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Leadership

This is my DeLonghi four slice toaster. It’s been doing sterling service in my kitchen for the past seven years. If you’re looking for a toaster, you could do a lot worse.

Only last week I (finally!) discovered the “bagel” button. Which turns off one element in each slot so as to toast only one side of a bagel, burger bun, etc.

What’s this anything to do with employees?

It strikes me we often treat employees like I have treaded my toaster. We overlook some of the things they can do, really useful things, through familiarity and/or lack of attention. Their talents in some areas go begging because we’re habituated to seeing them in only one light. We succumb to the functional fixedness bias (not limited to objects, methinks).

Aside: FWIW I’ve never used the “defrost” or “reheat” buttons either. I guess my toaster is currently quietly looking for a new, more appreciative boss.

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].

An Exec’s Guide To Achieving Mission-critical Software Delivery

Nowadays, every business is a software business. Your enterprise needs to prioritise software delivery, be that deploying off-the-shelf solutions, commissioning bespoke software development, or a mixture of both.

Digital transformation: The term has been bandied about since it was coined more than a decade ago. I think we can all agree, though, that the “use of technology to radically improve performance or reach of enterprises” really gained momentum when the COVID-19 pandemic set in.

As we remember all too well, the entire world went digital within a matter of weeks, and companies raced to fulfil the soaring consumer demand for digital products and services. In fact, according to McKinsey, global businesses accelerated the adoption of digital offerings by an average rate of seven years — in a matter of just seven months. Some companies describe how they had to enable tens of thousands of home workers in just a few days!

The same McKinsey report shows that most business leaders see society’s digital shift as permanent. JPMorgan Chase’s CEO certainly thinks the increased use of digital apps and services is here to stay. He recently announced a 26% increase to Chase’s technology budget, focusing the $12 billion investment on further growing Chase’s portfolio of digital apps and services.

Providing innovative technologies is just half the job, though. There’s a lurking problem for business leaders: They can’t afford to let the delivery and integration of software into their businesses suffer delays and poor quality.

Just one schedule slippage in a key system can cause a cascade of problems. And when one of these slippages delays the deployment or upgrade of a key app or service, companies risk disrupted revenue streams, disgruntled customers, interrupted supply chains, lost productivity and frustrated staff.

Maintaining flow of software into the business is imperative to business continuity, but ensuring a steady, reliable flow is difficult. As businesses digitally transform and move their key processes to the cloud, and consumers utilise more digital innovations, their software estate grows in scale, complexity and fragility.

Consequently, maintaining the necessary software quality and delivery schedules must be a primary business objective. While leaders traditionally farmed out these responsibilities solely to their IT departments, technology has become so critical to business success that quality and delivery schedules can no longer hide in the opaque IT silo. It must – and has – become a culture and leadership issue.

Here are five steps executives can take to start embracing software quality, predictable schedules and steady flow:

Elevate Quality To Priority #1

When considering an enterprise’s numerous priorities, executives should take stock of the critical importance of quality. Does the company employ a virtual or hybrid workforce? Does the company interact or transact with customers online? Is revenue generated from online transactions? The questions can continue based on your industry, but chances are that most modern enterprises would agree they rely on a suite of software apps and software-based services for desired business outcomes.

Given the critical nature of digital apps and services — and their ability to provide a seamless experience for customers — executives should consider creating a culture of quality as a key performance indicator. Practically speaking, executives can and should treat quality numbers similarly to sales figures or other revered business metrics. One senior leader should be held accountable to the quality metrics and deemed responsible for relentlessly scrutinising and reporting on these figures alongside the business’s other KPIs.

If executives really want to underscore the importance of quality, they can walk the talk for their workforces. Business leaders can make quality a compensation-affecting business objective, like profit or sales targets. And they can tie these quality metrics back to the bottom line.

Focus On The People

In the era of “every business is a software business,” enterprises can no longer tuck away tech talent out of sight, removed from customer interaction. In fact, they should do the exact opposite, moving software folks to the front line and making them part of the business’s core value proposition. Actively marketing a company’s tech and nerd credentials will drive confidence in the brand’s digital presence. And enhance employer branding at the same time.

Naturally, redeploying the software folks goes both ways. Executives must also show genuine trust and respect for these key people. Even without extensive technical knowledge, business leaders can provide the kind of environment, and culture, that makes teams’ lives easier by reducing the cognitive load imposed by traditional management approaches. And they can give them the freedom to use modern paradigms like DevOps and CI/CD pipelines. Software teams with respect, resources and support will have a foot up on delivering innovations and protecting the quality of their deliveries.

Treat Unceasing Innovation As Standard

As most executives know, today’s world of digital business demands continuous innovation as a minimum requirement for keeping pace with competitors. This unceasing innovation requires executives to drop risk-averse postures and embrace reinvention and the concomitant continuous change.

Of course, amidst digital innovation, reinvention and even failure, quality remains a top priority. Executives need a business culture that allows their organisation to experiment, and sometimes falter, with the least amount of negative impact. After all, stagnation is no longer an attractive option.

Open The Chequebook and Invest!

If an enterprise relies on various digital apps and services for business performance, executives should guarantee the entire software delivery pipeline is exemplary.

While only the lucky few have an extra $12 billion on hand to invest in software delivery and the associated spend, executives should advocate for a big piece of the pie to go toward technology investment. And technology investment shouldn’t stop at commissioning delivery projects. Forward-thinking enterprises invest in next-generation delivery methods like Quintessence, alongside talent, training and time to innovate.

Make Technical Know-how A Leadership Must-Have

Executives should ask themselves a simple question: does anyone on the most senior team have “SDLC” or software delivery experience in their past or even present core competencies? While leadership teams are usually stacked with impressive qualifications — CPAs, MBAs and JDs — few include software people with practical SDLC experience. But given the importance of technology, executives should surround themselves with true technology practitioners.

A chief digital officer (CDO) can become a business leader’s quality czar. With a depth of SDLC experience, this role can help executives understand and benchmark their companies’ digital performance and balance digital transformation efforts with operations management.

Following these steps sends a clear message both internally and externally: innovating is no longer enough — changing the culture to remove the shackles of outmoded assumptions and beliefs is also necessary. If executives want to maximize their digital investments and thrive in a digital-first world, they must embrace quality and the culture that enables it.

– Bob

If Putin Ran A Software Development Business

Or a tech business in which software development was a core capability – much like military forces are a core capability for any nation, including Russia.

If Putin ran a business where software development was a core capability, he’d:

  • Ask for estimates and rail against his project managers and middle-managers when those estimates proved unreliable.
  • Wonder why new features were stuck in a long queue of undelivered features.
  • Not notice that developers were so demoralised that they were just going through the motions, not caring a hoot about requirements or deliverables or even customers’ need.
  • Ask regularly and bitterly “why can’t they (developers) just do as they’re told?”.
  • Have little clue about the state of his tools and hardware, the skills – or lack of them – of his developers.
  • Apply huge resources to bludgeon through problems and delays, only to find that doesn’t work.
  • Discount the importance of morale and motivation in his employees.
  • Be secretly embarrassed about the quality and accuracy of his employees’ work.
  • Not understand the importance of learning, skills development, training and senior staff.
  • Underestimate the difficulties inherent in all software development endeavours.
  • Blame competitors and market conditions for his people’s failures.
  • Belatedly hire external contractors in the naïve and forlorn hope that they might accelerate progress.

Maybe you know of some other CEOs that make the same choices?

Yayy for Ukraine! Ukraine-Flag-PNG-File

– Bob

Further Reading

Marshall, R. W. (2013). Product Aikido. [online] Available at: https://flowchainsensei.files.wordpress.com/2013/04/productaikido041016.pdf

My favourite quote this week:

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

Perhaps the most important…is the capacity to challenge one another’s assumptions and beliefs. Respect and trust do not imply endless affability or absence of disagreement. Rather, they imply bonds among board members that are strong enough to withstand clashing viewpoints and challenging questions.

~ Jeffrey A. Sonnenfeld

It’s About Time

It’s about time we moved beyond Agile. It’s only sensible to abandon what twenty years of failure has proved almost entirely useless. 

Cul-De-Sec

Ironically, moving beyond Agile means retracing our steps, the steps that have led us into the Agile cul-de-sac. We cannot move beyond Agile by building on Agile. Its multiple flaws disqualify it as the basis for moving forward. We must not only seek a new path, a new game, and learn new things, but unlearn a whole passel of Agile-related ideas that just tie us to the dysfunctional past.

Needs

It’s about time we recognise that any approach that addresses the needs of only one constituency – i.e. the software developers – disqualifies that approach from serious consideration. 

It’s about time we considered approaches that embrace the needs of all constituencies – of all the Folks That Matter™️. Approaches that design-in means to “prepare the soil” – means to effect the socio-technical environment necessary for effective development and learning to take place.

Quintessence

I offer Quintessence as one such approach.

It’s about time we started talking about the Quintessential organisation. And building it. Again.

– Bob

The Unemployables

There’s a saying in recruitment that the best jobs are never advertised.

There’s another idea, not quite a saying as yet, that the best candidates are unemployable. Allow me to explain. 

Most vacancies as advertised are shaped to fit the mediocre candidate. Any candidate with outstanding skills, experience, capabilities and insight is such a poor match for the position as advertised – with job description, education, certification and experience requirements, and all – they’ll never get past the first filters / gatekeepers (people with no understanding of what it really takes to excel in the job).

The outstandingly capable candidates are thus, for all intents and purposes, practically unemployable.

This leads to my regular refrain – the recruitment / hiring market is irredeemably broken.

Irredeemably broken? Yup. At least until those who unknowingly suffer the consequences of their organisations’ hiring mediocre candidates (CxOs, particularly) go to the gemba and begin to see what’s ACTUALLY happening in their name.

– Bob

Golden Insights From the Gemba

A recent video (57 minutes) exploring the long-term experiences in Portsmouth City Council with the Vanguard Method. Golden.

https://beyondcommandandcontrol.com/2021/10/08/portsmouth-city-council-and-the-vanguard-method-15-years-on/

Also applies to software development (and other functions) within tech organisations. Can you see the parallels?

– Bob

 

Beyond the Software Teams

One of the biggest constraints on the effectiveness of Agile software teams (the real ones, not the much more numerous pretend, faux-agile ones) is the assumption that the structures, assumptions and beliefs of the host organisation will not change. That it is, in fact,  impossible to get these to change, or to expect them to change.

An assumption which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.”

~ Henry Ford

When this assumption goes unexamined and unchallenged, adopting Agile ways of working within the software teams – or in any part of the organisation, in isolation –  is a highway to hell.

– Bob

P.S. You might like to take a look at my latest book – Quintessence – to see how highly effective organisations approach and solve this challenge.

Further Reading

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

Helping Employees Get Their Needs Met

When employees see their needs being attended to by their employer, they’re much more likely to contribute. Reciprocity is a cornerstone of the human condition (as is fairness).

Dear Team Lead

Have you ever found yourself stuck in a rut, feeling tired and like you’re in the same mundane daily routine? You may even recognise many members of your team feeling the same way, as they lack enthusiasm in their work. What can you do as a leader to help your team get their zest back through self-fulfilment and a purpose-filled life?

Regardless of industry, sector or job type, leaders and employees can all agree on one thing: 2021 has been a year of change and uncertainty. According to national statistics, job vacancies in the UK are at a record high, with employees across the world joining the ‘Great Resignation’ (a term so common that it now carries its own Wikipedia entry).

But amongst all of the charts, statistics and official data, there are much more human reasons for this shift: reasons that are deeply personal to every employee who hands in their notice. Over the past eighteen months, many employees have had a chance to really reflect on their working lives – to figure out exactly what they want from their job, and how they might be able to craft a lifestyle that serves them on a more ‘existential’ level. In short, many employees have decided – mostly subconsciously – to reflect on their needs, and have begun searching for purpose, fulfilment and meaningful work, to name but a few common needs.

But this trend – towards greater meaning, purpose and fulfilment – doesn’t have to conclude with a resignation letter and a career change. It’s possible that employees can see their needs attended-to, even met, within their current role, and leaders can choose to take responsibility for supporting this process. Here’s how:

Show Understanding of the Importance of Needs

When it comes to motivating and inspiring employees, forget official policies and company handbooks for a moment. Start, instead, with your own behaviour. Are you conscious of your own needs? Are they being attended to by the company? Met, even? How does getting your needs attended-to affect your motivation to lead an effective team? How would you define your own needs, and how does that interact with the work you do? Answering these questions for yourself first will give you a firm foundation from which to help others.

Facilitate Opportunities for Surfacing Others’ Needs

Think about the regular opportunities you have to bring your team together. Instead of small-talk or generic ice-breaker exercises, could you introduce a needs-surfacing element to your gathering? This could be as simple as opening up a discussion about your own needs, or even the needs of the company or its Core Group. Or encourage employees to share their experiences about when having their needs attended to, or attending to the needs of others, has had an impact on them. Or, if you wanted to broaden the discussion out, you could share case studies, experiences or testimonials involving your clients, customers and users. This can be a difficult task for employees who aren’t always exposed to the eventual impact of their work (for example, those in non-client or non-consumer facing positions). Sharing the positive impact of every employee’s contribution to their own and others’ needs can be central in strengthening a sense of organisational purpose.

Readjust and Redefine Roles

Many leaders will be familiar with asking the typical catch-up question: “So, how do you think things are going?”. But this shouldn’t be the end of the conversation. It might be the case that an employee enjoys the role and the culture, but feels a need to focus on a specific aspect of their work, or a specific element of their job. As much as possible, leaders should encourage employees to lean into their needs – this might mean opening up opportunities for employees to deepen their knowledge in a particular area of interest, given that need. Other examples of this “role flexibility” include allowing employees to take trainings or courses related to e.g. their needs for skills development, or refining job descriptions to focus in on an individual employee’s needs. There are numerous opportunities to tailor, readjust or recalibrate roles to fit an employee’s needs. And the payoff? Increased employee loyalty, motivation, engagement, and trust in the company.

Balance Fulfilment

It can be easy to lose sight of the most important element of this question: the personal fulfilment of each employee. Of course, the company’s needs – success, goals and objectives – are important, but ultimately, the company is made up of individual human beings, each with their own needs and hopes. By balancing the needs of the individual employee with those of others – including those of the company – and meeting employees on a personal, human level, we are far more likely to end up with a team of motivated, committed, purposeful people. And, of course, this is what makes an organisation ‘successful’ – not just in terms of external output, revenue or reputation, but in terms of supporting the employees who work for its success.

– Bob

The Inklings

In a previous life, I was charge with leading a whole passel of software and product developers. To help create an environment where they might wish to up their game, I proposed and launched a new community called “The Inklings”. I attach the proposal and launch announcement hereunder, for your delectation/misery.

Proposal

Inklings Proposal

Launch Announcement

Inklings Launch Announcement

NB These two documents have been edited/redacted/dates and names changed, to protect the innocent.

If you’re wondering how it went: I left the company shortly after, and no one took it forward.

– Bob

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