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Organisational effectiveness

Learn Through Delivering

In my previous post I talked a little about the role of language and vocabulary in shifting focus – from being busy, to attending to folks’ needs. The word ‘deliverable’ emphasises, unsurprisingly, delivery. But what does it mean to “deliver” in the context of i.e. software development?

Inspect and Adapt

For me, delivery is the opportunity to close the feedback loop. To gain some insight into whether what we’ve been working on has been useful to our stakeholders. And to adjust our sights – and ways of doing things – in the light of that information.  So the defining aspect of any and all “deliverables” is that deliverables, by this definition, must be delivered to stakeholders and they must be able to try them out in as near as possible to real-world situations so as to provide meaningful feedback.

Cadence

Just how often might we deliver something for our stakeholders to provide feedback on? That depends on how short we want our feedback loops to be. Myself, I prefer a maximum feedback loop length of two to three days. Whether your teams are in a position to dance to this rhythm, or something slower, kind of depends on your stakeholders and how quickly they can look at, and respond to, each delivery. Keeping deliveries small can help here, by keeping what they have to look at, and their responses, small too.

Artefacts

Of course, there will be things we create, produce – things for our own consumption, like documents, design artefacts, intermediate transformations leading to deliverables, and so on. I choose to call these non-deliverables “artefacts” (or even “non-deliverables”) – to distinguish them from the deliverables on which we intend to seek feedback.

May I invite you to trial a change of perspective – from learning through doing, to learning through delivering – as soon as you have the opportunity?

– Bob

 

Tasks – or Deliverables

In most every development shop I’ve seen, folks’ planning vocabulary has been founded on the task as the unit of work. Long ago, at Familiar, we discovered that a different vocabulary offers some key advantages. Ever since then I’ve found that a planning vocabulary when deliverables are the default unit of work suit me much better.

Some Key Advantages

  • Planning in tasks encourages (subconsciously for the most part) busywork (a focus on activity).
  • Planning in deliverables encourages a focus on outputs (ands thus, closer to outcomes).
  • Deliverables are closer to what stakeholders seek (i.e. having their needs attend-to, or even met).
  • Tasks are generally one stage further removed from needs than are deliverables.
  • Deliverables are, to a degree, ends in themselves – tasks are means to ends (and hence more disconnected from outcomes).
  • I find it easier and more useful to quantify aspects of deliverables than aspects of tasks. YMMV.

Mayhap a focus on outcomes directly would be a further step in the right direction, but for most of the development groups I’ve seen, a single leap from tasks to outcomes might have proven infeasible.

May I invite you to trial a change of vocabulary, and of focus, next time you have the opportunity?

– Bob

 

Organisational Psychotherapy In the Field

Preliminary Results

We in Organisational Psychotherapy propose OP as a means for improving the “health” and social dynamic of an organisation. An improvement which translates to real bottom-line benefits through i.e. an uplift in performance (a.k.a. effectiveness, productivity, throughput).

One of the reasons I’ve dedicated my time largely to a single client (Moogsoft) for the past 9 months is the opportunity to gather data in an attempt to illuminate this proposition. Not that data convinces many in the world of business. We humans are far too irrational (predictably so) for things like facts to hold much sway. If we believe that “process” is the path to improvement, then data on the effectiveness of another path will likely trigger the backfire effect, increasing our misperceptions about the value of our cherished belief in the efficacy of “process”. Likewise for those of us who choose to hold a belief in the efficacy of “leadership”, or “management”.

Social Dynamic

In Organisational Psychotherapy we use the term “social dynamic” to refer to the quality of the human relationships within an organisation (and, by extension, with its customers and suppliers, too). We propose that the quality of these relationships are in large part the consequence of how people in the organisation, collectively, see the world of work. And the consequence of all the assumptions we collectively hold about how best to relate to each other, regard each other, and interact – up, down and across the organisation. And we propose that the quality of these relationships have a massive, yet subtle influence of the performance (effectiveness, productivity, throughput) of an organisation. Especially for knowledge-work organisations.

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”
~ Variously attributed

The Data Is In

All that being said, some of my readers have expressed a keen interest in Organisational Psychotherapy. Setting aside the myriad potential biases that might be involved, here’s the data from a six month period. During September 2016 through February 2017, throughput of the Software Engineering organisation within Moogsoft has increased by 80%. Projected forward, this implies an annualised improvement, year on year, of something like 160%. I.E. More than a doubling of productivity over a year. N.B. This data comes from the story point (actuals) collected via Jira tickets for all development work (new features) in this period.

So, can we even begin to claim that it was Organisational Psychotherapy that had a part to play in this increased throughput? Anecdotal evidence (observations from the Engineering folks) aligns with the data in terms of “things improving significantly” during the period. Whence this improvement? Could it have been due to factors other than Organisational Psychotherapy? I’d have to admit of the possibility. Even though its difficult for me to point specifically to other factors which may have contributed. And the data itself, derived as it is from story points, also has some questions marks.

What the Client has to Say

“We observed that we were asking for a revolution in productivity but letting our process hold back the revolutionaries. Our experiment in Organisational Psychotherapy feels like we have unleashed a pent up vigor in the team, and, if we gain nothing else (and I fully believe much more is to come) the smiles alone would have warranted the experiment. Happiness = Productivity, perhaps that is the clue?” ~ Phil Tee, CEO Moogsoft

“To become a world-leading Engineering group is a fantastic, though daunting, challenge. Many of us were both hopeful and sceptical of Organisational Psychotherapy, especially when we discovered we had to work to find our own answers. But now, our learning is opening our eyes and minds. We’re on a path to becoming the world-class development organisation we’ve long wanted to be – and we’re all relishing the challenge.”
~ Anneke Panman, Director of Engineering, Moogsoft

Conclusion

So there you have it. Irritatingly vague. Yet there may just be something in it. I leave it to you, dear reader, to consider whether the evidence, such as it is, warrants your conducting your own experiments into the merits of Organisational Psychotherapy.
I’ll continue to update you periodically as to progress as Moogsoft, where I have recently transitioned from an Organisational Psychotherapy role to that of VP, Engineering. And as for the reasons behind that, I’ll defer my exposition to a future post.

– Bob

Further Reading

Predictably Irrational ~ Dan Ariely

The Heart of Organisational Psychotherapy

My organisational psychotherapy practice draws inspiration from a number of individual psychotherapy schools and traditions. But none more so than Carl Rogers and Client Centred Therapy – more recently also known as Person Centred Therapy.

At the heart of my approach, drawing on Rogers, is seeing the focus of Organisational Therapy as creating a facilitative, empathic environment wherein the client organisation, collectively, can discover its answers for itself.

Answers

Actually, “answers” is just a bit misleading, given that clients may not be seeking answers, per se. Recent experiences in my current assignment lead me to choose a slightly different perspective. My current focus is on creating, or more accurately contributing to, an environment wherein the client organisation can come to know itself better.

“He who knows others is wise; he who knows himself is enlightened.”

~ Lao Tzu

Self-knowledge

The title of Tom Shadyac’s movie “I Am” is drawn from the rhetorical question “What’s wrong with this world we live in?” (And what can we do to make it better?) He concludes that the best thing we can do to make the world a better place is to know ourselves better (and thereby each make ourself a better person).

”We cannot change, we cannot move away from what we are, until we thoroughly accept what we are. Then change seems to come about almost unnoticed.”

~ Carl Rogers

I believe this sentiment holds as true for organisations and their collective psyche, as for Rogers’ individual clients.

– Bob

Further Reading

A Therapists’s Guide to Heart Centred Therapy ~ William P Ryan PhD (video)

The Future Of Software-Intensive Product Development

A little while ago I wrote a post posing some questions about what ways of working we might look to, After Agile. Fewer folks engaged with this post compared to some others I have written. So I’m assuming that few are thinking about what we might see as the natural – or even unnatural – successor to Agile.

It is, however, a topic that occupies me regularly. Not least because of the intrinsic flaws in the whole Agile idea. We can, and eventually must, do much better.

Recently, some folks have been asking me about what I see as the future for software- and software-intensive product development (SIPD). Of course, I’ve been answering this question, on and off, for at least the past few years.

In a Nutshell

To sum up my take: In a nutshell, the issues that plague SIPD seem obvious. They’re mostly the same issues that plague all forms of collaborative knowledge work. Issues compounded by the gulf between conventional or traditional work and the new world of work (i.e. the world of collaborative knowledge work) – a new world distinctly unfamiliar to most in the world of work today.

We are faced with various collections of pathogenic beliefs (management, traditional business, Agile, etc.), none of which provide us with a context for EFFECTIVELY tackling the challenges we face in the new world of work – i.e. the world of collaborative knowledge work.

I’m choosing here to list these challenges in terms of needs, and in terms of the strategies – conventional and unconventional – for meeting those needs.

Developers’ Needs

Agile came into being driven by developers attempting to see their needs better met. These include:

  • Less working time “wasted” on mindless bureaucracy and distractions, such as meetings, reports, documentation, etc..
  • More time to focus on making great software, and stuff that delights customers.
  • Improved relationships with co-workers, business folks, customers, and the like.
  • More flexibility to adapt to emerging information, to changing needs, and to things learned along the way.
  • More say in what they work on, the tools they work with, and how they do their work.
  • Approval of one’s peers (including a sense of belonging and community re: the “technical” tribe)
  • And simply, the leeway to just “do a better job” and make a positive difference in the world.

Bottom line: Many developers need to feel valued, purposeful, that they’re making progress (learning) and are recognised for their abilities.

Business Folks’ Needs

Secondarily, but still important in the Agile approach, is better outcomes for “the business”. Agilists have come to recognise the following needs (even though common forms of Agile do not address them).

  • Approval of one’s peers (including a sense of belonging and community re: the “management” tribe).
  • Empathy (meaningful connection with other human beings).
  • A positive self-image.
  • Stability (folks have families to support).
  • Acclaim/fame (folks have careers to pursue).
  • Warmth (of human relationships) – Most business folks are just normal people, too.
  • Peace (i.e. an absence of distress).
  • Purpose.

Users’ / Customers’ Needs

Businesses ultimately stand or fall on revenues. Revenues which depend on their products and services meeting the needs of their customers. These needs include:

  • Approval of one’s peers (including a sense of belonging and community re: the “brand” or “XYZ customer” tribe).
  • A positive self-image (what being a user or owner of a certain product says about you, in your own mind).
  • Stability (folks don’t like to think too hard, or continually learn new stuff for no good reason).
  • Warmth (of human relationships) – Most customers, being humans, value interactions with other human beings.
  • Low fuss (i.e. being able to get their jobs done with minimal distress).

Shareholders’ Needs

Shareholders also have needs which they seek to get met. These include:

  • Approval of one’s peers (including a sense of belonging and community re: the “investor” tribe).
  • Contribution to society (e.g. ethical investments) and communities.
  • Financial returns (investors have families and/or lifestyles to support).

In a future post I’ll be looking at the strategies that people use to get these needs met, including those strategies implicit in Agile methods – and some alternative strategies that might prove

– Bob

 

We’re All In This Together

Creating, sustaining and continually improving effective ways of New Product Development requires the efforts, commitment and active participation of everyone in the organisation. It’s not something that can be delegated, offloaded or left to just one department, function or silo.

In my previous post, I mention a number of constraints which typically prevent an organisation from having an effective product development approach. If you take a look at that post, you may begin to see how these particular constraints are organisation-wide. And how reducing or eliminating them requires the active participation of everyone, from the CEO, through function heads, to the front-line workers:

Whole Products means specialists (sales people, marketeers, finance, operations and customer service specialists, etc.) from across the organisation are needed for each and every new product development.

SBCE means changes to accounting practices, personnel recruitment, allocation and training (HR), as well as the understanding and involvement of senior executives in investment and strategy decisions for the longer term.

Flow means reorganising and smoothing the internal operations (explicit or implicit value streams, customer journeys, etc.) which run through the daily business as usual of the whole organisation.

Transitioning from a projects-based approach to New Product Development to something more effective (such as FlowChain) requires the overhaul and replacement of many policies, procedures and expectations across the organisation.

Cognitive Function asks us to learn about topics – psychology, neuroscience, sociology, anthropology – with which we may have had little experience before. And to prevent just one group (NPD) getting wildly out of step with the rest of the organisation, most people coming into contact with these new ideas and ways of relating to each other will need to at least understand what’s going on.

A clearly-articulated and jointly-created product development doctrine offers a means to encourage debate, and understanding, across the whole organisation.

Summary

Each of the above changes requires new understandings and new behaviours – including e.g. cooperation, collaboration, trust, and support – from every department in the organisation. Existing incentives, goals and rewards schemes tailored to individual performance and local (function-specific) results will directly oppose these new behaviours, so must be replaced with schemes designed to foster the new behaviours. Old assumptions and power structures, again supporting of traditional ways of doing things, must be overhauled to become more relevant to our new, more effective ways of New Product Development.

Ultimately, we will find ourselves asking the question “Is it worth it? Does an amazing uplift in our organisation’s ability to release new products and product updates with:

  • fewer delays and overruns
  • higher quality
  • lower cost
  • better product-market fit

warrant the root-and-branch changes necessary for success? Are we in business for the long-haul? And do we each want to be proud to have played our part in creating something truly awesome?

– Bob

 

Constraints On Effective Product Development

Bottlenecks

What company wouldn’t love to have its product development efforts be more effective? Be able to release new products and product updates with fewer delays and overruns, with higher quality and at lower cost? And be sure of the product-market fit, too?

Many companies spend inordinate amounts of time, effort and management attention on just this. And yet reap little in the way of benefits from that investment.

Why is this? What are the blockers (constraints) frustrating these ambitions?

I see the same patterns time after time. Patterns that stymie effective practices and lock in ineffective approaches and poor results. Here’s some of the more common ones:

Whole Products

Few companies are able to reap the benefits of a Whole Product approach to New Product Development. The constraint here is the ability of people and teams from different functional areas across the business to come together (literally and figuratively) for the duration of a product’s development. Toyota have long eliminated this constraint through their Obeya concept, and unique matrix structure.

Set-Based Concurrent Engineering

Most companies suffer unpredicted (yet predictable) overruns and delays in the development of many (most) of their products. One key constraint in play here is the lack of options when a particular component or subsystem – on the product’s critical path – proves problematic. SBCE eliminates this constraint by purposely providing options at every stage of the product’s development. At each “integration point” during a development, the most promising (and always 100% viable) option is selected. SBCE as a solution is predicated on the organisation’s ability to save its learning on and investment in the “pruned” options, for future products or upgrades.

Flow

Organising around flow offers a number of benefits, not least reduced costs and delays. Many companies attempt to organise traditionally – around skills and functional silos. The traditional approach chokes flow and reduces the effectiveness of product development.

NoProjects

The almost universal use of projects as the containers for product development work again constrains our efforts to the relatively ineffective end of the spectrum. The many drawbacks of the “projects” concept are well-known. Yet the constraint here is no so much projects themselves, but the way in which an organisation’s policies, procedures and assumptions lock in the idea of projects. Moving to a non-project approach, such as FlowChain, is a political and social challenge of the first order.

Cognitive Function

Many companies understand the issues of engagement and the need for innovation. Fewer understand the nature of collaborative knowledge work, its fundamentally differences from more traditional forms of work, and the need to approach it with a fundamentally different set of assumptions. Assumptions absent which, effective product development – as the archetype of collaborative knowledge work – is impossible. The traditional assumptions at the heart of traditional management of traditional organisations are the key constraint here. These assumptions prevent us realising the high levels of employee engagement, the innovation culture and the high levels of cognitive function so necessary for effective product development.

Doctrine

Few organisations have a clearly articulated and debated doctrine describing their approach to product development. This absence of clarity constrains the whole organisation, with folks constantly wondering what they should be doing, why they’re doing it, and how everyone’s efforts fit together.

Summary

The above are just a few of the key constraints condemning product development efforts in most organisations to the ghetto of high costs, poor quality and interminable delays. None of these constrains are simple or easy to tackle. But identifying them is the first step to dealing with them. What constraints are limiting your product development effectiveness?

– Bob

Further Reading

Product Development for the Lean Enterprise ~ Michael N. Kennedy
It’s Not Luck ~ Eliyahu M. Goldratt
The Principles of Product Development Flow ~ Donald G. Reinertsen

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