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Improvement

Waiting In The Wings

What’s going to the next big thing in terms of approaches to software delivery? And when might we expect the transition to that next big thing to become apparent?

“The future’s already here – it’s just not evenly distributed.”

~ William Gibson

The Days of Agile Are Numbered

We can argue about how much life the Agile approach to software delivery has left in it. What’s beyond dispute is that there will be something after Agile. And I propose it will  look much different from Agile. I find it inconceivable that Agile is so perfect that there’s no room for improvement. Even though – ironically, give the exhortations to “inspect and adapt” – many in the Agile supply chain don’t want to talk about it AT ALL. Why rock the boat and derail the gravy train?

Customers and users, however, are waking up to the inadequacies of presently lauded approaches. And current upheavals in organisations, such as remote working and the scramble for talent, are accelerating these folks’ dissatisfaction.

Holding You Back

What’s prolonging the transition towards any new approach? Basically, it’s the prospect of the serious pain that comes with the adoption of effective new approaches. SAFe’s transient popularity illustrates how many organisations prefer an ineffective approach, with the illusion of change, rather than an effective approach that actually brings benefits. Any significant uplift in software delivery and product development performance implies a much different approach to running technology organisations, including, not least, different styles of management.

Your View?

What’s your view? What promising new approach(es) do you see waiting in the wings? And if there’s nothing with a recognisable name or label, what characteristics will a new approach have to have to boost it into consideration?

– Bob

Reasons To Be Cheerful, Part 3

Reasons to be cheerful, Pt. 3

Some of you dear readers may, entirely reasonably, assume that I mention my books in the hope of increasing sales. However, this just ain’t so.

I mention my books in a vainglorious attempt to effect some positive shift in the world of business. I’ve written many times about my motivation. Specifically, my delight in helping people have a more joyful time in the world of work (in particular, Collaborative Knowledge Work).

I truly believe that Organisational Psychotherapy is a path to saner, more joyful, more humane workplaces. And my book “Quintessence” illustrates and maps out what a saner, more joyful organisation looks like and works like, in detail.

Maybe you share my enthusiasm for change, and for seeing things improve. Maybe you’re content with – or at least resigned to – the status quo.

In any case, I’d hate for my enthusiasm to be a source of frustration or angst for you.

On the other hand, I’d be delighted if through reading one or more of my books – or even blog posts or white papers – you might find a different perspective on what ails you, and new, more effective ways to meet folks’ needs, including your own.

– Bob

cheerful_lyrics

Further Reading

Marshall, R.W. (2021). Quintessence: An Acme for Software Development Organisations. [online] leanpub.com. Falling Blossoms (LeanPub). Available at: https://leanpub.com/quintessence/ [Accessed 16 Jun 2022].
Marshall, R.W. (2021). Memeology: Surfacing And Reflecting On The Organisation’s Collective Assumptions And Beliefs. [online] leanpub.com. Falling Blossoms (LeanPub). Available at: https://leanpub.com/memeology/ [Accessed 16 Jun 2022].
Marshall, R.W. (2018). Hearts over Diamonds: Serving Business and Society Through Organisational Psychotherapy. [online] leanpub.comFalling Blossoms (LeanPub). Available at: https://leanpub.com/heartsoverdiamonds/ [Accessed 16 Jun 2022].
Marshall, R.W. (2021). Organisational Psychotherapy Bundle 1. [online] Leanpub. Available at: https://leanpub.com/b/organisationalpsychotherapybundle1 [Accessed 16 Jun. 2022].
http://www.youtube.com. (n.d.). Ian Dury and The Blockheads – Reasons To Be Cheerful, Pt. 3 (Official Lyrics Video). [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1injh4-n1jY&ab_channel=IanDury%26TheBlockheads [Accessed 16 Jun. 2022].

There seems to be a vast ignorance amongst developers, other technical staff, and managers about the effect of “the system” (i.e. how the work works) on productivity. And on other dimensions of work, too (such as fun, employee engagement, quality, customer satisfaction,…).

I make this observation given the paltry attention given to how the work works in most organisations. Oh yes, many pay obsessive attention to processes – how the work should work. But never to how the work actually works, on the front line, at the gemba. It’s a bit like Argyris’ distinction between espoused theory (processes) and theory-in-action (the way the work is done).

There are folks (those in HR, Sales, Marketing, etc. stand out) that seem to never have realised that the way the work works is a thing.

Talking about the ins and out of the way the works works, let alone reifying it, marks one out as at least as wacko as those freaky systems thinkers.

 

More On Sea Change

Do you need to see a Sea Change in the software industry, or does the status quo suit you and your needs just fine and dandy, thank you very much?

As the inventor of Agile software development circa 1994, I feel uniquely placed to suggest the need for such a sea change,and what that sea change might look like.

It’s all laid out in my most excellent book “Quintessence“, along with its companion volumes “Hearts Over Diamonds” and “Memeology“.

How often have you discussed the subject with your peers, friends, colleagues, higher-ups, etc.?

Without your active support and involvement, a sea change ain’t never likely to happen. Until then, status quo FTW.

– Bob

Further Reading

Marshall, R.W. (2021). Quintessence: An Acme for Software Development Organisations. [online] leanpub.com. Falling Blossoms (LeanPub). Available at: https://leanpub.com/quintessence/[Accessed 08 Jun 2022].
Marshall, R.W. (2021). Memeology: Surfacing And Reflecting On The Organisation’s Collective Assumptions And Beliefs. [online] leanpub.com. Falling Blossoms (LeanPub). Available at: https://leanpub.com/memeology/ [Accessed 08 Jun 2022].
Marshall, R.W. (2018). Hearts over Diamonds: Serving Business and Society Through Organisational Psychotherapy. [online] leanpub.comFalling Blossoms (LeanPub). Available at: https://leanpub.com/heartsovediamonds/ [Accessed08 Jun 2022].

Curious About Organisational Psychotherapy?

Organisational Psychotherapy. That’s a strange term. One you’ve probably not come across before. And one you almost certainly don’t understand in any depth.

Why bother looking into it? Seems like a poor use of your time and attention?

You could be right.

UNLESS, you have some interest in or need for changing the culture of a team, group or organisation.

In this particular post I’m not going to dwell on culture change. You’ll know if its something relevant to you, and how well your current culture is serving your business objectives.

Organisational Psychoptherapy does seem relevant to a whole passel of organisations attempting:

  • Digital Transformations
  • Agile Adoptions
  • Lean initiatives
  • More humane workplaces
  • And the like

but who am I to say?

And if some kind of culture change does seem in some way relevant to you, then might Organisational Psychotherapy serve as a means to effect such change?

You can find some clues in my foundational book on Organisational Psychotherapy: “Hearts Over Diamonds“.

What other means are open to you to in your efforts to change culture?

– Bob

Further Reading

Marshall, R.W. (2018). Hearts over Diamonds: Serving Business and Society Through Organisational Psychotherapy. [online] leanpub.comFalling Blossoms (LeanPub). Available at: https://leanpub.com/heartsoverdiamonds/ [Accessed 25 May 2022].

A Conducive System

[Tl;Dr: What are the system conditions that encourage ethical – and productive, effective – behaviours (Cf William Kingdon Clifford) in software delivery organisations?]

In yesterday’s blog post “The System Is Unethical” I related my experiences of how businesses – and the folks that run them and work in them – remain ignorant of just how ineffective they are at software delivery. And the consequences of that ignorance on e.g. costs, quality, customer satisfaction, etc

To recap: an unethical system perpetuates behaviours such as:

  • Failing to dig into the effectiveness of the organisation’s software delivery capabilities.
  • Indifference to the waste involved (wasted time, money, opportunities, human potential,…).
  • Ignorance of just how much more effective things could be, with e.g. a change in perspective.
  • Bravado and denial when questioned about such matters.

The Flip Side

Instead of the behaviours listed above, we might seek a system that encourages behaviours that include:

  • Continual attention to the effectiveness of the organisation’s software delivery capabilities.
  • Concern over the waste involved, and actions to reduce such waste.
  • Investigation into just how much more effective things could be.
  • Clarity and informed responses when questions about such matters.

Conducive System Conditions

So what might a system conducive to such behaviours look like?

That’s what my book “Quintessence” illustrates in detail. But in case you’re a busy person trapped in a non-conducive system, I’ve previously written about some of the key aspects of a conducive system, here:

Quintessence For Busy People

BTW I’m always happy to respond to your questions.

– Bob

 

 

 

 

The System Is Unethical

Or at least, it’s “the system” that sits at the root of the unethical behaviours costing software delivery organisations £££millions annually. And it’s the culture of an organisation that defines that system.

Many years ago I wrote a White Paper titled “All Executives Are Unethical”. This paper riffed on a theme from Seth Godin – “All Marketers are Liars”. And channeled the ethical arguments of William Kingdon Clifford:

…whatever someone chooses to believe cannot be exempt from the ethical judgement of others.

In the aforementioned White Paper, I spoke of the ethics of executives, and in particular the folks that make the decisions about committing to improvements (or maintaining the status quo) in software delivery.

It’s been my experience over the course of thirty-plus years, that said executives act as if they believe their software delivery capability has little need, or scope, for improvement. Acting as if investing in improving said capability has little to no payback, and little to no impact on the organisation’ top line or bottom line.

It’s The System

Bill Deming famously wrote:

The fact is that the system that people work in and the interaction with people may account for 90 or 95 percent of performance.

~ W.E. Deming quoted in Scholtes, PR 1998 ‘The leader’s handbook: making things happen, getting things done’ McGraw-Hill, London p 296

Some readers of my aforementioned White Paper may have inferred I was criticising individual executives for their shortfall in ethics. Not at all. These folks work in “systems” as much as everyone else. It’s the system that drives their behaviours. Behaviours such as:

  • Failing to dig into the effectiveness of their organisation’s software delivery capabilities.
  • Indifference to the waste involved (wasted time, money, opportunities, human potential,…).
  • Ignorance of just how much more effective things could be, with e.g. a change in perspective.
  • Bravado and denial when questioned about such matters.

And it’s not limited to executives. Most advisors and practitioners (coaches, developers, middle managers, etc.) are equally ignorant, indifferent, flippant and slow to inquire.

Organisational Psychotherapy – and in particular, Memeology – offers a means to being addressing the shortcomings of the system, and thus bring about changes in folks’ behaviours.

– Bob

Further Reading

Marshall, R.W. (2021). All Agilists Are Unethical. [online] Think Different. Available at: https://flowchainsensei.wordpress.com/2021/12/23/all-agilists-are-unethical/ [Accessed 30 May 2022].
Seddon, J. (2015). 95% of Performance Is Governed By The System. [online] Vanguard Consulting Ltd. Available at: https://beyondcommandandcontrol.com/library/dr-demings-aphorisms/95-of-performance-is-governed-by-the-system/ [Accessed 30 May 2022].

Blockers

Is it really beyond the bounds of credibility to imagine that we could all be twice, three times, four times better at delivering software? The data’s there (ISBSG). The real-world results and exemplars are there (Familiar, not least). The road-map, blue-print or manual is there (Quintessence). The support required to build the necessary environment is there (Hearts over Diamonds, Memeology, Organisational Psychotherapy).

So what’s holding back our industry, our software delivery organisations? Indifference? Ignorance? Learned helplessness? Lack of incentives? Vested interests? Fear? Something else?

I’m sure I don’t know the exact nature of the blocker*.  But it’s clear that there’s blockers.

– Bob

*I have my suspicions. But it seems that no one wants to even talk about it.

 

As a manager, what’s more important to you? The nature of your present role, or the success of the company?

Put another way: If the ongoing success of the company required your role to change, would you support or resist that change? Can you even talk franklly about the issue?

 

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

 

Why Value Streams?

Just Another Way of Dividing A Whole Into Parts?

Are value streams just one more way of dividing a whole organisation into parts? Isn’t “division into parts” a hallmark and defining characteristic of the Analytic mindset? And something we’re trying to avoid in pursuit of the Synergistic ideals presented in Quintessence? 

As the inimitable Russell L. Ackoff says:

A system is more than the sum of its parts; it is an indivisible whole. It loses its essential properties when it is taken apart. The elements of a system may themselves be systems, and every system may be part of a larger system.

~ Russell L. Ackoff

The Structure Of The Moment

At The Quintessential Group, we’ve chosen value streams as the structure of the moment. Not as a mean to subdivide the Group into parts, but as an experiment, as a way to encourage synergies within the whole. Our hypothesis is that by divorcing hierarchy from structure, we create an environment better suited to serving the needs of the Folks That Matter™.

We are concerned with total systems performance, and the relationships between the parts (value streams) much more than managing each part, each value stream, separately. In fact, the “management” of each part is pretty much irrelevant and not something we’ll be spending time on.

Even The Quintessential Group as a whole is part of larger, or containing, systems. We may choose to see the Group, and its value streams, as holons, as holarchies. As stable intermediate forms. See: The Parable of the Two Watchmakers.

Borrowing from the language of Arthur Koestler, a value stream serves as a subsystem within the larger system: We can regard it as an evolving, self-organizing structure while simultaneously a part of a greater system composed of other value streams i.e The Quintessential Group.

Enough With The Philosophy Already

So, what practical benefits do we foresee from the value stream approach?

  • More coherent (less fragmented) experience for clients.
  • Improved flow of value.
  • Increased synergies resulting in a more effective organisation and thus affording an improved customer experience.
  • Reduction in delays, wastes, and non-value-adding activities.
  • Improvements in takt time and smoothness of value flow.

How do you feel about value streams as e.g. a structuring approach for organisations?

– Bob

 

Hungry For Improvement

In his book The Ideal Team Player, Patrick Lencioni lists three virtues he considered indispensable for “ideal team players”:

  • Humility
  • Hunger
  • People-smarts

To elaborate:

Humility

Humility means focusing on the greater good, instead of focusing on oneself or having an inflated ego. Humble people are willing to own up to their failures or flaws, apologise for their mistakes, accept others’ apologies and can sincerely appreciate others’ strengths/skills.

In Lencioni’s words, humility is probably the most important virtue:

Great team players lack excessive ego or concerns about status. They are quick to point out the contributions of others and slow to seek praise for their own. They share credit, emphasise team over self, and define success collectively rather than individually. It is no great surprise, then, that humility is the single greatest and most indispensable attribute of being a team player.

Hunger

Being hungry means that you always seek more, e.g. to do more, learn more, or take on more responsibility. Hungry people are self-motivated to work hard, take initiative and go beyond their call of duty. Hungry people are never satisfied, and they always want more. They have a drive and a burning ambition to be more than they are. Some folks call this discretionary effort.

Hunger, writes Lencioni,

“is the least sensitive and nuanced of the three virtues. That’s the good news. The bad news is – it’s the hardest to change.”

Smarts (i.e. people-smarts)

People smarts means having common sense about people, i.e. being aware of and perceptive about other people, asking good questions, listening well and knowing how to respond effectively.

Be aware that “people smarts” doesn’t necessarily mean intellectually “brilliant”; but it does mean emotionally intelligence and a capability for skilful interpersonal interactions.

Of course, you can’t have a team if there’s no team chemistry; and folks who are people smart contribute to this chemistry.

Hungry For Improvement?

Improvement – and especially continuous improvement – doesn’t just happen. In most organisations, it rarely happens at all.

When improvement does happen, it’s because someone needs it to happen. For some reason. Personally, I’m hungry for improvement because I find joy in seeing things improve, and joy in seeing things getting better for the people involved. Simple as.

For me, improvement is not a means to some other end, such as higher profits, increased success, or some other common but similarly specious justification. For me, it’s an end in itself.

I’d go further, and suggest that improvement is rare exactly because few people find an innate joy in it.

How about you? Are you hungry for improvement? Do you need it?

– Bob

Quintessence Worth £Billions

Let’s do a little back-of-a-fag-packet math re: Quintessence.

There’s somewhere around 26 million software developers worldwide.

A typical software developer, including on-costs, runs out at about £30,000 per annum (UK more like £90K, BRIC countries maybe £10k).

So that’s a world-wide spend of some (26m * 30k) = £780 billion (thousand million), per annum.

Given an uplift in productivity of 5-8 times for Quintessential development approaches, that’s an annual, recurring cost reduction (saving) of £624 billion to £682.5 billion.

You may find claimed productivity increases of this magnitude (5-8 times) somewhat unbelievable (despite the evidence). So let’s be conservative and propose a modest doubling of productivity. That would mean an annual, recurring cost reduction (saving) of £390 billion. Still not to be sniffed at.

For The Individual Organisation

Let’s consider a single UK-based organisation with 100 developers. Present costs (for the developers alone) will be around £90k * 100 = £9 million annually (more or less, depending on a number of factors). Again, assuming a modest doubling of productivity*, a quintessential approach would garner an annual, recurring cost reduction (saving) of £4.5 million for this example organisation.

What do these figures tell us? That the world and individual organisations both are not at all interested in reducing software development costs (or increasing software development productivity). Or maybe they just don’t believe it’s possible to be any more productive than they are already (it is possible to be much more productive, see e.g. RIghtshifting).

*Or getting twice as much done in a given time, for the same spend. Or halving the time it takes to get something done, for the same spend.

– Bob

Further Reading

Marshall, R.W. (2021). Quintessence: An Acme for Software Development Organisations. Falling Blossoms (LeanPub).

Why Is No One Interested In Superior Software Development Approaches?

I’ve been monitoring companies’ interest in software development for enough years (25+) to state unequivocally:

No one running or working in companies seems at all interested in superior* approaches to building and delivering software solutions.

Why might this be so? I propose at least five possibilities:

  • Complacency / ignorance
    Maybe those responsible don’t see themselves as actually responsible, or maybe they have little knowledge of the state of the art and what’s possible.
  • Too difficult
    Maybe selecting and applying elements of state of the art approaches seem too difficult, arcane or risky. Or too complex, all in all.
  • Not connected to the personal wellbeing of those quasi-responsible for taking relevant decisions and actions.
    (See also my popular post: “Your REAL Job“).
  • Agile is The Last One
    It’s seen as the final evolution or end-state of all software development approaches. No need to look beyond. No more progress is required.
  • Progress cannot happen in companies as they are run today
    Superior approaches demand organisations are run in ways anathematical to current management mores.

Do you have any other possibilities I have not listed here? Which do you favour as an explanation?

Your contribution will be welcomed.

– Bob

* By superior I mean approaches which cut costs, improve quality, reduce timescales, increase certainty and predictability, lower stress, and otherwise improve effectiveness. Take a look at Quintessence (the book) if you’d like to understand more and dive deeper into what’s possible.

I encounter many senior and middle managers who believe that their software teams are poor at estimating, and seek to improve estimation accuracy and etc.

In most cases, the problem is NOT poor estimation skills or techniques. Rather, the problem is poor due-date performance (how often things are delivered on time).

As the world of #NoEstimates shows, delivering on time has little to do with estimation competence.

If you’d like to discuss some things you CAN do to improve due date performance (delivering on time more reliably) please do get in touch.

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