What’s the biggest constraint in every organisation?
Always, always, ALWAYS, it’s management thinking*. Specifically, it’s the collective assumptions and beliefs held in common across the organisation a whole. How will you exploit this constraint?
If your approach to running your business fails to recognise this, you will fail at least 90% of the time. And the other 10% will be pure luck.
*Irrespective of whether the organisation actually has “management” or not.
I was reading the other day about how Elon Musk “reasons from first principles“. And I was thinking, “Well, d’oh! Doesn’t everyone do that? I know I do.” And then, upon reflection, I thought, “Hmm, maybe most folks don’t do that.” I certainly have seen little evidence of it, compare to the evidence of folks reasoning by extension, and analogy. And failing to reason at all.
Now, allowing for journalistic hyperbole and the cult of the celebrity, there may just still be something in it.
So, in case you were wondering, and to remind myself, here’s some first principles underpinning the various things in my own portfolio of ideas and experiences:
The Antimatter Principle
The Antimatter Principle emerges from the following basic principles about us as people:
- All our actions and behaviours are simply consequent on trying to get our needs met.
- We are social animals and are driven to see other folks’ needs met, often even before our own.
- We humans have an innate sense of fairness which influences our every decision and action.
Flowchain emerges from the following basic principles concerning work and business:
- All commercial organisations – excepting, maybe, those busy milking their cash cows – are in the business of continually bringing new products, or at least new product features and upgrades, to market.
- When Cost of Delay is non-trivial, the speed of bringing new products and feature to market is significant.
- Flow (of value – not the Mihaly Csikszentmihaly kind of flow, here) offers the most likely means to minimise concept-to-cash time.
- Autonomy, mastery and shared purpose affords a means for people to find the intrinsic motivation to improve things (like flow).
- Building improvement into the way the work works increases the likelihood of having sufficient resources available to see improvement happen.
Prod•gnosis emerges from the following basic principles concerning business operations:
- All commercial organisations – excepting, maybe, those busy milking their cash cows – are in the business of continually bringing new products, or at least new product features and upgrades, to market.
- Most new products are cobbled together via disjointed efforts crossing multiple organisational (silo) boundaries, and consequently incurring avoidable waste, rework, confusion and delays.
- The people with domain expertise in a particular product or service area are rarely, if ever, experts in building the operational value streams necessary to develop, sell and support those products and services.
Emotioneering emerges from the following basic principles concerning products and product development:
- People buy things based on how they feel (their emotional responses to the things they’re considering buying). See: Buy•ology by Martin Lindstrøm.
- Product uptake (revenues, margins, etc.) can be improved by deliberately designing and building products for maximum positive emotional responses.
- Quantification serves to explicitly identify and clarify the emotional responses we wish to see our products and service evoke (Cf. “Competitive Engineeering” ~ Gilb).
Rightshifting emerges from the following basic principles concerning work in organisations:
- The effectiveness of an organisation is a direct function of its collective assumptions and beliefs.
- Effectiveness is a general attribute, spanning all aspects of an organisation’s operations (i.e. not just applicable to product development).
The Marshall Model
The Marshall Model emerges from the following basic principles concerning work in organisations:
- Different organisations demonstrable hold widely differing shared assumptions and beliefs about the world of work and how work should work – one organisation from another.
- Understanding which collection of shared assumptions and beliefs is in play in a given organisation helps interventionists select the most effective form(s) of intervention. (Cf. The Dreyfus Model of Skills Acquisition).
Organisation psychotherapy emerges from the following basic principles concerning people and organisations:
- The effectiveness (performance, productivity, revenues, profitability, success, etc.) of any organisation is a direct function of its collective assumptions and beliefs about the world of work and how work should work.
- Organisations fall short of the ideal in being (un)able to shift their collective assumptions and beliefs to better align with their objectives (both explicit and implicit).
- Having support available – either by engaging organisational therapists, or via facilitated self-help – increases the likelihood of an organisation engaging in the surfacing, reflecting upon, and ultimately changing its collective assumptions and beliefs.
The Path to Organisational Psychotherapy
Lots of people ask me a question about Organisational Psychotherapy along the following lines:
“Bob, you’re smart, insightful, brilliant, and with decades of experience in software development. How come you’ve ended up in the tiny corner of the world which you call Organisational Psychotherapy?”
Which is a very fair question. I’d like to explain…
But first a little background.
I started my lifelong involvement with software development by teaching myself programming. I used to sneak into the CS classes at school, and sit at the back writing BASIC, COBOL and FORTRAN programs on the school’s dial-up equipment, whilst the rest of the class “learned” about word processing, spreadsheets and the like. In the holidays I’d tramp across London and sneak into the computer rooms at Queen Many Collage (University) and hack my way into their mainframe to teach myself more esoteric programming languages.
My early career involved much hands-on development, programming, analysis, design, etc.. I did a lot of work writing compilers, interpreters and the like.
After a few years I found people were more interested in me sharing my knowledge of how to write software, than in writing software for them.
Flip-flopping between delivering software and delivering advice on how best to write software suited me well. I allowed me to keep close to the gemba, yet get involved with the challenges of a wide range of developers and their managers.
The years passed. I set up a few businesses of my own along the way. Selling compilers. Supporting companies’ commercial software products. Doing the independent consulting thang. Providing software development management consulting. Starting and running a software house.
By the time I got to Sun Microsystems’ UK Java Center, I had seen the software development pain points of many different organisations. From both a technical and a management perspective. Indeed, these two perspectives had come to seem indivisibly intertwingled.
I spent more and more of my time looking into the whole-system phenomena I was seeing. Embracing and applying whole-system techniques such as Theory of Constraints, Systems Thinking, Lean Thinking, Deming, Gilb, etc..
Slowly it became apparent to me that the pain points of my clients were rarely if ever caused by lack of technical competencies. And almost exclusively caused by the way people interacted. (I never saw a project fail for lack of technical skills. I often saw projects fail because people couldn’t get along.)
By the early 2000s I had arrived at the working idea that it was the collective assumptions and beliefs of my clients that were causing the interpersonal rifts and dysfunctions, and the most direct source of their pain.
So to My Answer
Returning to the headline question. It became ever clearer to me that to address my clients’ software development pains, there would have to be some (major) shift in their collective assumptions and beliefs. I coined the term “Rightshifting” and built a bunch of collateral to illustrate the idea. Out of that seed grew the Marshall Model.
And yet the key question – how to shift an organisation’s collective assumptions and beliefs – remained.
Through conversations with friends and peers (thanks to all, you know who you are) I was able to focus on that key question. My starting point: were there any known fields addressing the idea of changing assumptions and beliefs? Of course there were. Primarily the field of psychotherapy. I embraced the notion and began studying psychotherapy. After a short while it seemed eminently feasible to leverage and repurpose the extensive research, and the many tools, of individual psychotherapy, to the domain of organisations and their collective assumptions and beliefs.
Organisational Psychotherapy provides an approach (the only approach I know of) to culture change in organisations – and to the surfacing of and reflecting on the memes of the collective mindset – the organisational psyche. And because I see the dire need for it, I continue.
Marshall, R. W. (2019). Hearts over Diamonds. Falling Blossoms.
Marshall, R. W. (2021). Memeology. Falling Blossoms.
Richard Dawkins. (1976). The Selfish Gene. Oxford University Press.
Blackmore, S. J. (2000). The Meme Machine. Oxford University Press.
The Power of Memes. (2002, March 25). Dr Susan Blackmore. https://www.susanblackmore.uk/articles/the-power-of-memes/
The Evolution Of An Idea
Many people have expressed an interest in learning more about the evolution of Organisational Psychotherapy. This post attempts to go back to the roots of the idea and follow its twists and turns as it evolved to where it is today (January 2020).
Around the mid-nineties I had already been occupied for some years with the question of what makes for effective software development. My interest in the question was redoubled as I started my own software house (Familiar Limited) circa 1996. I felt I needed to know how to better serve our clients, and grow a successful business. It seemed like “increasing effectiveness” was the key idea.
This interest grew into the first strand of my work: Rightshifting. I had become increasingly disenchanted with the idea of coercive “process” as THE way forward. I had seen time and again how “process” had made things worse, not better. So I coined the term Rightshifting to describe the goal we had in mind (becoming more effective), rather than obsessing over the means (the word “process”, in my experience, conflating these two ideas).
“Rightshifting” describes movement “to the right” along a horizontal axis of increasing organisational effectiveness (see: chart). Even at this stage, my attention was on the organisation as a whole (and sometimes entire value chains) rather than on some specific element of an organisation, such as a software development team or department.
Circa 2008 I began to work on elaborating the Rightshifting idea, in an attempt to address a common question:
“What do all these organisations (distributed left and right along this horizontal axis) do differently, one from the other?”
Subsequently, the Marshall Model emerged (see: chart). Originally with no names for the four distinct phases, categories or zones of the model, but then over the space of a few months adding names for each zone: “Ad-hoc”, “Analytic” (as per Ackoff); “Synergistic” (as per Buckminster Fuller); and “Chaordic” (as per Dee Hock).
These names enabled me to see these zones for what they were: collective mindsets. And also to answer the above question:
Organisations are (more or less) effective because of the specific beliefs and assumptions they hold in common.
I began calling these common assumptions and beliefs a “collective mindset”, or memeplex. This led to the somewhat obvious second key question:
“If the collective mindset dictates the organisation’s effectiveness – not just in software development but in all its endeavours, across the board – how would an organisation that was seeking to become more effective go about changing its current collective mindset for something else? For something more effective?”
Organisation-wide change programmes and business transformations of all kinds – including so-called Digital Transformations – are renowned for their difficulty and high risk of failure. It seemed to me then (circa 2014), and still seems to me now, that “classical” approaches to change and transformation are not the way to proceed.
Hence we arrive at a different kind of approach, one borrowing from traditions and bodies of knowledge well outside conventional management and IT. I have come to call this approach “Organisational Psychotherapy” – named for its similarities with individual (and family) therapy. I often refer to this as
“Inviting the whole organisation onto the therapist’s couch“.
I invite and welcome your curiosity and questions about this brief history of the evolution of the idea of Organisational Psychotherapy.
Memes Of The Four Memeplexes ~ A Think Different blog post
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 that approach is 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 spreadsheets.”
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.
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” Cf. the Marshall Model).
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.
My work of the past ten+ years tells executives, managers and employees:
- What is the root of the problems in their organisation
- What to do about it (how to fix it)
- 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.
The Aspiration Gap
Some years ago I wrote a post entitled “Delivering Software is Easy“. As a postscript I included a chart illustrating where all the jobs are in the software / tech industries, compared to the organisations (and jobs) that folks would like to work in. It’s probably overdue to add a little more explanations to that chart.
Here’s the chart, repeated from that earlier post for ease of reference:
The green curve is the topic of this post.
The Green Curve
The green curve illustrates the distribution of jobs that e.g. developers, testers, coaches, managers, etc. would like to have. In other words, jobs that are most likely to best meet their needs (different folks have different needs, of course).
Down around the horizontal zero index position (way over to the left), some folks might like to work in these (Adhoc) organisations, for the freedom (and autonomy) they offer (some Adhoc organisations can be very laissez-faire). These jobs are no so desirable, though, for the raft of dysfunctions present in Adhoc organisations generally (lack of things like structure, discipline, focus, competence, and so on).
The green curve moves to a minimum around the 1.0 index position. Jobs here are the least desirable, coinciding as they do with the maximum number of Analytic organisations (median peak of the blue curve). Very few indeed are the folks that enjoy working for these kinds of organisations, with their extrinsic (imposed) discipline, Theory-X approach to staff relations and motivations, strict management hierarchies, disconnected silos, poor sense of purpose, institutionalised violence, and all the other trappings of the Analytic mindset. Note that this is where almost all the jobs are today, though. No wonder there’s a raging epidemic of disengagement across the vast swathe of such organisations.
The green curve then begins to rise from its minimum, to reach a maximum (peak) coinciding with jobs in those organisations having a “Mature Synergistic” mindset (circa horizontal index of 2.8 to 3). These are great places to work for most folks, although due to the very limited number of such organisations (and thus jobs), few people will ever get to experience the joys of autonomy, support for mastery, strong shared common purpose, intrinsic motivation, a predominantly Theory-Y approach to staff relations, minimal hierarchy, and so on.
Finally (past horizontal index 3.0) the green curve begins to fall again, mainly because working in Chaordic organisations can be disconcerting, scary (although in a good way), and is so far from most folks’ common work experiences and mental image of a “job” that despite the attractions, it’s definitely not everyone’s cup off tea.
The (vertical) gap at any point along the horizontal axis signifies the aspiration gap: the gap between the number of jobs available (blue curve) and the level of demand for those jobs (green curve) – i.e. the kind of jobs folks aspire to.
If you’re running an organisation, where would you need it to be (on the horizontal axis) to best attract the talent you want?
For explanations of Adhoc, Analytic, Synergistic and Chaordic mindsets, see e.g. the Marshall Model.
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.
Organisational Cognitive Dissonance ~ Think Different blog post
It seems like “Digital Transformation” of organisations is all the rage – or is it fear? – in C-suites around the world. The term implies the pursuit of new business models and, by extension, new revenue streams. I’ve been speaking recently with folks in a number of organisations attempting “Digital Transformation”, some for the fourth or fifth time. I get the impression that things are not going well, on a broad front.
What is Digital Transformation?
Even though the term is ubiquitous nowadays, what any one organisation means by the term seems to vary widely. I’ll attempt my own definition, for the sake of argument, whilst recognising that any given organisation may have in mind something rather different, or sometimes no clear idea at all. Ask ten different organisations what Digital Transformation means to them, and you’re likely to get at least ten different answers.
Digital Transformation is the creation and implementation of new business models, new organisational models and new revenue streams made possible by the use of new digital technologies and channels.
Ironically it’s proving to NOT be about technology, but rather about company culture (this, in itself, being a product of the collective assumptions and beliefs of the organisation).
“A significant number of organisations are not getting [digital] transformation right because of a fundamental quandary over what digital transformation really is.”
~ Brian Solis, principal analyst and futurist at Altimeter
So, why am I bothering to write this post? Aren’t there already reams of articles about every conceivable aspect of Digital Transformation?
Well, one aspect of Digital Transformation I see little covered is that relating to the development of “digital” products for the digitally-transformed company. And the implications this brings to the party.
Digital Transformation requires the development of new products and services to serve the new business models, new organisational models and new revenue streams. Digital products and digital services. In most cases, this means software development. And organisations, particularly untransformed organisations – which even now means most of them – are spectacularly inept at both software development and product development. Some refer to this as “a lack of digital literacy”.
Things have not changes much in this arena for the past fifty years and more. Failure rates resolutely hover around the 40% mark (and even higher for larger projects). And the much-vaunted (or is it much cargo-cullted?) Agile approach to development has hardly moved the needle at all.
For the past two decades I have been writing about the role of the collective psyche – and the impact on organisational effectiveness of the collectively-held assumptions and beliefs about how work should work. And make no mistake, effectiveness is a key issue in digital product development. Relatively ineffective organisations will fail to deliver new digital products and services at least as often as 40% of the time. Relatively effective organisations can achieve results at least an order of magnitude better than this.
The Marshall Model provides an answer to the question: what do we have to do to become more effective as an organisation? And it’s not a popular answer. By analogy, people looking to lose weight rarely like to hear they will have to eat less and exercise more. Organisations looking to become more effective rarely like to face up to the fact that they will have to completely rethink long-held and deeply-cherished beliefs about the way work should be organised, managed, directed and controlled. And remodel their organisations along entirely alien lines in order to see a successful Digital Transformation and compete effectively in the digital domain.
Successful Digital Transformations demand organisations not only come up with new business strategies, organisational models, revenue streams and digital products and services, but also that they shift their collective mindset to one which aligns with their ambitions. Personally, I see shifting the collective mindset as an essential precursor to the former. Most organisations approaching Digital Transformation fail to recognise this inevitability, this imperative. And so, most Digital Transformations are doomed to underachieve, or fail entirely.
“Ask yourself whether what you’re doing is disruptive to your business and to your industry. If you can say yes with a straight face, you may well be conducting a legitimate digital transformation.” And if you’re unable to say yes, then whatever you’re doing, it’s likely not a Digital Transformation.
If you’d like to explore this topic, understand more about the Marshall Model, its relevance and its predictive power, and save your organisation millions of Dollar/Pounds/Euros – not to mention much embarrassment and angst – I’d be delighted to chat things over with you and your executive team.
Reinventing Organizations ~ Frederic Laloux
I recently had a bit of a wake-up call via Twitter. I asked the following question:
“What’s the one thing /above all/ that makes for an effective organisation?”
My thanks to all those who took the time to reply with their viewpoint. The wake-up call for me was the variety of these responses. All over the map might be a fair description. Which, given I’ve been writing about effectiveness in the context of organisations for more than a decade now, tells me I’ve some way to go to get my perspective across. Not that I’d expect folks to respond by simply parroting my definition, of course. And nor do I claim any special authority over the term.
Goldratt defines (in)effectiveness as:
“Things that should not have been done but nevertheless were done.”
Drucker defined it as:
“Successfully aligning behaviour with intentions.”
Aside: It’s been my experience that (organisational) effectiveness gets little attention or focus in most organisations. And seeing as how in most organisations things are so ineffective, I’ve come to believe that those making the calls don’t see a need for effectiveness.
Effectiveness is a spectrum. From highly ineffective through to highly effective. Note that this spectrum is orthogonal to the spectrum of organisational success (by whatever measure you might choose for success: revenues, profits, social impact, personal kudos, joy, employee satisfaction, customer satisfaction, quality, returns to shareholders, executive bonuses, w.h.y.).
Effective organisations are not necessarily successful, and successful organisations are not necessarily effective. I posit that effectiveness can help create, contribute to, and sustain success. I seem to be in a minority.
Here’s the responses I received to my question “What’s the one thing /above all/ that makes for an effective organisation?”:
- @FragileAgile: “Folks needs being intentionally met.”
- @andycleff: “+1 to Trust. Foundation for all the things.”
- @LMaccherone: “Happy paying customers”
- @stuart_snelling: “Accurate, contextual and meaningful data that is readily accessible.”
- @ChangeTroops: ”Growth mindset.”
- @allygill: “Effective people who understand the needs of their customers (internal and external) and each other.”
- @KarimHarbott: “Totally and utterly dependent on what they are trying to achieve.”
- @ArnoutOrelio: “People”. “Their ability to improve things; their creativity.”
- @gertveenhoven: “Trust.”
- @ferigan: “A team structure that doesn’t require effort to collaborate in and allows work to flow well.”
- @anam_liath: “Common vision and ideals.”
- @rogersaner: “Empowering your people.”
- @sourabhpandey05: “I would say ‘Culture’ of the organisation. Culture which promotes1 the values trust, transparency, respect for everyone.”
- @heybenji: “Ingenuity.”
- @joserra_diaz: “Mindset of the owner.”
- @ard_kramer: “Autonomy for individuals and a common understanding of what is of value for the organisation.”
- @martinahogg: “Alignment.”
- @briscloudnative: “Love.”
- @barryfarnworth: “Understanding purpose….”
- @mikeonitstuff: “Ultimately I think it’s leadership. The leaders set the stage for the culture and the vision for the organization. Poor leadership can destroy value and morale, great leadership creates the conditions for high performance.”
- @EricStephens: “Uniform Commitment to the mission.”
For each of the above, I invite you to apply this litmus test: “if we had this, would we then necessarily be effective?”
Some folks asked me for my “answer”, so here it is:
Rightshifting and the Marshall Model both attribute (relative) organisational effectiveness to the prevailing collective mindset. That’s to say, what an organisation collectively believes about how the world of work should work will absolutely dictate how effective that organisation will be. Any organisation wishing to become significantly more effective faces the formidable challenge of changing its collective assumptions and beliefs about work (in the broadest sense of the term). In other works, change the prevailing paradigm, or better yet, acquire the power to transcend /any/ particular paradigm.
For clarity then, the one thing above all that makes for an effective organisation is its collective mindset a.k.a. memeplex.
This echoes the famous “Twelve Leverage Points to Intervene in a System” by Donella Meadows:
Solutions Demand Problems
I’m obliged to Ben Simo (@QualityFrog) for a couple of recent tweets that prompted me to write this post:
I very much concur that solutions disconnected from problems have little value or utility. It’s probably overdue to remind myself of the business problems which spurred me to create the various solutions I regularly blog about.
Continually managing projects (portfolios of projects, really) is a pain in the ass and a costly overhead (it doesn’t contribute to the work getting done, it causes continual scheduling and bottlenecking issues around key specialists, detracts from autonomy and shared purpose, and – from a flow-of-value-to-the-customer perspective – chops up the flow into mini-silos (not good for smooth flow). Typically, projects also leave little or no time, or infrastructure, for continually improving the way the work works. And the project approach is a bit like a lead overcoat, constraining management’s options, and making it difficult to make nimble re-adjustments to priorities on-the-fly.
Solution (in a Nutshell)
FlowChain proposes a single organisational backlog, to order all proposed new features and products, along with all proposed improvement actions (improvement to the way the work works). Guided by policies set by e.g. management, people in the pool of development specialists coalesce – in small groups, and in chunks of time of just a few days – around each suitable highest-priority work item to see it through to “done”.
Speed to market for new products is held back and undermined by the conventional piecemeal, cross-silo approach to new product development. With multiple hands-offs, inter-silo queues, rework loops, and resource contentions, the conventional approach creates excessive delays (cf cost of delay), drives up the cost-of-quality (due to the propensity for errors), and the need for continual management interventions (constant firefighting).
Solution (in a Nutshell)
Prod•gnosisproposes a holistic approach to New Product Development, seeing each product line or product family as an operational value stream (OVS), and the ongoing challenge as being the bringing of new operational value streams into existence. The Prod•gnosis approach stipulates an OVS-creating centre of excellence: a group of people with all the skills necessary to quickly and reliably creating new OVSs. Each new OVS, once created, is handed over to a dedicated OVS manager and team to run it under day-to-day BAU (Business as Usual).
FlowChain was originally conceived as a solution for Analytic-minded organisations. In other words, an organisation with conventional functional silos, management, hierarchy, etc. In Synergistic-minded organisations, some adjustments can make FlowChain much more effective and better suited to that different kind of organisation.
Solution (in a Nutshell)
Flow•gnosis merges Prod•gnosis and FlowChain together, giving an organisation-wide, holistic solution which improves organisational effectiveness, reifies Continuous Improvement, speeds flowof new products into the market, provides an operational (value stream based) model for the whole business, and allows specialists from many functions to work together with a minimum of hand-offs, delays, mistakes and other wastes.
Few organisations have a conscious idea of how relatively effective they are, and of the scope for them to become much more effective (and thus profitable, successful, etc.). Absent this awareness, there’s precious little incentive to lift one’s head up from the daily grind to imagine what could be.
Solution (in a Nutshell)
Rightshifting provides organisations with a context within which to consider their relative effectiveness, both with respect to other similar organisations, and more significantly, with respect to the organisation’s potential future self.
The Marshall Model
Few organisations have an explicit model for organisational effectiveness. Absence of such a model makes it difficult to have conversations around what actions the organisation needs to take to become more effective. And for change agents such as Consultants and Enterprise Coaches attempting to assist an organisation towards increased effectiveness, it can be difficult to choose the most effective kinds of interventions (these being contingent upon where the organisation is “at”, with regard to its set of collective assumptions and beliefs a.k.a. mindset).
Solution (in a Nutshell)
The Marshall Model provides an explanation of organisational effectiveness. The model provides a starting point for folks inside an organisation to begin discussing their own perspectives on what effectiveness means, what makes their own particular organisation effective, and what actions might be necessary to make the organisation more effective. Simultaneously, the Marshall Model (a.k.a. Dreyfus for Organisations) provides a framework for change agents to help select the kinds of interventions most likely to be successful.
Some organisations embrace the idea that the collective organisational mindset – what people, collectively believe about how organisations should work – is the prime determinant of organisational effectiveness, productivity, quality of life at work, profitability, and success. If so, how to “shift” the organisation’s mindset, its collective beliefs, assumptions and tropes, to a more healthy and effective place? Most organisations do not naturally have this skill set or capability. And it can take much time, and many costly missteps along the way, to acquire such a capability.
Solution (in a Nutshell)
Organisational Psychotherapy provides a means to accelerate the acquisition of the necessary skills and capabilities for an organisation to become competent in continually revising its collective set of assumptions and beliefs. Organisational Psychotherapists provide guidance and support to organisations in all stages of this journey.
Research (cf Buy•ology ~ Martin Lindstrom) has shown conclusively that people buy things not on rational lines, but on emotional lines. Rationality, if it has a look-in at all, is reserved for post-hoc justification of buying decisions. However, most product development today is driven by rationality:
- What are the customers’ pain points?
- What are the user stories or customer journeys we need to address?
- What features should we provide to ameliorate those pain points and meet those user needs?
Upshot: mediocre products which fail to appeal to the buyers’ emotions, excepting by accident. And thus less customer appeal, and so lower margins, lower demand, lower market share, and slower growth.
Solution (in a Nutshell)
Emotioneering proposes replacing the conventional requirements engineering process (whether that be big-design-up-front or incremental/iterative design) – focusing as it does on product features – with an *engineering* process focusing on ensuring our products creaate the emotional responses we wish to evoke in our customers and markets (and more broadly, in all the Folks That Matter™).
The Antimatter Principle
How to create an environment where the relationships between people can thrive and flourish? An environment where engagement and morale is consistently through the roof? Where joy, passion and discretionary effort are palpable, ever-present and to-the-max?
Solution (in a Nutshell)
The Antimatter Principle proposes that putting the principle of “attending to folks’ needs” at front and centre of all of the organisation’s policies is by far the best way to create an environment where the relationships between people can thrive and flourish. Note: this includes policies governing the engineering disciplines of the organisation, i.e. attending to customers’ needs at least as much as to the needs of all the other Folks That Matter™.
Some Alien Tropes
Most people, and hence organisations, fear the alien, And by doing so, cleave to the conventional. Yet progress, change, and organisational effectiveness depend on embracing the alien.
“Problems cannot be solved with the same mindset that created them.”
~ Albert Einstein
- Treat people like adults. In all things.
- Allow people to choose their own terms, conditions, locations, salaries, equipment and ways of working together.
- Understand who matters and what each of these individuals need.
- Attend to all the needs of all the folks that matter.
- Be aware of both the prevailing and the desired social dynamic in the organisation.
- Think in terms of communities and teams, not individuals. Ensure all the policies of the organisation support this perspective.
- Actively support and encourage self-organisation, self-management and self- determination (e.g. of teams).
- People really do want to contribute, learn, make a difference and do the best they can.
- Effective collaborative knowledge work is a learnable set of competencies.
- Skilful dialogue is essential for effective teamwork and, as a skill, requires constant practice and development.
- Intrinsic motivations add, extrinsic motivations subtract.
- Productivity in collaborative knowledge work demands superior cognitive function.
- Stress causes a decline in cognitive function.
- Stress has many causes (fear, obligation, guilt, shame, lack of safety, …).
- Eschew leadership in favour of e.g. fellowship.
- Common (shared) purpose has a unique power.
- Enthusiastically model and support discussion, debate, open-mindedness and the ability to change oneself and one’s assumptions, beliefs.
- Alien tropes do not come naturally to people. Support their uptake.
- Do not fear the alien; embrace it, use it, exploit it.
I’d be delighted to expand on any of the above, if and when invited to do so.
Most Models Are Wrong
“The most that can be expected from any model is that it can supply a useful approximation to reality: All models are wrong; some models are useful”.
~ George E. P. Box
George E. P. Box
George Edward Pelham Box FRS (18 October 1919 – 28 March 2013) was a British statistician, who worked in the areas of quality control, time-series analysis, design of experiments, and Bayesian inference. He has been called “one of the great statistical minds of the 20th century”. He repeated his aphorism concerning the wrongness of models in many of his papers.
The first appearance (1976) reads:
“Since all models are wrong the scientist cannot obtain a “correct” one by excessive elaboration. On the contrary following William of Occam he should seek an economical description of natural phenomena. Just as the ability to devise simple but evocative models is the signature of the great scientist so overelaboration and overparameterization is often the mark of mediocrity.”
~ George E. P. Box
He wrote later (1978):
Now it would be very remarkable if any system existing in the real world could be exactly represented by any simple model. However, cunningly chosen parsimonious models often do provide remarkably useful approximations. For example, the law PV = RT relating pressure P, volume V and temperature T of an “ideal” gas via a constant R is not exactly true for any real gas, but it frequently provides a useful approximation and furthermore its structure is informative since it springs from a physical view of the behavior of gas molecules.
For such a model there is no need to ask the question “Is the model true?”. If “truth” is to be the “whole truth” the answer must be “No”. The only question of interest is “Is the model illuminating and useful?”.
~ George E. P. Box
What’s A Model?
The Marshall Model belongs to the group of models collectively referred-to as Scientific Models.
“A scientific model seeks to represent empirical objects, phenomena, and physical processes in a logical and objective way. All models are in simulacra, that is, simplified reflections of reality that, despite being approximations, can be extremely useful. Building and disputing models is fundamental to the scientific enterprise. Complete and true representation may be impossible, but scientific debate often concerns which is the better model for a given task.
Attempts to formalize the principles of the empirical sciences use an interpretation to model reality, in the same way logicians axiomatize the principles of logic. The aim of these attempts is to construct a formal system that will not produce theoretical consequences that are contrary to what is found in reality. Predictions or other statements drawn from such a formal system mirror or map the real world only insofar as these scientific models are true.
For the scientist, a model is also a way in which the human thought processes can be amplified.”
“Models are typically used when it is either impossible or impractical to create experimental conditions in which we can directly measure outcomes. Direct measurement of outcomes under controlled conditions (see Scientific Method) will always be more reliable than modelled estimates of outcomes.”
The Marshall Model
How is the Marshall Model Useful?
- Explains the fundamental source of productivity – or lack of it – in organisations generally.
- Predicts the likely path of attempts to “go Agile or “be Agile”, embark on Digital Transformations, adopt Lean or Theory of Constraints, etc..
- Situates a range of approaches to business productivity along a spectrum (the Rightshifting spectrum), in order of effectiveness.
- Defines the challenge facing organisations that wish to significantly improve their productivity and effectiveness.
- Illustrates the role of the collective psyche (within social systems).
- Offers a way forward to higher productivity, joy, engagement and seeing folks’ needs better met.
- Provides interventionists with insights in how to intervene in organisations seeking to improve, similar to the way the Dreyfus Model provides interventionists with insights in how to intervene in situations where individuals seek to improve their skills. (How to best adapt and adopt styles of intervention to suit where the organisation is at, in its journey towards maximum effectiveness).
- Offers a seed for building a shared mental model of the factors governing an organisation’s relative effectiveness, as well as a means to understand the mental models typically in play within organisations.
Some time ago I wrote a post on how folks might use the Marshall Model.
Aside: Please let me know if you would value an elaboration of any of the above points.
“Truth … is much too complicated to allow anything but approximations.”
~ John von Neumann
The Marshall Model is not Truth. It is truthy, in that it has some utility as described above. It is a hypothesis, one I’d be delighted for folks to debate, dispute and discuss. Do you have, for example, your own go-to model for explaining organisational productivity? Where does the Marshall Model sit, for you, on the spectrum of “highly useful” through to “not very useful at all”? Would you be willing to share your viewpoint or hypothesis on organisational effectiveness and productivity?
All Models are Wrong ~ Wikipedia Entry
Scientific Modelling ~ Wikipedia Entry
George E.P. Box ~ Wikipedia Entry
Mental Models ~ Wikipedia Entry
Models Are The Building Blocks of Science https://utw10426.utweb.utexas.edu/Topics/Models/Text.html
World Class? Really?
Some six years ago now, I wrote a post describing what might characterise a world class software / product development / collaborative knowledge work business.
In the interim, I’ve had some opportunities to work on these ideas for various clients. My consequent experiences, whilst in no way invalidating that post, have thrown up different perspectives on the question of “world class”.
Firstly, do you want it? Moving towards becoming a world class business involves a shed load of work, over many years. Do you want to commit to that effort? Even though the goal sounds noble, ambitious, attractive, does your business have what it takes to even begin the journey in earnest, let alone stick at it.
Then, do you need it? Absent powerful drivers spurring you on towards the goal, will you have the grit necessary to keep at it? Or will the initiative flounder and drown in the minutiae of daily exigencies, such as the constant pressure to get product and features out the door, to keep investors satisfied with (short term) results, etc.? And is the ROI there, in your context? If you do keep on the sometimes joyful, oftentimes wearisome path, and attain “world class” status, will the effort pay back in terms of e.g. the bottom line?
If your answers to the preceding two questions are yes, then we can get down to considering the characteristics of a world class collaborative knowledge-work business.
What might it look like, that goal state? Here’s my current take:
Just in case a little context might help, here’s a variant of the Rightshifting chart which illustrates world class in terms of relative effectiveness (i.e. how effective are world class organisations relative to their peers?) The yellow area highlights those organisations (those at least circa 2.5 times more effective than the median) we might consider world class:
Fields of Competency
Any world class collaborative knowledge-work business must have mastered a bunch of different fields of knowledge. That’s not to say everyone in the organisation needs to have reached mastery (Level 5 – see below) in every one of the follow fields. But there must be a widespread acquaintance with all these fields, and some level of individual competent in each.
I suggest the following Dreyfus-inspired model for characterising an individual’s (practitioner’s) level of competency (or action-oriented knowledge) in any given field:
Level One (Novice)
The Novice level in each Field invites practitioners to acquire the basic vocabulary and core concepts of the Field. Attainment criteria will specify the expected vocabulary and core concepts. The Novice level also invites practitioners to acquire and demonstrate the ability to read and understand materials (books, articles, papers, videos, podcasts, etc.) related to the vocabulary and core concepts of the Field.
Level Two (Advanced Beginner)
The Advanced Beginner level in each Field invites practitioners to acquire the ability to critique key artefacts commonly found in the given Field. The Advanced Beginner level also invites practitioners to read more widely, and understand different perspectives or more nuanced aspects of, and peripheral or advanced elements within the Field.
Level Three (Competent)
The Competent level in each Field invites practitioners to acquire and demonstrate a practical competency in the core concepts in the Field, for example through the ability to apply the concepts, or create key artefacts, unaided.
The Competent level also invites practitioners to acquire and demonstrate the ability to collaborate with others in exploring and applying the abilities acquired in the Novice and Advanced Beginner levels.
Level Four (Proficient)
The Proficient level in each Field invites practitioners to acquire and demonstrate the ability to prepare and present examples and other educational materials appropriate to the given Field. The Proficient level also invites practitioners to acquire and demonstrate the ability to coach or otherwise guide others in applying the abilities acquired in the Novice, Advanced Beginner and Competent levels.
Level Five (Master)
The Master level in each Field invites practitioners to acquire and demonstrate national or international thought leadership in the Field. This can include: making significant public contributions or extensions to the Field; becoming a publicly recognised expert in the Field; publishing books, papers and/or articles relevant to the Field; etc.
Any business that aspires to world class status must attain effective competencies in a wide range of different fields. The following list suggests the fields I have found most relevant to collaborative knowledge-work business in general, and software / product tech businesses in particular:
- Flow (product development) (n): the movement of the designs, etc., for a product or service through the steps of the design processes which create them.
- Continuous Flow (n): The progressive movement of units of design through value-adding steps within a design process such that a product design or service design proceeds from conception into production without stoppages, delays, or back flows.
- See also: Optimised Flow Demonstration (video)
- * Many in Japan credit Bill Deming for what has become known as the Japanese post-war economic miracle of 1950 to 1960.
- William Edwards Deming (October 14, 1900 – December 20, 1993) was an American engineer, statistician, professor, author, lecturer, and management consultant. Deming is best known for his work in Japan after WWII, particularly his work with the leaders of Japanese industry.
- Risk management is the discipline and practice of explicitly identifying and managing key risks.
“Risk Management is Project Management for grown-ups.”
~ DeMarco & Lister
- Potential benefits include:
- makes aggressive risk-taking possible
- protects us from getting blindsided
- provides minimum-cost downside protection
- reveals invisible transfers of responsibility
- isolates the failure of a subproject
- Note; Many Agile practices are, at their heart, about risk management.
- Mindset a.k.a. collective (organisational) memeplex (n): A set of memes (ideas, assumptions, beliefs, heuristics, etc.) which interact to reinforce each other.
“A memeplex is a set of memes which, while not necessarily being good survivors on their own, are good survivors in the presence of other members of the memeplex.”
~ Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion
- The “organisational mindset” is a set of beliefs about the world and the world of work which act to reinforce each other.
- These interlocking beliefs tightly bind organisations into a straight-jacket of thought patterns which many find inescapable. Without coordinated interventions at multiple points in the memeplex simultaneously, these interactions will prevail, as will the status quo.
Requirements a.k.a. Needs Management
- A more or less formal approach to identifying and communicating needs
- Any approach that ensures that everyone involved in attending to the identified needs shares a clear understanding of the required outcome(s): “doing the RIGHT thing”.
- A system of organisational governance based on the precepts of Situational Leadership and with a primary focus on the quality of interpersonal relationships as a means to improved organisational health and effectiveness.
- More generally, paying attend to the quality and effectiveness of the collaborative relationships across and through the business (and the extended value network of which it is a part).
- Cognitive function (Neurology) (n): Any mental process that involves symbolic operations–e.g. perception, memory, creation of imagery, and thinking; Cognitive Function encompasses awareness and capacity for judgment.
- Effectiveness of collaborative knowledge work is dictated by both e.g. quality of interpersonal relationships and degree of Cognitive Function.
- See also: Cognitive Science
- PDCA (plan–do–check–act, or plan–do–check–adjust) is an iterative four-step method used for the control and continuous improvement of processes and products. It is also known as the Deming circle/cycle/wheel, Shewhart cycle, control circle/cycle, or plan–do–study–act (PDSA).
- Based on the scientific method, (Cf. Francis Bacon) e.g. “hypothesis” – “experiment” – “evaluation”.
Statistical Process Control (SPC)
- Statistical process control (SPC) is a method of quality control which uses statistical methods. SPC is applied in order to monitor and control a process.
- Key tools used in SPC include control charts; a focus on continuous improvement; and the design of experiments.
- See also: The Red Beads and the Red Bead Experiment with Dr. W. Edwards Deming (video)
Lean Product Development
- Lean Product Development applies ideas from Lean Manufacturing to the design and development of new products (See e.g. books by Allen Ward and Michael Kennedy)
- Aims to improve the flow of new ideas “from concept to cash”.
- Can also help raise levels of innovation.
- Exemplar: TPDS (Toyota Product Development System)
Don Reinertsen’s Work
- Don Reinertsen is the author of three of the most definitive and best-selling books on product development.
- His 1991 book, Developing Products in Half the Time is a product development classic.
- His 1997 book, Managing the Design Factory: A Product Developer’s Toolkit, was the first book to describe how the principles of Just-in-Time manufacturing could be applied to product development. In the past 16 years this approach has become known as Lean Product Development.
- His latest award-winning book, The Principles of Product Development Flow: Second Generation Lean Product Development, has been praised as, “… quite simply the most advanced product development book you can buy.”
- (Cognitive) neuroscience is concerned with the scientific study of the biological processes and aspects that underlie cognition, with a specific focus on the neural connections in the brain which are involved in mental processes.
- (Cognitive) neuroscience addresses the questions of how psychological/cognitive activities are affected or controlled by neural circuits in the brain. Cognitive neuroscience is a branch of both psychology and neuroscience, overlapping with disciplines such as physiological psychology, cognitive psychology, and neuropsychology.
- See also: Cognitive Function
Theory of Constraints
- The Theory of Constraints (TOC) is a management paradigm originated by Eliyahu M. Goldratt.
- TOC proposes a scientific approach to improvement. It hypothesises that every complex system, including manufacturing processes, consists of multiple linked activities, just one of which acts as a constraint upon the entire system (the “weakest link in the chain”).
- TOC has a wide range of “thinking tools” which together form a coherent problem-solving and change management system.
- Self-organisation (n): Ability of a system to spontaneously arrange its components or elements in a purposeful (non-random) manner. It is as if the system knows how to ‘do its own thing.’ Many natural systems such as cells, chemical compounds, galaxies, organisms and planets show this property. Animal and human communities too display self-organization.
“An empowered organization is one in which individuals have the knowledge, skill, desire, and opportunity to personally succeed in a way that leads to collective organisational success.”
~ Stephen R. Covey
- In mathematics and empirical science, quantification is the act of counting and measuring that maps human sense observations and experiences into members of some set of numbers. Quantification in this sense is fundamental to the scientific method.
- See also: Tom Gilb
- Systems thinking provides a model of decision-making that helps organisations effectively deal with change and adapt.
- It is a component of a learning organisation – one that facilitates learning throughout the organisation to transform itself and adapt.
- See also: Peter Senge, Russell L. Ackoff, Donella Meadows, etc.
- Psychology (n): the study of behaviour and mind, embracing all aspects of conscious and unconscious experience as well as thought. It is an academic discipline and an applied science which seeks to understand individuals and groups.
- An American business theorist, Professor Emeritus at Harvard Business School, and known for his work on interpersonal communication, organisational effectiveness, double-loop learning and learning organisations.
- See also: Action Science.
- Psychotherapy (n): interventions which facilitate the shifting of perspectives and attitudes, and thus, human behaviours.
- See also: Organisational Psychotherapy
To the above list of Fields, I invite you to add any which may have specific resonance or relevance to your own business.
And then there are the lists of technical capabilities you need to be present in your various business functions, too.
Aside – CMMI
As an aside, CMMI also provides an extensive list of “capability areas” ( circa 128 different areas, last time I looked) focussed on engineering capabilities. Note: I find the CMMI list useful, but only as a primer, not as a full-blown recipe for success.
All the above begs the question: how to get there? And, how close are you to world class, so far?
Reliability and Effectiveness
Many times when presenting either the Rightshifting curve:
or the Marshall Model:
I have been asked to define “Effectiveness” (i.e. the horizontal axis for both of these charts). I have never been entirely happy with my various answers. But I have recently discovered a definition for effectiveness, including a means to measure it, which I shall be using from now on. This definition is by Goldratt, as part of Theory of Constraints, and appears in his audiobook “Beyond the Goal”.
Measurements serve us in two ways:
- As indicators of where we are, so we know where to go. For example, the dials and gauges on a car’s dashboard.
- As means to induce positive behaviours.
We must always remember, though, that we are dealing with humans and human-based organisations:
“Tell me how you measure me and I’ll tell you how I behave.” ~ Goldratt
We must choose measurements to induce the parts to do what’s better for the company as a whole. If a measurement jeopardises the performance of the system as a whole, the measurement is wrong.
Companies already have one set of measurements which measure their performance as a whole: their Financial measurements: e.g. Net profit (P&L) and investment (Balance Sheet)
What about when we dive inside the company as a whole, though? We then have two areas in which we have to conduct measurements:
- Support for and evaluation of management decisions
- Oversight on execution (how well are we executing on the decisions we’ve made?)
We generally don’t have good measurements in terms of decisions, nor good measurements in terms of execution.
We have to remember we’re dealing with human beings. And as long as we’re dealing with human beings, we have to realise that by judging any person on more than five measure, we’re creating anarchy. Simply because, with more than five measurements, people can basically do whatever they like, and likely still score high on one of them. And their bosses can nail them on some measurement they fail to deliver against. More than five measurements is conceptually wrong.
Categories of Measurement
So, how to categorise thing so that human beings can grasp the situation? Can we do better than we do now? Theory of Constraints suggests we can.
What resources do we have to help us formulate measurements in each of the above two areas; management decision-making, and execution of those decisions?
- For decision-related measurements – there are lots of resources available to help e.g. books on Throughput Accounting.
- For execution-related measurements – there is next to nothing published anywhere.
I’ll not make the case for continuous improvement here. But if we wish to induce people to continuously improve, where should we focus our measurements? On things that are done properly, or on things that are not done properly? Which of these two foci better drives action? Focussing on the things we’re doing properly tends not to drive improvement. So we must concentrate on things that are not done properly.
How many things are not done properly? Kaplan suggests that in most businesses, there are more than twenty categories of things that are not done properly. But for humans to grasp our measures, we have already decided we need at most five categories, categories that completely cover everything that is not done properly, with zero overlap or duplication. Finding a way to categorise things that meets our criteria here is a nontrivial challenge.
Goldratt says there are only two categories:
- Things that should have been done but were not.
- Things that should not have been done but nevertheless were done.
Just two categories, with zero overlap. Beautifully simple.
And each of the above two categories already have a word defining them:
- Things that should have been done but were not – unreliability.
- Things that should not have been done but nevertheless were done – ineffectiveness.
Let’s swap these around into positive terms: Reliability, and Effectiveness.
Reliability and Effectiveness
Can we find measures to quantify Reliability and Effectiveness? How can we put numbers on our reliability? How can we put numbers on our effectiveness? Because, without numbers, we’re not measuring.
Let’s consider what is the end result of being reliable, in terms of the system as a whole. And what is the end result of being effective, in terms of the system as a whole? Not in financial terms though, as reliability and effectiveness are not financial things. We know this intuitively.
Things that should have been done but were not.
The end result of being unreliable, in terms of the system as a whole, is that the company fails to fulfil its commitments to the external world. In other words, the company fails to ship on time. Do we already measure on-time shipment? Yes. We call it Due Date Performance. That’s a measure of how much we ship on time. “Our company Due Date Performance is 90%”. The unit of measure is almost always “percent”. What behaviour does this unit of measure trigger? Does it trigger behaviour that is good for the company? No. It encourages us to sacrifice on-time shipment of difficult, larger shipments in favour of smaller, easier shipments. So the dollar value of the sale must be part of any reliability measurement. We cannot ignore the dollar value. And neither is time is a factor in percent units. How late is each late shipment? We must include time, too. So, let’s change our “Reliability” units from “percent” to “Throughput dollar days” – the sales dollar value of each orders that is late, multiplied by the number of days it is late, summed across all late orders. The sum total is the measurement of our (un)reliability.
This is of course a new unit of measure: Throughput-dollar-days. To infer trends, or to compare the performance of e.g. groups or companies, we will need time to train our intuition in the significance of this new unit of measure. As we begin to get to grips with this new unit of measure, it can help to present it as an indicator (a number in some fixed range, say 1-10, or as we use in Rightshifting, and the Marshall Model, 0-5) until we have adjusted to the Throughput-dollar-days measure.
Things that should not have been done but nevertheless were done.
If we do things that we should NOT have been doing, what is the end result? Inventory. Do we already measure inventory? Of course we do. But how do we presently measure inventory? Either in terms of a dollar value, for example “$6 million of finished good inventory”, or in terms of a number of days, for example “60 days of finished goods inventory”. But both dollars AND time are important. Existing units of measurement for inventory drive unhelpful local behaviours like over-production and poor flow. So, how to measure to induce helpful behaviours? For each item of inventory, let’s use the dollar value of the inventory multiplied by the number of days that we’re holding that inventory under our local authority. We’ll call this unit of measure “Inventory-dollar-days”.
And one more measure of effectiveness: local operating expense. (For example, scrap, or salaries – with a given subunit of the company).
Note: We can fold quality into these measures simply by not recognising a sale, or a reduction in inventory, until the customer accepts the items (i.e. until the items meet the customer’s quality standards).
Now we have means for defining effectiveness, (and reliability) in a way in which we can also measure it. I feel very comfortable with that.
Beyond the Goal ~ Eliyahu M. Goldratt (Audiobook only)
Relevance Lost: Rise and Fall of Management Accounting ~ Kaplan & Johnson
The Goal ~ Eliyahu M. Goldratt
Throughput Accounting ~ Thomas Corbett
The Balanced Scorecard: Translating Strategy into Action ~ Kaplan & Norton
Strategies, Effective and Ineffective
[Tl;Dr: The effectiveness of any organisation is a function of the alignment between folks’ collective beliefs and assumptions about business, and the realities of the entities we call “organisations”.]
I’m not sure this post is going to tell you anything new, but I did hear recently someone appear to misunderstand one of the the basic premises of the Marshall Model. So, for the benefit of clarity…
The Marshall Model – Recap
The Marshall Model asserts that there are four basic collective mindsets in organisations. Any given organisation will conform to one, and only one, of these four. For ease of reference, the model labels these collective mindsets, in order of increasing effectiveness: Ad-hoc, Analytic, Synergistic and Chaordic.
These various collective mindsets – and by “collective” I mean shared, more or less, by everyone within a given organisation – dictate the strategies in use in that organisation. And by “strategies in use” I mean, when making every kind of decision, from the most senior manager to the lowliest worker, the approaches used to make or inform those decisions.
Put another way, in any organisation, a multitude of decisions come up every day:
- Which and what kind of business opportunities to pursue.
- Who to please (and who to ignore or disappoint).
- Which market segments to focus on.
- How to serve those markets.
- How to finance the business.
- What kinds of people to hire (and fire).
- Which trading partners to work with (and which to compete against).
- HR policies.
- Management policies.
- Sales methods.
- Engineering approaches.
- And on and on.
How to decide? Folks will approach making these decisions within the frame of their existing beliefs and assumptions. Existing beliefs and assumptions which have become the basis for their more or less automatic responses. Kahneman calls these “fast” or “system 1” responses.
And various psychological pressures conspire to ensure any one person’s beliefs and assumptions remain “congruent” with the collective assumptions and beliefs of the organisation as a whole (for example, nobody wants to be seen as an outsider). (See also: Organisational Cognitive Dissonance).
The Effectiveness Lever
Any organisations where people work together is, by its nature, a complex adaptive system.
The Marshall Model implies that relative organisational effectiveness is a direct function of how closely the prevailing collective mindset matches the reality of “organisations”. If the prevailing collective mindset enables decision-makers to choose approaches and strategies well-suited to the realities of complex adaptive systems, those decisions will be more likely to be effective. If the prevailing collective mindset constrains decision-makers to approaches less well-suited to the realities of complex adaptive systems, those decisions will be more likely to be ineffective. Both individual decisions, and in aggregate.
So, it’s not the organisations that are Ad-hoc, Analytic (a.k.a. mechanistic), Synergistic or Chaordic systems. The labels apply to the collective thinking of the people within those organisations. The organisations themselves are always complex adaptive systems. And, for the clients I work with, collaborative knowledge work systems, too.
I hope this post has served to clarify. Would you be willing to let me know whether it’s achieved that aim? And for the sake of further clarity, I’m happy to address any and all questions that this post might bring to mind.
Thinking, Fast and Slow ~ Daniel Kahneman
On Espoused Theory, Theory-in-Use, and “Effective Theory” ~ Mark Federman (blog post)
In recent workshops and conferences I’ve been inviting people to explore the question of “After Agile, DevOps, what now?”
There’s a line of argument, and of exploration, that goes something like this:
What does the Ideal software development organisation / business look like and work like? If our existing organisation / company / business was totally destroyed last night, what would we choose today in rebuilding it? What are the key concepts and principles that we would choose to focus on in creating our ideal organisation? Cf. Idealised Design, Russell L. Ackoff.
The Role of Mindset
We may find “culture” or “mindset” amongst our idealised key concepts. By which I mean organisational mindset (Cf. Rightshifting and the Marshall Model). If so, then we may want to discover means to “shift” our present organisational mindset towards our ideal model.
How to shift an organisation’s mindset? I propose Organisational Psychotherapy as a means for approaching that in a structured way. What are the issues involves in such a shift? What does therapy have to offer? What does therapy feel like? And what kinds of therapy might suit?
If you’d like to explore these ideas in your own organisation and context, via a workshop or similar, I’d be happy to oblige. Please get in touch.
Rightshifting In A Nutshell
Whilst in Sweden and Finland last week, I twice had the occasion to present this short (around ten minutes) set of slides, both times in the context of “After Agile”, explaining the very basics of Rightshifting and the Marshall Model. My friend Magnus suggested I turn them into a blog post with some supporting narrative. So here it is.
After Agile, DevOps. What Now?
The Agile approach to software and product development has been around for something like fifteen years now. Its roots go back at least another fifteen years before that. In all that time, more and more folks have tried it out, and more and more of those folks have found it wanting in some degree. This presentation explains where Agile fits in the broader scope of organisation-wide effectiveness, and suggests what needs to change to move on from the Agile approach.
Effectiveness vs Efficiency
Rightshifting observes that most organisations are much less effective than they believe themselves to be, and much less effective than they could be. Let’s not confuse effectiveness with efficiency:
Doing the right thing.
(creating & deploying value)
Doing the thing right.
(maximising the gain, minimising the cost)
Normal Distribution Assumed
In the chart below, we see a distribution of all the world’s knowledge-work organisations, with respect to their relative effectiveness (horizontal axis). Most folks assume that it’s a normal bell-curve distribution, with some few ineffective organisations (to the left), some few highly-effective organisations (to the right), and the bulk of organisations somewhere in the “average” effectiveness centre ground:
In actuality, though, the distribution is highly skewed and looks like this:
Here (above) we see that fully half of all organisations have a relative effectiveness of less than one (the median), while there’s a long thin tail of increasingly effective organisations stretching out to the right (hence, “Rightshifting”). The most effective (rightmost) organisations are something like 5 times (500%!) more effective than the average (median).
Aside: For those interested in evidence, ISBSG data and NPS data correlate well to this distribution.
Waste (Non-Value Add) And Productivity
Overlaying lines for waste (a.k.a. muda: non-value-adding activities) and productivity on the above chart illustrates the consequences of such ineffectiveness. Median organisations for example are wasting around 75-80% of their time, effort, money and resources on doing things that add zero value from the perspective of any stakeholder:
So, how effective are those organisations that are using Agile (as intended)? Let’s look at where Agile fits on this chart:
As we can see, organisations using the Agile approach span the range circa 1.2 through 2.0. And that’s for organisations in which Agile being done well. (There’s not much point talking about AINO – Agile in Name Only. That buys us nothing in the effectiveness stakes.) The exact position in this range of Agile’s effectiveness depends, in part, on how well the rest of the organisation is aligned to the Agile practices in e.g. the development, ops or DevOps groups within the organisation. Closer alignment = a more effective organisation as a whole.
From the above chart, we can see there’s a whole swathe of effectiveness (from circa 2.0 rightwards) not open to us through the application of the Agile approach. Organisations must find other approaches to access these higher levels of organisational effectiveness.
So just what is it that accounts for any given organisation’s position on the Rightshifting Chart? What do the highly ineffective organisations to the left do differently from the average? What do the highly effective (Rightshifted) organisations do differently from the rest? What explains any and every organisation’s effectiveness? It’s very, very simple:
Effectiveness = f(Collective mindset)
That’s to say, any organisation’s effectiveness is a function of its collective, organisational mindset. A function of the assumptions and beliefs it holds in common about work, and how work should work. We can characterise the spectrum of organisation mindsets (a.k.a. memeplexes) into four basic categories: Adhoc, Analytic, Synergistic and Chaordic. This forms the essence of the Marshall Model.
The Adhoc Mindset
Least effective of all the mindsets is the Adhoc mindset. This is characterised by a near-complete absence of organisational structures and disciplines.
Adhoc-minded organisations have no managers, no processes, no standards and no accepted ways of doing things. Every day is more or less a new day, a clean slate, as far as running the business is concerned. In these organisations, the value of discipline has not yet been discovered. I like to think of these organisations in terms of the typical Mom-and-Pop family business.
Some of these organisations, of course – if they, for example, find a profitable niche in which to do their business – can grow despite their ineffectiveness. And with that growth, sooner or later, comes the realisation of the need for some discipline. At this time these organisations will likely start appointing managers, splitting the business into departments (silos) and thereby begin transitioning into the next mindset.
The Analytic Mindset
More effective than the Adhoc-minded organisations, those organisations with an Analytic mindset are typified by the corporates, large and small, that we have come to know and love(?) over the past one hundred years or so.
Central to the Analytic mindset is the belief that organisations are machines, and that just as with machines, if they are broken into parts, with each part performing well, then the whole will perform well. As Russell L. Ackoff (source for this sense of the term “analytic”) points out, this is a fallacy, although one very widely held in businesses everywhere.
Other common beliefs in the Analytic mindset include:
- Theory X (Douglas McGregor) – people are idle and shiftless and have to be beaten with a stick in order to get any work out of them.
- Extrinsic motivators such as perks and bonuses enhance performance (demonstrably false in knowledge-work).
- Managers do the thinking and workers do the doing.
- Check your humanity, emotions and passion at the door.
Eventually, a few organisations in pursuit of effectiveness may stumble – for it’s rarely intentional – out of the Analytic mindset and into the next mindset – Synergistic.
The Synergistic Mindset
The real uplift in effectiveness starts with an organisation’s transition into the Synergistic mindset. We’ve been hearing about some exemplars of this mindset for years (W.L. Gore, Semco) and others, more recently (Morning Star, Buurtzorg, et al.).
At the heart (sic) of the Synergistic mindset is the belief that organisations are much more like communities than machines. Complex adaptive social systems rather than complicated yet predictable “mechanical” systems. The term “Synergistic” comes from R. Buckminster Fuller, and his statement that the performance of synergistic (synergetic) systems can never be predicted from an examination of their parts considered separately. This is not a comfortable concept for many of those more traditional business people.
Other common beliefs in the Synergistic mindset include:
- Theory Y (Douglas MgGregor) – people are keen to do a good job, if only they have the opportunity.
- Intrinsic motivation enhances performance (demonstrably true in knowledge-work).
- The people doing the work must decide how the work works.
- Alignment – and effectiveness – is a consequence of a shared, common (and emergent) purpose.
- Management – the social technology invented around one hundred years ago – is dead.
- Bring your humanity, emotions and passion with you into work, every day.
Eventually, a few organisations in pursuit of effectiveness may stumble – for, again, it’s rarely intentional – out of the Synergistic mindset and into the fourth and most effective organisational mindset – Chaordic.
The Chaordic Mindset
Most effective of all are those very few organisations embracing the Chaordic mindset.
Key to the Chaordic mindset is the continual, active, systematic searching for new business opportunities. The term “Chaordic” comes from Dee Hock – the originator of the Visa organisation back in the 1960’s.
The Chaordic mindset inherits from the Synergistic, with some additional common beliefs, including:
- Dynamic market sweet spots – tracking and exploiting the ever-changing high-margin sweet spots in the market.
- Instability – always teetering on the cusp between stability (order) and chaos (disorder).
- Inevitable collapse – occasionally, the organisation will collapse into (temporary) chaos and disorder.
Even more interesting than the four mindsets, though, are the three transitions (shown in orange, below). Each transition is an enormous wrench for most organisations.
The Adhoc to Analytic transition is relatively easy, going with the flow, as it were, in that wider society and most people in work mostly believe organisations should be run along the lines suggested by the Analytic mindset. Much more challenging are the other two transitions, being very counter-intuitive for most people.
Where Does Agile Fit In Terms Of Mindsets?
So, where does Agile fit amongst these four mindsets?
Here we can see how Agile straddles the Analytic-Synergistic transition. This explains just why sustainable Agile adoption is so difficult for most organisations. If part of the organisation makes the transition and the remaining parts do not, then Organisational Cognitive Dissonance ensues, and its eventual, inevitable resolution rarely results in the whole organisation shifting its mindset. Much more likely is either a) the now-synergistic part is dragged back, kicking and screaming, into the (old) Analytic ways of doing things or b) the (newly) synergistic folks find they cannot or will not go back, and thus quickly quit for pastures new.
From the above chart we can also see what is to come After Agile: More Synergistic thinking, more of an approach embracing the beliefs of the Synergistic mindset, and for some brave few, Chaordism.
The Antimatter Model
For me, the power of any model lies in its predictive ability – that’s to say, in its ability to help us predict what might happen when we intervene in the domains, or systems, to which it applies.
“Essentially, all models are wrong, but some are useful.”
~ George Box
For example, the Dreyfus Model helps us predict the impact and outcomes of training initiatives and interventions; the Marshall Model helps us predict the outcomes of our organisational change efforts and interventions.
The Antimatter Principle
The Antimatter Principle is a principle, not a model.
“Principle: a fundamental truth or proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of belief or behaviour or for a chain of reasoning.”
The Antimatter Principle proposes a single course of action (namely, attending to folks’ needs) is sufficient as a means to create a climate – or environment – that will lead to groups, teams and entire organisations becoming more effective at collaborative knowledge work.
The Antimatter Transformation Model
Confusingly perhaps (and my apologies for that) I wrote recently about the Antimatter Transformation Model. I’m rueing my calling it a model at all now, seeing as how it seems ill-suited to be labelled as such (having no real predictive element). Let’s set that aside and get on…
The Antimatter Model
In this post I present the Antimatter Model. This model serves to improve our understanding of how the Antimatter Principle works, to help share that understanding with others, and to allow us to predict the outcomes from applying the Antimatter Principle within e.g. collaborative knowledge work organisations.
The Antimatter Principle basically proposes a collection of positive feedback loops, akin to Peter Senge’s “Virtuous Spiral” systems archetype.
Virtuous Spiral 1
As people attend to others’ needs, they find joy in doing so. This is a typical human response to helping others, being part of our innate nature as social animals (cf Lieberman). This feeling of joy tends to encourage these same people to invest more effort into attending to others’ needs, increasing both the frequency and reach of such activities. And by doing it more often, they are likely to become more practiced, and thus more capable (skilful).
Virtuous Spiral 2
As those other folks see their needs attended to, they will likely feel an increased sense of wellbeing. Not least because they sense people, and the “organisation” more generally, cares for them. This is compounded by a further increase in their sensation of wellbeing as they see their needs actually met. This increased sense of wellbeing also contributes to an increased sense of community, and positive feeling about their social relationships – another key driver for us human social animals.
Virtuous Spiral 3
And as these other folks feel their wellbeing and social connections improve, our strong and innate sense of fairness raises individual cognitive dissonance levels, such that some might choose to reciprocate and attend to the needs of others, in turn. In other words, folks sense they are on the receiving end of something beneficial, and find themselves wishing to see others similarly blessed. And with the Antimatter Principle, they are automatically well-placed to act on this social imperative.
Virtuous Spiral 4
Further, the same sense of dissonance may encourage people to attend more closely, perhaps for the first time, to their own needs.
And the Bottom Line
And, finally, beyond the dynamics of the Virtuous Spirals improving the climate/environment of the workplace and organisation, actually meeting folks’ needs (customers, managers, shareholders, employees, wider society) with effective products and services is what successful business is all about.
The Antimatter Model predicts the following beneficial outcomes
- Folks discovering pleasure and delight in seeing others’ needs met – we often call this sensation “joy”.
- Improved interpersonal relationships and social cohesion – we often call this “community”.
- Improved self-knowledge and self-image.
- Reduced distress.
- Increased eustress.
- A progressively more and more effective organisation, business or company.
- Reducing levels of waste and increasing flow of value (i.e. needs being met).
- Increasing throughput (revenues), reducing costs and improving profits (trends).
I have yet to write about the risks implicit in the Antimatter Model. These include:
I will be writing about these risks – and ways to mitigate them – in a future post.
As folks start to attend to folks’ needs, social cohesion and the sense of community rises, folks find joy in attending to others’ needs – and in seeing others’ needs attended-to. Those actively and joyfully engaged want to do more, and those not (yet) actively engaged become curious and then, often, keen to participate themselves. Thus more people choose to engage, more needs get met, social relationships improve, and yet more folks may choose to participate. And so on.
And all the while, the needs of all involved – including those of the business – are getting better and better (more effectively) met, too.