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Fellowship

Product Owners Suck

Teams doing Scrum “by the book” will have a Product Owner. The Scrum Handbook describes this role thusly:

“The Scrum Product Owner is responsible for maximizing the value of the product resulting from the work of the Development Team. How this is done may vary widely across organizations, Scrum Teams, and individuals.”

It goes on to say:

“The Product Owner is the sole person responsible for managing the Product Backlog.”

i.e. the Single Wringable Neck.

Outwith Scrum “by the book”, many teams, Scrum or otherwise, will find themselves with a Product Owner, almost always, in practice, outside the immediate development team itself.

One characteristic common to every Product Owner role I have ever seen has been “push”. The Product Owner pushes work (features, stories, or whatever the unit of backlog) into the backlog, and thus onto the team. The Product Owner generally dictates the priorities of the work items in the backlog, too.

Here’s where the dysfunctions creep in. If we accept that we’d like to encourage intrinsic motivation in the team, and that Dan Pink’s three factors of intrinsic motivation apply (Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose), then we begin to see how the typical Product Owner stance sucks the motivation away from the team by undermining their autonomy (they’re expected to do what’s pushed on them, with the priorities dictated), their mastery (focus is on delivery not learning), and purpose (the purpose is that of the PO, often opaque or little shared, not a shared common purpose across everyone involved).

Go Pull

I’ve seen clients where this push-oriented Product Owner role has served no one well. Not the Product Owner, nor the development team, nor the product, nor the customers. The Product Owner is worn to a frazzle trying to herd the developers, like cats, towards the outcomes he or she thinks the customers want. It’s most unlikely the Product Owner will know what features are valuable, and how they should work, before stuff gets in front of the customers anyway, and the delays in the “push” model just exacerbate this dysfunction.

Further, in the push model, developers have little opportunity to experiment and innovate. They’re often far better placed than the Product Owner or even the customers to spot opportunities for breakthrough innovations, both large and small, yet the push model basically precludes them from contributing in this way.

So why not turn it around? In my career, I’ve seen all the best products come from development teams that directly own the product. And, consequently, directly own the relationship with the customer. Often, not the whole team, as this might irk the customers – at Familiar we had one member of the development team act as “customer liaison” – a role which could rotate between team members if it started to become a chore for the person in question.

It’s unlikely the Product Owner will wish to do themselves out of a job, so how can we arrange things such that everyone has a better time than with the “push” model? And so we make even better use of the most valuable things the Product Owner has – product domain expertise and customer nous?

In the service (call centre, etc.) sector, Vanguard introduced the idea of front-line call staff taking all the calls, with limited (brief) training to handle the most common types of call, and with experts and specialists on hand to help them through handling the less common types of call as they arrive.

Transferring this idea to the Product Owner role, why not have the development team own the product, take all the decisions about features, stories and priorities – by pulling information from the customers – and whenever the development team has some questions they can’t answer themselves or in conjunction with the customers, have the Product Owner (now Product Domain Specialist or some such renamed role) on hand to pitch in and provide the missing knowledge or expertise.

I guess the Analytic minded organisations out there will feel uneasy about no longer having their hands around the Single Wringable Neck, but learning about Team Accountability might go some way to compensate for this?

So, let the teams suck (pull), instead of having the Product Owner push.

– Bob

PS Note that the above suggestion – to hand over core elements of the Product Owner role to the development team – assumes the development team owns the scope for the whole product, not just the software, and can collaborate and coordinate with other people and groups to ensure the whole product is delivered (whether incrementally for not). See also: Obeya.

Further Reading

The Transformation of O2 – A Vanguard Case Study in Reengineering Call Centres (pdf)

Testbash Dublin and Organisational Psychotherapy

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’m just back from presenting an interactive session on Organisational Psychotherapy at Testbash Dublin. Some folks seemed confused as to the relevance of Organisational Psychotherapy to testers and the world of testing, so I’m happy to explain the connection as I see it. (And please note that many of my previous posts on Organisational Psychotherapy may also help to illuminate this connection.)

I’ll start by riffing on something Rob Meaney said during his presentation:

“Significant quality improvements [aren’t] driven by testing. They [are] driven by building relationships and influencing the right people at the right time.” ~ @RobMeaney #TestBash

Quality (and other) improvements come from improved relationships. This has been a theme on this blog for some years now. For example see: The Power of Humane Relationships.

I asked a key (for me) question during my session (several times):

“If we accept that (as per the Marshall Model) it’s the collective mindset of the organisation that determines its relative effectiveness, how do we propose to support the organisation if and when it choses to do something about its mindset?”

Unsurprisingly perhaps, I heard no answers, excepting my own proposal for a means to that end: Organisational Psychotherapy.

I wonder how many folks involved with testing ask themselves and their peers the question “How can our organisation become more effective at testing?”. Or, using the #NoTesting frame, “How can our organisation become more effective at delivering quality products and services?”

Fellowship

Organisational Psychotherapy is not just about improving product quality, however. Through improved relationships, and a shift in how the organisation relates to its people (i.e. from Theory-X to Theory-Y), the quality of life at work also improves. Put another way, we all have more fun, more job satisfaction, and get to realise more of our potential at work. Further, for all the folks that matter, their several needs get better met. And, as a bonus for the organisation itself, it gets to see its people more productive and engaged. What’s not to like?

Incidentally

I’ve also written elsewhere about using the Antimatter Principle in practical ways during software development. For example, during development we eschew requirements gathering in favour of incrementally elaborating hypotheses about the needs of all the folks that matter, and then conducting experiments to explore those needs. I can envisage teams that still need testers adopting a needs-focused approach to driving testing. For example, putting into place various means by which to answer the question “how well does our product meet the needs of the people that matter to us?”.

Practical Applications

On a related note, some folks asked me about practical applications of Organisational Psychotherapy in their day-to-day work as testers. Here’s just a few applications which immediately come to mind:

  • Improving communication with the people that matter (i.e. developers, fellow testers, management, stakeholders, customers, etc.). I find NVC (nonviolent communication) skills and practice particularly useful in this context.
  • Clarifying what works and thus what to do more of (Cf Solutions Focus). This can improve team retrospectives.
  • Helping the people that matter (including ourselves) feel better about what we’re doing (Cf. Positive Psychology).
  • Understanding each other’s strengths, with a view to having the right people in the right seats on the bus (Cf. StrengthsFinder).
  • Eliciting requirements (if you still do that) (Cf Clean Language).
  • Building a community (such as a Testing CoP or a multi-skilled self-organising product team) (Cf Satir Family Therapy).
  • Improved cooperation with higher-ups (empathy, Transactional Analysis, etc.).
  • Dealing with blockers to changing/improving the way the work works.

Invitation

I’d love to hear if this post has helped put my recent Testbash session in context.

– Bob

Seven Research-Based Principles for Making Organisations Work

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

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

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

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

1. Enhancing “Love Maps”

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

2. Nurture Fondness And Admiration

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

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

3. Turn Toward Each Other Instead Of Away

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

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

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

4. Invite Colleagues To Influence You

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

5. Solve solvable problems

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

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

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

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

6. Overcome Gridlock

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

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

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

7. Create Shared Meaning

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

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

– Bob

Further Reading

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

An Invitation To Contribute And Share

Invitation

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

The Pitch

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

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

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

The Invitation

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

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

Community Based

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

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

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

Ethos

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

Open To All

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

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

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

~ Alan Kay

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

Stakeholders

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

Community Members

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

Sponsors

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

Clients

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

Don’t Worry

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

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

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

~ Grace Hopper

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

– Bob

Next Steps

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

Afterword

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

Further Reading

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

 

 

A Second Open Letter to the Project Management Community

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

After Agile. What now?

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

Dear All

Dear Project Managers and Agilists everywhere,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for listening,

– Bob

Further Reading

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

On Becoming An Organisational Psychotherapist

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

How Well Doth Thou Know Thyself?

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

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

~ Socrates, via Plato

For The Love Of It

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

Personal Transformation

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

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

– Bob

The Antimatter Principle – The Anti-Kanban For Almost Two Decades Already

Increasingly this year I’m being asked to comment about Kanban – and its offshoot, the Kanban Method, being offered in the market by David Anderson (and others). Some are pushing the Kanban Method very heavily with their clients as a solution to the increasingly recognised challenge of effective and sustainable organisational change. It has been gaining some market traction. In two specific examples, both large corporations, one in the financial sector and one in the media sector, developers and development managers have had some concerns about their firm’s move to adopt the Kanban Method and asked me to share my thoughts with them. I thought I’d share them with everyone else too…

To be honest, I don’t know a great deal about the Kanban Method. I haven’t taken the classes or spent much time studying it. Most of what I know is reported second hand from those who have taken the classes or are working in organizations that are now going through Kanban adoption. I am much more focused on solving the root problems of software development – and more importantly, the broader and deeper question of organisation-wide effectiveness – still plaguing organisations everywhere. I’m focused on real clients, and on addressing issues in the market which are appropriate for the Antimatter Principle. Plus, I’m inviting others to examine and learn what those root problems are. I’m not so occupied with learning about the Kanban Method. However, from a brief skimming of Kanban material and things reported to me, I can make the following observations about how it differs from the Antimatter Principle

The Kanban Method – Yet Another Method

“As to methods there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble.”

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Kanban Method is just that – a method. It appears to specify a collection of techniques from Lean Manufacturing processes going back to the 1950s. It offers these as one packaged collection of principles and practices. Individually, these techniques are considered successful and there are positive case studies showing their adoption and benefits. The Kanban Method posits that its collected set of individually successful principles and practices will also be successful in aggregate. I would compare this assumption to individually testing a thousand individual car components and then declaring that as each of the components are know to work, the entire car composed of those parts will work! The idea at the very root of the Kanban Method – as with so many other methods – is that improving the way people work – how they set about their various tasks and the principles and practices involved in accomplishing each task, and how those task are strung together – is the key to improved productivity. This means that adopters are getting off on the wrong foot even before Day One. Whether a new suite of principle and practices is implemented incrementally, “starting from where you are” as the Kanban Method advises, or the new suite is implemented in a single change, it’s still placing the idea of process-as-the-solution at the core. It isn’t getting away from the source of the software crisis: ignoring that people (and their relationships) are what make the difference. One hundred and fifty years of sociology, anthropology, psychology and cognitive science warns of the risks in taking a principles-and-practices-oriented – as opposed to people-oriented – approach.

The concept for Kanban adoption within an organization is a familiar one – clients should employ a (so called) “Certified Kanban Trained” specialist to assist them in applying the three Foundational Principles and six Core Practices of the Kanban Method, in the context of their organization. To me this seems awfully similar to a raft of previous methods, including SAFe, RUP, Scrum, etc.. The Kanban Method strikes me as trying to distance itself from these ancestors, through its emphasis on incremental uptake, on a “people-friendly” easing-in to “drive out fear”, and to “reduce people’s natural resistance to change”. These admonitions seem to serve some need to include every current buzzword and show that, somehow, Kanban has “people inside.” I’m not impressed with the so-called people-related aspects of the Kanban Method, nor its emphasis on the role of leadership. I guess it has to make itself look attractive and saleable to the progressive yet still Analytic-minded organisations out there.

Assumptions

Where the Kanban Method really differs from the Antimatter Principle and why I chose the title for this blog post, is in a combination of the approach to adoption and the underlying assumptions about how to drive and manage change in knowledge work and creative industries. Kanban is delivered as a set of principles, to be applied and understood incrementally. Ideally you (the management) have them (the workers) do this. They find their own path, built on the principles provided (via a management-appointed Kanban specialist), and then they (the workers) own the evolution of the existing processes in the organization. This approach fits right in with the assumptions already prevailing in the typical organisation: that there are workers and managers; that there will continue to be processes (and projects); that the senior management continues to own the agenda; and that folks’ needs, ways of relating, and collective assumptions need no examination. It could be straight out of a 2000s textbook on agile adoption. It’s a status-quo-centric approach delivered using change management techniques that are 50 years old and most strongly associated with the likes of e.g. Virginia Satir and Peter Drucker. So Kanban offers you individually proven principles and practices from the previous five decades delivered with a decades-old intervention model developed for 20th Century knowledge-work industries. There is an underlying assumption that people resist change and thus ways need to be found to countervail that resistance. This is becoming a popular and successful model for many specialist firms, so we must assume that it is meeting some clients’ needs too, or surely they would not be buying these services? It is fair to say that this approach is the antithesis of the Antimatter Transformation Model.

Peter Drucker associated the term “knowledge worker” (in the 1960s) with someone who knows better how to perform their work than their supervisor. He didn’t think to add the phrase, “or process consultants, coaches or specialists from outside the firm.” It seems we continue to live in an era where we continue to believe that telling people what they need, particularly in the way of mechanisms, methods and models, will help the workers learn how to better do their work. Kanban remains an approach that is underpinned by the assumption that telling is a valid approach. The Antimatter Transformation Model abandons this notion. With a therapeutic approach we assume that everyone involved is just trying to get their needs met in the best ways they know how, and the key to unlock performance is to hold a space, and invite those that want to, with support, to consider if there may be other strategies for getting their need met that might work better for them. The Antimatter Transformation Model delivers this. The Antimatter Principle creates and nurtures an environment in which the quality of collaborative relationships, and folks’ intrinsic motivations, can thrive, for the mutual benefit of all involved. There is no assumption of “improvement” being the goal, or of any specific outcome excepting what meets the needs of all involved.

“The curious paradox is that when we accept ourselves just as we are, [only] then we can change.”

~ Carl R. Rogers (paraphrased)

The Antimatter Principle And Complexity

The Antimatter Principle is about creating and nurturing a healthy work environment, about taking a community-led approach to examining folks’ collective assumptions. Everyone’s needs matter. In attending to folks’ needs, everone has the opportunity to find deep joy and fulfilment that significantly impacts the health and thus the performance of the business of which they are a part. Carl Rogers observed that: “It is the client who knows what hurts, what directions to go, what problems are crucial, what experiences have been deeply buried”. And so it is the people that have what it takes to set their own agendas, pursue their own collective and individual needs, and find their own solutions.

It is well understood that knowledge work involves complexity and that a complex situation requires an adaptive approach in order to be robust to the uncertainties and unknown events that may emerge. Kanban was specifically designed as a method that posits that people resist change. The Antimatter Principle rejects that assumption, in favour of the belief that people love to change when they participate in and unequivocally see folks’ needs being met. The Kanban approach is appealing to some buyers and sellers because it comes with idealistic aspirations and fine words. It appeals to some people’s need for hope. What it doesn’t account for is that people are just trying to get their needs met.

The Antimatter Transformation Model is specifically designed as a invitation to a series of conversations. The concept is to uncover folks’ needs and go about meeting them. Whilst at the same time examining folks’ strategies for getting those needs met. You start with what folks are seeing and hearing, how they feel about those things, and what those feeling tell us about folks’ needs. As we go along, we get better at at expressing feelings, and at divining needs from feelings, and as we experience the successes of alternative strategies, gradually shift over to those new, more effective strategies rather than stick with the old, less effective ones.

What makes the Antimatter Transformation Model new and fairly unique is that it embraces the social sciences and is designed to work with what science tells us about human nature – rather than what most people believe human nature to be. Organisations adopting the Antimatter Principle evolve in their own ways through a series of collective and individual decisions – decisions made by a fellowship of social beings.

Abandoning a Method-Centric Approach to Improvement

One organization, I was told, adopted Kanban “because Kanban offered a gently-gently incremental, evolutionary yet methodical approach to software development”. Indeed this need – more effective software development methods – comes up often. I am often asked, “Can you show us a better way to develop software?”. My answer is always, “Yes, I could, but it is not the business I am in these days.” I prefer to focus on the organisation as a whole. That’s where the real opportunities for better meeting folks’ needs reside. Teaching improved software development methods is not the business I am in.

I came to develop the Antimatter Principle precisely because a methodology-based approach – including the Kanban Method – generally fails to address people’s real needs. The real failure is the failure to recognise that people are human beings. And a failure to recognise that play, community, joy, doing things for others, and self-actualisation are what people ultimately thrive on. After several decades of what I might call the Analytic approach (processes, methods, change programmes, etc.) in 1996 I decided to focus on a whole different problem – the problem of creating a healthier (and hence, more effective) working environment. Incremental, start-where-you-are approaches, per se, weren’t working. What was needed was to stop saying what was needed. I see it as heavily ironic that the Antimatter Principle came about for me because of the problems of scaling Agile adoption in large corporations – problems that I recognized as early as 1994 as a recurrinng pattern. Two more disparate solutions to the challenge of delivering organisation-wide effectiveness, such as Kanban and the Antimatter Principle, are hard to imagine.

Silver Bullets and Panaceas

This brings me to my final observation about Kanban and the Antimatter Principle. Another company told me that they adopted Kanban because it was a known solution (and they could find people with relevant skills). This is very convenient, but does it work? The buyer wants to believe in a “silver bullet” – that one solution that will solve all of their problems. Some vendors will seek to make offers and package a method of principles and practices as a single solution, as they know there is a market for it. I am afraid I don’t believe in “silver bullets”. The Antimatter Principle is complete in the sense that it delivers what it claims – an environment in which people can be more human, and humane. It is not a process definition or a method to be adopted. It will not directly help you architect software or perform tests or write requirements. For these technical practices there are many place to look. What the Antimatter Principle enables you to do is create an environment in which people are more likely to choose to give of their best. A community of which people are more likely to want to become, and remain, a part. It enables great products to emerge, and everyone’s time and goodwill to be spent wisely. I’m cynical about cure-alls, panaceas. It’s difficult in this maelstrom of change to be an expert at one thing, never mind a great many. Developing the Antimatter ecosystem globally, we’re trying to be good at one thing – a hedgehog concept, if you like. We are seeking to be good at contributing to meaningful, positive social change through more humane workplaces. We do this by heeding Carl Roger’s advice:

“In my early professional years I was asking the question: ‘How can I treat, or cure, or change this organisation?’ Now I would phrase the question in this way: ‘How can I provide a relationship which this organisation may use for its own personal growth?’.”

~ Carl R. Rogers (paraphrased)

It is inevitable that many people in the market will find it convenient to choose a method, to select what they believe is a methodical solution to all of their problems, and to believe that this solution can work when it involved the workers and is allowed to find its own answers. And I am fine with that. The Antimatter Principle was never about a religious conversion of the masses or an attempt to bring the world of knowledge work to the one true way of behaving. It has always been about meeting folks’ needs, including the collective needs of those things we call “organisations” through an approach that is humane, aligned with the human condition and grounded in the social sciences. It’s about helping people who need help and have sought out a new radical approach, a different way of working to see their needs better and more often met, and to deliver greater satisfaction for all involved.

Conclusion

The Antimatter Transformation Model will coexist with the Kanban Method in the marketplace. People will choose between a modern 21st Century approach to human social challenges or a more familiar approach to change. Choice is good in a marketplace. The Antimatter Principle offers a counter-intuitive, innovative modern approach. The Kanban Method offers something more familiar. People may appreciate having alternatives to evaluate, and from which to select the approach which they feel best meets their needs. Many will choose something that feels familiar and intuitive and we have to accept they know their needs better than we, and rejoice in that. Coexistence of the Antimatter Principle and Kanban is a good thing. Providing alternative approaches to more effective organisations is a good thing. Both approaches will champion the role of people. Both will be marketed as approaches that place people at the heart of the organisation. I find considerable hope and joy in that.

– Bob

Afterword

Realistically, all the above is so much fluff. Attempting to rationalise the benefits of the Antimatter Principle, or the Kanban Method, or indeed any other approach misses the whole point that people don’t make rational choices. They make emotional ones. Engaging with folks’ emotions – their feelings and needs, not least – offers a much more fruitful path to communicate, and hopefully, help.

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