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Organisational effectiveness

The Path to Organisational Psychotherapy

Lots of people ask me a question about Organisational Psychotherapy along the following lines:

“Bob, you’re smart, insightful, brilliant, and with decades of experience in software development. How come you’ve ended up in the tiny corner of the world which you call Organisational Psychotherapy?”

Which is a very fair question. I’d like to explain…

Background

But first a little background.

I started my lifelong involvement with software development by teaching myself programming. I used to sneak into the CS classes at school, and sit at the back writing BASIC, COBOL and FORTRAN programs on the school’s dial-up equipment, whilst the rest of the class “learned” about word processing, spreadsheets and the like. In the holidays I’d tramp across London and sneak into the computer rooms at Queen Many Collage (University) and hack my way into their mainframe to teach myself more esoteric programming languages.

My early career involved much hands-on development, programming, analysis, design, etc.. I did a lot of work writing compilers, interpreters and the like.

After a few years I found people were more interested in me sharing my knowledge of how to write software, than in writing software for them.

Flip-flopping between delivering software and delivering advice on how best to write software suited me well. I allowed me to keep close to the gemba, yet get involved with the challenges of a wide range of developers and their managers.

The years passed. I set up a few businesses of my own along the way. Selling compilers. Supporting companies’ commercial software products. Doing the independent consulting thang. Providing software development management consulting. Starting and running a software house.

By the time I got to Sun Microsystems’ UK Java Center, I had seen the software development pain points of many different organisations. From both a technical and a management perspective. Indeed, these two perspectives had come to seem indivisibly intertwingled.

I spent more and more of my time looking into the whole-system phenomena I was seeing. Embracing and applying whole-system techniques such as Theory of Constraints, Systems Thinking, Lean Thinking, Deming, Gilb, etc..

Slowly it became apparent to me that the pain points of my clients were rarely if ever caused by lack of technical competencies. And almost exclusively caused by the way people interacted. (I never saw a project fail for lack of technical skills. I often saw projects fail because people couldn’t get along.)

By the early 2000s I had arrived at the working idea that it was the collective assumptions and beliefs of my clients that were causing the interpersonal rifts and dysfunctions, and the most direct source of their pain.

So to My Answer

Returning to the headline question. It became ever clearer to me that to address my clients’ software development pains, there would have to be some (major) shift in their collective assumptions and beliefs. I coined the term “Rightshifting” and built a bunch of collateral to illustrate the idea. Out of that seed grew the Marshall Model.

And yet the key question – how to shift an organisation’s collective assumptions and beliefs – remained.

Through conversations with friends and peers (thanks to all, you know who you are) I was able to focus on that key question. My starting point: were there any known fields addressing the idea of changing assumptions and beliefs? Of course there were. Primarily the field of psychotherapy. I embraced the notion and began studying psychotherapy. After a short while it seemed eminently feasible to leverage and repurpose the extensive research, and the many tools, of individual psychotherapy, to the domain of organisations and their collective assumptions and beliefs.

Summing Up

Organisational Psychotherapy provides an approach (the only approach I know of) to culture change in organisations – and to the surfacing of and reflecting on the memes of the collective mindset – the organisational psyche. And because I see the dire need for it, I continue.

– Bob

Further Reading

Marshall, R. W. (2019). Hearts over Diamonds. Falling Blossoms.
Marshall, R. W. (2021). Memeology. Falling Blossoms.
Richard Dawkins. (1976). The Selfish Gene. Oxford University Press.
Blackmore, S. J. (2000). The Meme Machine. Oxford University Press.
The Power of Memes. (2002, March 25). Dr Susan Blackmore. https://www.susanblackmore.uk/articles/the-power-of-memes/

 

Software Development at Scale

Scaled Agile – or scaling agile – seems like a hot potato at the moment. Here’s a few
thoughts:

Scaled Agile? Don’t. Just don’t. For GOD’S sake don’t.

Agile even at a small scale doesn’t work and scaling something that doesn’t work just leads to an even bigger mess that doesn’t work. Take a look at SAFe if you don’t believe it. Or just listen to Ackoff:

“The righter we do the wrong thing, the wronger we become. When we make a mistake doing the wrong thing and correct it, we become wronger. When we make a mistake doing the right thing and correct it, we become righter. Therefore, it is better to do the right thing wrong than the wrong thing right.”

Mindset (Obvs.)

Mindset (a.k.a. culture, memeplex) over methods, tools, etc.. What an organisation, collectively, believes and assumes has far more impact on e.g. productivity, quality, etc. than any methods or tools. See: Organisational Psychotherapy, the Marshall Model, and my new book, “Memeology“.

The only thing of real importance that leaders do is to create and manage culture. 

~ Edgar Schein

The thing I have learned at IBM is that culture is everything. It took me to age fifty-five to figure that out.

~ Lou Gerstner, CEO, IBM

If you get the culture right, most of the other stuff will just take care of itself.

~Tony Hsieh, CEO, Zappos.com

And Schein also provides us with a definition for “the culture of an organisation”:

Culture is the deeper level of basic assumptions and beliefs that are shared by members of an organisation, that operate unconsciously and define in a basic ‘taken for granted’ fashion an organisation’s view of its self and its environment…

It’s a pattern of shared basic assumptions invented, discovered, or developed by a given group.

~ Edgar Schein

Flow Efficiency

Goldratt wrote the book on Flow Efficiency (see “The Goal”, in case you’re interested).

Flow efficiency is miles better than resource efficiency (a.k.a. utilisation). What is flow efficiency? I’m sure you can look it up. But for the lazy: Flow efficiency suggest a focus on keeping work moving through its various value-adding steps, with minimal or zero queues and wait times, thereby attending to folks’ needs (value to the Folks That Matter) – and prompting feedback – as quickly as possible.

Formalise Innovation

Formalise innovation, evolve into continuous organisational transformation.

What do I mean by “innovation”?
In the context of organisations, here are a few possible definitions of “innovation”:

  •  A process by which a method, a product, or a service is renewed and refreshed by applying new ideas or introducing new techniques to create new value.
  • Turning an idea into a solution that adds value from the perspective of the folks that matter
  • A new strategy (means) for attending to the needs of the folks that matter.
  • The application of ideas that are novel and useful.
  • Staying relevant – keeping pace with changes to the (business) environment.
  • The implementation of something new – until it’s implemented it’s just an idea.
  • Stop talking about innovation. Focus on organisational transformation.

Here’s my preferred definition:

Innovation: Delivering against an idea which meets a specific set of needs, for all the Folks That Matter.

And “formalise”? What the hell does that mean, exactly? In effect, institute trainings, standard work, measures, etc., around the whole innovation (and, a.s.a.p., organisational transformation) piece.

I’ve been brief here to avoid a rant. Do get in touch if you’d like me to elaborate on some of these themes.

– Bob

Memeology First Look

Memeologyv1.1-FrontCover

You may be interested to hear that I just published the first release of my new book entitled “Memeology”, today, on LeanPub.

Foreword by John Seddon

I am indebted to John Seddon both for his support and for his kind contribution to the book in the form of its foreword.

Overview

Following on from my foundational Organisational Psychotherapy book “Hearts over Diamonds”, available as an ebook at both LeanPub and Apple Books, and in dead tree format via Lulu.com, I’m writing “Memeology” as a self-help book for organisations who may be chary of engaging with an organisational psychotherapist directly.

Organisational Psychotherapy promises a major uplift in organisational performance, and my idea with Memeology is that supporting a self-help approach makes Organisational Psychotherapy accessible to a wider range of organisations, and promises similar tangible and bottom-line benefits to the therapist-assisted approach.

Organisational “Culture” and Organisational Psychotherapy

Many people seem confused about the idea of “Organisational Culture”. Even to the extend of asserting that an organisation’s “culture” is not amenable to intervention and explicit, intentional change.

Organisational Psychotherapy’s perspective is that “culture” is a read-only shadow, or reflection, of an organisation’s collective assumptions and beliefs. Thusly, even though an organisation’s culture is not directly amenable to change, its collective assumptions and beliefs are amenable to change, and Organisational Psychotherapy offers the means to do so.

Origins and Content

I’ve been a practicing organisational psychotherapist for more than a decade now. Organisational Psychotherapy arose from my discontent with more established ways of intervening in organisations, for example consulting, and coaching. During my years as consultant and coach, I never felt the client was getting much value for money, nor were they likely to sustain the changes I introduced, beyond the close of my association with the organisation.

Memeology is my attempt to package my decade-plus experience as an organisational psychotherapist in a form that organisations can use on their own. Only time will tell whether a self-help approach will find favour and gain traction.

Incidentally, I guess Memeology might also serve aspiring organisational psychotherapists as a reference work.

Administrivia

Early Release

I’ve chosen to publish the first release at a heart-stopping 18% (rough guesstimate) complete, both to solicit feedback, allow readers to steer the evolution of the books, and encourage myself to continue working on it.

Free Sample

As with many LeanPub books, there’s a free sample containing much of the early chapters of Memeology. You might like to take a look before committing to buy. To access the free sample just go to the Memeology LeanPub page and click on the “Read Free Sample” button to the lower right of the book cover image.

Free Updates

In line with the ethos of LeanPub, I’m publishing with the book significantly incomplete. But it’s worth remembering that Leanpub offers free updates for the lifetime of the book. So every time I update the book you can download the updated version.

Please Tell Your Friends

I’m grateful to everyone who might be willing to put the word about about this book. And the icing on the cake would be a review on your blog or social media feed. Thanks in advance for that. 🙂

Pricing

I’ve priced the book at GBP £39.99, which at current exchange rates works out at USD $56.59. I’ve chosen this price to reflect the value the book delivers to its intended audience (executives, senior managers, middle managers and employees all). Organisational Psychotherapy promises a major uplift in organisational performance, and a self-help version – this book – promises similar tangible and bottom-line benefits. It’s less a book to read from cover to cover, and more a reference work, guide, or set of coursework/exercises, akin to e.g. the Fifth Discipline Fieldbook.

Some dear readers will not begrudge the price even for the first release, and even though there is, as yet, precious little “meat” on the bones (the Memes of Part III). For those more undecided, I’ll just remind you of the Leanpub 45-day 100% happiness guarantee.

I believe the book, even as-is (i.e. the first release), provides good value for money, with its seventy-plus memes (note: the free sample, available via a button on the Leanpub Memeology page, only lists some nine of the full set of memes).

Future Releases

I intend to continue working on the incomplete sections of the book, and making interim release as Memeology continues to evolve and grow. You can help me immensely both by providing feedback, and by requesting new content you’d like to see included in the book. You can also help, of course, by supporting my work through purchasing a copy of the book. 🙂

The most valuable kind of feedback will be from folks that get to use the book in the manner intended, either as part of their practice or with their peers in the workplace.

Formats

The LeanPub version of Memeology offers pdf and epub formats at present, and these formats will continue in future releases. When the book is significantly closer to completion, I’ll take a look at providing e.g. Apple Books (ebook) and Lulu (dead tree) versions. Maybe even a MOBI format, too (useful to you?). I’d be happy to publish sooner in these additional formats if there’s sufficient demand. Let me know!

I hope you find some inspiration and utility in the book, and in Organisational Psychotherapy more generally.

– Bob

Ambitious

Ever since I can remember, it’s been my ambition to make a difference to the software industry at large. And not just do a good job for individual clients or employers.

I work with clients – and occasionally, employers – to help them, of course. But my main focus is on better understanding the domain of software development at the organisational and industry level, and to share that understanding with as many folks as are interested.

Don Quixote

I accept it’s a largely – if not entirely – quixotic ambition. And yet individuals have occasionally made a difference in other domains.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

~ Margaret Mead

Self-aggrandisement, kudos or fame is not my aim. Rather, even early in my career, I saw the frustration and suffering of fellow developers in positions of powerlessness, writing software that rarely if ever saw the light of day, rarely if ever making it into the hands of users, rarely if ever pleasing the folks for whom the software was intended. And having to cope with endless, senseless handicaps to getting anything done.

“Most of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to get their work done.”

~ Peter Drucker

Even back then I was determined to do what I could to alleviate folks’ frustrations. To increase the likelihood of the fruits of their labours making it into “production”. Most developers I’ve ever met have shown a strong urge – we might say need, even – to make a positive difference in the world, albeit mostly through software features or products.

What could be more quixotic than wanting to help developers (and more recently, other software folks, such as managers and executives) who seem to not want to help themselves?

– Bob

Oblivious

It’s long been my belief that the whole software industry could be doing so much better than it is doing, and so much better than it has been doing for the past fifty years and more.

In that belief is where my work on Rightshifting, and the Marshall Model, originated, some fifteen years ago now.And continues today.

In my travels I’ve seen countless organisations, groups and individuals demonstrate an oblivious disregard for the potential for significant improvement. I say oblivious because there’s almost no one in the industry with knowledge of or even a vision for how great things could be.

Oblivious

According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, “oblivious” originally meant “characterised by forgetfulness”. Perhaps those in the software industry today have forgotten what previous generations, long since retired, once knew about effective software development. Or perhaps folks have just never known.

I hear some readers wonder: “is it obliviousness, or just ignorance?”. Given current usage “lacking active conscious knowledge or awareness”, I myself wonder about the roots of the phenomenon.

Through my work, in particular at Familiar, and through study of the positive deviants (outliers) in the industry, I have come to see the scope of possible improvement, and the means thereto, too.

Aside: Positive deviants include SSE (Denmark), Forward Engineering (London, UK), Lockheed Martin, and in slightly different spaces, Toyota, Semco, and Buurtzorg. ISBSG also has much confirming data.

Scope

Data (e.g. ISBSG) shows there’s a x2, x3, x4, even x5 scope for improvement in organisation-wide effectiveness of software-led organisations.

I’m regularly struck by the obliviousness of folks to this scope for improvement. To misquote R Buckminster Fuller:

“You cannot question an oversight you do not know you have made”

Causes

Whether the Software Crisis is a thing – or even was ever a thing – or not, it’s clear to me that software organisations woefully underdeliver vs their potential.

Why is this? I largely attribute it to folks of all stripes being oblivious to the scope for improvement. Whence this obliviousness? I’m guessing now, but I guess it’s down to either a lack of curiosity, or to fear of the wholesale changes to organisational assumptions and beliefs necessary to realise the potential on offer.

Fear

It’s become clear to me over the years that management has to fundamentally change, or even disappear – in the form we have known it – before we see the untapped potential of software businesses begin to be realised. And folks in the industry who may be in a position to effect such change fear for their jobs and careers. As Machiavelli, oft-quoted, wrote:

“It must be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to plan, more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to manage than a new system. For the initiator has the enmity of all who would profit by the preservation of the old institution and merely lukewarm defenders in those who gain by the new ones.”

Paradigms

Thomas Kuhn, in his book “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” asserts that science advances vis “paradigm shifts”. Donella Meadows makes much the same assertion with her “12 leverage points of change”.

I posit we’ll not see a widespread uptick in the effectiveness of software organisations, nor in the effectiveness of the software industry as a whole, unless and until the existing paradigm (primarily the prevailing management paradigm) changes.

Interested readers may wonder how, if, and when this might happen. I have some ideas on this, which I’ve set down in numerous posts here on this blog.

– Bob

Postscript

I know that neither data, nor rational argument convinces, nor moves the needle on action. With this post, I only hope to invite some few folks in a position to take action to become a little curious.

Further Reading

The Power of Positive Deviance: How Unlikely Innovators Solve the World’s Toughest Problems ~ Pascale, Sternin and Sternin
All Executives Are Unethical ~ FlowchainSensei (Falling Blossoms White Paper)
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions ~ Thomas Kuhn

An Overabundance of Planning

“The minimum you can get away with is always far less than you think you need.”

~ @FlowchainSensei

A Common Objection

“We’d be inundated if we attended to even a fraction of all the needs of all the Folks that Matter” is one common objection I regularly hear to the Antimatter Principle.

And yet, in most software development projects, the team is inundated with things to do, based on “the Plan” – regardless of whether that’s a big up-front plan, or an incremental plan (running backlog) assembled by degrees over time. A mountain of work (features, tasks, etc.) stretching out to the misty blue horizon, and back to the dawn of (project) time.

Research (see, for example, Capers Jones’ book “Assessment and Control of Software Risks”) highlights that much of what gets planned, and thus gets done, is pointless and proves unnecessary when (finally) made available to users. This reality is also reflected in the now highly controversial series of CHAOS reports from the Standish Group.

Specious

So, I regard the aforementioned objection as specious. Not intentionally so, most often. But specious never the less.

For me, “Attending to Folks Needs” means doing the least (responsibly) possible, and then seeing if the need (or a need) of the folks in question has been met. Most often those need(s) will not have been entirely met – and maybe not even partially – but the team then has the option to have another go – based on some solid information.

This approach has at least two benefits:

  • The person (customer, user, etc.) in question will feel that they matter, that their opinion counts, and that the team is focussed on them as a human being.
  • The team will have solid information upon which to validate or invalidate their earlier guesses (and yes, they will always be guesses until so validated).

At some point, it’s likely all the critical needs of all the Folks That Matter will have been met. And that point will like have arrived much earlier that with more traditional approaches. And with reduced costs and effort.

– Bob

Afterword

Some readers may argue that the above approach looks a lot like Agile. In practice (sic) I see enough differences to reject that comparison. For a deeper insight into why, may I invite you to consider #NoSoftware.

Organisational Self-Therapy

[Note: I regard this post as incomplete. I’m publishing it now in the hope that getting some feedback will encourage me to finish it.]

For some years, DIY seemed all the rage. I’m not so sure that’s true in home decorating any more, but it does seem to be increasing in popularity in the therapy domain. Individual self-therapy seems like it’s become more popular and more acceptable, both.

I have for some time been thinking whether self-therapy for organisations might be possible, beneficial even. Maybe self-therapy would be a viable alternative to engaging a therapist?

In my Organisational Psychotherapy assignments to date, most of my engagement time with client organisations has been spent sitting in with them during their Business As Usual (BAU – meetings, conversations, lunches, etc.), observing their social dynamic and modes of interaction. Such observations lead me – as therapist – to find questions that I can share with the organisation, questions which invite reflection and discussion on e.g. unsurfaced assumptions and beliefs. (This being the essential practice of therapy, both organisational and other kinds). 

The Challenge

For any organisation, making space and time for group reflection can be problematic. In most organisations, folks struggle to find time for all their scheduled responsibilities, let alone more esoteric activities like reflection and discussion of assumptions and beliefs. On the face of it, where’s the point – where’s the value – in spending any time on such “esoteric” things?

Anyone who’s been following this blog for any length of time may know of my focus on organisational effectiveness. And my explanation for organisational effectiveness in terms of Rightshifting and the Marshall Model. [links] 

Observing clients during their BAU is all very well. It doesn’t take up any of their time and, aside from the marginal financial cost of having a therapist present, doesn’t detract from folks’ day jobs or the work of the organisation. 

But when it comes round to the therapist finding and putting questions to the organisation, there’s at least a couple of issues we face:

  1. Finding the time to get together (Organisational Psychotherapy invites group discussions) to listen to the questions and reflect and discuss them as a group.
  1. The disconnect (in time, attention) between the point of observation and the point of reflection and discussion.

So, I’m presently focused on ways to ameliorate the impact of these issues.

Addressing the Issues of Having a Therapist

Improvements on each of the above issues: 

  1. Integrating the asking of therapist’s questions into BAU (having the folks in the organisation ask themselves questions).
  2. Reducing or elimination the disconnect in time and attention between the point of observation and the point of reflection and discussion (integrating Organisational Psychotherapy into BAU whilst promoting useful group discussions and reflections).

It’s Good To Talk

As BT were wont to tell us: “It’s good to talk”.

But many organisations believe (or at least, assume) they don’t have time to talk. And certainly not the time for “talking for the sake of talking” (which is what many might regard talking in order to surface collective assumptions and beliefs – and then reflect on and discuss). That’s why Organisational Psychotherapy in practice takes place amongst the daily ebb and flow of regular meetings and conversations happening in the course of the organisation’s business-as-usual. No need to shoehorn off-sites or special meetings for the necessary conversations happen. Although off-sites and dedicated meetings can help, too. 

Leveraging Valuable Discussions

So, recently I’ve been thinking about means to stimulate group reflections and discussions, in the course of doing things that clearly have immediate business value. For example, many organisations spend (an inordinate, perhaps) amount of time and management attention on coming up with mission statements, visions statements, and the like.

In decreasing order of “unarguable value”:

Purpose

Most organisations spend at least some time, effort and management attention considering and communicating the “shared purpose” of the organisation. Indeed, the Mission Statement is a favoured format for this effort. This then feeds into PR, marketing, branding, positioning and other such MarComms activities. Aside: Simon Sinek describes this kind of thing in terms of the “Golden Circle”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jeg3lIK8lro

I’ve been involved in many such initiatives over the years, both with clients and my own companies. I’ve not, however, seen the agendas for such initiatives include time for examination and reflection on the organisations assumptions and beliefs. It’s almost as if the purpose existing in glorious isolation. “Here we are, this is our purpose, handed down from God (or the CEO)”. There’s obviously scope for reflecting on the assumptions and beliefs that underpin the announced Purpose, or Mission Statement. 

Effectiveness 

Most organisations spend at least some time, effort and management attention on becoming more effective. Most often, this resolves to question like “How to cut costs?”, “How to improve quality?”, “How can we increase our market share?” and so on.  Rarely, though, do such discussions “go meta” and delve into the roots of organisational effectiveness. If they did, though, we could imagine questions such as “What makes for an effective organisation?”, “What kinds of effectiveness are we seeking?“ and “Is effectiveness more than just a WIBNI?”

Agility

Generally, little time is spent on the question of “Let’s go Agile” and even less on what “Agile” means. Most often, the decision is a de facto edict from a HiPPO, handed down to the software folks as a fait accompli. 

Doctrine

[TBD]

Others

[TBD]

– Bob

Artefact Driven Delivery

My preference when approaching solution delivery (I use that term in preference to software delivery, because #NoSoftware) has for the past 25 years centred on artefacts as opposed to tasks. I’m not going to retread here the arguments in favour of the artefact as the unit of progress. This post covers the use of artefacts in incremental development environments, and lists the core artefacts we use in our approach to solution delivery.

Incremental Delivery

Delaying work on implementing and delivering a solution until we have fully defined the requirements, designs, etc., for that solution magnifies the Cost of Delay, defers feedback significantly, and inflates other risks too. Yet we don’t want to skip having clear requirements and designs, either.

The approach we adopted starting circa 1994 is to establish a set of standard artefacts, at the outset of work on each new solution. From Day One, these artefacts will be empty scaffolds, based on standard templates, each artefact being elaborated just-in-time, immediately in advance of their contents being needed for implementation and delivery purposes.

In this way, we avoid B*UF (e.g. Big Design Up Front, Big Requirements Up Front, etc.) and the delays and risks associated with a Big Bang approach.

Standard Artefacts

The following is a list of all the standard artefacts we create on Day One of the inception of each new solution on which we embark. Note that each artefact is based on a standard template, with, from the outset, little or no solution-specific content (i.e. empty).

  • Control Document
  • Articles of Understanding
  • Glossary of Terms
  • Statement of Purpose
  • Case for Action
  • Vision
  • Folks That Matter™ and their Needs
  • Risk Parade
  • Top Risks
  • Functional Requirements
  • Non-functional Requirements aka QQOs
  • Critical Success Factors
  • Feature Schedule
  • Quality Plan
  • Test Plan
  • Change Control
  • Cycle Plans
  • Cycle Reviews

Artefacts and Deliverables

We share some or all of the above artefacts with our clients (the folks on whose behalf we are developing solutions) continually, and at their request. These artefacts are available for sharing throughout the duration of the development. And serve as a running history of the endeavour, too. The deliverables of any solution (code, data, policies, documentation, configs, databases, etc.) augment these standard, evolving artefacts. Typically, a set of deliverables will fall out of the work according to some cadence or rhythm (for example, weekly or every two weeks).

Javelin

For a fuller (if rather dated) explanation of each particular artefact (some now carry slightly different names), see the Javelin white paper.

In a following post I’ll be showing how you might insinuate the Antimatter Principle into your existing approach to developing solutions, using the Artefact Driven Delivery approach.

– Bob

Management Monstrosities

Michele Sollecito (@sollecitom) kindly responded to a recent tweet of mine with the following question: 

“Why do so many well intentioned founders and companies end up creating management monstrosities?”

The “management monstrosities” referred-to are the (dysfunctional, ineffective) tech organisations we find just about everywhere these days. My work on #Rightshifting illustrates just how ineffective is the average tech company, compared with how effective they could be (and Rightshifted outliers are known to be).

But Michele’s question is: “Why?”

Over twenty years and more, I’ve seen dozens of organisations up close and personal.  In none of these organisations have the folks in charge appreciated the difference between collaborative knowledge work (Cf. Drucker) and other categories of work. We can call this a Category Error.

Category Error

Collaborative knowledge work is NOT like:

  • Factory Work
  • Manufacturing
  • Office work
  • Service work (e.g. Call centres, Help desks, etc.)
  • Individual knowledge work

Collaborative knowledge work is in a distinct category all its own, and demands a fundamentally different approach to the way the work works, if we’re to see effective working.

Attempting to manage collaborative knowledge work by means common to other categories of work will inevitably lead to ineffectiveness, and all the monstrous consequences that follow from that.

Assumptions and Beliefs

Put another way, organisations import or retread the assumptions and beliefs of the category of work they believe applies to software development. As the category they assign is (almost) never “collaborative knowledge work”, the prevailing assumptions and beliefs are similarly almost never aligned to effective working.

You may now be asking “Why is the category they assign almost never ‘collaborative knowledge work’?”. I’ll leave that question for another post (if there’s any demand for such a post).

– Bob

Six FAQs Explored

Recently, Adelbert Groebbens (@agroebbe) made an observation on Twitter to the effect that getting other people to understand what we’d like them to understand is a fool’s errand. He illuminated the point with a reference to my Six FAQs post. Al Shalloway expressed his disagreement with many of the points therein. This post explores the subject, via a dialogue between Al and myself, conducted over email recently, and in the context of the original Six FAQs post.

Note: the # numbers relate to the numbered points in Al’s original tweets.

The Dialogue

@alshalloway: (Opening): Thanks. but i disagree with most of the points there [in the original Six FAQs post].

@FlowchainSensei (response): Thanks Al for providing your take on this post. Maybe you’d be willing to enter into a mutual exploration of the subject of e.g. motivation? I guess your comments (provided via Twitter and copied, below) reflect your experiences when working with developers and teams? Likewise, my original post [link] reflects my experiences in similar environments (with a little borrowing from Bill Deming, Russell Ackoff, Marshall Rosenberg and Carl Rogers, to name but a few). It comes as no surprise to me that our experiences differ somewhat, and that our respective conclusions differ likewise. That’s not to say I’m right, or you’re right – we could both be right. Or wrong. Or somewhere in between.

The Annotated Original Post 

Questions I’m frequently asked about software and product development organisations.

Q1: How can we motivate our workers?

A1: You can’t. [see: Al’s #1 follow-up comment, below] Oh, you can dream up incentive schemes, bonus packages, and so on, but there’s plenty of research – and experience – to show that such attempts at extrinsic motivation of knowledge workers only make folks’ performance on the job worse. On the other hand, intrinsic motivation is very powerful – but that comes from the workers themselves. The only thing you can do is to work on creating an environment where maybe, just maybe, some folks feel a little better about themselves, their colleagues, and the common purpose. And hope – yes hope – that some intrinsic motivation emerges, here and there. You can’t change someone else’s intrinsic motivation – only they can do that.

@alshalloway: #1:  Pretty much agree but don’t like tone. Most workers will respond to not being de-motivated. the “maybe, just maybe” is what i don’t like.

@alshalloway: #1: (Follow-up): you can’t motivate, you can only stop demotivating. In other words, you can’t motivate them, but you can do other things that are useful. 

@FlowchainSensei: #1: I guess your assessment of the “tone” here differs from mine. How often do e.g. managers or others responsible for the workplace “environment”, when attempting to cultivate a climate conducive to intrinsic motivation, succeed in those attempts? My experiences suggest “occasionally”. I guess you concur on the main point here: that intrinsic motivation can only come from the folks themselves (the emergence of same being aided by efforts to reduce or remove demotivators – shades of Drucker, Herzberg)? 

@alshalloway: Agreed that most managers don’t do this [attempt to cultivate a climate conducive to intrinsic motivation]. But much of that is because it’s never been explained to them [as] a new role they can fill.

@FlowchainSensei: Explaining presupposes they’re motivated to listen to explanations. I’m minded of the following quotations:

“Most of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to get their work done.”

~ Peter Drucker 

“If you want people to do a good job, give them a good job to do.”

~ Frederick Herzberg

Q2: How can we change the organisation’s culture?

A2: You can’t. [see: Al’s #2 follow-up comment, below] Culture is read-only. A manifestation and a reflection of the underlying, collective assumptions and beliefs of all the folks working in the organisation. To see any cultural changes, you have to work on – by which I mean work towards a wholesale replacement of – this underlying collective memeplex. And that involves working with peoples’ heads, and in particular, collective headspaces. You can’t change other people’s assumptions and beliefs – only they can do that. 

@alshalloway: #2: you can’t change an org’s culture directly, but you can change it indirectly. See my post “Improving Your Company’s Culture”. 

@alshalloway: #2: (Follow-up): you can’t change culture directly, but there are ways to do it indirectly. You can’t change it directly since culture is a result of many things in your company.

@FlowchainSensei: #2: I totally agree that “culture” can be changed indirectly (but not directly). To elaborate on this question, I propose that changing culture through examining assumptions and beliefs (more specifically, supporting folks who are interested in getting together to examine their own *collective* assumptions and beliefs) offers a way forward. For which see: Organisational Psychotherapy.

@allshalloway: I don’t think you need to change minds directly. Rather change how they [people] work.  It’s consistent with the idea “it’s easier to work your way into a new way of thinking than to think you’re way into a new way of working.”

@FlowchainSensei: I’d clarify that as “I don’t think you can change minds directly. Rather enable and encourage change to how the people doing the work choose to work. (See also:The People vs System Conundrum).

Q3: How can we change the mindset of managers?

A3: You can’t. Managers – anyone, really – will only change their mindset when they see how their present mindset is ineffective at getting their needs – and the needs of others – met. Change (of mindset) is a normative process – it emerges from direct personal experiences of e.g. the way the work works now – and the problems inherent therein. You can’t change someone else’s mindset – only they can do that.

@alshalloway: #3: I’ve changed mindsets by guiding people through their beliefs and showing them better ones. I’ve had special training in this.

@alshalloway: #3: (Follow-up): changing mindset is only possible when people are open to it.

@FlowchainSensei: #3: I agree with your follow-up statement. It’s been my experience that folks have difficulties when left on their own in this regard, even when open to the idea of “changing mindsets”. I have found that help, or support, or (your term) guidance can be valuable here. Hence, btw, Organisational Psychotherapy (support-for-changing-assumptions-and-beliefs-as-a-service).

@AlShalloway: Changing mindsets is difficult, and even when possible, takes a long time. It is important to show managers new opportunities and new ways they can interact with the people they work with.

@FlowchainSensei: When and if these managers are motivated to see and learn – see Q1. 

Q4: How can we get teams to take responsibility?

A4: You can’t. You can threaten, cajole, plead, bribe, appeal to folks’ better nature, etc. But again, research and experience both show these only serve to undermine folks’ goodwill and commitment. If you need folks to take more responsibility, maybe the best way is to just be honest about that, explain your need, and make a refusable request? What would you like the reason to be for them doing as you request? You can’t change someone else’s willingness to take responsibility – only they can do that.

@alshalloway: #4. Pretty much agree. But again, it’s the skeptic’s tone i object to. Many are ready to take responsibility, but like motivation, we’re de-motivating them to do so.  You could argue we agree – but it’s not clear.

@alshalloway: #4: (Follow-up): You can’t get people to take responsibility, but for those that are willing, you can remove the barriers to it.

@FlowchainSensei: #4: I guess our experiences differ here. I wonder how much that difference has to do with geographies and national cultures (I.e. UK vs USA)? In my experience (UK, and Europe too), many are not ready/willing to take responsibility, often through long experience of being punished or sanctioned for attempting to do so, or even for simply suggesting it. Is “Learned helpless” more prevalent in the UK, I wonder? I agree wholeheartedly with your follow-up statement.

Q5: How can we get managers to trust their teams?

A5: You can’t. Managers will only choose to trust their teams – or anyone else – if they find they have a need to do so. And that need only becomes obvious enough to spur action when managers come to understand just how trust helps them get some of their other needs met better. You can’t change someone else’s willingness to trust others – only they can do that.

@alshalloway: #5 Building trust is not easy but it’s possible. Most of the way Agile does it doesn’t work. You can’t presuppose it [trust] or blame people for not having it. Lean management can be helpful here.

@alshalloway: #5: (Followup): You have to build trust, and not everyone is willing to have this built.

@FlowchainSensei: #5: Agreed, especially with your observation that there are some folks who are, on the face of it, unwilling to participate in trust-building. I would love to hear more about the aspects of Lean management which you have in mind. For myself, I have found the Antimatter Principle and Nonviolent Communication both useful in trust-building efforts.

@alshalloway: Trust grows over time as people work together. An expectation that managers will all of a sudden trust their teams is doomed for disappointment. But we can teach managers how to work with people to build trust. Why am I not trusting their [the manager’s people] judgement? What is it that people need to know?

@FlowchainSensei: Agreed. Again, allowing for managers being willing (or unwilling) to be “taught”.

Q6: How can we develop people’s competencies?

A6: You can’t. You can, however, create conditions where those folks who want to develop their own competencies can do so more easily. So the question then becomes, how can we get folks to want to develop their own competencies? Which is Q1 (see above). You can’t change someone else’s willingness to learn – only they can do that.

@alshalloway: #6. Your title is inconsistent with what you say. You admit to being able to change competency if they are willing to learn. So it’s not possible.

@alshalloway: #6: (Follow-up): You can only improve people’s competencies when they are already willing to learn. 

@FlowchainSensei: #6: I’m unsure as to the meaning of your original comment. If your follow-up comment serves as a clarification, then I agree entirely. 

In a nutshell, the direct answer to all the above questions is: you can’t. But you can do at least one thing to make progress on all these questions: consider the Antimatter Principle.

Are you willing to be that radical? For that is what it boils down to. 

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

~ Albert Einstein

– Bob

Closing

@alshalloway: (Closing) I object mostly to the skeptic curmudgeonly style of the posts – the absolutism of it.  

@FlowchainSensei: (Closing): I guess I’m well-known and loved for my skeptical, curmudgeonly style. :}

Cost of Focus Revisited

[Recent conversations suggest that my post on Cost of Focus failed to explain the idea clearly enough for readers to grasp easily or quickly. As, for me at least, it’s a simple idea, I thought I’d summarise it in brief with a new post (this one).]

Cost of Focus

Let’s start with a definition in a nutshell:

Cost of Focus is the cost incurred when we fail to include key stakeholders* in our deliberations**.

* I generally refer to these folks, collectively, as The Folks That Matter™.
** By deliberations, I have in mind what old-school folks call “requirements capture” or “requirements analysis”, and what I, nowadays, refer to as “needs investigation”.

Put another way:

Cost of Focus is a way of communicating the impact – on the outcomes we hope to achieve – arising from excluding or including specific folks and their needs.

Note: I could have chosen the name “Cost of Flawed Focus” (the cost of focussing on less relevant stakeholders and less relevant requirements), but this seemed a little less snappy than “Cost of Focus”.

Typically, the costs in question accrue from rejection of part or all of the delivered project / system / product / software application by one or more key parties (such as users) whose needs have not been adequately addressed  – and these costs can be massive. In any number of cases, whole systems have had to be abandoned because one or more key stakeholder groups have refused to use the new system. And even when not totally abandoned, oftentimes major costs have accrued from the delays and extra work required to remediate the original errors of focus. (See also Cost of Focus’ kissing cousin – Cost of Delay).

The Folks That Matter™

[The following excerpt first appeared in my blog post The Folks That Matter™. I repeat it here for the convenience of the reader:]

Cost of Focus

Don Reinertsen states that the Cost of Delay – the financial or economic cost of delaying a given feature by prioritising another – is rarely considered in most organisations. Put another way, the way in which delivery priorities are selected and adjusted, the frequency and means of such adjustments, etc., are rarely discussed, and rarely even discussable.

I propose that Cost of Delay is a subset of the wider question stated above, i.e. the question of Cost of Focus.

By definition, we are failing to meet some folks’ needs when we choose to or otherwise exclude certain folks with their particular needs from the set of The Folks That Matter™.

Maybe those excluded folks and their needs are indeed irrelevant, or their exclusion has little impact – financial or otherwise – on the success of our endeavour. But maybe, contrariwise, some of those excluded needs are in fact critical to our “success”. How would we know? The arguments for Cost of Focus are much the same as for its golden child, Cost of Delay.

FWIW, I’ve seen countless projects stumble and “fail” because they inadvertently omitted, or chose to omit, some crucial folks and their needs from the their list of The Folks That Matter™. Get Cost of Delay wrong (prioritise less valuable features), and we lose some money. Sometime a little, sometime a lot. Get Cost of Focus wrong, and we more often lose big time. Cost of Focus often has a much more binary, black-and-white impact.

What is Cost of Focus?

Cost of Focus is a way of communicating the impact – on the outcomes we hope to achieve – arising from excluding or including specific folks and their needs. More formally, it is the partial derivative of the total expected value with respect to whose needs we focus on.

“Cost of Delay is the golden key that unlocks many doors. It has an astonishing power to totally transform the mind-set of a development organisation.”

– Donald G. Reinertsen

Similarly, I’d say that unless and until we have a handle on Cost of Focus, the golden key of Cost Of Delay remains firmly beyond our grasp.

Put another way, until we have a means for deciding to whose needs to attend, the particular order in which we attend to those needs (cf. priority, Cost of Delay) is moot.

– Bob

Further Reading

Cost of Focus ~ Think Different blog post
The Folks That Matter™ ~ Think Different blog post
Cost of Delay ~ Wikipedia entry

Simples

I can’t pretend I’m not frustrated with the software community for its limited engagement with the question of organisational performance. Given that organisational performance is inextricably linked with the quality of life of folks working in software and IT departments everywhere, and with the health of society more broadly too. This post explores the (simple) connection between organisational performance and Organisational Psychotherapy.

Organisational Performance

I’m using the term “performance” here more broadly than might be regarded as common (but consistent with e.g. the Wikipedia entry).

Aside: In the vocabulary of the Antimatter Principle, we define organisational performance (somewhat opaquely, to be sure) as:

“The relative impact on all the needs of all The Folks That Matter™, of meeting all the needs of all The Folks That Matter™”

For the purposes of this post, I’m using the term to cover:

  • Financial performance (profits, revenues, return on assets, return on investment, debt ratio, etc.)
  • Shareholder value (total shareholder return, economic value added, share price, etc.)
  • Sales and market share
  • Customer and supplier (including employee and management) satisfaction
  • Corporate Social Responsibility
  • The well-being of the Core Group (probably the most crucial, yet least openly discussed)

The Proposition

Organisational Psychotherapy is a very simple proposition, really. Let’s lay it out and see who agrees or disagrees with the line of reasoning at any point:

  1. The assumptions and beliefs held in common (i.e. collectively) within an organisation drive every aspect of the behaviours of that organisation.
  2. The behaviours of an organisation, in toto, govern the performance of that organisation.
  3. To increase the performance of an organisation in any or all of the dimensions of organisational performance requires some changes in its behaviour.*
  4. Any and all changes in behaviour come from changes in the collective assumptions and beliefs held by the organisation.
  5. Organisations rarely have the competence (skills) to examine, change their collective assumptions and beliefs
  6. Outside intervention (i.e. the Organisational Psychotherapist) can help kick-start the organisation in its internal dialogue, introspection and acquisition of the skills necessary to examine and change its collective assumptions and beliefs.

*Note: Excluding considerations of external factors beyond the control of the organisation.

Put another way, Organisational Psychotherapy reduces the risks, costs and timescales of an organisation changing its collective assumptions and beliefs, and thereby reduces the risks, costs and timescales of improving the performance of the organisation.

Diagrammed

Here’s a diagram illustrating the above line of reasoning:

Graphic representation of the line of reasoning

 

Further Reading

Who Really Matters: The Core Group Theory of Power, Privilege, and Success ~ Art Kleiner
The Five Capitals – a framework for sustainability ~ Forum For the Future article
Productivity ~ Think Different blog post

Some Familiar Experiences

[Note: I regard this post as unfinished – I’m publishing it now in the hope that some kind readers will help me in bringing it to something nearer completion. Also, you might like to check in now and again for possible updates.]

A Conversation

Here’s a transcript of a conversation that didn’t take place, but could have, in the vicinity of Reading, England, circa 1999.

Sam: Thanks for allowing me to get some insights into Familiar and what makes it different from other software houses.

Bob: Thanks for showing an interest. We feel the UK software industry would serve society better if more folks had some exposure to what we’re doing here, and maybe take on board some of the principles that have guided us so far.

Sam: I’d like to start with the one thing that intrigues me most. The way you set salaries here. I’ve heard you allow people to set their own salaries? Is that true? Can you explain why you do that?

Bob: Surely. When we set up Familiar, some three years ago now, we all decided we wanted a company that felt more like a family, both for the folks working in the company, and for all the other folks involved – our suppliers and customers, for example. That’s reflected in one aspect of the name “Familiar”, of course (I won’t go into the other aspects of the name, just now). At the time, I was reading the book “Families and How To Survive Them” by John Cleese and Robin Skynner. That book led me to Eric Berne’s work on Transactional Analysis. Berne’s work got me thinking about building a community where Adult-Adult interactions and relationships were the norm.

Sam: So how does having folks set their own salaries play into that idea?

Bob: Well, our approach to salaries – and the same with equipment, working times, locations and the nature of the relationship between the community and the individual – is to have people choose for themselves. If we want folks to behave more often like adults, it makes sense to us to treat them like adults. Folks capable of making their own decisions about the things that matter to them, and to the community as a whole. Moreover, who is at all equipped to decide what salary, etc., suits their needs – other than each individual?

Sam: That sounds really out there. How do people find it?

Bob: It’s true it’s not without its challenges. Firstly, people just starting with us often haven’t thought very much about their commercial value. In other words, at what level they might set their salaries. What might be “fair”. And if someone asks for any given salary, cap-in-hand like, I push back. As far as I’m concerned – and speaking on behalf of the community, too – it’s not a negotiation. Someone announces their intent to bill at a certain rate, or get paid a certain monthly stipend, and that’s what happens. I see it as a positive, all round – for them, others, and the community as a whole – for someone to think about what they charge. You might say “what they’re worth” – but that’s too crass a phrase for me. And then there are other challenges, too.

Sam: Such as?

Bob: Folks billing or getting paid too little. Strange as it seems, our overall staff costs are rather lower than we expected for a software house such as ours. Nobody’s complaining, really. But I’d like to see folks reap greater financial rewards, not just the – less tangible but no less important – rewards of community, fellowship and interesting projects. Americans call wages “compensation” – I guess folks here don’t have to receive as much compensating for the crap as in other companies.

Sam: So you don’t get anyone “trying it on”?

Bob: Not to date. We subscribe to McGregor’s Theory-Y, which invites us to believe that employees are internally – or ‘intrinsically’ – motivated, enjoy their job, and work to better themselves without a direct (financial) reward in return. We’ve found this to be a valid assumption in our case. We strive to make Familiar a place when folks love to get together and do interesting, meaningful things. As our Credo states: “Familiar exists for folks to come together and explore what ‘fulfilment’ means for each one, individually”.

Sam: And as for the other things folks can choose? You mentioned equipment, locations, working times, and the nature of the relationship with the community?

Bob: Again, we want folks to feel like we regard them as adults, with the capacity to choose what’s best and most suitable for them, and thus for the (extended) community too. So everyone gets to choose their development computer(s), monitors, keyboards, etc., and development platform (operating system, tools, languages and such). Some folks have their own kit, and for others Familiar buys some or all of the kit. Some interoperability considerations apply, of course, and the customer often has some requirements relating to the operational/production environment. Project teams organise themselves to factor all this into the mix as part of their development process.

Sam: And locations?

Bob: Everyone works where they feel most comfortable, convenient or productive. Different issues affect different people. And folks are invited to vary their location as they see fit – and as suggested by the nature of the task they’re involved with at a given hour or on a given day. We have our office here, of course, with the public cafeteria, bookable meeting rooms, and our private community office space divided into bullpen, library/lounge with couches, a number of personal offices and the kitchenette. But folks work from home – and each others’ homes – as often as not. We also make a point of getting out as a group, both for meals and drinks in local restaurants and pubs, and for longer weekends away at comfy hotels. One chap who would otherwise have a long commute has a satellite office nearer to his home location. Again, “everybody’s different” – and capable of making their own choices.

Sam: Working times and the relationship with the company/community?

Bob: Folks work the hours that suit them, with the only proviso that the clients’ schedules get consideration. We have some early birds, some late birds, and some bird-of-a-feather (folks who like to regularly pair or work in sub-groups). The latter means they coordinate (self-organise) their schedules and locations, to some extent. As for relationships with the community, I’m talking about what some other companies might describe as the “contractual relationship”. We have some hour- and day-rate “contractors”. Some weekly paid and monthly paid “employees”, and a couple of folks – like myself – whose relationship falls outside those categories. And while we’re talking about pay, I guess I could mention the bonuses. We don’t have any formal bonus scheme as such, but when a particular project goes well, folks get together to consider the costs and revenues and decide if a team bonus is appropriate and what level and split would suit.

Sam: Would you do anything different if you found yourself involved in a different community in the future?

Bob: Nothing significantly different. Excepting that circumstances prevailing when we started Familiar allowed us the opportunity to trial these “wacky” ideas in practice. Such circumstances may not present themselves next time around. Folks have to be open to the ideas of doing things differently, or I suspect a similar scenario might never even get off the ground.

Sam: Do you have any advice for others thinking about building this kind of environment for their businesses?

Bob: I hate giving advice – I find it rarely followed. But one thing I would say – don’t underestimate the time needed for, and the value of, supporting folks who might feel uneasy from time to time about the choices they’re enabled to make. I’ve put in much time supporting people here when the way forward has seems unclear for them personally. But I feel it’s never been enough support, and I always want us to do more. And one word of caution: Time. It’s taken us three years of daily practice to even begin to understand how these ideas all fit together. The benefits are definitely there, we’re demonstrated that, but few companies seem to have a longer-term view. Along the way, we have discovered some useful shortcuts.

Sam: Thanks, Bob, for sharing your experiences with me, and my readers.

Bob: My thanks to you also, Samantha. It’s been fun.

[End]

– Bob

Further Reading

The Starting of Familiar ~ Think Different blog post

Better Antimatter Customers

[Some years ago I wrote a post entitled “Better Customers“. This is an update of that post, reframed using the AntimatterPrinciple]

More effective organisations need better Folks That Matter™. Where “better” means more demanding discerning. Less gullible.

Folks that demand their needs are met, or as a minimum, attended-to, not tech, nor features, nor hand-wavy “value”.

Folks that refuse to pay when their needs are ignored, met poorly, or not addressed at all.

Folks that hold a healthy skepticism for unevidenced claims and promises.

Folks that disrupt the cosy hegemony of the technologists (see e.g. #NoSoftware).

Folks that push back against complex and expensive non-solutions.

Folks that push through the embarrassment of failure to call suppliers to account.

Folks that understand THEIR Folks That Matter™, and look for partners that want to help them in that.

Folks who see the value in relationships, trust, and evidence, whilst rejecting faith-based arguments.

Folks that buy on criteria other than lowest (ticket) price (cost being just one need amongst many).

Folks that embrace the human element and humane relationships in the world of business.

Folks that understand their own strengths – and their weaknesses, and act accordingly.

Folks that generously share the laurels of success, and share responsibility for failure too.

There are so many folks that feel a need to do better, but desperately need the support of their Folks That Matter™ to make that happen. Without better Folks That Matter™, the reforms and improvements we need will indeed take a long time in coming.

– Bob

 

Three Questions

There are three questions I like to ask my clients upon our first meeting. You might find them equally useful in your own dialogues within your particular organisation. Here are the three questions:

1. Is anyone in your organisation at all interested in productivity (or quality, or effectiveness)?

Note: Many folks will express an interest in productivity, quality or effectiveness, but not act congruent with this espoused interest. You might like to look into the work of Chris Argyris to learn more about this phenomenon (see: espoused theories vs theories-in-use). You may also care to look at what’s really happening within the organisation for evidence of actual interest in e.g. productivity.

If your true answer to question 1 is “no”, then there’s not much point proceeding to the next question.

But if there are folks in your organisation at all interested in productivity (or quality, or effectiveness), then question 2 is:

2. Do all interested parties agree that folks’ collective assumptions and beliefs about work, the world of work, and how work should work is at the root of effectiveness a.k.a. productivity?

If your answer to question 2 is “no”, then I propose you might like to look elsewhere for your answers, rather than proceed to question 3.

But if there are enough folks in your organisation who can agree that collective assumptions and beliefs about work, the world of work, and how work should work is at the root of organisational effectiveness a.k.a. productivity, then question 3 is:

3. How will you go about affecting this collection of shared assumptions and beliefs – in ways which translate to meeting folks’ needs for increased productivity (or quality, or effectiveness)?

Note: In some organisations, maybe there are already some initiatives or actions in train intended to bring about such a change in shared assumption and beliefs.

I’d be very interested to hear your answers.

– Bob

The Evolution Of An Idea

Many people have expressed an interest in learning more about the evolution of Organisational Psychotherapy. This post attempts to go back to the roots of the idea and follow its twists and turns as it evolved to where it is today (January 2020).

Familiar

Around the mid-nineties I had already been occupied for some years with the question of what makes for effective software development. My interest in the question was redoubled as I started my own software house (Familiar Limited) circa 1996. I felt I needed to know how to better serve our clients, and grow a successful business. It seemed like “increasing effectiveness” was the key idea.

This interest grew into the first strand of my work: Rightshifting. I had become increasingly disenchanted with the idea of coercive “process” as THE way forward. I had seen time and again how “process” had made things worse, not better. So I coined the term Rightshifting to describe the goal we had in mind (becoming more effective), rather than obsessing over the means (the word “process”, in my experience, conflating these two ideas).

“Rightshifting” describes movement “to the right” along a horizontal axis of increasing organisational effectiveness (see: chart). Even at this stage, my attention was on the organisation as a whole (and sometimes entire value chains) rather than on some specific element of an organisation, such as a software development team or department.

Circa 2008 I began to work on elaborating the Rightshifting idea, in an attempt to address a common question:

“What do all these organisations (distributed left and right along this horizontal axis) do differently, one from the other?”

Subsequently, the Marshall Model emerged (see: chart). Originally with no names for the four distinct phases, categories or zones of the model, but then over the space of a few months adding names for each zone: “Ad-hoc”, “Analytic” (as per Ackoff); “Synergistic” (as per Buckminster Fuller); and “Chaordic” (as per Dee Hock).

These names enabled me to see these zones for what they were: collective mindsets. And also to answer the above question:

Organisations are (more or less) effective because of the specific beliefs and assumptions they hold in common.

I began calling these common assumptions and beliefs a “collective mindset”, or memeplex. This led to the somewhat obvious second key question:

“If the collective mindset dictates the organisation’s effectiveness – not just in software development but in all its endeavours, across the board – how would an organisation that was seeking to become more effective go about changing its current collective mindset for something else? For something more effective?”

Organisation-wide Change

Organisation-wide change programmes and business transformations of all kinds – including so-called Digital Transformations – are renowned for their difficulty and high risk of failure. It seemed to me then (circa 2014), and still seems to me now, that “classical” approaches to change and transformation are not the way to proceed.

Hence we arrive at a different kind of approach, one borrowing from traditions and bodies of knowledge well outside conventional management and IT. I have come to call this approach “Organisational Psychotherapy” – named for its similarities with individual (and family) therapy. I often refer to this as

“Inviting the whole organisation onto the therapist’s couch“.

I invite and welcome your curiosity and questions about this brief history of the evolution of the idea of Organisational Psychotherapy.

– Bob

Further Reading

Memes Of The Four Memeplexes ~ A Think Different blog post

Discretionary Effort

“Discretionary effort” is a term often uses to describe the extra effort that some folks choose to put into whatever they’re doing. In the context of the workplace, it can mean things like working extra (unpaid) hours, attending to things outside of one’s immediate responsibilities, helping folks in addition to doing one’s own work, and so on. It’s a close cousin of that bête noire of organisations everywhere: “Employee engagement”. (Engaged employees are those employees who, amongst other things, contribute by way of discretionary effort).

I’ve worked with numerous managers and executives that ache to see more discretionary effort from their people. But discretionary effort is just that – discretionary. At the discretion of the folks involved.

When folks choose to put in extra hours, they do so because they’re motivated to do so. Sometimes this motivation is intrinsic (e.g. joy or pride in the work), and sometimes it’s extrinsic (e.g. bonuses, praise, threats – whether real or implied, etc.).

Of those managers and executives I’ve worked with, none have understood the psychology behind discretionary effort. Many have tried to incentivise it or exhort their people to greater discretionary efforts. Few have sought the psychological roots of intrinsic motivation (for which see e.g. Dan Pink’s book “Drive” – which explains these roots as “autonomy”, “mastery” and “purpose”).

Aside: Intrinsic motivation, and the conditions which help it to emerge, is the hallmark of the Synergistic mindset, and conspicuous by its marked absence in the working conditions fostered by the Analytic Mindset – Cf. the Marshall Model.

If we but think about it for a moment, extrinsically-motivated discretionary effort is not actually discretionary at all (although we do all have a choice in the face of workplace violence). Extrinsically-motivated extra effort is coerced, forced, obliged – or done for the reward(s), in which latter case it’s not “extra”, unpaid, effort per se.

So, real discretionary effort, much sought after as it is, is down to intrinsic motivation only. And as my popular post “Six FAQs” explains, we cannot coerce or force intrinsic motivation. We can but set up the conditions for intrinsic motivation to happen, and thereby hope for discretionary effort to emerge.

We can’t change someone else’s intrinsic motivation – only they can do that.”

And, by extension, we can’t increase someone else’s discretionary effort – only they can choose to do that.

So, if like so many other managers and executives, you’re aching for more discretionary effort, what will you do about it? What will you do about understanding the psychology behind intrinsic motivation, and about creating the conditions for intrinsic motivation to emerge?

– Bob

P.S. I’ve conscious chosen to NOT explore the morality – and rationally – of expecting employees to contribute “free” hours above and beyond their contractual terms of employment. I’d be happy to pen another post on the pressures of business, and in particular the pressure of the “runway” – a common cause of such urges for “Beyoncé time”-  given sufficient interest and demand.

Further Reading

What exactly is Discretionary Effort? ~ Jason Lauritsen (blog post)

Your REAL Job

Students of Ackoff and Deming will be aware of Deming’s First Theorem:

“Nobody gives a hoot about profit.”

W. E. Deming

This reminds us that senior executives are demonstrably less interested in the welfare of the organisations they serve than in their own well being.

“Executives’ actions make sense [only] if you look at them as taken in order to maximise the executive’s well being.”

~ Russell L. Ackoff

Of course, it can be career-limiting to bring this issue to general attention. As the well-known psychiatrist R D Laing said:

“They are playing a game. They are playing at not playing a game. If I show them I see they are, I shall break the rules and they will punish me. I must play their game, of not seeing I see the game.”

~ R. D. Laing

And yet, if we look at the implications for “doing a good job” – a preoccupation of many in employment, we can draw the following conclusion:

We’re doing a good job when we’re maximising our executives’ (our bosses’) well being. We’re not doing a good job when we ignore that in favour of focussing on e.g. making the company successful or profitable. This probably rings true with you if you but think about it, in your own context, for a few moments.

This underscores a hidden reality for many: our declared job is a FAUX job. Our REAL job is undeclared, unexamined, unspecified – and being good at THAT is therefore a matter of pure dumb luck and random chance. How often do you have a conversation with your senior executives about how you might contribute to maximising their well being? How can we attend to their needs – as folks that matter – without such a dialogue?

– Bob

Further Reading

Nobody Gives a Hoot About Profit ~ The W. Edwards Deming Institute Blog post

Getting Started as an Organisational Psychotherapist

A number of folks have asked me recently about my suggestions for getting started in Organisational Psychotherapy, i.e. as a practitioner (a.k.a. therapist).

This post sets down a few pointers in that direction.

Blog Posts and Books

I’ve written many posts over the past five years and more exploring the subject of Organisational Psychotherapy from various viewpoints. More recently, I published a book on the subject, which I regard as foundational in the field of Organisational Psychotherapy. The book is titled “Hearts over Diamonds” and you can find it on LeanPub (ebook version), the Apple book store (also an ebook), and in print form at Lulu.com.

To find all the Organisational Psychotherapy posts on my blog, you can use the Organisational Therapy category link, or search for e.g. “Organisational Psychotherapy“ using the WordPress search feature.

Other Entry Points

To reduce the likelihood of anchoring your own practice to my personal perspective, you might like to first enter the field via routes other than my blog posts and books. When I started, I hadn’t written anything on the topic (obviously), so I myself started with:

  • Reflections on the core purpose of what I I only later came to call Organisational Psychotherapy (particular the foundational question, see “Foundations”, below)
  • Research into some of the many schools of individual therapy (for example, the work of Carl Rogers, Marshall Rosenberg, Virginia Satir, etc.), and the nature of therapy in general
  • Reflections on my own experiences of being “in therapy”
  • Selection of a few key schools of therapy, schools which particularly resonate with you
  • Reflections on repurposing individual therapies to the field of Organisational Psychotherapy
  • Practical application in client engagements (these were, for me, mainly coaching-type engagements, at the outset)

A Game Plan

I’m pretty sure you’ll want to formulate your own “game plan” for acquiring skill, experience, and capabilities in the field of Organisational Psychotherapy. For myself, my game plan has consisted of a repeating alternation between reflection and practise, reflection and practise.

Foundations

How have I arrived at my relationship with Organisational Psychotherapy today? Having been in the world of software development, and the business of software development, for more than forty years, I’ve come to see that any significant progress towards increased effectiveness depends on organisations fundamentally shifting their collective assumptions and beliefs. You can read about this via Rightshifting, and the Marshall Model.

Given this, the question becomes:

“What kind of intervention could help organisations and their people with uncovering their existing, collectively-held, beliefs, assumptions and attitudes? With discussing those, seeing the connection with their business and personal problems and challenges, and doing something about that?”

My own personal answer to this question is, nowadays, Organisational Psychotherapy. In the context of getting started, I invite you to find your own question (or feel free to adopt mine), and then search for your own answer.

– Bob

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