the way we work, collectively, that makes us in any way more effective. That is, any change to a certain kind of task, or practice, which reduces the time and effort we take to get a certain kind of thing done.

For example, I saw one team swap out Planning Poker in favour of Silent Grouping, saving maybe 30 minutes * 10 team members = 5 hours for every fortnightly sprint planning session. On the face of it, this seems a small, but useful, improvement to the way the work works. But was it, really?

Some Of The Issues

Stepwiseness

If the working domain is merely complicated, as is largely true for production lines in a factory, then a standard process might make sense. Assembling e.g. a car has many steps, but those steps are largely definable. Improving any single step is fairly straightforward. Shorten the bolt to reduce the number of turns required to reach the necessary torque setting. Redesign the part(s), replacing the bolt and nut, or threaded hole, with a snap or push-fit fastener, thus speeding the operation (step) and maybe saving on parts costs too. Work in a complex domain, such as much of knowledge work, whether collaborative or not, does not much resemble this scenario.

Experimentability

In manufacturing, a standard process is relatively straightforward to sustain. Jobs (steps) are pretty much self-contained, and simple for new workers to pick up. Experiments (with e.g. improvements) are fairly simple to conduct. Cause and effect are fairly obvious. Change a thing. See (objectively) if that change makes a positive different. Again, knowledge work, particularly collaborative knowledge work, is not much like this. Change a thing. And guess whether the thing you changed made any kind of difference. Or did the difference (if detectable) come from a myriad of other uncontrolled – and uncontrollable – factors?

Distraction

All the time we buy into the assumption that continuous improvement is something we want, we’ll naturally spend time on trying to make it happen. Time which might perhaps be better spent on other aspects of making ourselves, or team and our organisations more effective. How many teams, organisations have any idea what continuous improvement is doing for them and their relative effectiveness? And even for those few that do, how often is continuous improvement a delusional frame, obscuring other reasons for the improvements they track?

Marginality

Even when a change does bring some positive uplift to effectiveness (or even efficiency), that uplift is most often marginal. Maybe we could better use our time, effort and focus on seeking out changes that bring a significant uplift to effectiveness. These may be rarer and more difficult to find, but maybe the payback is, overall, more worth having.

Irrelevance

Often, I’ve seen folks make a change which does bring some notional benefit, but not a benefit that translates to the better meeting of anyone’s needs. This is called out in e.g. Theory Of Constraints as “improving a non-bottleneck” and is a total waste of time, and money. The need to be seen to be improving something every day is a need in itself, of course. <wry smile>

Sustainability

For me, this is the biggest issue. If “process” is indeed one of those concepts from manual work a.k.a. manufacturing that has no place or value in knowledge work then even if we find an improvement that looks worthwhile, by what means do we “lock it in” for the future? The core premise of continuous improvement is that we build effectiveness, improvement upon small improvement, over time. By this path we become ever more effective. As a team, as a group, as an organisation, as an industry, as a society. I now question this assumption. I’ve never seen it work in practice. Not over the long haul. Humans, individually and collectively, are just too fickle, inattentive, capricious and random, Yes, we can continuously improve a machine. Continuously swapping out less effective parts for upgrades, like with an F1 car. But a complex adaptive social system is NOT a machine. Nothing like. And not much like a process, either.

Alternative Frames

Can we imagine an alternative to continuous improvement, as we generally understand it? How might we possibly become more effective without improving this step or that practice in the way our work works?

Just by way of an example, how about we focus instead on improving the quality of relationships in the workplace, both within teams and across teams? How about we focus on introspection and mindfulness in the hope of becoming “better” (more capable, more effective) people? How about we work on being more skilled at dialogue? How about we apply ourselves to (better) understanding some (more) of the principles underpinning the way the work works? How about we work on improving the healthy functioning of the complex adaptive systems we call “work”? How about we continuously examine our collective assumptions and their fitness to our shared goals?

These are all ways to improve, ways which lie outside the traditional scope of what we call “continuous (process) improvement”.

What if our unexamined assumptions around the value of continuous improvement are in fact a major blocker? For those of us who seek more effective knowledge-work organisations, maybe continuous improvement isn’t the most effective way to get there. I leave you with the following timeless wisdom:

“The unexamined life is not worth living.”

~ Socrates

– Bob

Further Reading

Why Continuous Improvement May Need To Be Discontinued ~ Ron Ashkenas
What’s the Problem with Continuous Improvement? ~ LeanCor article
How Continuous Improvement Went Horribly Wrong, for Some ~ Alan Nicol

Other Posts In This Occasional Series

What If #1 – No Management
What If #2 – No Process
What If #3 – No Telling
What If #4 – No Answers
What If #6 ~ Agile Nirvana
What If #7 – No Work
What If #8 – Agile Never Happened

 

The Antimatter Transformation Model

Lun-Bear-Tree

Lean bugs me. For no other reason than its blindness to the social sciences. Yes, Toyota and Lean proponents pay lip service to the “Respect For People” principle supposedly at the heart of Lean. But how often does this actually happen in any meaningful way?  And I have issues with the idea of “respect” in any case. I much prefer the idea of empathy to respect.

Ignorance

Maybe ignorance of psychology is not seen as an issue in the world of manufacturing. But I’d suggest application of psychology seems quite relevant in e.g. software development, and in the knowledge-work space more generally. Seeing as how knowledge work, and in particular collaborative knowledge work, involves, you know, people – and relationships.

It beats me why so many folks have this blind spot to applying 100+ years of psychology research to the thorny questions of making our efforts at knowledge work more effective. Not to mention more rewarding. And more joyful.

This is one of my key issues with the whole Lean thing. Its blithe disregard for applying know-how from psychology, sociology and other related disciplines. I’m guessing that disregard comes about not least because Lean implementations are most often left to the auspices of engineers. Folks who inevitably tend to see the world, and the organisation, in terms of a machine metaphor. And people, mainly, as cogs in that machine.

Lean Is A Busted Flush

I’m with John Seddon and his assertion that “Lean is a busted flush”. (Seddon & O’Donovan, 2015)

To illustrate my case, how about we take a look at one of the central planks of the Lean approach, the Lean House:

HouseOfLean

And specifically, John Shook’s Lean Transformation Model

HouseOfLean-Shook

Here’s the five elements of John Shook’s Lean Transformation Model:

  1. What is the purpose of the change–what true north and value are we providing, or simply: what problem are we trying to solve?
  2. How are we improving the actual work?
  3. How are we building capability?
  4. What leadership behaviors and management systems are required to support this new way of working?
  5. What basic thinking, mindset, or assumptions comprise the existing culture, and are we driving this transformation?

The Antimatter Alternative

I offer by way of contrast the Antimatter “Bear sitting under a tree” Transformation Model. Here’s a Chinese pictogram which represent the idea of human relations. I like to see it as a bear – wearing an asian conical hat or dǒulì (斗笠) – sitting taking shade under a tree.

Basic Lun
The Chinese pronounce this symbol as Lún (Hanyu Pinyin). Which means, amongst other things, “Human relations”. I like the image for its organic connotations (bear, tree), compared with the stark, mechanical, engineered “Lean House”. And for the relationship between the bear and the tree – both living things. And for evoking the idea of planting a tree under which future generations might take shade.

“A society grows great when men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”

~ Greek proverb

The basis of the Antimatter Transformation Model is the application of aspects of psychology and sociology to the challenges of making our organisations more effective, more (emotionally) rewarding places. And more joyful places. These being entirely complementary aims. The Bear-under-a-tree Model consists of five questions:

  1. What would we all like to have happen?
  2. How do we all feel about the way the work works, now and in the future?
  3. What are our needs, collectively and individually?
  4. In what ways do we all relate to each other presently, and would other ways of relating better help meet our needs?
  5. What do we believe about the nature and purpose of work, generally, and would other beliefs serve us better?

In Detail

Let’s take a look at each of the five questions in a little more detail:

Lun-31. What would we all like to have happen?

In Synergistic organisations, everyone is more or less on the same page with regard to what we’d like to have happen. This shared, common purpose provides the crucible within which productive dialogue can take place, and meaningful relationships can be created and developed. And let’s not talk about problems we have, but rather the way we would like things to be. Maybe some Solutions Focus perspective can come into play here – looking at what’s working well already, that we’d like to see more of.

Lun-42. How do we all feel about the way the work works, now and in the future?

What if we encourage folks to explore and share their feelings? With a safe environment where people feel comfortable and happy to do that. Positive feelings highlight needs that are already being met (and that we’d like to keep right on meeting), while negative feelings point to folks’ needs, often unrealised, that we’d like to start attending to.

 

Lun-53. What are our needs, collectively and individually?

Discussions around feelings lead naturally into discussions around people and their needs. Here also we admit the needs of the organisation itself. When we’ve an honest view on the needs people have, we can use these needs to guide the work we have to do. There’s not much point spending time and effort on meeting needs that no one has, or on needs that are already being well-met.

 

 

Lun-24. In what ways do we all relate to each other presently, and would other ways of relating better help meet our needs?

In collaborative knowledge work, the most significant factor is how folks relate to each other. The canopy of our tree provides the shade in which we can kick back and take the time to build these personal relationships. We might also like to ask ourselves whether our present ways of relating to each other complement or undermine the things we’ve decided we’d like to have happen.

Lun-15. What do we believe about the nature and purpose of work, generally, and would other beliefs serve us better?

The trunk of our tree acts to support the way folks relate to each other, and also as a prop to 1-3 (the bear leaning against the trunk). This is the collective set of assumptions, beliefs and memes (a.k.a. memeplex) held in common across the organisation. These beliefs can either  contribute to, or detract from, the things we’ve decided we’d like to have happen.

 

Designed For Adoption

The Antimatter Transformation Model is not a prescriptive implementation approach, but rather a set of fundamental questions which, if considered and discussed amongst all involved, in the form of an ongoing dialogue or series of conversations, can lead to a fundamental transformation of thinking, and thereby, of organisational culture.

It is not a value-driven approach, but rather a needs-driven approach. Needs always trump value. It makes no assumptions about the efficacy of process, management, or any other concepts in common currency in organisations today. (I call these baggage).

More fundamentally, it builds on research from a range of social sciences, in the belief that this offers an approach much better suited to successful adoption by us fallible, fragile, vulnerable, flaky, human beings.

Conclusion

By working through these questions, any organisation can examine its fundamental assumptions and concepts, maybe for the first time ever. Whatever comes out of this collective self-examination will be a context-dependent outcome closely suited to the needs of all the folks involved.

Finally, I leave you with a couple of Chinese proverbs which resonate with me and with the Antimatter Transformation Model:

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”

~ Chinese Proverb

“If you are planning for a year, sow rice; if you are planning for a decade, plant trees; if you are planning for a lifetime, educate people.”

~ Chinese Proverb

– Bob

 

 

%d bloggers like this: