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Beyond Command and Control – A Book Review

John Seddon of Vanguard Consulting Ltd. kindly shared an advance copy of his upcoming new book “Beyond Command and Control” with me recently. I am delighted to be able to share my impressions of the book with you, by way of this review.

I’ve known John and his work with e.g. the Vanguard Method for many years. The results his approach delivers are well known and widely lauded. But not widely taken up. I doubt whether this new book will move the needle much on that, but that’s not really the point. As he himself writes “change is a normative process”. That’s to say, folks have to go see for themselves how things really are, and experience the dysfunctions of the status quo for themselves, before becoming open to the possibilities of pursuing new ways of doing things.

Significant Improvement Demands a Shift in Thinking

The book starts out by explaining how significant improvement in services necessitates a fundamental shift in leaders’ thinking about the management of service operations. Having describe basic concepts such as command and control, and people-centred services, the book then moves on to explore the concept of the “management factory”. Here’s a flavour:

“In the management factory, initiatives are usually evaluated for being on-plan rather than actually working.”

(Where we might define “working” as “actually meeting the needs of the Folks that Matter”.)

Bottom line: the management factory is inextricable bound up with the philosophy of command and control – and it’s a primary cause of the many dysfunctions described throughout the book.

Putting Software and IT Last

One stand-out section of the book is the several chapters explaining the role of software and IT systems in the transformed service, or organisation. These chapters excoriate the software and IT industry, and in particular Agile methods, and caution against spending time and money on building or buying software and IT “solutions” before customer needs are fully understood.

“Start without IT. The first design has to be manual. Simple physical means, like pin-boards, T-cards and spreadsheet.”

If there is an existing IT system, treat it as a constraint, or turn it off. Only build or buy IT once the new service design is up and running and stable. Aside: This reflects my position on #NoSoftware.

John echoes a now-common view in the software community regarding Agile software development and the wider application of Agile principles:

“We soon came to regard this phenomenon [Agile] as possibly the most dysfunctional management fad we have ever come cross.”

I invite you to read this section for an insight into the progressive business perspective on the use of software and IT in business, and the track record of Agile in the field. You may take some issue with the description of Agile development methods as described here – as did I – but the minor discrepancies and pejorative tone pale into insignificance compared to the broader point: there’s no point automating the wrong service design, or investing in software or IT not grounded in meeting folks real needs.

Summary

I found Beyond Command and Control uplifting and depressing in equal measure.

Uplifting because it describes real-world experiences of the benefits of fundamentally shifting thinking from command and control to e.g. systems thinking (a.k.a. “Synergistic thinking”).

And depressing because it illustrates how rare and difficult is this shift, and how far our organisations have yet to travel to become places which deliver us the joy in work that Bill Deming says we’re entitled to. Not to mention the services that we as customers desperately need but do not receive. It resonates with my work in the Marshall Model, with command-and-control being a universal characteristic of Analytic-minded organisations, and systems thinking being reserved to the Synergistic– and Chaordic-minded.

– Bob

Further Reading

I Want You To Cheat! ~ John Seddon
Freedom From Command and Control ~ John Seddon
The Whitehall Effect ~ John Seddon
Systems Thinking in the Public Sector ~ John Seddon

Why Reason When Faith is So Much More Comfortable?

I’ve become very bored trying to explain why Agile – even when practised as the Snowbird Gods intended – is a dead-end and why we might choose to bark up a different tree for progress in improving the effectiveness of software development organisations.

Firstly. No one seems at all interested in “improving the effectiveness of software development organisations”. Yes, there does seem to be some interest in being seen to be doing something about improving the effectiveness of software development organisations. Hence SAFe, DAD, LeSS – and Agile itself. None of these approaches do anything about actually improving the effectiveness of software development organisations, of course. But that’s not the point. Improvement *theatre* wins the day in just about every case. Irrespective of practices done “right”, or more often, done “in name only” (Cf AINO).

To actually do anything about improving the effectiveness of software development organisations requires we remove some fundamental system constraints, including:

  • Optimising parts of the organisation in isolation
  • Pursuit of specialism (vs generalists)
  • Control (as in Command & Control)
  • Annual budgeting
  • Extrinsic motivation
  • Ignorance of the special needs/realities of collaborative knowledge work
  • Separation of decision-making from the work
  • Decision-makers’ ignorance of and indifference to customers’ needs
  • Seeing performance as consequent on the efforts of individuals and “talent”
  • Discounting the paramountcy of social interactions and inter-personal relationships

And that ain’t gonna happen.

Second, improving the effectiveness of software development organisations kinda misses the point. In that software development is part of the problem. Making it more effective is just – as Ackoff would say – doing more wrong things righter.

Instead, a focus on meeting folks’ needs, or at least, as a minimum, attending to their needs, would serve our search for effectives rather better. And that generally requires less software, and placing software development last in terms of priority, way before understanding customers’ needs ( (and more generally the needs of the Folks’ That Matter).

Given that the software industry’s revenues are contingent on producing software (see: Upton Sinclair’s Dictum) that ain’t gonna happen, either.

Third, if we regard improving the effectiveness of software development organisations as our aim, and limit our ambitions to that part of the organisation concerned directly with software development (i.e. the IT department or the Product Development department) then, at best, we’ll only ever see a local optimisation. Which as Ackoff tells us, only makes matters (i.e. the effectiveness of the whole organisation) *worse*. To improve organisational effectiveness (not to mention supply chain effectiveness, customers’ effectiveness) requires us to consider the organisation as a system, and focus on the systemic relationships between the parts, rather than on the parts taken separately. And given that systems thinking has failed to gain much traction in over fifty years of trying, THAT ain’t gonna happen either.

I’ll just leave this here:

“If you could reason with Agile people, there would be no Agile people.”

It all looks a bit bleak, doesn’t it? Another method isn’t going to help much, either. Unless it addresses the three points outline above. As a minimum.

That’s why I have been for some years inviting folks to consider Organisational Psychotherapy as a way forward.

But reason, rationality, and a cold hard look at reality and the shortcoming of the status quo ain’t gonna happen. Until organisations see a need for that to happen.

– Bob

My Work

My work of the past ten+ years tells executives, managers and employees:

  1. What is the root of the problems in their organisation
  2. What to do about it (how to fix it)
  3. Why they won’t do anything about it

The Root of the Problems

The root of the problems in your organisation is the collective assumptions and beliefs (I generally refer to these as the collective mindset) held in common by all people within the organisation. Most significant (in the conventional hierarchical organisation) are the assumptions and beliefs held in common by the senior executives. In the Marshall Model I refer to the most frequently occurring set of collective assumptions and beliefs as the Analytic Mindset.

In knowledge-work organisations in particular, the Analytic Mindset is at the root of most, if not all, major organisational dysfunctions and “problems”.

What to Do About It

The way forward, leaving the dysfunctions of the Analytic Mindset behind, is to set about revising and replacing the prevailing set of collective assumptions and beliefs in your organisation with a new set of collective assumptions and beliefs. A collective mindset less dysfunctional re: knowledge work, one more suited to (collaborative) knowledge work. In the Marshall Model I refer to this new, more effective set of collective assumptions and beliefs as the Synergistic Mindset. Yes, as an (occasionally) rational, intentional herd, we can change our common thinking, our set of collective assumptions and beliefs – if we so choose.

Why You Won’t Do Anything

You may be forgiven for thinking that changing a collective mindset is difficult, maybe impossibly so. But that’s not the reason you won’t do anything.

The real reason is that the current situation (the dysfunctional, ineffective, lame behaviours driven by the Analytic Mindset) is good enough for those in power to get their needs met. Never mind that employees are disengaged and stressed out. Never mind that customers are tearing their hair out when using your byzantine software products and screaming for better quality and service. Never mind that shareholders are seeing meagre returns on their investments. Those in charge are all right, Jack. And any suggestion of change threatens their relatively comfortable situation.

So, what are you going to do? Just ignore this post and carry on as usual, most likely.

– Bob

The Big Shift

Let’s get real for a moment. Why would ANYONE set about disrupting the fundamental beliefs and assumptions of their whole organisation just to make their software and product development more effective?

It’s not for the sake of increased profit – Deming’s First Theorem states:

“Nobody gives a hoot about profits”.

If we believe Russell Ackoff, executives’ motivation primarily stems from maximising their own personal well being a.k.a. their own quality of work life.

Is There a Connection?

Is there any connection between increased software and product development effectiveness, and increased quality of work life for executives? Between the needs of ALL the Folks That Matter and the smaller subset of those Folks That Matter that we label “executives”? Absent such a connection, it seems unrealistic (understatement!) to expect executives to diminish their own quality of work life for little or no gain (to them personally).

Note: Goldratt suggests that for the idea of effectiveness to gain traction, it’s necessary for the executives of an organisation to build a True Consensus – a jointly agreed and shared action plan for change (shift).

Is Disruption Avoidable?

So, the question becomes:

Can we see major improvements in the effectiveness (performance, cost, quality, predictability, etc.) of our organisation, without disrupting the fundamental beliefs and assumptions of our whole organisation?

My studies and experiences both suggest the answer is “No”. That collaborative knowledge work (as in software and product development) is sufficiently different from the forms of work for which (Analytic-minded) organisations have been built as to necessitate a fundamentally different set of beliefs and assumptions about how work must work (the Synergistic memeplex). If the work is to be effective, that is.

In support of this assertion I cite the widely reported failure rates in Agile adoptions (greater than 80%), Lean Manufacturing transformations (at least 90%) and in Digital Transformations (at least 95%).

I’d love to hear your viewpoint.

– Bob

Further Reading

Organisational Cognitive Dissonance ~ Think Different blog post

Red Lines

There’s been a lot of talk about Theresa May’s “Red Lines” in the media recently.

Every organisation I’ve ever known has had their own Red Lines – ideas, principles, practices and policies which are deemed unacceptable, beyond the pale. Many of these latter would make the organisation markedly more effective, efficient or profitable, yet are ruled out.

Here’s a list of such ideas, in roughly increasing order of benefit and unacceptability both:

Transparency of salaries
Attending to folks’ needs
Nonviolence
Restorative justice (vs Retributive justice)
Self-organising / self-managing teams
No estimates
No projects
No tools
No software
Defect prevention (ZeeDee) approach to Quality (vs Testing / Inspection)
Employees choosing their own tools, languages and development hardware
Employees designing / owning their own physical workspace(s)
(colour schemes, lighting, furniture, floor plans, drinks machines, games etc.) 
Employees choosing their own ways of working (methods, processes)
Organising to optimise Flow (vs costs)
Employees choosing their own working locations (office, cafe, remote, etc.)
Employees choosing their own working hours (incl. hours per day / week)
Employees forming their own teams
Employees guiding their own training and career, skills development
Employees hiring their own peers (and coaches)
Paramountcy of interpersonal relationships and social skills (vs tech skills)
Organisational Psychotherapy
Teams appointing their direct managers
Teams appointing their senior managers
“Open book” financials
Employees choosing their own salaries and terms of employment
Teams awarding themselves their own bonuses
No managers (alternatives to control hierarchies)
Fellowship (No positional leadership)
Do nothing that is not play

Where does your organisation draw its red lines – and how much more effective could it be if it redrew them?

– Bob

 

Congruence

What if the last twenty years has been another classic example of software developers solving the wrong problem?♥

What if “agility” was never the issue as far as business was and is concerned? What if business agility is NOT the most useful response to, or strategy for, life in a VUCA world?

We hear so much about the need for agility. It’s now a given, an unchallenged assumption. Maybe even an undiscussable assumption? Well, I’m challenging it. And in the spirit of this blog – always having an alternative to offer – I propose congruence as a more useful response to the challenges of a VUCA business environment.

Agility: the power of moving quickly and easily; nimbleness.

Congruence: Similarity between self-image and actual experience.

Carl Rogers stated that the personality is like a triangle made up of the real [or actual] self, the perceived self, and ideal self. According to Rogers, when there is a good fit between all three components, the person has congruence. This is a healthy state of being and helps people continue to progress toward self-actualisation.

Applied to organisations, we can say that an organisation is made up of the real [or actual] organisation, the organisation as it perceives itself, and its ideal self. When there is a good fit between all three components, the organisation has congruence. This is a healthy state of being and helps the organisation progress toward being all it can be.

Without congruence, organisations won’t know what to do with agility, or how to get it. Without congruence, a VUCA environment presents challenges which incongruent organisations are poorly equipped to meet.

So, forget the past twenty years and the search for agility. Congruence is the thing.

– Bob

Footnote

♥ It was a bunch of software developers that invented and promoted the idea of agility (for software development) some twenty years ago now. Businesses everywhere have seized on this prior art in their attempts to cope with the upswing in perceived volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity in the business environment.

PS

The same argument also applies to the birthplace of the agility meme: the software development silo. Forget the past twenty years and the search for development agility. Congruence is the thing.

Management Must Manage

Years ago, when I was starting out in my study of management methods, I came across ITT and its then president, Harold S. Geneen. Setting aside his connection with Phil Crosby and the ZeeDee (Zero Defects) quality movement, Geneen was famous for many things, including one quote which has stuck with me ever since I first heard it:

“Management must manage.”

What a soundbite!

Taken at face value, it’s a homily. Management must manage. Those with management responsibilities must execute those responsibilities (rather than dicking around with other things). “Well, of course. What else would they do?”

But there’s another meaning I choose to also find within. Management must manage: when we have people appointed to management positions, those people are the ones that must manage, not some others.

The whole Agile shambles, most often labelled AINO (Agile In Name Only), stems largely from ignoring this second interpretation of Geneen’s admonition.

Early Agilists, wanting to escape from the oversight of managers who had different opinions about how to manage software development, created Agile to wrest de-facto management responsibility from those managers. Thus grew the lame-assed version of self-organisation and self-managed teams so widespread today. I say lame-assed because almost no Agile team is self-managed. How could they be, when managers still have the authority and positional power to manage?

So we have instead a festering conflict of responsibilities, causing confusion and resentment all around, and dragging down engagement and productivity. Agile can “work” when the split of management responsibilities are made crystal clear for all concerned. And when that split has the blessing of management. This is almost never the case.

So, management must manage. Not developers. Not dev teams.

That sucks. Until we realise that it can be no other way. And even then, it still sucks, unless dev teams themselves have the responsibility and authority to manage. Where the dev teams are the management. Then we have the best of both worlds. A world of autonomy, mastery and purpose. A world of engaged people aligned to a common purpose and a common approach.

– Bob

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