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Organisational effectiveness

Beyond Command and Control – A Book Review

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

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

Significant Improvement Demands a Shift in Thinking

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

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

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

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

Putting Software and IT Last

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summary

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

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

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

– Bob

Further Reading

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

Why Reason When Faith is So Much More Comfortable?

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

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

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

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

And that ain’t gonna happen.

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

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

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

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

I’ll just leave this here:

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

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

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

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

– Bob

What Orgs Want

Offices

Or, more accurately, what organisations need. (Wants and needs are very rarely the same thing).

First off, does it make any sense to talk about what an organisation might need? Sure, we can discuss the needs of the various groups within an organisation – the Core Group, the shareholders, the employees, and so on. And the needs of the individuals involved – not that the subject of individual needs get much airtime in the typical organisation.

NB I recently wrote a post about the needs of some of these groups in “Damn Outcomes!”.

Back at the main theme of this post: what might be the needs of a given organisation?

Well, like individuals, we make sweeping generalisations at our own risk. At least for individuals, we have some guidance in the form of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

From the perspective of Organisational Psychotherapy, an organisation’s needs, whilst fundamental, rarely receive much overt attention. In the course of the therapeutic relationship, the organisation itself may come to a clearer awareness of its own (collective) needs. Those needs may even change and morph as they emerge, become more explicit, and become a valid topic for dialogue and discussion (i.e. ”discussable”).

But we have some basic options for consideration re: the possible needs of an organisation. I wrote about these options some time ago now, in a post entitled “Business Doctrine”. Extrapolating from that post, here’s some possible business (organisational) needs:

  • The need to create and keep customers (Drucker)
  • The need to supply goods and services to customers (serve the needs of the customer) (Drucker)
  • The need to provide a service (Burnett)
  • The need to provide a product or service that people need and do it so well that it’s profitable (Rouse)
  • The need to act as a nexus for a set of contracting relationships among individuals (Jensen and Meckling)
  • The need to optimise transaction costs when coordinating production through market exchange (Coase)
  • The need to serve society (McLaughlin et al)
  • The need to maximise the medium-term earning per share for shareholders (US business schools)
  • The need to make a profit so as to continue to do things or make things for people (Handy)
  • The need to make money (Slater)
  • The need to make a profit (Watkinson Committee)

Given the Rightshifting perspective that the purpose of any given business is more or less unique to a time, a place, and the people involved, we might reasonable say that the needs of any given organisation are also more or less unique to a time, a place, and the people involved.

Summary

To sum up: I choose to believe that organisations, collectively, do have needs. Each organisation is different – it has its own, different and sometime unique needs. The dialogue involved in surfacing any given organisation’s needs brings benefits in and of itself. Absent clarity on those needs, how can the organisation decide on its priorities, on what matters?

– Bob

Further Reading

The Future Of Software-Intensive Product Development – Think Different blog post

 

My Work

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

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

The Root of the Problems

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

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

What to Do About It

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

Why You Won’t Do Anything

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

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

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

– Bob

The 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:

Chart illustrating the gap between available jobs and jobs folks would like to have.

The blue curve is the standard Rightshifting curve, explained in several of my posts over the years – for example “Rightshifting in a Nutshell“.

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.

Summary

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?

– Bob

Footnote

For explanations of Adhoc, Analytic, Synergistic and Chaordic mindsets, see e.g. the Marshall Model.

 

Obduracy

I tweeted recently:

“The things organisations have to do to make software development successful are well known. And equally well known is the fact that organisations will absolutely not do these things.”

Here’s a table comparing some of the things we know are necessary for success, alongside the things organisations do instead.

Necessary for Success What Organisations Do Instead
Teamwork Heroic individualism
Primacy of people skills Primacy of tech skills
Self-organisation, self-management Managers managing the work(ers)
Systems view of the organisation Partition the organisation into discrete silos
Manage the organisation/system as an integral whole Manage each silo separately
Use systemic measures to steer by Use silo-local measures to steer by 
Relationships matter most (quality of the social dynamic) The code’s the thing (e.g. velocity)
Effectiveness (do the right things) Efficiency (do things right)
Zero defects (quality is free) (defect prevention) Testing and inspections
The workers own the way the work works Mandated processes and methods (management owns the way the work works)
Workers are generalists Workers are specialists 
Trust Rules, policies
Theory Y Theory X
Intrinsic motivation, discipline Extrinsic (imposed) motivation, discipline 
Everyone’s needs matter (everyone’s a customer and a supplier) Only the bosses’ needs matter (your boss is your only customer)
Explicit requirements, negotiated and renegotiated with each customer, just in time No explicit requirements, or Big Requirements Up Front
Incremental delivery against the needs of all the Folks That Matter, short feedback loops  Big Bang delivery, some or all constituencies overlooked or ignored, long or no feedback loops
Kaikaku and kaizen, to serve business goals Kaizen only, by rote
No estimates, flexible schedules Estimates, fixed schedules
Smooth flow (a regular cadence of repeatably and predictably meeting folks’ needs) “Lumpy” or constipated flow 
Work is collaborative knowledge work Work is work
People bring their whole selves to work People limit themselves to their “work face”.

Do you have any more entries for this table? I’d love to hear from you.

– Bob

The Big Shift

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

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

“Nobody gives a hoot about profits”.

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

Is There a Connection?

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

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

Is Disruption Avoidable?

So, the question becomes:

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

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

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

I’d love to hear your viewpoint.

– Bob

Further Reading

Organisational Cognitive Dissonance ~ Think Different blog post

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