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Management

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].

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.

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

 

 

 

 

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

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?

 

Some months ago I penned a quickie on the purpose of organisations, as stated by Philib B. Crosby (and a statement with which I have much sympathy):

“The purpose of organizations is to help people have lives.”

~ Phil Crosby

To elaborate on this only slightly, and particularly in the context of hierachical management so beloved of Analytic-minded organisations everywhere:

“The purpose of organisations is to help people have lives. And the more important the person, the more their organisations serve them in having lives.”

~ FlowChainSensei

See also: Your REAL Job

Management, Net-Net

I’ve written some number of posts already describing the incompatibilities between traditonal, hierarchical, command-and-control management (THCM)  and collaborative knowledge work (CKW). I’ve written that we can have one or the other, but not both.

I note the absence of any signs that THCM is being scrutinised anew – excepting from a few quarters such as Prof Gary Hamel with Humanocracy, and Frederic Laloux with Reinventing Organisations. Even though effective CKW becomes ever more widespread. Not to mention essential to businesses and society both.

Let’s assume for the sake of this partticular post that THCM afforts organisations and societies some real benefits. I personally have my doubts. but lets go with it. Similarly, let’s also assume that CKW also affors some real benefits. For what it’s worth you can probably guess my personal take on that assumption.

The Economic Question

So here’s the (economic*) question: Which affords the greater benefits to organisations: THCM or CKW, net-net?

If we geared how organisationa are run in line with optimising for effective CKW – which would mean downplaying, replacing or abandoning THCM – would these organisations be better off, produce better (finanical, social, etc.) results?

Conversely, does THCM – with the inevitable negative consequences for effective CKW, result in higher profits, margins, and other measures of success (financial and otherwise)?

I’d love to hear your take on this question.

– Bob

*This question kinda assumes organisations are primarily economic entities with success measured in financial and economic terms. I suggest this is actually just a big lie.

The Monopoly Of Management

Managers and other senior stakeholders and elites within organisations have a monopoly on the priority of their own well-being. (See: Your REAL Job).

Wouldn’t it be great if other folks’ well-being received equal attention? If the set of all the Folks That Matter™. included staff, customers, their families and loved ones, and even society as whole? Some may baulk at the implied cost of spreading the well-being net wider. I see this as a fallacy and one which only serves to entrench the ruling clique’s monopoly further.

We keep inventing jobs because of this false idea that everybody has to be employed at some kind of drudgery…. He must justify his right to exist.

~ R. Buckminster Fuller

One aspect of the Quintessential organisation is just this – it makes both moral and business sense to prioritise the well-being of all – to Attend To The Needs of all the Folks That Matter™. Is this the kind of organisation in which you might best like to participate?

– Bob

It’s the collective mindset of an organisation that determines an organisation’s overall effectiveness, productivity and degree of success.

~ FlowChainSensei

What Determines An Organisation’s Strategies?

The collective mindset of an organisation determines absolutely the strategies (means, solutions) avaiable to the organisation – the strategies it applies to addressing its issues and problems.

Does your organisation have a strategy for shifting its collective mindset (i.e. its collective assumptions and beliefs)? If so, what assumptions and beliefs has shaped that strategy?

 

Further Reading

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

Marshall, R.W. (2021). Memeology: Surfacing And Reflecting On The Organisation’s Collective Assumptions And Beliefs. [online] leanpub.com. Falling Blossoms. Available at: https://leanpub.com/memeology/ [Accessed 31 Mar. 2022].

Marshall, R.W. (2018). Hearts over Diamonds: Serving Business and Society Through Organisational Psychotherapy. Falling Blossoms (LeanPub).

 

 

Managers Are PONC

Number 4 in Phil Crosby’s Four Absolutes of Quality is “The measurement of quality is the price of nonconformance (PONC), NOT indices.”

By which he meant, that the price of non-conformance to requirements tells us how often and the degree to which our organisation achieves quality. 

Le’s unwrap that a bit further.

In Absolute number 1, he says “The definition of quality is conformance to requirements, NOT ‘goodness’”.

So when we’re delivering stuff to our immediate customers that fails to conform to their requirements, that is not contributing to their success, we are failing to provide quality goods or services. 

We can measure this failure in terms of the price of non-conformance. That is, the costs involved in reworking, retesting, correcting, substituting, fixing-up or otherwise remediating the things we deliver so they do conform to our customers requirements.

In short, any cost that would not have been expended if quality had been perfect contributes to the price of non-conformance.

Managers Are PONC

If we look at the typical work of managers, almost all of what they do on a daily basis is all those fire-fighting remediations mentioned above. Indeed, in most organisations, this is the raison d’être of the manager’s role (minuscule other reasons include prevention of problems, and growth of the organisation and its revenues, profits).

Therefore it’s but a small jump to see that managers are one of the major contributors to their organisation’s price of non-conformance. In other words their costs (salaries, etc). are almost entirely consequent on their fire-fighting role.If fire-fighting was unnecessary, so would be the managers, and their costs.

– Bob

Further Reading

Unknown (2013). Manager Thought: Price of Non Conformance (PONC). [online] Manager Thought. Available at: https://rkc-mgr.blogspot.com/2013/07/price-of-non-conformance-ponc.html [Accessed 4 Mar. 2022].

Merbler, K. (2021) The Entrepreneur Who Created A Business Camelot: Philip B. Crosby. Dominionhouse Publishing & Design, LLC. Kindle Edition.

An Open Letter To All Organisations

Having been involved in software (and hardware) for some fifty years now, I thought it might be time to mark the occasion with this open letter to all organisations. Especially to those organisations engaged in CKW (Collaborative Knowledge Work), such as product development and software development.

Enormous Levels of Waste

You’re wasting 80% of your time, effort, money, and human potential on bullshit work*.

You may know this already, but are too embarrassed, fearful of the consequences, or indifferent to admit it.

Or maybe your owners have so much money that wasting 80% of your operating costs is of little or no consequence to them, and thus to you.

Or you may be unaware of the potential upside of adopting modern organisational practices, and of the downside of retaining your traditional management assumptions and beliefs**.

*Bullshit work: a.k.a. busywork – work that consumes time, effort and energy yet adds no value, and meets no needs of any of the Folks That Matter™️.

Rightshifting

The Rightshifting Chart illustrates just how much time and effort gets wasted in CKW organisations:

The Marshall Model

And the Marshall Model explains the source of such waste (it’s the consequence of the collective assumptions and beliefs a.k.a. mindset, or memeplex, of these organisations):

Over the years, various independent consultants have validated these models.

Consultation in Confidence

**If you’d like a brief, utterly confidential, and no obligation chat about how your organisation could benefit from wasting less of your time, energy and effort, please get in touch via e.g. LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/bob-marshall-flowchainsensei-3a2a5b164/ – or via whatever channel you may prefer.

– Bob

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