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Memeology

Getting Upstream

When we consider change, we often overlook the context for that change, and the necessity to change the context to facilitate the change(s) we have in mind.

Shifting Left

For example, in the context of improving testing, the testing community invites us to “shift left”; to shift our focus to earlier phases of software delivery – to the left, in the stream of software delivery activities – where leverage is assumed to be greater. In other words, getting upstream of where testing activities have traditionally taken place.

The Broader Context

In a broader context, that of software delivery more generally, getting upstream means considering the context in which software delivery takes place.

What is this context? For me, as an organisational psychotherapist, it’s about the collective assumptions and beliefs of the host organisation. Collective assumptions and beliefs – or culture – that constrain how the work works.

Root of Failure

I have yet to see an approach to software delivery that considers this wider context, let alone provides a means to address these broader contextual issues. I attribute most of the failures of e.g. Waterfall, Agile, etc. to this absence of consideration for context.

Put another way, approaches to software delivery that fail to cater to the (thorny) issues of adoption are about as useful as chocolate teapot in the Sahara. This idea seems alien to all the methodologists I know of.

Organisational Psychotherapy

Organisational Psychotherapy provided just such a means. It invites folks considering changes, changes to the way they approach software delivery, to consider the broader context as an integral part of the change. Through dialogue, surfacing these broader contextual issues and inviting shared reflection on them, organisations considering change can get upstream of the changes under consideration.

(You can find out more about Organisational Psychotherapy and what “Getting Upstream” of the software delivery challeng looks like in my books (Marshall 2018, Marshall 2021, Marshall 2021).

As Einstein observed:

“No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.”

~Albert Einstein

I like to think he was talking about getting upstream of the immediate problem.

– Bob

Further Reading

Marshall, R.W. (2021). Quintessence: An Acme for Software Development Organisations. [online] leanpub.com. Falling Blossoms (LeanPub). Available at: https://leanpub.com/quintessence/ [Accessed 6 Jul 2022].
Marshall, R.W. (2021). Memeology: Surfacing And Reflecting On The Organisation’s Collective Assumptions And Beliefs. [online] leanpub.com. Falling Blossoms (LeanPub). Available at: https://leanpub.com/memeology/ [Accessed 6 Jul 2022].
Marshall, R.W. (2018). Hearts over Diamonds: Serving Business and Society Through Organisational Psychotherapy. [online] leanpub.comFalling Blossoms (LeanPub). Available at: https://leanpub.com/heartsoverdiamonds/ [Accessed 6 Jul 2022].
Marshall, R.W. (2021). Organisational Psychotherapy Bundle 1. [online] Leanpub. Available at: https://leanpub.com/b/organisationalpsychotherapybundle1 [Accessed 6 Jul. 2022].

The Future Of Software Delivery

Are you curious about how software will get written and delivered in the future? When all the Agile malarkey has faded away?

About your career and what skills and abilities will be in demand in a few years’ time?

Take a look at my book “Quintessence“ for a detailed road map of what the future of software delivery looks like.

My book “Memeology” describes in detail how organisations can make this future theirs, starting today.

And “Hearts Over DIamonds” sets out the foundations for Organisational Psychotherapy – the core principles for our Quintessential future.

Or read the whole series, and get a deep understanding of the role of Organisational Psychotherapy in businesses of the future.

– Bob

Further Reading

Marshall, R.W. (2021). Quintessence: An Acme for Software Development Organisations. [online] leanpub.com. Falling Blossoms (LeanPub). Available at: https://leanpub.com/quintessence/ [Accessed 12 Jun 2022].
Marshall, R.W. (2021). Memeology: Surfacing And Reflecting On The Organisation’s Collective Assumptions And Beliefs. [online] leanpub.com. Falling Blossoms (LeanPub). Available at: https://leanpub.com/memeology/ [Accessed 12 Jun 2022].
Marshall, R.W. (2018). Hearts over Diamonds: Serving Business and Society Through Organisational Psychotherapy. [online] leanpub.comFalling Blossoms (LeanPub). Available at: https://leanpub.com/heartsoverdiamonds/ [Accessed 12 Jun 2022].

Organisational Transformation Starts With Individual Transformation

Organisational transformation starts with the individual but as they change they can run into organisational barriers and resistance to change. Similarly if the organisation institutes changes without helping people change their own understanding and views those people resist the changes in the organisation.

~ Barbara Lawton

Deming emphasised that organisational tranformation and change must start with individuals changing their own personal assumptions and beliefs. And in doing so, these individuals will likely fall foul of the organisation’s collective assumptions and beliefs (the collective psyche).

What better argument could there be for the benefits of Organisational Psychotherapy?

And what better explanation for why it’s soooo hard?

– Bob

Further Reading

Marshall, R.W. (2018). Hearts over Diamonds: Serving Business and Society Through Organisational Psychotherapy. [online] leanpub.comFalling Blossoms (LeanPub). Available at: https://leanpub.com/heartsoverdiamonds/ [Accessed 08 Jun 2022].

Lawton, B. http://www.youtube.com. (n.d.). 1993-03 Leading The Transformation Process. [online] Available at: https://youtu.be/MKq_SA8QnYI [Accessed 8 Jun. 2022].

The System Is Unethical

Or at least, it’s “the system” that sits at the root of the unethical behaviours costing software delivery organisations £££millions annually. And it’s the culture of an organisation that defines that system.

Many years ago I wrote a White Paper titled “All Executives Are Unethical”. This paper riffed on a theme from Seth Godin – “All Marketers are Liars”. And channeled the ethical arguments of William Kingdon Clifford:

…whatever someone chooses to believe cannot be exempt from the ethical judgement of others.

In the aforementioned White Paper, I spoke of the ethics of executives, and in particular the folks that make the decisions about committing to improvements (or maintaining the status quo) in software delivery.

It’s been my experience over the course of thirty-plus years, that said executives act as if they believe their software delivery capability has little need, or scope, for improvement. Acting as if investing in improving said capability has little to no payback, and little to no impact on the organisation’ top line or bottom line.

It’s The System

Bill Deming famously wrote:

The fact is that the system that people work in and the interaction with people may account for 90 or 95 percent of performance.

~ W.E. Deming quoted in Scholtes, PR 1998 ‘The leader’s handbook: making things happen, getting things done’ McGraw-Hill, London p 296

Some readers of my aforementioned White Paper may have inferred I was criticising individual executives for their shortfall in ethics. Not at all. These folks work in “systems” as much as everyone else. It’s the system that drives their behaviours. Behaviours such as:

  • Failing to dig into the effectiveness of their organisation’s software delivery capabilities.
  • Indifference to the waste involved (wasted time, money, opportunities, human potential,…).
  • Ignorance of just how much more effective things could be, with e.g. a change in perspective.
  • Bravado and denial when questioned about such matters.

And it’s not limited to executives. Most advisors and practitioners (coaches, developers, middle managers, etc.) are equally ignorant, indifferent, flippant and slow to inquire.

Organisational Psychotherapy – and in particular, Memeology – offers a means to being addressing the shortcomings of the system, and thus bring about changes in folks’ behaviours.

– Bob

Further Reading

Marshall, R.W. (2021). All Agilists Are Unethical. [online] Think Different. Available at: https://flowchainsensei.wordpress.com/2021/12/23/all-agilists-are-unethical/ [Accessed 30 May 2022].
Seddon, J. (2015). 95% of Performance Is Governed By The System. [online] Vanguard Consulting Ltd. Available at: https://beyondcommandandcontrol.com/library/dr-demings-aphorisms/95-of-performance-is-governed-by-the-system/ [Accessed 30 May 2022].

Want to get ahead of your competetion? Want to get in on the ground floor of the predominant approach to software delivery in the next twenty years (and more)? Simply read my latest book “Quintessence“. Those who’ve already read it say they love it to bits. 🙂

Or read the whole series, and get a deep understanding of the role of Organisational Psychotherapy in businesses of the future.

Further Reading

Marshall, R.W. (2021). Quintessence: An Acme for Software Development Organisations. [online] leanpub.com. Falling Blossoms (LeanPub). Available at: https://leanpub.com/quintessence/ [Accessed 20 May 2022].
Marshall, R.W. (2021). Memeology: Surfacing And Reflecting On The Organisation’s Collective Assumptions And Beliefs. [online] leanpub.com. Falling Blossoms (LeanPub). Available at: https://leanpub.com/memeology/ [Accessed 20 May 2022].
Marshall, R.W. (2018). Hearts over Diamonds: Serving Business and Society Through Organisational Psychotherapy. [online] leanpub.comFalling Blossoms (LeanPub). Available at: https://leanpub.com/heartsovediamonds/ [Accessed 20 May 2022].

Blockers

Is it really beyond the bounds of credibility to imagine that we could all be twice, three times, four times better at delivering software? The data’s there (ISBSG). The real-world results and exemplars are there (Familiar, not least). The road-map, blue-print or manual is there (Quintessence). The support required to build the necessary environment is there (Hearts over Diamonds, Memeology, Organisational Psychotherapy).

So what’s holding back our industry, our software delivery organisations? Indifference? Ignorance? Learned helplessness? Lack of incentives? Vested interests? Fear? Something else?

I’m sure I don’t know the exact nature of the blocker*.  But it’s clear that there’s blockers.

– Bob

*I have my suspicions. But it seems that no one wants to even talk about it.

 

As a manager, what’s more important to you? The nature of your present role, or the success of the company?

Put another way: If the ongoing success of the company required your role to change, would you support or resist that change? Can you even talk franklly about the issue?

 

Management, Net-Net

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

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

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

The Economic Question

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

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

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

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

– Bob

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

First Step Towards Quintessence

Taking a look at the idea of Quintessence can seem overwhelmingly daunting. Changing the culture of a whole organisation? Shifting assumptions and beliefs of an entire workforce, managers and executives included? Wow. Some herculean task?

Formidable Challenge

The challenge can seem truly formidable. Yet the benefits look appealing. 

How to take that first step? What is the most useful and reassuring first step?

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

~ Lao Tzu

Surfacing And Reflecting

The clue is on the cover of my second book, “Memeology“. The subtitle reads

Surfacing and reflecting on the organisation’s collective assumptions and beliefs.

I find a useful first step is talking with peers. And listening to what they have to say. Discovering if there’s an appetite for such surfacing and reflecting. Uncovering their challenges of the moment, and sounding out potential allies. Persuasion comes later, if at all.

The status quo has a powerful grip on busy people. It’s easy to dismiss calls for change in the midst of daily stressors such as fire-fighting and chasing targets.

Timbre

What’s the timbre of dialogue in your organisation? Progressive or regressive? Inviting or dismissive? What timbre might best suit the kinds of dialogue implied by Quintessence? How might y’all affect that timbre? And could you use some help with that?

Chatting Is The First Step

To recap – simple chatting with friends, neighbours, peers and colleagues can be the vital first step. And “Alien Tech” can sometimes serve as an icebreaker, if you feel you need one.

– Bob

 

Alien Tech: What Is It?

powertech

Alien tech power at one’s fingertips

At The Quintessential Group, our motto is “Alien Tech for Human Beings”.

What do we mean by “Alien Tech”?

Dictionary Definitions

Let’s take a look at the dictionary:

Technology noun
\ tech·​nol·​o·​gy | \ tek-ˈnä-lə-jē \

Definition of technology

  1. a: The practical application of knowledge especially in a particular area
    // medical technology
    b: A capability given by the practical application of knowledge
    // a car’s fuel-saving technology
  2. A manner of accomplishing a task especially using technical processes, methods, or knowledge
    // new technologies for information storage
  3. The specialised aspects of a particular field of endeavour
    // educational technology

Alien adjective
\ ˈā-lē-ən, ˈāl-yən \

Definition of alien

  1. a: Belonging or relating to another person, place, or thing: Strange
    // an alien environment
    b:Relating, belonging, or owing allegiance to another country or government: Foreign
    // alien residents
    c: [Exotic sense]
    // alien plants
    d: Coming from another world: Extraterrestrial
    // alien beings
    // an alien spaceship
    // When it comes to knowing what alien life forms might be like, we don’t have any idea
    ~ Kate Shuster
  2. Differing in nature or character typically to the point of incompatibility
    // ideas alien to democracy

Our Definitions

So, by the above dictionary definitions, we can define “Alien Tech” (Alien Technology) as:

capability given by the practical application of knowledge, where that knowledge is strange, or seeming as if coming from another world.

Put another way, and closer to our quintessential usage:

An approach to running collaborative knowledge work businesses that differs in nature or character from the norm, typically to the point of incompatibility.

When it comes to relating to alien ideas, most folks just don’t know where to start.

~ FlowChainSensei

In Practice

What does “Alien Tech” mean in practice?

It means running a business, in our caseThe Quintessential Group, based on assumptions and beliefs incompatible with typical businesses. Assumptions and beliefs which lead to levels of software delivery excellence unobtainable by other means. We attend to folks’s needs in ways totally alien to those immersed in traditonal management mythos. For those clients that judge by results, this is little more than a curiousity, until the question of “how do they do that?” comes up.

– Bob

Further Reading

Marshall, R. W. (2015). Aliens. [online] Think Different. Available at: https://flowchainsensei.wordpress.com/2015/07/15/aliens/ [Accessed 8 May 2022].
Marshall, R. W. (2018). Alien Tech Alien Tropes. [online] Think Different. Available at: https://flowchainsensei.wordpress.com/2018/08/28/alien-tech-alien-tropes/ [Accessed 8 May 2022].
Marshall, R. W. (2018). Some Alien Tropes. [online] Think Different. Available at: https://flowchainsensei.wordpress.com/2018/09/04/some-alien-tropes/ [Accessed 8 May 2022].

There are many people who, whilst being highly competent and able as individuals, will undermine and negate all attempts to build an effective team / unit / capability.

But you don’t have to hire them. And if you inherit one, you can fire or redeploy him or her – always assuming the higher-ups choose to value the relative importance of community, esprit de corps and the social dynamic over individual skills.

What do you and your culture value more – going far together or going fast alone?

 

The Limits Of Quintessence

My dear friend Alessandro Di Gioia recently invited me to write a post on the limits of Quintessence. So here it is.

Introduction

Maybe “limits” is not the most helpful frame. Perhaps “constraints” might better suit. As far as I’m concerned, Quintessence has no limits in terms of what can be achieved (hence the name), but it sure is subject to a host of constraints holding it back from delivering on it’s potential.

There are no speed limits on the road to excellence [nor on the road to Quintessence – Ed.].

~ David W. Johnson

Elaboration

Alex subsequently elaborated on his question at my invitation:

  • When does Quintessence not apply?
  • What are the most common misinterpretations of Quintessence?
  • Quintessence is not a silver bullet because…?

When Does Quintessence Not Apply?

I propose it always applies, at least in collaborative knowledge (grey muscle) work (CKW). Generally, it applies when results are contingent on the relationships between people, and on effective cognitive function. Quintessence describes an environment, and the beliefs necessary to creating such and environment, for improved interpersonal relationships and cognitive function.

So if those things are not relevant in your context, I guess we can say that Quintessence may not apply there.

What Are The Most Common Misinterpretations?

I hesitate to answer this question, as my answer will only be a guess. Yet I guess some folks may misinterpret Quintessence in the following ways:

  • It’s a method, or framework – like Scrum, Kanban, Waterfall, etc.
    It’s neither. It’s most like a blueprint or map of the landscape of beliefs (a.k.a. memeplex) within highly effective CKW organisations.
  • It’s about software development
    It’s not. It’s about folks working together, collaboratively with their brains. i.e. All CKW environments.
  • It can be handed down as an objective for the minions to implement
    It can’t. Shifting the collective assumptions and beliefs of a whole organisation (the basic premise) requires everyone to be involved, everyone to engage with surfacing and reflecting on the collective assumptions and beliefs of the organisation. In particular, those folks to whom the workforce look for cues.
  • It comes in a box
    It doesn’t. It comes in a book (two books, actually – Memeology and Quintessence). But there are no ceremonies defined, no practices required, no rules stipulated, no dogma. Just an invitation to ongoing dialogue.

Silver Bullet?

Quintessence is not a silver bullet because, although both magical (alien tech) and a solution to a long-standing problem, it’s in no way an instant solution. Becoming a Quintessential organisation is a long journey of self-discovery. Both for individuals, especially managers, and for the organisation as a whole. 

The long-standing problem it addresses is the myopia of organisations in respect of their real issues and challenges.

Closing

I hope this post has addressed the questions posed, and invites some further curiosity from y’all dear readers. AQA (All questions answered).

– Bob

Further Reading

Marshall, R.W. (2021). Quintessence: An Acme for Software Development Organisations. [online] leanpub.com. Falling Blossoms (LeanPub). Available at: https://leanpub.com/quintessence/ [Accessed 4 May 2022].

Marshall, R.W. (2021). Memeology: Surfacing And Reflecting On The Organisation’s Collective Assumptions And Beliefs. [online] leanpub.com. Falling Blossoms (LeanPub). Available at: https://leanpub.com/memeology/ [Accessed 4 May 2022].

The Monopoly Of Management

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

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

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

~ R. Buckminster Fuller

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

– Bob

How To Run A Collaborative Knowledge Work Business

Collaborative knowledge work (CKW) is not like other kinds of work. And few realise this. Even fewer realise that CKW necessitates a kind of “management” entirely different from traditional management. So different as to be unrecognisable as “management”. 

As the world transitions to CKW as its predominant style of work, this realisation is spreading. And the ensuing confusion and distress spreads also. We see this already.

The Priorities for CKW

  1. Avoiding Cognitive Impairment

CKW involves, primarily, the use of folks’ brains. A.k.a. Cognition or cognitive function. Organisations that cultivate an environment conducive to CKW and “brain-work” are, however, few and far between. Much more often, environment-induced cognitive impairment is the order of the day, every day.

  1. Interpersonal Relationships

The second key aspect of CKW is the collaborative nature of the work. CKW involves folks working together to achieve shared goals.Thus, interpersonal relationships become paramount.

  1. Play

So, how to cultivate an environment conducive to cognitive function and relationship-building? I have found that play best enables and supported these things. Whereas in the above paragraphs I have used the word “work”, we’re better off when we substitute the idea of “play”. Can you see the connection between improved cognitive function and relationship-building, and play?

Aside: We can take some of the sharp edges off the unconscionable idea of encouraging “workers” to play on the company dime by using the term “serious play”. By justifying it as a key to innovation. And by further obfuscating the idea of free play by calling it “simulation” or “gamification”. But that’s only candy-coating.

At The Quintessential Group we’re putting this all into practice, as we did with great success decades ago at Familiar. We’d be delighted to share our insights, approaches, learnings and experiences with you, should you be interested.

– Bob

Further Reading

Schrage, M. (2008). Serious Play: How The World’s Best Companies Simulate To Innovate. Harvard Business School Press.

Five Whys

Not Five Whys as in the approach to root cause(s) analysis as attributed to e.g. Toyota.

But Five Whys which illuminate the issues within the world’s typical approach to running businesses, and in particular collaborative knowledge work businesses:

  1. Why is the Software Crisis still with us?  
  2. Why is business so locked-in to centuries-old management practices?
  3. Why does the Agile community not want to move on, to progress?
  4. Why are prevailing collective assumptions and beliefs about the way work should work so ineffective and yet so hard to overturn?
  5. Why don’t people engage with these questions?

Contrary to my usual approach – providing answers – I’ll just let these questions stew for a while. I have answers. But I suggest you’re not interested in answers, nor even the questions.

– Bob

Afterword

Personally, I prefer analysing e.g. root cause(s) vie cause-effect trees such as Goldratt’s TOC tool – the Current Reality Tree (CRT). YMMV.

Second Time Around

Y’all may like to know that Ian Carroll (of Solutioneers fame) and I are launching a new venture named TheQuintessentialGroup, offering a range of services in the software delivery space. First out of the gate will be “Quintessential Teams“. You can find out more at our shiny new website: TheQuintessentialGroup.com.

TQG-Banner2

Note: We’re looking to revolutionise the world of software delivery, along quintessential lines, and we’d love for you to consider joining us.

First Time Around

Back in 1996 we* found ourselves with the opportunity to demonstrate what we had been telling clients for years – that our** approach to software delivery was way more productive than:

a) the industry norm

b) their current approaches

c) what they could ever believe possible

*myself and some colleagues at the Java Centre within Sun Microsystems UK, along with some mutual friends.

**the company we named “Familiar”.

Second Time Around

Now, we*** find ourselves in the same situation once again. Our**** approach to software delivery is again way more productive than:

a) the industry norm

b) our clients’ current approaches

c) what our clients and prospects could ever believe possible

***Ian Carroll and myself

****the company we’re naming TheQuintessentialGroup

Nothing Like Agile

The first time around, commencing circa 1996, our approach could be described as an Agile approach (Scrum-like, albeit risk-based).

The second time around our – distinctly different – approach can be described as the Quintessential approach (nothing like Agile, Scrum, etc. – albeit still very risk-oriented).

Alien Tech For Human Beings

And this second time around, we again lead the industry in breaking the mould and demonstrating the validity and sheer awesome power of the Quintessential approach.

The Quintessential approach is no secret. It’s all laid out, in detail, in my book(s). And yet we defy anyone to replicate this game-changing alien tech. At least, until they have thrown off the shackles of outmoded and crippling beliefs about work and how work should work.

And that ain’t likely to happen any time soon. Although TheQuintessentialGroup.com can help with effecting such changes, too – see my book Memeology, for starters.

If you’re at all interested in the quality, cost, timescales, and predictability of software delivery, you might like to take a look at our newly launched website: TheQuintessentialGroup.com. We have big ambitions and big plans – and we’re hiring too!

Yes there’s more than a little déjà vu here at Sensei Towers at the moment. Familiar was an outstanding success, vindication, trailblazer and golden goose back in the late 90’s. We have every expectation that TheQuintessentialGroup will surpass even that outstanding benchmark.

Putting a dent in the Universe.

– Bob

Further Reading

Marshall, R.W. (2021). Quintessence: An Acme for Software Development Organisations. [online] leanpub.com. Falling Blossoms (LeanPub). Available at: https://leanpub.com/quintessence/ [Accessed 22 Apr. 2022].

Marshall, R.W. (2021). Memeology: Surfacing And Reflecting On The Organisation’s Collective Assumptions And Beliefs. [online] leanpub.com. Falling Blossoms (LeanPub). Available at: https://leanpub.com/memeology/ [Accessed 22 Apr. 2022].

Marshall, R.W. (2018). Hearts over Diamonds: Serving Business and Society Through Organisational Psychotherapy. [online] leanpub.comFalling Blossoms (LeanPub). Available at: https://leanpub.com/heartsovediamonds/ [Accessed 22 Apr. 2022].

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