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Organisational effectiveness

Effectiveness

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.

Spectra

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.

Survey Results

Here’s the responses I received to my question:

  • @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?”

Rightshifting

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:

– Bob

The Relevance of Giants – 2. O Sensei (Morihei Ueshiba)

On most every occasion when I’m speaking in public – at conferences, workshops, and the like – I tend to mention one or more of my “Giants” of Rightshifting. Men and women who, through their lives and work have contributed significantly to my understanding of work, and in particular to my understanding of effective collaborative knowledge work.

Many folks express interest in these Giants, but I do wonder if they appreciate the relevance of the ideas and experiences of these Giants to their own daily lives at work.

I mean, what relevance does, say, O Sensei have to developers, testers, operations staff and the like? Which aspects of any of these Giants’ work could be useful or helpful or simply comforting to these folks?

In this occasional series of posts I’ll be exploring some of the Giants’ relevance to folks other than theorists, managers, consultants and the like. I’ll be sharing some insights into their work, and specifically, the likely relevance.

With these posts I hope to pique your curiosity just a little. Let’s continue, with this second post in the series, with O Sensei.

O Sensei

Morihei Ueshiba

(December 14, 1883 – April 26, 1969)  (See also: Wikipedia entry)

I’m not going to dwell on his early life and experiences in the Japanese Army, his adventures in Mongolia, nor his experiences in Manchuria and Japan during the time of World War 2.

Aikido

I suggest the primary relevance of O Sensei to most folks working in the field of software development (and production operations) is Aikido – the martial art he developed. Excepting it’s less a martial art, and more a philosophy for life, and for harmonising with others.

Unlike many other martial arts, Aikido is focussed on caring for others, as emphasised by the translation of the three kanji: ai-ki-do as the Way of Unifying Spirit or the Way of Spiritual Harmony. O Sensei envisioned Aikido as an expression of his personal philosophy of universal peace and reconciliation. O Sensei’s goal was to create an art that practitioners could use to defend themselves while also protecting their attacker from injury.

Blending“, one of the core techniques of Aikido, invites us to look at conflicts from the perspectives of the other person – or people – involved. For me, this has a direct connection with empathy – as promoted by e.g. Marshall Rosenberg and others of the nonviolent community.

“Life is growth. If we stop growing, technically and spiritually, we are as good as dead.”

~ Morihei Ueshiba

Where’s the Relevance?

How do we make it more likely that we’re all spending our time on stuff that matters? How do we go about attending to folks’ real needs? I find blending a great asset in identifying with the needs of others. As I blend, I see their perspective, and their needs, more clearly. And in turn, they can feel more listened-to. And choose to reveal other things, crucial things, that means we get to understand more about what matters to us all. With this knowledge – and goodwill – we have a better chance of focusing on what matters, and of reducing the chance of wasting some or all of our time on the inconsequential, on detours, and on dead ends.

Practical Investigation

You might like to join an Aikido dojo, to practice the physical forms of the techniques. And to discuss the philosophy with like-minded people wha have already started the journey. Beware, though, of those dojos and sensei that emphasise the physical forms at the expense of Aikido philosophy.

– Bob

Further Reading

The Life We Are Given ~ Michael Murphy, George Leonard
The Way of Aikido ~ George Leonard
It’s A Lot Like Dancing ~ Terry Dobson

The Relevance of Giants – 1. Deming

On most every occasion when I’m speaking in public – at conferences, workshops, and the like – I tend to mention one or more of my “Giants” of Rightshifting. Men and women who, through their lives and work have contributed significantly to my understanding of work, and in particular to my understanding of effective collaborative knowledge work.

Many folks express interest in these Giants, but I do wonder if they appreciate the relevance of the ideas and experiences of these Giants to their own daily lives at work.

I mean, what relevance does, say, Bill Deming have to developers, testers, operations staff and the like? Which aspects of any of these Giants’ work could be useful or helpful or simply comforting to these folks?

In this occasional series of posts I’ll be exploring some of the Giants’ relevance to folks other than theorists, managers, consultants and the like. I’ll be sharing some insights into their work, and specifically, the likely relevance.

With these posts I hope to pique your curiosity just a little. Let’s start with Bill Deming.

W. Edwards Deming

Bill Deming

(October 14, 1900 – December 20, 1993)  (See also: Wikipedia entry)

I’m not going to dwell on his work in SPC (Statistical Process Control) or SQC (Statistical Quality Control), his pivotal role in the Japanese post-war economic miracle, his 14 Point system of thought he called the “System of Profound Knowledge”, nor his Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) cycle (the latter being the basis for most Agile approaches, btw).

Deming’s 95/5

I suggest the primary relevance of Deming to most folks working in the field of software development (and production operations) is primarily the idea known as “Deming’s 95/5” (although this originated in a quote from Peter Scholtes).

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

From my studies of Deming, and from applying his ideas in my practice, I have come to believe that it’s the interactions between people that account for the lions share of “productivity”, “performance” and “success” in collaborative knowledge work. And the “system” a.k.a. the way the works works has a major (hidden) influence on the quality of those relationships, as well as on the work (output, results) of the individual workers.

“Dr. Deming taught me that 95% of the performance of an organization is attributable to the system (processes, technology, work design, regulations, etc.) and [only] 5% is attributable to the individual.”

~ Tripp Babbitt

Where’s the Relevance?

If, like most people, you’re looking for a better quality of life at work, Deming points the way to us improving our relationships with our colleagues, peers and managers. Maybe this perspective is something to consider on those occasions when you’re less than happy in your work, when you’re checked-out, or disengaged, or frustrated.

And Deming’s attribution of 90-95% of your performance to the system within which you’re obliged to work throws a new light on many typical organisational practices such as history-led recruitment, performance appraisals and reviews, stack ranking, criticisms (and praise) for your efforts, etc.. Your results (and self-esteem) may be taking a hit from the effects and constraints inherent in that system, not from anything you’re doing (or not doing) yourself.

Practical Investigation

Deming designed the Red Bead Experiment to illustrate these very points, in a way that most people can directly relate to.

– Bob

Further Reading

Four Days with Dr Deming ~ Latzko and Saunders
95% of performance is governed by the system ~ Vanguard web page

Cognitive Function

How often do you get pissed off by interruptions and distractions? You know, when you’re zoned in on something, in a state of flow, and something happens to break the flow? Personally, when I’m writing code, I have to be in a quiet place, by myself or with my pair or mob, else I can’t get anything done for the continual distractions.

This is but one example of how easily cognitive function can be impaired.

Common sources of cognitive impairment:

  • Distractions and interruptions
  • Stress (specifically, negative stress a.k.a. distress) Cf Amygdala Hijack
  • Tiredness, fatigue, lack of sleep.
  • Multitasking
  • Poverty
  • Diet
  • Shift patterns
  • Noise and other forms of environmental stressors (lighting, odours, vibrations, exposure to particulates, elevated carbon dioxide, etc.)
  • Physiological issues (such as colds and flu, hypoglycemia, aphasia, depression, dehydration, hypertension, obesity, trauma, diabetes, Parkinson’s, POTS, dementia, hypoxia, atrial fibrillation)
  • Substance abuse (drink, drugs, etc. – short and long term effects, chronic and acute)

Wow. That’s quite a list. Seems like almost anything can impair cognitive function.

Why Does this Matter?

So why does cognitive function matter. What’s the connection with knowledge work? I’ll spell it out in case it’s not clear:

Knowledge work – such as software development – by definition involves working with our brains. If our brains are performing well (i.e. effective or relatively high cognitive functioning) then we can expect our work to go well, things to get done quicker, with fewer errors, and so on.

Conversely, when our cognitive function is impaired, our brains will take longer to accomplish tasks, come up with less effective solutions, commit more errors, and generally perform more ineffectively.

It’s also likely that with impaired cognitive function we’ll be less reflective, with less energy or capacity to spend on thinking about our work, our relationships, our behaviours, our practices, our customers, possible innovations, our needs and the needs of others, etc..

Does it sound to you like non-impaired cognitive function is something worth having? Something worth paying attention to?

Paying Attention?

So how many folks – managers, workers, organisations – pay any attention AT ALL to folks’ cognitive functioning in the workplace or whilst working? I’d suggest the answer is none, or as near none as makes no difference.

Which seems strange to me, if we truly seek our collaborative knowledge work (and workers) to be as effective as possible. Of course, that objective may be a false assumption. Maybe blissful ignorance and indifference is preferable to paying attention and taking action? Given the reluctance I’ve encountered when broaching this subject, I suspect blissful ignorance and/or indifference holds sway.

How does it go in your organisation?

– Bob

Cost of Focus

Or, more specifically, the cost of suboptimal focus – the cost of focusing on some (less relevant) needs of some Folks That Matter to the detriment or neglect of other (more relevant, valuable) needs of other Folks That Matter.

If we commit our (always limited) resources ineffectively, our returns (we might call this ROI) will likewise fall short of what would be possible if we committed our resources effectively, or optimally.

How Do We Decide?

How we as a individual, team, group or organisation decide who we’re trying to please, delight, satisfy, or otherwise engage with and deliver to?  How do we get to know what folks need, and who to ask about the details of those need? How do we choose whose needs we can successfully discount or defer when the inevitable resource (time, money, effort) crunches come? Who matters and who does not? Which needs are more relevant, valuable (with respect our chosen Goal) and which, less?

It might be useful to have some heuristics, or policy, or other forms of guidance, to guide us in decisions on including, excluding and prioritising folks and their needs? Personally, if it were entirely up to me, I’d go with the general principle describe by Goldratt and summarised in my post “What is Value?“.

By way of a quick summary of that post:

Focus on those things that relax the customers’ constraint, so as to increase the overall throughput of their business (a.k.a. “Mafia Offers”). And focus on the customers, or market segments, that you understand best – or at least can work with to find such understanding.

Our aim: to optimise the Needsscape a.k.a. the needs we meet (for example, need for revenue, profit, cost reduction, etc. often sits at top of mind).

Relevance For Workers

This post is not just about decisions made by executives and managers. Everybody has the same dilemma: how do I/we decide where to focus? Which code module would it be better to deliver first? Which tests are more valuable that others? Who would it be better to work with first, to understand their needs (a.k.a. constraints, requirements, or whatever)? Where we choose to focus absolutely determines how others see us and our efforts.

Bottom Line

The bottom line is: the more effective we are at focussing on things that contribute to our personal or business goal (Cf. Goldratt), the more of our goal we’re likely to get. (Is that self-serving? Only if our goal is self-serving. Choose wisely).

– Bob

Further Reading

The Goal ~ Eliyahu M. Goldratt
It’s Not Luck ~ Eliyahu M. Goldratt
Focus ~ Think Different blog post
What is Value? ~ Think Different blog post

Team Building For High Performance

I’ve recently been writing a post on building high-performance teams (I’ve spent most of my career either building high performance teams myself, being part of a high performance team under construction, or helping others build high-performance teams). The post in question is rather getting away from me, in therms of length, and I might choose convert it into a small book instead.

But I did want to post something on the topic, not least because during my research for the post I’ve come across so many instances of advice contrary to my own experience, advice which I believe if followed would undermine any such effort, and result in mediocre, under-performing teams, at best. Compare to what’s possible.

So, skipping over the definitions of “teams” and “high performance”, the rationale for teams, and the detailed ins and outs and how-to’s, in this post I’ll just cut to the nub of the challenge, as I see it: whole-part thinking.

Whole-Part Thinking

Most teams I’ve seen being built exist as a part of a larger whole (team, development organisation or silo, company).

That larger whole usually holds all the aces when it comes to stipulating what is and is not permissible. Hiring practices; compensation practices; incentives and motivational practices; working practices; internal and external communications practices; management structures, doctrines and practices; ways in which folks can relate to each other a.k.a. social norms; influence over the workplace, tools and equipment; remote vs on-premise working; working hours and locations; and so on. All these and more are generally under the control of the wider organisation (sometimes explicitly, more often, implicitly).

So, the constraints on the team building process are legion. And such constraints are generally antithetical to high performance. For successful builders of high performance teams, the biggest challenge they have overcome is the challenge of circumventing these constraints, without alienating the larger whole (and the powers that be) to the extent that they lose their credibility and influence. And sustaining their circumventions, credibility and influence, over the long haul.

I’ve written at greater length about these challenges in my 2012 posts “OrgCogDiss” and “French Letters” (the latter specifically about Agile teams, but equally relevant for all kinds of high-performance team).

In a nutshell, then: whole-part thinking leads organisations to believe that a development team or silo is a more or less independent entity, masters of their own performance, and can be held accountable as such. In reality, the constraints of being a part of the larger whole impact teams to such an extent that they have little to no independent control over their own performance.

Enable High Performance For the Whole

Organisations that truly value performance over rules change the rules (constraints) to enable high performance across the whole organisation. Many prefer to stick with their existing assumptions, beliefs and rules.

– Bob

Further Reading

Why Agile is No More (or Less) Than a Skunkworks ~ Think Different blog post
Innovation ALWAYS Demands We Change the Rules ~ Think Different blog post
I Want You To Cheat ~ John Seddon

The Needsscape

-scape

suffix forming nouns

  1. Indicating a scene or view of something, esp. a pictorial representation: seascape, cityscape, soundscape.

Word Origin: Abstracted from “landscape”.

The Essence of Business

Business is, in essence, about attending to folks’ needs. Here’s a quick list of typical needs, to illustrate:

  • The financial needs of the owners and shareholders, and of staff.
  • The particular needs of customers, which the business’s products and services attempt to address.
  • The needs of suppliers for revenues.
  • The needs of wider society for commerce, prosperity, growth of social cohesion and living standards, wealth distribution, and so on.
  • The emotional needs of owners, shareholders, executives, managers and staff (examples: status, self-worth, compassion for others, making a difference, safety, love, esteem, curiosity, joy, learning, accomplishment, contributing to society, etc.).

I use the term “needsscape” to refer to the ever-changing set of Folks That Matter, and their ever-changing sets of needs. (Not all the needs listed above might feature in a given business’s needsscape).

In particular, the term Needsscape, for me, evokes the idea of one or more visualisations of the ever-changing set of Folks That Matter, and their ever-changing sets of needs, including the evolution of those sets over time. And especially visualisations of the current and relevant future set of Folks That Matter, their various sets of current and relevant future needs, and where the business is “at” in terms of attending to those folks and their needs. In other words, making all work (and objectives) visible, including attributes such as progress, status, and other interesting aspects of the work (aspects made interesting due, themselves, to the pertinent set of Folks that Matter, and their needs).

Indeed, all value-adding work is attending to (some) folks’ needs. And all wasted work is work where folks’ need are undermined.

What value would a real-time (or near real-time) visualisation of the needsscape bring to your group and/or business?

– Bob

Further Reading

English Words Suffixed with -scape ~ Wiktionary entry

 

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