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Gratitude

Joy, for me, is helping folks in ways that they have a need to be helped. So I feel appreciative, moved and thankful when someone takes the time to let me know how my help has made a positive contribution to their lives.

I regularly have folks quietly letting me know about how I’ve made some contribution to their journey. Most recently, Andy Tabberer (@ConsultantMicro on Twitter) has been kind enough to share his experiences, and with his permission, share with you.

In this case, it’s particularly pleasing, both because he’s representative of my primary audience (tech management) and because my chosen style has resonated with him. Here’s his unexpurgated words:

I first heard of Bob Marshall – @flowchainsensei – through Twitter. I cannot remember how exactly, but I guess it was a question, the type of searching question that comes easilyi to Bob, that piqued my interest. Since then, Bob has taken me, indirectly, on a journey of self-improvement through his questioning and prompting on Twitter and through his blog.

Why am I telling you this? Well, a while ago, Bob asked his followers if anything he had tweeted or blogged had been of any use, had anything he’d produced been used to do something good.

This is my reply to that question.

My examples are:

The blog that encouraged me to challenge the status quo in my work was What are Non-Obvious Systemic Constraints?. Among other constraints listed, the ‘Business As Usual’, ‘Mandatory optimism’ and ‘Fear of conflict’ examples really resonated with me. It felt like I was able to hold my company up to the light for the first time and see its true colours.

I felt compelled to reconsider the role of the management team, of which I was a part. Bob’s examples helped me to show others how our company was failing in ways we could not see. It emboldened me to challenge our conventional thinking and our hierarchy and its “remarkable impact on the ability of the organisation to evolve, improve, and raise its effectiveness”.

Bob’s blog also introduced me to Eli Goldratt. After a quick google search, I landed on a review of a graphic novel of the Goal, an easy to read version of Goldratt’s seminal work. It was quickly added to my Christmas list. This book changed my view of the workplace and in particular how bottlenecks impact our productivity. So many of my former colleagues have Bob to thank for being branded bottlenecks, a few of them would even thank him.

Finally, I have Bob to thank for an introduction to Deming. This name kept popping up again and again. I eventually went off in search of material to read – I have Four Days with Deming lined up to read next – and I alighted at the Deming Institute blog. After a little browsing, I settled down to watch the following video by David Lanford -> blog.deming.org/2013/08/attrib. The impact of this video was so profound that it eventually led to a programme of organisation-wide quality goal setting – that I instigated – and, ultimately, my resignation and my decision to move onto pastures new.

I’d like to finish by saying that Bob makesii me think every day. Sometimes I find him frustrating because he answers with a question, never giving advice. This, however, leads me to what I suppose is Bob’s biggest impact on me, which is the path to improvement is forged through questioning. I guess I’ve never encountered anyone who sought only to help others improve rather than dispense self-serving advice designed to reinforce one’s own view of one’s worth or to confirm one’s place in the hierarchy. I’m grateful for that, Bob.

Notes:

i) These questions may seem to come easily, but often they take time, effort and consideration. Not to mention empathy.

ii) I’d be happier to say “invites” rather than “makes” (might be misinterpreted as compulsion or obligation).

In closing, I’d like to thank Andy again, and invite others to contribute their experiences, too.

– Bob

Hearts over Diamonds Preface

In case you’re undecided as to whether my recently published book on Organisational Psychotherapy will be worth some of your hard-earned spons, here’s the text of the preface to the current edition (full book available in various ebook formats via Leanpub and in paperback via Lulu.


Will This Book be Worth Your Time?

To my knowledge, this is the first book ever written about Organisational Psychotherapy. Thanks for taking the time to have a look. This is a short book. And intentionally so. It’s not that Organisational Psychotherapy is a shallow domain. But this book just lays down the basics. Understanding of the deeper aspects and nuances best emerges during practice, I find.

This book aims to inform three distinct groups of people:

  • Senior managers and executives who might find advantage in hiring and engaging with an Organisational Psychotherapist.
  • Folks who might have an interest in becoming Organisational Psychotherapists themselves, either within their organisations or as e.g. freelancers.
  • Folks within organisations who might find themselves involved in some way in their organisation’s engagement with one or more organisational psychotherapists.

We’re all busy people, so I guess you may be curious, or even a little concerned, as to whether this book will provide a good return on the time you might spend reading it. I’ve tried to arrange things so that you can quickly answer that question.

I intend this book to be easy to understand, and to that end I’ve used as much plain English as I can muster. I guess some folks find the whole idea of Organisational Psychotherapy somewhat intimi‐ dating, and fear the ideas here will “go over their heads”. Let me reassure you that I’ve tried to make this book common-sensical, friendly and down-to-earth.

Foundational

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”

~ Rumi

In writing this book, I’ve set out to define the emerging discipline – or field – of Organisational Psychotherapy.

In a nutshell, Organisational Psychotherapy is a response to the growing realisation in business circles that it’s the collective mindset of an organisation (often mistakenly referred-to as culture) that determines an organisation’s overall effectiveness, productivity and degree of success. By “collective mindset” I mean the beliefs, assumptions and attitudes that an organisation as a whole holds in common about work and how the world of work should work.

Roots

Organisational Psychotherapy leverages over a hundred years of research and experience in the field of personal psychotherapy, a field which has evolved from its roots in the Middle East in the ninth century, and later, in the West, through the works of Wilhelm Wundt (1879) and Sigmund Freud (1896). Research and experience which, in large part, can usefully be repurposed from the individual psyche to the collective psyche (i.e. the organisation).

In my career of over thirty years in the software business, I’ve run the whole gamut of approaches in search of organisational effectiveness, in search of approaches that actually work. It’s been a long and tortuous journey in many respects, but I have come to believe, absolutely, that success resides mostly in the relationships between people working together, in the web of informal customer- supplier relationships within and between businesses. And I’ve come to believe that organisational effectiveness mostly comes from the assumptions all these folks hold in common.

Given that, I ask the question:

“What kind of intervention could help organisations and their people with uncovering their existing, collectively-held, beliefs, assumptions and attitudes? With discussing those, seeing the connection with their business and personal problems and challenges, and doing something about that?”

The answer I’ve arrived at is Organisational Psychotherapy. And so, when I’m working with clients these days, Organisational Psychotherapy is my default mode of practice.

But this book does not attempt to make the case for my beliefs. It’s not going to try to persuade you to see things my way. Organisational Psychotherapy may pique your interest, but I’m pretty sure you’ll stick with what you already believe.

So, if you have an open mind, or generally share my perspective already, this book may serve you in getting deeper into the practicalities and benefits of Organisational Psychotherapy, whether that’s as:

  • a decision-maker sponsoring an intervention
  • a potential recruit to the ranks of organisational psychotherapists
  • an individual participating in an Organisational Psychotherapy intervention in your organisation

Relationships Govern Dialogue

A central tenet of Organisational Psychotherapy is that it’s the quality of the relationships within and across an organisation that moderates the organisation’s capacity for meaningful dialogue. As we shall see in more detail later, fragmented and fractious relation‐ ships impair an organisation’s ability to surface, discuss and recon‐ sider its shared beliefs.

Effective Organisational Psychotherapy needs a certain capacity for skilful dialogue within and across an organisation. Absent this capacity, folks have a slow, laborious and uncomfortable time trying to surface and discuss their commonly-held beliefs and assumptions.

In practice, then, any Organisational Psychotherapy, in its early stages at least, must attend to improving relationships in the workplace, and thus the capacity for meaningful dialogue. This helps the organisation have more open and productive dialogues – should it wish to – about its core beliefs and implicit assumptions, about its ambitions and goals, about the quality of its relationships and dialogues, and about its strategies for success. I wholeheartedly believe that:

People are NOT our greatest asset. In collaborative knowledge work particularly, it’s the relationships BETWEEN people that are our greatest asset.

Whether and how the organisation might wish to develop those relationships and dialogues in pursuit of its goals is a matter for the organisation itself. Without Organisational Psychotherapy, I’ve rarely seen such dialogues emerge and thrive.

The Goal

Improving relationships in the workplace, and thereby helping the emergence of productive dialogues, are the means to an end, rather than the end itself. The goal of all Organisational Psychotherapy interventions is to support the client organisation in its journey towards being more – more like the organisation it needs to be. Closer to its own, ever-evolving definition of its ideal self.

We’ll explore what that means in later chapters.

References

Lencioni, P. (2012). The Advantage: Why organizational health trumps everything else in business. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Patterson, K. (2012). Crucial Conversations: Tools for talking when stakes are high. Place of publication not identified: McGraw Hill.

Schein, E. H. (2014). Humble Inquiry: The gentle art of asking instead of telling. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.

Random Walks

How well does the almost universal Agile practice of “built and see if they come” serve us (as developers, as customers)?

I suggest it’s time to rethink our belief that customers (and developers, for the most part) “don’t know what they want until they see it”.

My late, great colleague and friend Grant Rule used to refer to the practice, common in the Agile domain, of building something to see if the customer likes it as “random walks through the problems-solution space”.

Quality Demands Requirements

Philip Crosby, a widely acclaimed “guru” of Quality Management, defined quality as “conformance to requirements”. As simple and blunt as that.

Recently, I’ve been reflecting on my experiences with software product development, especially the development of “quality” products that customers love. In Javelin, we place special emphasis on de-risking delivery through explicitly defining the customers and their respective requirements. Not big-bang, up-front stylee, but incrementally, just enough each couple of days to build a little more of the product and deliver it to the customer(s) for their delight, confidence, and feedback.

But in our approach, requirements (in the frame of the Antimatter Principle we call these needs) precedes building anything. Agile shops these days seems to major in building something before discussing requirements (if they ever get discussed at all). BDD offers an exception, but how many shops do BDD?

Aside: In Javelin, we identify all stakeholders (all the Folks That Matter), discuss their needs (“Stakeholders’ Needs”) and quantify them (a la Gilb – see: Competitive Engineering) in the form of Quantified Quality Objectives. Although this all generally proceeds incrementally, rather than in a big batch up front, the information is always to hand by the time someone gets around to building the relevant part of the thing in question. People work from the requirements. Always.

Random Walks are not Our Bag

Random walks are not our bag.

By cleaving to the belief that customers “don’t know what they want until they see it”, and structuring the whole approach to development around this belief, Agile shops have no incentive to improve the way they work with customers to understand their needs. No incentive to improve requirements elicitation and capture. No incentive – or means – to prevent defects and deliver zero-defects quality. Indeed, this belief and its associated practices blocks us from working to continually find better ways to create useful requirements (formal statements of folks’ needs) from which to drive quality (cf Crosby) and the improving of relationships with each other (developers, ops) and with customers.

Is this emphasis on working-from-clearly-stated-and-agreed-requirements better? Well, in my experience it makes for happier customers, happier developers, and more successful products. I’ll leave it to you to decide whether and how that’s “better”.

– Bob

Excolat in Pace

There’s a common idea which has been doing the rounds, ever since development (coding) first became a thing. We might sum it up as:

“Developers just want to develop in peace.”

As someone who spent more than a decade in the development trenches (and still does development today, occasionally), I can instantly relate to this issue. Indeed, focus is the key question. Any kind of interruption or distraction whilst reading or writing code can suddenly evaporate the evolving mental model of the inner workings of that code, a model built up painstakingly, with deep concentration, over twenty minutes or more. So three for four interruptions or distractions, however trivial, can wipe out an hour of otherwise productive effort. And that’s before we get to the question of frustration, the impact of frustration-induced stress on the individual, and the stress-related impairment of cognitive function more generally.

On the other hand, having developers separated from the folks that matter introduces other productivity-sapping dysfunctions, such as misunderstanding folks’ needs, building the wrong things, and reducing the joy of getting to see how the developers’ efforts make a difference to others.

Conundrum

So, how to ensure developers have the peace they need to focus intently on their coding efforts, whilst also ensuring they have sufficient interactions with the folks that matter – sufficient to ensure that needs are understood and the right solutions get built?

In the past, specialist intermediaries a.k.a. Business Analysts and Project Managers have served to address this conundrum. And solutions (including the role of specialists, and the workplace environment) have been imposed on developers without much consultation. Rarely have developers, or the folks that matter, been involved in finding a way forward together.

Personally, and in the context of self-managing teams in particular, I’m all for the teams and their customers (both internal and external) getting together and thrashing out a way forward. And then having regular check-ins to improve those ways of working together.

As an example, BDD (Behaviour-deriven development) is a current set of practices that offers one such way forward. Customers and suppliers sitting down regularly (as often as several times a day, for maybe twenty minutes at a time) and working through a User Story, Scenario, or Use Case, together.

And let’s not forget that the other folks involved, aside from the developers, also have their day jobs – jobs which require them to focus and spend time on things other than working with the developers.

How do you, your teams, and their folks that matter, propose to tackle this conundrum? How are you handling it at the
moment?

– Bob

Please Don’t Irk Me with Fast Arguments

I love Twitter for its ability to facilitate conversations over time and space. Recently, I have found myself feeling irked by a style of conversation which I could describe – and have described – as “cargo-culted argument”. In other words, arguments attempting to promote a position based on widely-held existing beliefs and ideas (and where the arguer appears have not thought through that belief).

“A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.”

~ William James

Socratic Questions

I find Socratic questioning to be useful when mutually exploring a topic or question (my preferred mode of conversation). In using Socratic questioning I seek to invite parties to the conversation to reflect on and think about the issue afresh. Occasionally, however, one party will choose to repeat “conventional wisdom” on the topic, without, seemingly, pausing for said reflection. I say “choose”, but I wonder how much of a conscious choice it is. We humans are creatures of habit, not least when it comes to thinking.

I feel saddened on such occasions, when we miss the opportunity for deeper mutual exploration of a topic (and thereby a deepening of our relationship or Twitter connection).

“No problem can withstand the assault of sustained thinking.”

~ Voltaire

Fast Arguments – or Slow?

Kahneman writes about this phenomenon in his book “Thinking, Fast and Slow”. He describes Slow (system 2) thinking as the kind of reflective, conscious, consider-things-afresh thinking Socratic questions invite, whereas we all prefer to default to what he labels as Fast (system 1) thinking, which so often, in this context, leads to a simple regurgitation of conventional wisdom.

Would you be willing to set aside your Fast arguments in favour of a more Slow exploration of topics of conversation?

– Bob

Further Reading

Thinking, Fast and Slow ~ Daniel Kahneman

 

The Folks That Matter™

Stakeholders, team members, the Big Team, customers, users, snakeholders – 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.

Personally I like to call them The Folks That Matter™.

By way of example, Here’s a partial list of the groups and individuals that are candidates for inclusion in the set of The Folks That Matter™.

  • Your organisation’s Core Group
  • Your manager
  • Your project manager
  • Senior managers and executives
  • Your dev team
  • Other dev teams
  • Ops people
  • The PMO
  • Testers (when separate from the dev team)
  • QA folks (when present)
  • The Process Group (when separate from the dev teams)
  • Your business sponsor(s)
  • Other people across your organisation
  • Your (end) customer(s) (and their purchasing departments)
  • Commercial partners
  • Regulators
  • Wider Society
  • The Planet (Gaia)

The Interesting Angle

For me, when I’m involved building stuff, I have a need know who we’re trying to please, delight, satisfy, or otherwise engage with and deliver to. I need to know what folks need, and who to ask about the details of those needs, if and when the detail moves to front of mind. I need to know whose needs we can successfully discount when the inevitable resource (time, money, effort) crunches come. Whose needs we can reasonably consider as outside the scope of the endeavour in which we’re involved? And I need some heuristics to guide us in decisions on including, excluding and prioritising folks and their needs.

But there’s something much more interesting than who’s on and who’s off the list of The Folks That Matter™, at any given time. The much more interesting question for me, as an Organisational Psychotherapist, is: What governs the choices? How do folks get added to or removed from the set of The Folks That Matter™? Are the means the product of rational thought, discussion and evolution, or maybe they’ve just happened, or been cargo-culted. And what are the consequences of the prevailing means? What impact do those means have on the success or failure of our endeavours? And therefore on our bottom line?

By way of example, here’s some common means for tackling the question of means:

  • Consensus
  • The Advice Process
  • Autocracy
  • Dictatorship
  • HiPPO
  • Cost of Focus

(Aside: Each collective mindset in the Marshall Model has its own popular choice for these “means”: Autocracy for the Ad-hoc, Dictatorship or HiPPO for the Analytic, Consensus or the Advice Process for the Synergistic, and e.g. Cost of Focus for the Chaordic).

Is it helpful for folks on the dev team to be involved in some way in maintaining or keeping the list of the The Folks That Matter™? Is that possible, in any given organisation? Is the question even discussable?

When Resources Are Limited, Some Folks, Needs, HAVE To Not Matter

And what about the folks that don’t matter (that don’t appear in the set of The Folks That Matter™? I know many readers will baulk at the idea that some folks and their needs don’t matter. But, please, get over yourselves. In any situation where resources are constrained (i.e finite, not infinite), choice HAVE to be made. Lines drawn. Resources committed to some areas and held back or withdrawn from others. How could it be otherwise? Inevitably then, in this particular frame, there must be Folks Who Don’t Matter™.

Cost of Focus

Don Reinertsen states that the Cost of Delay – the financial or economic cost of prioritising one feature over another – is rarely considered in most organisations. Put another way, the way in which delivery priorities are selected and adjusted, the frequency and means of such adjustments, etc., are rarely discussed, and rarely even discussable.

I propose that Cost of Delay is a subset of the wider question stated above. The question of Cost of Focus.

By definition, we are not meeting some needs when we choose to or otherwise exclude certain folks with their particular needs from the set of The Folks That Matter™.

Maybe those excluded folks and their needs are indeed irrelevant, or their exclusion has little impact – financial or otherwise – on the success of our endeavour. But maybe, contrariwise, some of those excluded needs are in fact critical to our “success”. How would we know? The arguments for Cost of Focus are much the same as for its golden child, Cost of Delay.

FWIW, I’ve seen countless projects stumble and “fail” because they inadvertently omitted, or chose to omit, some crucial folks and their needs from the their list of The Folks That Matter™. Get Cost of Delay wrong, and we lose some money. Sometime a little, sometime a lot. Get Cost of Focus wrong, and we more often lose big time. Cost of Focus often has a much more binary impact.

What is Cost of Focus?

Cost of Focus is a way of communicating the impact, on the outcomes we hope to achieve, arising from excluding or including specific folks and their needs. More formally, it is the partial derivative of the total expected value with respect to whose needs we focus on.

“Cost of Delay is the golden key that unlocks many doors. It has an astonishing power to totally transform the mind-set of a development organisation.”

– Donald G. Reinertsen

Similarly, I’d say that unless and until we have a handle on Cost of Focus, the golden key of Cost Of Delay remains firmly beyond our grasp.

Put another way, until we have a means for deciding whose needs to attend to, the particular order in which we attend to those needs (cf. priority, Cost of Delay) is moot.

– Bob

Further Reading

Who Really Matters ~ Art Kleiner

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

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