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Learning

Highlight Problems, Avoid Solutions

It’s wayyy easier to provide solutions than to help folks find their own solutions. What are the consequences of this observation?

  • For consultants, trainers, pseudo-coaches and others whose income depends on selling “solutions”?
  • For folks seeking long-term, permanent solutions to their problems?
  • For folks who choose to hire consultants or other experts to solve their problems for them?
  • For folks habituated to delegating the finding of solutions to their problems to others?

Voltaire asks us a rhetorical question:

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

~ Voltaire

I’ll not be offering any solutions to this conundrum. I am available help you along the path of finding your own.Do get in touch!

#IANAC (I am not a consultant).

– Bob

Further Reading

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

Twelve Invitations for Fellowship

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

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

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

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

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

– Bob

A Key to Culture Change

A long time ago (2012) I wrote

‘Whorfianism of the third kind’ proposes that language is ‘a key to culture’

(You might also like to read the full post wherein this appeared).

Which is to propose that the language we use, and the vocabulary we possess, influences and constrains the way we think. That if we lack words for certain concepts, then these concepts are inaccessible to and inexpressible by us.

Which in turn suggests that culture change, involving as it does discovering and adopting new terms, concepts, and the words to describe and label them, necessitates we acquire new language and new vocabulary.

I suspect Clean Language also has some relevance and utility here.

How does the phenomenon of Linguistic Relativity relate to your own experiences?

– Bob

 

 

Curious?

Are you at all curious as to how much more productive and effective a Quintessential organisation can be compared to e.g. an Agile organisation? And what that uplift in effectiveness means for everyone involved (management, customers, employees, suppliers, society at large,…)?

(Hint: It’s something like five times more productive / effective – see Rightshifting and the Marshall Model.)

Are you at all curious how this can be possible?

I’m delighted to explain. So, if you’re at all curious, and my many posts on the subject here on this blog fall short of meeting your needs, please get in touch. Simplest might be to post your questions in the comments section of this post.

I’m also more than happy to chat on the phone, via email, or Zoom / Google Meet.

All questions answered. 🙂

– Bob

What Is Normative Learning?

The phrase “normative learning” seems to many to be arcane, obscure, even impenetrable. But the idea it labels is simple enough:

Normative approaches are those that deliberately attempt to change norms, attitudes and beliefs.

Compare the normative approach to change, with its less effective cousins, rational and coercive approaches to change.

The phrase “normative learning” therefore, labels learning that:

  • Arises from direct experiences, often, experiences of counter-intuitive truths.
  • Changes individual and/or collective norms, attitudes and beliefs.
  • Results in changes in behaviours.

Change is a Normative Experience

As John Seddon eloquently puts it “Change in a normative experience”. Which is to say, that effective change (of attitudes, assumptions and beliefs) relies on people experiencing things for themselves, and learning from those experiences about which of their assumption are falsey or inappropriate. 

Only when behaviours change can we say learning has happened.

– Bob

Further Reading

Seddon, J. (2019). Beyond Command and Control. Vanguard Consulting Ltd. (Chapter 2, p 26-29).

Chin, R., Benne, K.D. and Bennis, W.G. (1969). General Strategies for Effecting Changes in Human Systems. Holt, Rinehart and Winston Inc.

Marshall, R.W. (2021). Quintessence: An Acme for Software Development Organisations. Falling Blossoms (LeanPub). (Chapter 9).

Am I the only person in the world interested in improving the effectiveness of organisations? In making organisations better places to work, better places to play, better places to learn? Is it just me? Most days it seems like it is.

The Quintessential Developer

In my recent book, “Quintessence” I write, of the Quintessential organisation, that “everybody does things differently”. By which I mean, every role in a quintessential organisation looks very different from its counterpart in more conventional organisations, even though the name of the role may be similar, or the same..

This post looks at the role of the developer, and how – in quintessential organisations – this role differs markedly from the role in more conventional organisations.

Here’s a contextualising excerpt from Chapter 2 of Quintessence:

Everybody Does Things Differently

The quintessential organisation invites everyone involved to surface and reflect on their individual and collective assumptions and beliefs about work and how work should work. Progress towards the quintessential depends on progress with respect to changing these assumptions and beliefs.

This is the foundational reason why we see so few quintessential organisations, and why making the transition to a quintessential organisation is so difficult, and so rarely achieved successfully.

Here’s a brief outline of roles that look very different from the quintessential perspective:

The Manager’s role looks very different. So different, in fact, that the term “manage” ceases to be relevant. Managers in a quintessential organisation have relinquished ideas of control, and embraced a role of enablement, resourcing and support.

The Developer’s role looks very different. So different, in fact, that “software” and “technology” cease to be relevant. Developers in a quintessential organisation have downplayed a focus on “hard” technical skills, such as coding, and embraced and learned social skills, including skilful dialogue, empathy, self-organisation and compassion.

The Tester’s role looks very different. So different, in fact, that “testing” a.k.a. “inspection” ceases to be relevant. Testers in a “quintessential organisation have have relinquished a focus on inspection skills, and embraced means of preventing defects, and ensuring that attending to the need of the Folks That Matter™️ is “baked in” to how the work works.

The Customer’s role looks very different. Customers of a quintessential organisation get to have conversations about their needs, and have those needs attended to, more often and with more clarity than customers of more traditional organisations.

Even though a rational explanation of these differences serves little purpose, and will convince no one, we’ll take a more detailed look into the rationale later in this book.

Quintessence presents my experiences from over forty years of leading, working in, and advising software development shops and companies. I invite you to find inspiration, motivation and connection from my journey. Quintessence presents an ideal approach to making money (and other things) via attending to folks’ needs

Note: I say an ideal, not the ideal. There may well be other ways of achieving the same ends.

The Quintessential Developer Role

Note: This section describes the role of developers in a quintessential organisation. That is, the adjective “quintessential” applies to the organisation within which developers work, rather than the developers themselves.

In a quintessential organisation, developers pay much less attention to “technical” competencies such as coding, and much more attention to identifying the Folks That Matter™️, and understanding their (evolving) needs (cf. the Needsscape).

Developers in a quintessential organisation (being self-organising, self-managing and self-directing) focus on understanding what needs to be done (and for whom), compared to developers in conventional (poorly effective) organisations.

Necessary developer skills, in order of significance (most significant first): 

  • Dialogue skills – for conversations with the Folks That Matter™️ about their needs, and identifying other folks that may also matter.
  • Empathy – for establishing and maintaining humane relationships with all the Folks That Matter™️. Assuming, of course, that the organisation permits developers to actually talk with e.g. customers. A fairly rare scenario, to be sure.
  • Self-organisation – absent middle managers, project managers, etc., organising the work and then assigning work items to individual developers (and teams), developers in quintessential organisations have the freedom to to organise the work, and their assignments, themselves. This can range in scope from a single work item of a few hours, all the way through to new product features and indeed whole new products.
  • Risk Management – cultivating awareness of risks, their likely impact, and identifying and implementing active mitigations.
  • Opportunity Management – one step further than risk management.
  • System thinking – for reflecting on how the work works, with a view to continuous improvement.
  • Quality – building quality into the way the works works (as contrasted with hand-offs to e.g. testers and other QC personnel).
  • Researching and Learning – to discover and apply new ideas and techniques, both regarding how the work works and new technical skills/tools..
  • Investigating solutions – especially #NoSoftware solutions. 
  • Technical skills – including various implementation technologies, such as human systems (solutions staffed by human beings), paper prototypes and implementations, and, in extremis, writing software (a.k.a. programming, coding).

To recap:

Working/playing for/with a quintessential organisation is a fabulous experience (both literally and metaphorically). But the developer role is awesomely different from the conventional developer role. Can you grok it?

– Bob

Further Reading

Marshall, R.W. (2012). So You Really Want to be an Agile Developer? [online] Think Different. Available at: https://flowchainsensei.wordpress.com/2012/05/22/so-you-really-want-to-be-an-agile-developer/ [Accessed 30 Dec. 2021].

A Steady Job Makes For Increasing Ignorance

Having a “steady job” means folks’ needs for safety and security are most likely (by definition) being met. In such situations, where does the need for learning new things, keeping abreast of industry developments, and innovating in the way the work works come from? 

Note: A “steady job” is one that is routine and pays a decent but not a high amount of money. It is also a safe job. In the software development business, most steady jobs also pay very well.

Two places:

  1. The job demands these things (very rare to never).
  2. Intrinsic motivation.

I regular meet folks in steady jobs, from junior developers through to senior and C-suite managers and executives, all of whom are woefully ignorant of what’s happening in the software industry, of new discoveries, and of know-how published since 2000-ish (and many times, even earlier).

Do organisations care? I doubt. Maybe if they did care they might do something about it?

And how about your job? Is it steady? And how up-to-date are you with e.g. what’s happening in the software industry, of new discoveries, and of recently published know-how? What would it take for you to pay some attention in this space?

– Bob

Further Reading

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

Chin, R., Benne, K.D. and Bennis, W.G. (1969). General Strategies for Effecting Changes in Human Systems. Holt, Rinehart and Winston Inc.

Fun Times at Familiar

I’m minded to write something positive for a change (!) so I thought I might share how much fun a quintessential development organisation can be to work with. (I say work with, because we had almost no power structures, no managers, no bosses, and everyone was a colleague, a fellow.)

Familiar was a software house and consultancy, based near Reading UK (some forty miles west of London), which I started and led circa 1996-2000.

The years at Familiar was, for many of us, enormous fun. We were doing great things for our clients, bonding as a group, and learning loads about how to become a Quintessential organisation. The social side was just as much fun as the business side. Indistinguishable, really. We placed a lot of emphasis on the social aspects of the organisation:

  • Company-funded weekends away in plush country hotels – for the folks in the company along with their significant others.
  • Regular dIning out as a group, on the company’s expenses. 
  • Collaborative sessions (sprint planning and the like) in each others’ homes.
  • Other group social events (e.g. exhibitions).
  • An office configured for socialising – and learning – as much as for work (lounge, sofas, library, books, kitchen, etc.).

This was all made possible by the success we had commercially – a virtuous circle where fun led to great work for clients led to high margins led to funds for more fun… 

It was the kind of win-win-win (clients, us, suppliers) that quintessential organisations regard as normal.

If you have any questions, I’d be happy to answer them.

– Bob

Irrelevant

It seems clear to me that my skills, experience and insights have become irrelevant to the majority of folks toiling in the software industries.

No Need

We might say that they have no need of my ideas or my help. 

And as my views and ideas are mostly directed at improving the effectiveness – and results – of software development efforts, I draw the inference that their employers and managers have no interest in such things. 

This seems a relatively recent phenomenon. Even five or ten years ago, organisations and managers seemed at least marginally more interested in productivity, effectiveness, success, and so on.

I suspect it’s connected to COVID and the consequent Great Resignation.

Solutions Ignored

Ironically, my works – Organisational Psychotherapy, the Antimatter Principle, FlowChain, Product Aikido, etc. – are an ideal fit to addressing the issues wrapped up in the Great Resignation. But I guess folks are already too resigned to bother.

What might be more relevant content for these times? “How to Find a Fulfilling Job”? “How to Suck Up to Your Boss”? “How to Give the Finger to the Man”? “How to Whack the Employees You Have Left”? “How to Look Like You”re Doing Something Without Risking Your Credibility”?  Probably more relevant content. But not quite my style.

If you’re one of the very few who haven’t given up just yet, enjoy studying new ideas and learning for its own sake, I’m always happy to help. Pro bono or pro pretio, either, both.

– Bob

Visual Walkthrough Explaining Rightshifting And The Marshall Model

For those who prefer looking to reading, here’s a visual explanation (with some annotations) briefly explaining Rightshifting and the Marshall Model.

1. Context: Organisational Transformation

Rightshifting illuminates the tremendous scope for improvement in most collaborative knowledge work organisations. And the Marshall Model provides a framework for understanding e.g. Digital Transformations. Don’t be too surprised if folks come to regard you as an alien for adopting these ideas.

2. Imagined Distribution of Effectiveness

How most people imagine effectiveness to be distributed across the world’s organisations (a simple bell curve distribution).

3. Contrasting Effectiveness with Efficiency

Many organisations seek efficiency, to the detriment of effectiveness.

4. If Effectiveness Were Distributed Normally

5. The Distribution of Effectiveness in Reality

The distribution of organisations is severely skewed towards the ineffective.

6. Some Corroborating Data from ISBSG (1)

7. Some Corroborating Data from ISBSG (2 – Productivity)

8. Some Corroborating Data from ISBSG (3 – Velocity)

9. Rightshifting: Recap

10. Plotting Levels of Waste vs Effectiveness

Showing how increasing effectiveness (Rightshifting) drives down waste.

11. Plotting Levels of Productivity vs Effectiveness

Showing how increasing effectiveness (Rightshifting) drives up productivity.

NB This the the canonical “Rightshifting Chart”.

12. From Rightshifting to the Marshall Model

Starting out with the Rightshifting distribution.

13. The Adhoc Mindset

Collective assumptions and beliefs (organisational mindset).

Ad-hoc organisations are characterised by a belief that there is little practical value in paying attention to the way things get done, and therefore few attempts are made to define how the work works, or to give any attention to improving the way regular tasks are done, over time. The Ad-hoc mindset says that if there’s work to be done, just get on and do it – don’t think about how it’s to be done, or how it may have been done last time.”

14. The Analytic Mindset

Analytic organisations exemplify, to a large extent, the principles of Scientific Management a.k.a. Taylorism – as described by Frederick Winslow Taylor in the early twentieth century. Typical characteristics of Analytical organisation include a Theory-X posture toward staff, a mechanistic view of organisational structure, for example, functional silos, local optimisation and a management focus on e.g. costs and ‘efficiencies’. Middle-managers are seen as owners of the way the work works, channelling executive intent, allocating work and reporting on progress, within a command-and-control style regime. The Analytic mindset recognises that the way work is done has some bearing on costs and the quality of the results.”

15. The Synergistic Mindset

Synergistic organisations exemplify, to some extent, the principles of the Lean movement. Typical characteristics include a Theory-Y orientation (respect for people), an organic, emergent, complex-adaptive-system view of organisational structure, and an organisation-wide focus on learning, flow of value, and effectiveness. Middle-managers are respected for their experience and domain knowledge, coaching the workforce in e.g. building self-organising teams, and systemic improvement efforts.

16. The Chaordic Mindset

The Chaordic mindset believes that being too organised, structured, ordered and regimented often means being too slow to respond effectively to new opportunities and threats. Like a modern Jet fighter, too unstable aerodynamically to fly without the aid of its on-board computers, or sailing a yacht, where maximum speed is to be found in sailing as close to the wind as possible without collapsing the sails, a chaordic organisation will attempt to operate balanced at the knife-edge of maximum effectiveness, on the optimal cusp between orderly working and chaotic collapse.”

17. Transition Zones

As organisations progress towards increasing effectiveness, they encounter discontinuities which the Marshall Model labels as Transition Zones (orange hurdles). In these transitions, one prevailing mindset must be replace wholesale with another (for example, Analytic to Synergistic, where, amongst a host of shifts in assumptions and beliefs, attitudes towards staff transition from Theory-X to Theory-Y). Cf. Punctuated Equilibria.

18. What Each Transition Teaches

A successful Adhoc -> Analytic transition teaches the value of discipline (extrinsic, and later, replaced with intrinsic).

A successful Analytic -> Synergistic transition teaches the value of a shared common purpose.

A successful Synergistic -> Chaordic transition teaches the value of “Positive Opportunism”.

19. The Return-on-Investment Sawtooth

Incremental (e.g. Kaizen) improvements with any one given mindset show ever-decreasing returns on investment as the organisation exhausts its low-hanging fruit and must pursue ever more expensive improvements.

Each successful transition “resets” the opportunities for progress, offering a new cluster of low-hanging fruit.

20. Conversation

What has this walkthrough shown you? I’d love the opportunity for conversation.

– Bob

Here’s a video in which the great Russel L. Ackoff explains the difference between knowledge and understanding, and thereby the difference between analytic and synergistic thinking (Cf. Rightshifting and the Marshall Model).

Ackoff on Systems Thinking and Management

 

Organisational Psychotherapy on Slack

For those folks who prefer their interactions via Slack, there’s a new Slack workspace for Organisational Psychotherapy. Check it out and join up now. 🙂

– Bob

PS. Please let me know it there are any other aspects of my work for which you’d like to see a dedicated Slack workspace. 

 

Nobody Needs Learning

Or at least, nobody seems willing to talk about learning – or more precisely the almost universal absence of learning – in the context of work. Oh yes, folks like to pretend to others, and delude themselves that they’re learning – via what we might call “learning theatre”. But the actually work of learning? That’s too hard.

Definition: Learning has taken place ONLY when behaviour has changed.

I cite as an example the total lack of response to a recent post of mine: “Scope of Ignorance”.

It’s almost as if there’s no connection between learning and career advancement (something I do see as folks’ needing, at least in terms of increasing wages, if not actual increasing responsibility and scope of influence.

I put it down largely to the Mexican standoff between organisations and their people, of which I might write soon, given any kind of demand. But that might imply a need to learn about that. Unlikely?

How about you? Is learning something you need? And in the unlikely case that you might answer “yes”, what learning are you realising – at work, and through work?

– Bob

Telling hundreds or thousands of people [something, anything] is never going to result in anything other than bitterness and conflict. And showing them will have about the same (lack of) impact.

Would you be willing to arrange things such that they might invite themselves to find out for themselves?

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