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Quintessential Applications – Come Join Us!

What do we need to see in applications from potential Quintessential fellows? Well, we definitely don’t want to see a CV or resume. We don’t grok how what you’ve done in the past speaks to your potential in the future. We choose to see our fellows as capable of anything, given the necessary support and environment.

We would like to be surprised by the things you feel represent your best. Maybe a list of the things you’ve read and found insightful, such as blog posts, articles, books and so on. Or the times you’ve most enjoyed getting together with others to deliver great software and great experiences. Or maybe the topics in which you have the most interest, and some contributions you’ve made or intend to make in those areas. Maybe you’d be willing to share your take on Quintessence, on Organisational Psychotherapy, or some intriguing questions or practical experience you may have regarding excellence in software delivery. Opinions are way less interesting to us, compared to evidence.

It might be interesting to hear about the terms and conditions you guess you might be needing, including things like pay, hours, locations, equipment, team mates, etc..

Take a look at the list of skills we consider most useful, and tell us about your own skills and aspirations in those areas, or even in other areas you feel may be relevant. Although some “hard” tech skills such as coding and UX might be interesting, we’d love to enroll fellows with outstanding soft skills – these rank higher in our priorities. For example, the Antimatter Principle is as the heart of everything we do – so we’d love to hear about your experiences with attending to folks’ needs.

We’d also love to hear about times when you’ve taken care of something or someone. And how that felt – bot for you and for them.

Above all, we invite you to share with us why you see yourself as a good fit for our community of fellows, and the ways in which you will contribute to moving our whole community forward – improving the principles and practices of software delivery. And your take on excellence, too.

Go wild! Express yourself. If words and text ain’t your thang, maybe video, or audio, or music, or art, or Zen koans, or haikus, or however you best express yourself.

Our declared purpose is to make a dent in the universe, to make the world a better place through outstanding excellence in software delivery. To bring Alien Tech to the service of human beings. We’d love to hear what these things means to you. And how you see yourself contributing.

We appreciate we’re asking you to dedicate some non-trivial amount of time to representing yourself. And we’ll reciprocate by dedicating our time to paying attention to your application. And we will happily help you evolve your application from e.g. small beginnings, incrementally. No need for a one-shot big- bang application. Doing things together is, of course, a hallmark of The Quintessential Group.

We’re looking forward to hearing from you – whatever the medium, whatever the format. As Marshall McLuhan said, the medium is the message.

– Bob

First Step Towards Quintessence

Taking a look at the idea of Quintessence can seem overwhelmingly daunting. Changing the culture of a whole organisation? Shifting assumptions and beliefs of an entire workforce, managers and executives included? Wow. Some herculean task?

Formidable Challenge

The challenge can seem truly formidable. Yet the benefits look appealing. 

How to take that first step? What is the most useful and reassuring first step?

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

~ Lao Tzu

Surfacing And Reflecting

The clue is on the cover of my second book, “Memeology“. The subtitle reads

Surfacing and reflecting on the organisation’s collective assumptions and beliefs.

I find a useful first step is talking with peers. And listening to what they have to say. Discovering if there’s an appetite for such surfacing and reflecting. Uncovering their challenges of the moment, and sounding out potential allies. Persuasion comes later, if at all.

The status quo has a powerful grip on busy people. It’s easy to dismiss calls for change in the midst of daily stressors such as fire-fighting and chasing targets.

Timbre

What’s the timbre of dialogue in your organisation? Progressive or regressive? Inviting or dismissive? What timbre might best suit the kinds of dialogue implied by Quintessence? How might y’all affect that timbre? And could you use some help with that?

Chatting Is The First Step

To recap – simple chatting with friends, neighbours, peers and colleagues can be the vital first step. And “Alien Tech” can sometimes serve as an icebreaker, if you feel you need one.

– Bob

 

How Do You Set Up A Salary Model That Has Everyone’s Approval?

Remuneration policy reflects an organisation’s culture. It’s a calling card for your company and a key lement of employer branding. Given current recruiting challenges, it also determines who wants to join or stay with your company.

What Is A Salary Model?

A salary model, or remuneration policy, is a system of guidance that an organisation uses to determine each employee’s remuneration (a.k.a. package). A typical salary model takes into account things like merit, length of employment, and pay compared to similar positions.

Everyone’s Approval?

You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.

~ John Lydgate

Salary models are almost always contentious, and the source of frequent fractious arguments and ill-will. Few people favour being treated just like everybody else, seeing themselves as individuals. Yes, fairness has a role to play – humans and capuchins both being accutely attuned to the notion of fairness. But who adjudicates what is fair when it comes to salaries and other remunerations?

At Familar, and now at TheQuintessentialGroup, we seek to treat people as adults, and encourage adult-to-adult interactions. Accordingly, we believe that only the individual in question is at all placed to decide what is fair, and thus to determine their personal individual salary or other remuneration. Our experiences at Familiar showed this idea as entirely workable, and helped us learn the amazing up-side to such a salary model.

This perspective also aligns with the Antimatter Principle: “Attend to folks’ needs”. Who else but the individual can truly decide what their needs are, salary-wise? Needless to say, the Antimatter Principle stands proud at the heart of TheQuintessentialGroup’s approach to community-building, and to business.

So, for clarity, this salary model states:

Each fellow decides his or her own salary (or other remuneration, depending on engagement model). Each fellow is free to change salary or other remuneration levels as and when – and as often as – they see fit.

Note: This particulalr salary model is the salary model of choice for TheQuintessentialGroup.

Wrinkles

One wrinkle that did emerge at Familiar, given the totally alien nature of this salary model, was the difficulty some folks had in deciding on the specifics of their package. We discovered that support and dialogue amongst fellows (along with full transparency for all) helped greatly with resolving this difficulty.

Another, more general wrinkle is the collective assumptions and beliefs of the decision-makers and those that sign off – or don’t – on the salary model. The headline of this post is about winning everyone’s approval. Managers and executives that have a sublimated Theory-X view of the world probably won’t approve of this salary model. Which I find sad, for the people and for the performance of the workforce (and thus, of the organisation).

– Bob

Afterword

“Has everyone’s approval” seems to me a pretty low bar. I’d prefer to see a salary model that “everyone loves and raves about”. How about you?

Twelve Invitations for Fellowship

  1. We’ll have a face-to-face catchup (1:1) at least as frequently as once a week. Either of us can cancel whenever we agree to. It’s our time.
  2. Our 1:1 agenda will be in our meeting invite so we remember important topics. But either of us remains free to use the time for whatever’s on our minds.
  3. When we schedule each catchup, we’ll state *at the time we schedule it* what it’s meant to be about. We prefer to avoid chatting without an agenda. The agenda can be as simple as e.g. “social”.
  4. When we drop into each other’s DMs, we’ll always say hello, and what”s on our minds. No suspense. No small talk while we are wondering what the DM is going to be about.
  5. We will share directly any face-to-face news or announcements that significantly impact e.g. us, our several relationships, our teams or our community, not via a big meeting, recorded video or mailshot.
  6. We’ll share feedback when it’s fresh. Feeedback is about our needs and the extend to which they’ve been met (or not). There will be no hint of performance reviews or other judgements.
  7. We trust everyone to manage their own time. No one is expected to clear with anyone in advance re: their time or place.
  8. We will attend to folks’ needs by way of informing them of our whereabout and times of availability – if and when they have a need to know.
  9. Things gets done the way we decide is best. Our focus is on folks’ needs, not outcomes or outputs. Once we’ve agreed on where we’re going, how to get there is up to each of us, in agreement.
  10. A team is most effective when it has a shared purpose, moves forward together, looks after one another, and takes care of each other and all the folks that matter. We choose to continuously look to our left and to our right for opportunities to help our fellows. We request help whenever we need it. Nobody has to do things in isolation except by choice.
  11. There are no reporting lines, chains of command and control, hierarchy, etc. We talk with each other and anyone about anything we feel is relevant.
  12. We attribute credit when attribution serves folks’ needs. We will never exaggerate our own roles or minimize others’ contributions.

If all of this sounds like it might serve your needs, I invite you to reciprocate by giving of the one thing we all need most. Attention to folks’ needs.

I want to hear your feedback, to know when someone’s needs are going unattended, or are being well-attended to. To know when and how we can bring more joy into folks’ lives.

We always welcome folks’ thoughts, listen patiently, and never respond defensively.

If we attend to each other’s needs, we can learn and grow and bond together. That’s how I need to connect with what’s alive in you.

– Bob

Quintessential Ways Of Working

I’m sure folks hearing about Quintessence wonder what it’s all about, and how it differs from other ways of working in the software development domain.

There’s much to absorb in my books on the subject, especially Quintessence itself.

But for those who prefer an “in a nutshell” explanation…

Foundations

Culture

Products, designs, solutions, services – these are all a consequence of our culture. 

So the quintessential organisation focuses on its culture, not on its processes, technical practices, competencies, etc.. And builds cultural awareness and shift into its business-as-usual, into its ways of working.

As Kevin Weiss so kindly says in his foreword to Quintessence:

This is the real challenge to readers of this book – to consider these ideas as a wholly different way of working, rather than an à la carte menu of possibilities. If you can do that, you may have what it takes to be a leader in your company’s transformation. 

And if you do, jump at the chance! It will likely be the most rewarding time of your career. 

~ Kevin Weiss

Interpersonal relationships

Part of the quintessential way of working centres around the relations between people. Between individual teams members. Between teams and the folks they serve. Between folks inside the organisation and those in customer and supplier organisations. Between folks on the front line, and their managers and executive. The way the work works, whomsoever owns it, is oriented towards increased opportunities for dialogue, and fellowship, relationship- and community-building. Not so much towards producing stuff, like designs, solutions, code, etc..

Continuous Reflection

Regular dialogue enables the surfacing of and reflecting upon the organisation’s collective assumptions and beliefs – another key aspect of the way the work works in aspiring quintessential organisations. Such dialogue is literally built into the ways of working of quintessential organisations.

Attending to folks’ needs (the Antimatter Principle) also serves to strengthen and deepen interpersonal relationships.

Excellence

A key principle in the quintessential way of working is excellence. The desire to do and be the best one can. No tolerance of complacency or slacking-off here. 

Working Together

Quintessential organisations feature people working together. I hesitate to say collaboration, because I have some reservations about that notion. But working together is an essential element of the quintessential organisation. Gone are the days when the heroic individual could make some lone breakthrough or discovery. Our world has become more complicated than that.

Systems Thinking

Quintessential organisations recognise themselves as complex adaptive systems, not just a collection of quasi-independent parts. Decisions are made and actions taken with this perspective fully in mind. And systems thinking permeates all aspects and all levels of the way the work works.

Risk

One aspect often overlooked in non-quintessential organisations is the formal management and control of risk. Many of the Folks That Matter within an organisation seek certainty and predictability, but rarely are the risks threatening those needs explicitly managed. See also: (DeMarco and Lister 2003).

Normative Learning

See: Toyota Kata (Rother 2010).

Social Sciences

The quintessential organisation draws on discoveries from many of the social sciences, including:

  • psychology
  • psychotherapy
  • group dynamics
  • cognitive science
  • neuroscience.

And builds the discoveries and practices from these fields into the way the work works.

Summary

The above are just the stand-out aspects of ways of working observable in quintessential organisations.

Take a look at Quintessence (the book) if you’d like to understand more and dive deeper.

– Bob

Further Reading

Rother, M. (2010). Toyota Kata: Managing People For Continuous Improvement And Superior Results. Mcgraw-Hill.

Demarco, T. and Lister, T.R. (2003). Waltzing With Bears: Managing Risk On Software Projects. Dorset House Pub.

Culture Shifting

For the past twenty years my work has been focussed on helping tech organisations shift their culture towards something more aligned to their aspirations and objectives. I have found that few indeed are the tech organisations that understand the role of culture, and its importance to their results.

The Role of Culture

Many business leaders over the years have emphasised the primacy of culture. Here’s a few:

The only thing of real importance that leaders do is to create and manage culture.

~ Edgar Schein

The thing I have learned at IBM is that culture is everything. It took me to age fifty-five to figure that out.

~ Lou Gerstner, CEO, IBM

If you get the culture right, most of the other stuff will just take care of itself.

~ Tony Hsieh, CEo, Zappos.com

What is Culture?

Culture is the collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one group from another.

~ Geert Hofstede

According to Ed Schein, culture is a shared set of basic assumptions and beliefs:

Culture is the deeper level of basic assumptions and beliefs that are shared by members of an organisation, that operate unconsciously and define in a basic ‘taken for granted’ fashion an organisation’s view of its self and its environment… 

It’s a pattern of shared basic assumptions invented, discovered, or developed by a given group. 

~ Edgar Schein

The Organisational Psychotherapy Viewpoint

Organisation Psychotherapy asserts that culture is no more, and no less, than a read-only manifestation of an organisation’s collective psyche – of its collective assumptions and beliefs. Read-only because culture cannot be manipulated directed, but only via changes to those underlying collective assumptions and beliefs. (Marshall 2021).

Organisational Psychotherapy provides the context, the means and the tools to address changing such collective assumptions and beliefs.

The Culture In Your Organisation Today

Here’s a few questions you might like to bring up next time your peers discuss organisational culture:

  1. What does the term “organisational culture” mean to the folks in your organisation? 
  2. Does everyone share the same meaning, or are folks “all over the map”? 
  3. What impact does your organisation’s culture today have on your ability to achieve your purpose, your goals?
  4. How might you describe your organisation’ culture, as it is, right now?
  5. If you decide you need to effect some changes to your culture, how might you go about doing that? 
  6. To what extent are your senior folks and decision-makers agreed on the relative importance or significance of organisational culture? And the rest of the folks in the organisation? 
  7. What’s the impact of culture on financial performance (your bottom line)? 
  8. What’s the interplay between culture and the way the work works? 
  9. What’s the interplay between culture and the structure of the organisation? 

– Bob

Further Reading

Schein, E.H. (2016). Organizational Culture and Leadership. John Wiley & Sons. 

Hofstede, G.H. (1991). Cultures and Organizations Software of the Mind. Mcgraw-Hill. 

Marshall, R.W. (2021). Memeology: Surfacing And Reflecting On The Organisation’s Collective Assumptions And Beliefs. [online] leanpub.com. Falling Blossoms. Available at: https://leanpub.com/memeology/ [Accessed 11 Feb. 2022].

How often do we see folks touting “tech innovation” with nary a mention of e.g. relationship innovation, and innovations in “being human”?

Here’s some valuable non-tech innovations you could be pursuing:

  • Nonviolent Communication (Marshall Rosenberg).
  • Empathy.
  • Compassion and Compassionomics.
  • Zen.
  • Nancy Kine’s Thinking Environments.
  • Dialogue skills.
  • Appreciation of Power Dynamics in the workplace.
  • Reflection and surfacing one’s own assumptions and beliefs.
  • Attending to folks’ needs..
  • Apprciation of the role of the Domination System and the Myth of Redemptive Violence.

The Way Forward

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

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

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

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

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

…and so on, and so on. 

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

– Bob

Quintessence: Undiscussables

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

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

Chapter 12. Undiscussables

Quintessentially

Quintessential organisations regard open and free discussion as an essential element in both becoming and remaining highly effective. No topics are taboo or undiscussable. We can’t converge on a most likely hypothesis if there are some hypotheses that are undiscussable. It’s only in the crucible of ideas and debate that we can converge on a common understanding.

In the quintessential organisation, even though discussion of some topics may contribute to people feeling nervous, uncomfortable, or threatened, everyone realises the necessity to work through such feelings, support each other, and discuss these difficult topics, nevertheless. In fact, it’s the most difficult topics that are often those most worthy of discussion. 

Folks look out for topics that might be on the cusp of becoming undiscussable, and make a special effort to brings these particular topics up for discussion. Everyone is aware of the impact of taboo topics, and strives to keep the count of such topics at zero.

Quintessential organisations have zero tolerance of undiscussability.

What distinguishes exemplary boards is that they are robust, effective social systems … The highest performing companies have extremely contentious boards that regard dissent as an obligation and that treat no subject as undiscussable.

Jeffrey Sonnenfeld

Further Reading

Schachter, H. (2019, November 9). It’s Finally Time to Discuss the Undiscussables of the Workplace. Controllers On Call. Retrieved June 1, 2021, from https://controllersoncall.ca/its-finally-time-to-discuss-the-undiscussables-of-the-workplace/

Noonan, W.R. (2007). Discussing the Undiscussable: A Guide to Overcoming Defensive Routines in the Workplace. Jossey-Bass.

‌Sonnenfeld, J. (2002). What Makes Great Boards Great. [online] Harvard Business Review. Available at: https://hbr.org/2002/09/what-makes-great-boards-great.

– Bob

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)

 

The Organisational Psychotherapy Retrospective

Are you bored with mundane retrospectives? I know I am. And so are the teams I work with.

Scrum Retrospectives

By way of example, let’s take a quick look at the Scrum version of retrospectives.

Scrum describes Sprint Retrospectives thusly:

The purpose of the Sprint Retrospective is to plan ways to increase quality and effectiveness.

The Scrum Team inspects how the last Sprint went with regards to individuals, interactions, processes, tools, and their Definition of Done. Inspected elements often vary with the domain of work. Assumptions that led them astray are identified and their origins explored. The Scrum Team discusses what went well during the Sprint, what problems it encountered, and how those problems were (or were not) solved.

The Scrum Team identifies the most helpful changes to improve its effectiveness. The most impactful improvements are addressed as soon as possible. They may even be added to the Sprint Backlog for the next Sprint.

During the Sprint Retrospective, the team discusses:

      • What went well in the Sprint?
      • What could be improved?
      • What will we commit to improve in the next Sprint?

Even thought the above description mentions assumptions, the bullet list makes no such provision. And I’ve never seen an IRL retrospective that raised the question of assumptions.

A New Hope

So here’s a new kind of retrospective you might like to experiment with – the OP Retrospective.

The OP Retrospective

The concept – and existence – of the Collective Mindset (a.k.a. Organisational Psyche) is foundational to Organisational Psychotherapy. It is the thing with which every OP therapist interacts.

Organisation Psychotherapy asserts that culture is no more, and no less, than a read-only manifestation of an organisation’s collective mindset – of its collective assumptions and beliefs. Read-only because culture cannot be manipulated directed, but only via changes to those underlying collective assumptions and beliefs.

Are development teams affected by the organisation’s culture? By their own team culture? By the organisation’s collective assumptions and beliefs? By their own team-local assumptions and beliefs? Are they in a position to shift either?

I’’d say “Yes”.

Benefits

Given the influence of collective assumptions and beliefs on communication, productivity, teamwork, joy in work, and a host of other individual, team, and organisational concerns, shifting assumptions can lead the team to a more effective place.

Means

But by what means? There’s no specific ceremony in e.g. Scrum to surface and reflect on collective assumptions and beliefs (culture). Maybe our retrospectives can, from time to time, serve this purpose?

If we wanted to use a retrospective (or a part of one) to explore cultural issues, how might we go about that?

I’d suggest my self-help Organisational Psychotherapy book “Memeology” might be one place to start. It’s stuffed full of questions that a team or group can ask themselves to explore cultural assumptions.

Here’s one example meme (meme #15, “Who Matters” – excerpted from the free sample version of the book:

15. Who Matters

Suggested Preamble

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

By way of example, here’s a partial list of the groups and individuals that are candidates for inclusion on a list of who matters:

  • Your organisation’s senior managers and executives (“the higher-ups”).
  • Your organisation’s Core Group.
  • Your immediate manager a.k.a. “boss”.
  • Your project manager (for folks working in project teams or on a project).
  • Your product owner or manager (for folks working in product teams or on a product).
  • Your development team (the team in which you are a member).
  • Other development teams.
  • Operations people (the folks that keep your organisation’s websites, production servers, etc., up and running).
  • The Programme Management Office (PMO – if your organisation has such a thing).
  • Testers (when separate from the development teams).
  • The Process Group (the folks who stipulate how the work should work, or who support teams in their ownership of the way the work work – when separate from the development teams).
  • Quality Assurance (QA) folks (when present).
  • Your business sponsor(s) (internal budget holder, etc.)
  • Other people across your organisation.
  • Your (end) customer(s) (and their purchasing or procurement departments).
  • Commercial partners.
  • Regulators.
  • Wider society.
  • The planet (Gaia).
Suggested Opening Question

Who matters?

Suggested Follow-on Questions

How do we presently go about deciding who matters (and who doesn’t)?

How well (or poorly) does our approach to deciding who matters serve us?

How often do we fail to focus on key groups?

Can we safely exclude some people and / or groups from consideration?

Suggested Wrapping Up

What have we learned or come to realise, maybe for the first time, in our conversation here today on “who matters”?

How far apart or together are we now on the subject of who matters? Has airing the subject eased our concerns?

Is it time for action on who matters? And if so, how might we go about setting some action(s) in train?

Further Reading

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

– Bob

 

 

Drop-In Experiment Terminated

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

I’m with Voltaire’s rhetorical question:

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

~ Voltaire

– Bob

Here we are, nearly forty years after the first publication of Goldratt’s “The Goal“. How many organisations (percentage of all organisations) today have a clearly defined, consensual, well-communicated and well-understood GOAL?

Where does your organisation stand on this?

How Undiscussable are your Undiscussables?

[This post is excerpted from my new book, “Memeology“]

Suggested Preamble

Most organisations have things that nobody talks about, because broaching these topics can make people feel nervous, uncomfortable, or threatened. It’s common to refer to topics that people avoid discussing as “The Elephant in the Room”, or more prosaically as “undiscussables”. 

Suggested Opening Question

How many memes (topics) do we collectively baulk at discussing?

Note: In group settings, especially early on in the surfacing of and reflecting on collective assumptions and beliefs, it may be a challenge to start talking about specific undiscussables. Even simply naming these topics may prove a step too far, at the outset. This opening question does not intend to drive the identification of undiscussable topics, but to afford an opportunity to explore the more general subject of undiscussability, and the prevalence of undiscussability across the organisation.

Suggested Follow-on Questions

Might it help open up this meme (topic) if we categorise our different kinds of undiscussables?

What categories might we choose?

What impact – if any – do our undiscussables have on our organisation?

What are some specific undiscussables here in our own organisation?

How discussable is undiscussability itself for us?

How tolerant are we of undiscussability? 

Suggested Wrapping Up

What have we learned or come to realise, maybe for the first time, in our conversation here today on undiscussability?

How far apart or together are we now on the subject of undiscussability? Has airing the subject eased our concerns?

Is it time for action on undiscussability? And if so, how might we go about setting some action(s) in train?

Further Reading

Schachter, H. (2019, November 9). It’s Finally Time to Discuss the Undiscussables of the Workplace. Controllers On Call. Retrieved June 1, 2021, from https://controllersoncall.ca/its-finally-time-to-discuss-the-undiscussables-of-the-workplace/

Noonan, W.R. (2007). Discussing the Undiscussable: A Guide to Overcoming Defensive Routines in the Workplace. Jossey-Bass.

 

My latest book, “Memeology” is now 96% complete. All the memes are now completed. Some minor sections remain outstanding. Is it now time to buy? The Special Offer remains available to purchasers.

Why read this book? Memeology provides organisations with a raft of questions through which to surface and reflect on its collective assumptions and beliefs. Remember,

E = 𝑓(Mindset)

Organisational effectiveness is a function of the collective mindset of the organisation.

Who is responsible for the effectiveness of your organisation? And what tools do they have to work on that?

What is “A Decent Conversation”?

Decent conversations have been front of mind for me for many years. Mainly due to my need for them, and for their conspicuous absence in most cases. Sure I get to have many interactions with people, but are those conversations? And moreover, are they “decent”?

Decent

In my most recent quickie I borrowed the term “decent” from the headline of the linked article.
Admittedly it’s a little vague. Let’s see if we can’t disambiguate a little.

For openers, a circular definition: For me, a decent conversation is one that meets my needs.

Which of course begs the question “What are my needs of a decent conversation?”. (Please prefix all the below with an implicit “For me…”).

A conversation is more that just two (or more) parties talking to each other. Or more often, at each other.

Conversations or exchanges involving simple assertions – for example “dogs are so cute” – fall short of “decent” conversations. Ditto for expression of opinion – for example, statements beginning “I think…”. I need interactions that involve supportive and mutual sense-making, not just airing of opinions.

While the word ‘sensemaking’ may have an informal, poetic flavour, that should not mask the fact that it is literally just what it says it is.

~ Karl Weick, 1995

Decent conversations must involve skilful listening, on the part of all participants. Expressly, listening for what’s “going on” with each other. Marshall Rosenberg describes this as “focussing on what’s alive, right now, in those participating”.

How often do you feel people are listening to you? That they’re interested in how you’re feeling and what you have to say? That by listening they’re connecting with you as a person? How often do you listen well enough that others feel that same way about you?

More than Listening

Decent conversations involve more than (NVC) listening. They involve empathy, compassion, and a desire to help participants evolve their understanding. To come together in reaching a deeper or more nuanced shared understanding. I sometime refer to this as “shared mutual exploration”.

Yes, that’s a high bar. But with practice and motivation – and yes, support – one that most people are capable of clearing.

Is there value in decent conversations? For me, absolutely. For others? Maybe we can have a decent conversation about that.

– Bob

Further Reading

Rosenberg, M.B. (2015). Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life. Puddledancer Press.
Kline, N. (2010). More Time to Think: A Way of Being in the World. Fisher King Publishing.
http://www.skillsyouneed.com. (n.d.). Active Listening | SkillsYouNeed. [online] Available at: http://www.skillsyouneed.com/ips/active-listening.html [Accessed 7 Aug. 2021].
http://www.psychologytoday.com. (2013). It’s Not Enough to Listen | Psychology Today. [online] Available at: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/encountering-america/201303/its-not-enough-listen [Accessed 7 Aug. 2021].
Cordes, R. (2020). Making Sense of Sensemaking: What it is and what it Means for Pandemic Research. [online] Atlantic Council. Available at: https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/geotech-cues/making-sense-of-sensemaking-what-it-is-and-what-it-means-for-pandemic-research/ [Accessed 7 Aug. 2021].
Trzeciak, S., Booker, C., Mazzarelli, A. (2019). Compassionomics: The Revolutionary Scientific Evidence That Caring Makes a Difference. Studer Group.
Bohm, D. (2014). On dialogue. London: Routledge.
Rodriguez, C. (2013). “On Dialogue” David Bohm. [online] Carmen Rodríguez A. Available at: https://carmenrodrigueza.wordpress.com/2013/03/31/on-dialogue-david-bohm/ [Accessed 7 Aug. 2021].

Tumbleweed

Tumbleweed: A dusty aggregation of plant matter rolling along the ground by the desert wind. A cliche of cowboy movies, emphasising silence or stillness, e.g. as the hero rides into an apparently deserted frontier town. Often used in connection with the death of a conversation.

Also, that sensation I get whenever I mention an idea of mine to peers and colleagues.

Meaningful Conversations

Over the course of more than twenty years, I guess I’ve had a meaningful conversation about my ideas (FlowChain, Marshall Model, Prod•gnosis, Flow•gnosis, Product Aikido, Antimatter Principle, etc.) maybe two or three times, total.

I’ve always wondered what it might take to up that count.

Reversing the tables for a moment, I sometimes find myself in the position of being invited to consider and discuss someone else’s idea. Reflecting, I’ve found it difficult to engage with such discussions. In retrospect, asking myself why that might be, I guess the following factors come into play:

  • I struggle to see the value or benefit of the idea. Absent some insight into same, a discussion can feel purely arbitrary, academic or theoretical.
  • I have some reluctance to discuss ideas in the abstract, finding it invites judgment (something I try to avoid) and icky ad hominem considerations.
  • My frame of reference is often way off from that of the originator of the idea. The prospect of getting onto the same page (or even close) seems like a mountain to climb, for little return.
  • We’re not best equipped to discuss ideas, preferring as flawed humans to stick to our comforting biases, assumptions and beliefs rather than engage in mutual exploration with the risk of discomforting changes.

I guess that having stimulating discussions on ideas generally relies on a normative situation. In other words, unless and until someone begins to implement an idea, begins to try it out in their context, to wrestle with making it concrete, there’s little chance of any deep and meaningful discussions.

– Bob

 

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