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The Future Of Software-Intensive Product Development

A little while ago I wrote a post posing some questions about what ways of working we might look to, After Agile. Fewer folks engaged with this post compared to some others I have written. So I’m assuming that few are thinking about what we might see as the natural – or even unnatural – successor to Agile.

It is, however, a topic that occupies me regularly. Not least because of the intrinsic flaws in the whole Agile idea. We can, and eventually must, do much better.

Recently, some folks have been asking me about what I see as the future for software- and software-intensive product development (SIPD). Of course, I’ve been answering this question, on and off, for at least the past few years.

In a Nutshell

To sum up my take: In a nutshell, the issues that plague SIPD seem obvious. They’re mostly the same issues that plague all forms of collaborative knowledge work. Issues compounded by the gulf between conventional or traditional work and the new world of work (i.e. the world of collaborative knowledge work) – a new world distinctly unfamiliar to most in the world of work today.

We are faced with various collections of pathogenic beliefs (management, traditional business, Agile, etc.), none of which provide us with a context for EFFECTIVELY tackling the challenges we face in the new world of work – i.e. the world of collaborative knowledge work.

I’m choosing here to list these challenges in terms of needs, and in terms of the strategies – conventional and unconventional – for meeting those needs.

Developers’ Needs

Agile came into being driven by developers attempting to see their needs better met. These include:

  • Less working time “wasted” on mindless bureaucracy and distractions, such as meetings, reports, documentation, etc..
  • More time to focus on making great software, and stuff that delights customers.
  • Improved relationships with co-workers, business folks, customers, and the like.
  • More flexibility to adapt to emerging information, to changing needs, and to things learned along the way.
  • More say in what they work on, the tools they work with, and how they do their work.
  • Approval of one’s peers (including a sense of belonging and community re: the “technical” tribe)
  • And simply, the leeway to just “do a better job” and make a positive difference in the world.

Bottom line: Many developers need to feel valued, purposeful, that they’re making progress (learning) and are recognised for their abilities.

Business Folks’ Needs

Secondarily, but still important in the Agile approach, is better outcomes for “the business”. Agilists have come to recognise the following needs (even though common forms of Agile do not address them).

  • Approval of one’s peers (including a sense of belonging and community re: the “management” tribe).
  • Empathy (meaningful connection with other human beings).
  • A positive self-image.
  • Stability (folks have families to support).
  • Acclaim/fame (folks have careers to pursue).
  • Warmth (of human relationships) – Most business folks are just normal people, too.
  • Peace (i.e. an absence of distress).
  • Purpose.

Users’ / Customers’ Needs

Businesses ultimately stand or fall on revenues. Revenues which depend on their products and services meeting the needs of their customers. These needs include:

  • Approval of one’s peers (including a sense of belonging and community re: the “brand” or “XYZ customer” tribe).
  • A positive self-image (what being a user or owner of a certain product says about you, in your own mind).
  • Stability (folks don’t like to think too hard, or continually learn new stuff for no good reason).
  • Warmth (of human relationships) – Most customers, being humans, value interactions with other human beings.
  • Low fuss (i.e. being able to get their jobs done with minimal distress).

Shareholders’ Needs

Shareholders also have needs which they seek to get met. These include:

  • Approval of one’s peers (including a sense of belonging and community re: the “investor” tribe).
  • Contribution to society (e.g. ethical investments) and communities.
  • Financial returns (investors have families and/or lifestyles to support).

In a future post I’ll be looking at the strategies that people use to get these needs met, including those strategies implicit in Agile methods – and some alternative strategies that might prove

– Bob

 

Surely You Can’t Mean That?

shocked

I regularly talk with business people about improving their software and product development, and their businesses as a whole, more and more dependent as these businesses are on these capabilities. The reaction I see far more often than most others is – incredulity.

“Surely you can’t mean that??”

Collaborative Knowledge Work

“Collaborative knowledge work is fundamentally different to the kinds of work you and your people are used to. It will require fundamental shifts in how you approach the whole idea of work.”

“What?!? Surely you can’t mean that?”

Managers

“Managers and management are antithetical to collaborative knowledge work – you’ll have to find some other things to which these folks can apply their skills and experience.”

“What?!? Surely you can’t mean that?”

Workers

“The best people to decide how the work should work are the people doing the work. Not the managers.”

“What?!? Surely you can’t mean that?”

Scrum

“In Scrum, there are only three roles: Developer, Scrum Master and Product Owner.”

“What?!? Surely you can’t mean that?”

Relationships

“The one key element to productivity in collaborative knowledge work is the quality of the relationships between people.”

“What?!? Surely you can’t mean that?”

Projects

“Doing work in projects inflates your costs, demoralises workers, and sucks management attention. You would be well served to find some other approach.”

“What?!? Surely you can’t mean that?”

Certainty

“Looking for certainty – of timescales, costs, quality, outcomes – is a Fool’s Errand. Get comfortable with uncertainty, and focus instead on flexibility and reducing delays.”

“What?!? Surely you can’t mean that?”

Strategy

“The days of a sellers’ market are over. Winning businesses will be those that discover how to compete successfully in a buyers’ market.”

“What?!? Surely you can’t mean that?”

Telling

“Telling capable employees what to do and how to do it only demoralises and demotivates them. Move from telling to serving.”

“What?!? Surely you can’t mean that?”

Incredible

All these are incredible, unbelievable, and utterly essential ideas in the world of collaborative knowledge work. How can we all stop drawing sharp intakes of breath, and come to terms with these – and many other –  impossible-to-believe ideas?

– Bob

 

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

 

 

I Lied

liar

Earlier today I tweeted a lie. I knew I was doing it, and went ahead and tweeted anyway. And I’m not ashamed of it.

Let’s set aside the question of why we feel outraged, disappointed, or betrayed when we catch someone – including, often, ourselves – in a lie.

Down To Brass Tacks

The tweet in question read:

Where’s the lie? Where’s the harm?

The lie is twofold: in the phrase “ideal environment” and in the phrase “optimal knowledge work”. I’ll try to explain the potential harm as we go…

Lie One: Idealism

In psychotherapy, many therapists guard against holding up some ‘ideal” image of a “mentally healthy and well adjusted person”  to their client.

“Clients would be better helped if they were encouraged to focus on their current subjective understanding rather than on some unconscious motive or someone else’s interpretation of the situation.”

In other words, striving for some imagined “ideal” often introduces incongruence, which carries its own pathogenic risks.

“Some clients may feel that their personal problems mean that they fall short of the ‘ideal’. They may need to feel reassured that they will be accepted for the person that they are and not face rejection or disapproval.”

I have observed a similar psychopathology at work in those organisations image, or that attempt to define, an “ideal state”.

Organisational Psychopathology

In a fully congruent organisation, realising its potential is not at the expense of experiencing positive regard. It is able to lead a life that is authentic and genuine. Incongruent organisations, in their pursuit of positive regard, lead lives that include falseness and not realising their potential. Conditions they impose on themselves make it necessary for such organisations to forgo their genuine, authentic lives to meet with approval. They operate from a place incongruent with their true nature.

The incongruent organisation, always on the defensive and closed to many experiences, finds itself ill at ease with its own self. It works hard at maintaining/protecting its self-concept. Because its way of being lacks authenticity, this work is difficult and such organisations can feel under constant threat. Distortion and denial arise to help in defending its self-concept. Distortion occurs when the organisation perceives a threat to its self-concept. The organisation distorts their perception until the (distorted) perception fits their self-concept.

Such defensive behaviour reduces the consciousness of the threat but not the threat itself. And so, as the threats mount, the work of protecting the self-concept becomes more difficult and the organisation becomes more defensive and rigid. If the incongruence is immoderate this process may lead the organisation to a state could be described as neurotic. Its functioning becomes impaired. If the situation worsens it is possible that the defenses cease to function altogether and the organisation becomes aware of its incongruence. Its manifest being may become disorganised and bizarre; irrational behavior, associated with earlier denied aspects of self, may erupt uncontrollably.

Lie Two: Optimality

Many organisations espouse optimality, yet few indeed have a theory-in-use congruent with this.

 “Effectiveness results from developing congruence between Theory-in-use and Espoused theory.”

~ Chris Argyris

So, yes, speaking to “optimality” is speaking to – and congruent with – most organisations’ espoused theories. Thus it may receive more favourable attention than something that speaks to their (unseen) theories-in-use. But in truth, the therapist guards against the client’s espousal of optimality. From the clients theory-in-use perspective, “somewhat better” is likely much more realistic. A key aspect of therapy is providing the opportunity for the client to become aware of, and thereby, maybe, reduce its incongruence.

I suspect expressing the tweet in question in a way that connects with people and organisations might take some doing. Here’s the weaker(?) but more honest version:

Organisational therapy is about creating environments, conditions and workplaces that support more effective knowledge work and cognitive function.

– Bob

Further Reading

All Marketers Are Liars ~ Seth Godin

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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 Difficult Message To Hear

I grew up in Kent, by the seaside. My mother, working long hours in the City to earn a crust for the family, was away from home most days. Consequently I was very close to my maternal grandmother, Ivy, who ran our seaside family business. Literally chief cook and bottle washer.

Ivy’s one vice, and pleasure, was cigarettes. Even then, her doctor regularly told her she needed to cut down or give up, lest her fragile health get worse.

Of course, like most people advised to change their lifestyle to something more healthy, she ignored the advice. After all, she had been smoking with little observable ill-effect for thirty years already,

Later on in life, when the family business (a guest house) was but a fond and distant memory, she retired from being a cook. Not long into retirement, and when I was working in Munich, she fell gravely ill. The tobacco had finally caught up with her. I flew home to be at her hospice bedside. After a mercifully brief but very distressing illness, she died there, of the cancer, aged 81 years.

Doctors Know This

In terms of health and long life, doctors are forever advising us to change our lifestyle – permanently.

“I think most people are put off by the fact that what we usually promote is life-long change”

~ Robyn A. Osborn, RD, PhD, dietician and psychologist

People need to feel that the benefits of changing their behavior will outweigh the costs, Osborn says. For many people, the psychological cost of giving up their current unhealthy lifestyle seems too great. So they opt for the “quick fix”.

For example, people may not think about whether a weight-loss plan touted by an attractive celebrity is healthy or logical. They just like the way he or she looks and they’d like to look like that, too.

“Maybe that’s one of our problems as nutrition health professionals, because we so much focus on the long-term health consequences rather than how you look. We would prefer that people are comfortable with the way they look but they’re more concerned with their health.”

~ Lisa Dorfman, RD, dietician and mental health counsellor

And there’s no getting away from the difficult message – if we want to be healthy, we have to change our lifestyle. And that implies changing how we see ourselves, and our relationships with the world.

So It Is With Business

And so it it with business. If we want to have a healthy business, company or organisation, we have to change our lifestyles. And that implies changing how we see ourselves, and our relationships with the world.

That is a hard message to hear. And even harder to act on. People die rather than change. Every day. So what chance we’ll act when something less than our personal health, our life, is at stake?

No matter how far-fetched, faddish ideas continue to appeal to business folks. We are very much intrigued by those things that seem to demystify the whole thing – there’s some magic pixie dust, or some new wonder method that others have been claiming to get great results with. That has to be it. It couldn’t be something as simple as “I need to see things differently and change how I relate to myself and others”.

My gran was the world to me, and with her passing I died a little. Every time I see folks go for the easy “fix” rather than the difficult message, the self-change, I remember her, and I die a little more, too.

– Bob

After Agile

AfterAgileBlue

In recent workshops and conferences I’ve been inviting people to explore the question of “After Agile, DevOps, what now?”

There’s a line of argument, and of exploration, that goes something like this:

Idealised Design

What does the Ideal software development organisation / business look like and work like? If our existing organisation / company / business was totally destroyed last night, what would we choose today in rebuilding it? What are the key concepts and principles that we would choose to focus on in creating our ideal organisation? Cf. Idealised Design, Russell L. Ackoff.

The Role of Mindset

We may find “culture” or “mindset” amongst our idealised key concepts. By which I mean organisational mindset (Cf. Rightshifting and the Marshall Model). If so, then we may want to discover means to “shift” our present organisational mindset towards our ideal model.

Organisational Psychotherapy

How to shift an organisation’s mindset? I propose Organisational Psychotherapy as a means for approaching that in a structured way. What are the issues involves in such a shift? What does therapy have to offer? What does therapy feel like? And what kinds of therapy might suit?

If you’d like to explore these ideas in your own organisation and context, via a workshop or similar, I’d be happy to oblige. Please get in touch.

– Bob

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