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Organisational effectiveness

Rightshifting and Quintessence 

Long-time readers of this blog will already be familiar with the concept of rightshifting. 

Shifting an organisation to the right (i.e. in the direction of increased organisational effectiveness, and towards the quintessential) is not for the work-shy or indolent. Yet the rewards are massive. 

Whilst the Marshall Model provides a general framework for such rightshifting, there’s not been a detailed roadmap describing the shifts necessary to acquire such improved effectiveness. 

My most recent book, “Quintessence”, provides just such a roadmap (or blueprint). It details the shifts in collective assumptions and beliefs necessary to become a highly effective knowledge-work organisation. Shifts of which significant outliers such as Zappo, WL Gore, Morning Star, Semco, and a host of others have demonstrated the benefits.

Go take a look and gaze in awe at what is possible in the way of improvements. 

– Bob

Further Reading

Marshall, R.W. (2018). Hearts over Diamonds: Serving Business and Society Through Organisational Psychotherapy. Falling Blossoms (LeanPub).

Marshall, R.W. (2021). Memeology: Surfacing and Reflecting On the Organisation’s Collective Assumptions and Beliefs. Falling Blossoms (LeanPub).

Marshall, R.W. (2021). Quintessence: An Acme for Software Development Organisations. Falling Blossoms (LeanPub). 

Effectiveness

It’s long been observed that folks commissioning i.e. product developments have a natural tendency to believe that quality costs money. Which is to say that they tend to believe that a higher quality product costs more to develop and deliver into the market. Even though Phil Crosby put the lie to this fallacy decades ago with his observation, detailed in his book of the same name, that “Quality is Free”.

So it is with effectiveness. I’ve met many folks who unwittingly assume that having their organisations become more effective is going to raise costs, and involve increased time, attention and effort.

Again, nothing could be further from the truth. Highly effective organisations run more smoothly, more predictably and with higher productivity and significantly lower costs. This is, for me, the essence of effectiveness.

How about you? What comes to mind when you hear the term “increased effectiveness”?

– Bob

The Key

The key to quintessential effectiveness resides in looking at organisations as systems. I.e. systems thinking. And nobody is up for that.

Put another way, improving the performance of silos in isolation only makes the overall performance of the organisation worse.

Not Up For Systems Thinking

Owners and proxy owners (executives) aren’t up for it because of the effort they assume will be required to convert all those not up for it, to being up for it.

Managers aren’t up for it (in those rare cases when they’re actually aware of the idea) because they assume it threatens their wellbeing and their control over their local fiefdoms (silos).

Consultants aren’t up for it because:

  • a) They assume their customers (i.e. managers, see above) won’t like it.
  • b) They don’t understand it.

Coaches aren’t up for it because their remit does not extent to the organisation, being rooted in the performance of individuals (and vey occasionally, teams).

And employees aren’t up for it because:

  • a) They don’t give a damn (disengaged).
  • b) They don’t see the success of the organisation as having anything to do with them.

What Does It Mean to Look At Organisations As Systems?

[I’ll complete this section if there’s any demand]

Where Do The Benefits Come From?

[I’ll complete this section if there’s any demand]

– Bob

Am I the only person in the world interested in improving the effectiveness of organisations? In making organisations better places to work, better places to play, better places to learn? Is it just me? Most days it seems like it is.

Seems like NOBODY in management or product consulting has heard the old adage:

Q: How do you build a great product?

A: Build a great team and they’ll build the great product for you.

The Roots of Rightshifting

When I coined the term “Rightshifting” circa 2005 I had already been studying and practicing software development management for at least fifteen years. In that span I had seen time and again dozens of organisations that had literally no clue as to how ineffective they were at the game.

Indeed, I came across zero organisations, both in person and in the literature, who realised how much time, effort, money and lives they were wasting through their ineffectiveness.

Circa 2005 I resolved to make it my business to help the industry, and the organisations in it, appreciate how much better things could be. In 2008 I began presenting “Perspectives on Rightshifting” at conferences and online, incorporating the asymmetric bell curve from Steve McConnell (McConnell . In 2010 I augmented that with the Marshall Model, explaining how collective assumptions and beliefs govern effectiveness.

Here we are at 2022 and the message has not landed. Most organisations are so insular, inward-looking and lacking in curiosity that their relative effectiveness never reaches the level of consciousness thought, let alone action.

Most organisations still have no clue as to how much time, effort, money and lives they are wasting through their ineffectiveness.

I see at least three root conditions that contribute to this continuing waste:

  • Software organisations generally have enough money that they can afford to waste circa 80% of it on ineffective practices.
  • The folks in charge are pursuing priorities other than effectiveness.
  • Almost no one in the industry has ever seen what “effective” looks like, let alone the benefits and how to get there.

Still, I continue carrying the flag for Rightshifting, even though the levels of interest have declined, rather that risen.

If you’re interested, I’m always happy to talk it over.

– Bob

Further Reading

Think Different. (2011). The Origins of the Marshall Model. [online] Available at: https://flowchainsensei.wordpress.com/2011/03/25/the-origins-of-the-marshall-model/.

McConnell, S. (1999). After the Gold Rush: Creating a True Profession of Software Engineering. Microsoft Press.

http://www.youtube.com. (2013). The Business Case for Better Software Practices | Steve McConnell. [online] Available at: https://youtu.be/kczygFYJzDo [Accessed 17 Jan. 2022].

McConnell, S. (2004). Professional Software Development: Shorter Schedules, Higher Quality Products, More Successful Projects, Enhanced Careers. Addison-Wesley.

The Way Forward

By way of a counterpoint to my previous post “What’s Holding Us Back“, I’m interested in the way forward for the software industry, businesses, and society in general.

It’s become delightfully obvious to me that a whole raft of helpful assumptions and beliefs constitute that way forward.

In my most recent books (Memeology, Quintessence) I detail these helpful assumptions and beliefs at length, and again in keeping with my preference for short blog posts, I’ll just summarise, here…

Here’s some of the major assumptions and beliefs helpful to enabling organisations better achieve success:

  • Generalising specialists form the core of quintessential organisations (see e.g. Paint Drip People).
  • Continual small changes in assumptions and beliefs (kaizen), with occasional larger step changes (Kaikaku) are the way to effect improvements.
  • Change is desirable, best left to serendipity, and better seen in small daily increments.
  • Dialogue is at the core of improvements, in relationships and the way the work works, both.
  • Everyone’s needs matter (at least for all the Folks That Matter). See also: the Antimatter Principle.
  • Clarity and honesty on what constitutes “success” is the only way to align folks and see everyone’s real needs are being attended to.
  • Culture is the visible by-product of the invisible set of prevailing assumptions and beliefs, and is amenable to intentional change through eg Organisational Psychotherapy (be that facilitated or via self-help).
  • There are many possible organisational structures other than hierarchy. They have all be tried at one time or another. Most have proven more successful that hierarchy.
  • Change always requires revisions to existing policies and rules. See: Innovation ALWAYS Demands We Change the Rules.
  • Talent is unnecessary when we have thriving relationships, and a focus on the way the work works.
  • Interpersonal relationships are core to success.
  • Interesting work and the prospect of community, meaning, and other “soft” elements trumps high pay as a motivator and attractant, every time.
  • Productivity ensues from optimising the way the work works, which in turn requires a focus on collective assumptions and beliefs.
  • Efficiency is a distracting red herring, effectiveness is the path to productivity and success.
  • Business problems are almost never the fault of certain individuals.
  • Breaking the organisation into parts and managing these parts separately is a recipe for significant sub-optimisation and shortfalls in success.
  • In collaborative knowledge work, intrinsic motivation is much more powerful than extrinsic motivation. The latter serves as a demotivator.
  • The social dynamic and listening are the only means to effect changes in people’s behaviours.

…and so on, and so on. 

All the above assumptions have been proven time and again through decades of research. By listening, experimenting and being interested in the science and outliers, our ignorance can be assuaged and enlightened.

– Bob

What’s Holding Us Back

It’s become painfully obvious to me that a whole raft of unhelpful assumptions and beliefs is holding us back. And has been doing so for at least fifty years.

And by “us”, I’m referring here to the software industry, businesses, and society in general.

In my most recent books (Memeology, Quintessence) I explore these beliefs in detail and at length, but in keeping with my preference for short(er) blog posts, I’ll summarise…

Here’s some of the major assumptions and beliefs I’ve recently seen holding back organisations back from the success they espouse:

  • Specialists are desirable. Generalist and generalising specialists offer no value.
  • Reorganisations are the way to effect improvements.
  • Change, if ever necessary, is better managed, and in large lumps.
  • Dialogue is a waste of everyone’s time.
  • The only needs that matter are those of the elite (CxOs, managers).
  • It’s best not to describe “success” as this would only expose the elite’s agenda.
  • Culture is what it is – it’s not amenable to intentional change.
  • There’s not other possible organisational structure than hierarchy.
  • Change, when it happens, happens in isolation, independent of existing policies and rules.
  • We must recruit and retain talent, specialist talent. Talent is indispensable.
  • Interpersonal relationships are messy, and have next to no relevance to business results.
  • High pay is the (only) way to attract and retain talent.
  • Productivity ensues from hiring talent.
  • Efficiency is top priority, effectiveness a meaningless and useless term.
  • Business problems are always the fault of certain individuals.
  • Breaking the organisation into parts and managing these parts separately is the only way to go.
  • Extrinsic motivation is much more powerful than intrinsic motivation.
  • Evidence and instruction (telling) are the only means to effect changes in people’s behaviours.

…and so on, and so on. 

All the above assumptions are, of course, false, and proven false by decades of research. Yet nobody is listening, nor interested in the science. Our ignorance is humungous.

– Bob

Win Organisational Psychotherapy Book Bundles!

In my most recent book, “Quintessence”, I draw a blueprint for the quintessential software development organisation. It builds on the previous two books: 

I’d be super delighted to hear about your take on the following topic: 

What  does a quintessential software development organisation (or product development organisation) look like, feel like and work like – from your point of view?

Or put another way, if you have a picture of the ideal organisation you’d desperately want to work for, how do you imagine it to be?

The best (in my assessment) three entries will each receive a full three book Organisational Psychotherapy bundle, free, gratis, and for no charge (a $99.99 value).

There are extensive free samples of each of the books on the Leanpub pages (see links, above), in case you’d appreciate a “starter for ten”.

Please submit your entries before the 31 January 2022. I’ll be announcing the winners shortly after that closing date. Submissions via the comment section on this post, or more privately if you wish via email to: bob.marshall@fallingblossoms.com, please.

Thanks, and good luck with your entry!

– Bob

Quintessential Product Development 

In my most recent book “Quintessence” I map out the details of what makes for highly effective software development organisations.

As fas as software development organisations are concerned, it’s a bit of a moot point – as software is generally something to be avoided, rather than sought (see also: #NoSoftware).

“The way you get programmer productivity is by eliminating lines of code you have to write. The line of code that’s the fastest to write, that never breaks, that doesn’t need maintenance, is the line you never had to write.”

~ Steve Jobs 

Foundational Concepts

There are just a few complementary concepts that mark out the quintessential product development company. These are:

  • Whole Product.
  • Systematic Product Management.
  • Whole Organisation (systems thinking).

Whole Product

The quintessential product development organisation embraces the concept of “whole product”. Which is to say, these organisations emphasise the need to have every element of a product i.e. core product elements plus a range of “intangibles” – everything that is needed for the customer to have a compelling reason to buy (Mckenna 1986).

Systematic Product Management

Quintessential product development organisations take a systematic approach to flowing new product ideas and features through a number of stages – often in parallel (Ward 1999) – to predictably arrive at a successful new product in the market:

  • Inception – spotting a gap in the market, a.k.a. some (potential customer) needs going unmet, interesting enough to do some discovery.
  • Discovery – uncovering and proving the real needs of customers, the things they value, the likely usability of possible solutions, the feasibility of meeting everyone’s needs, and the viability of a product as a means to these ends. In essence, the key risks facing the proposed product. 
  • Implementation – building a whole product solution, i.e. both core elements and “intangibles”.
  • Launch – Placing the product on sale (or otherwise making it available to customers).
  • Feedback – Seeing how the market responds.
  • Pivot or Augmentation – Acting on feedback to either reposition the solution (in response to unfavourable feedback) or to incrementally update / extend the “whole product” offering to continually strengthen the product’s value proposition and appeal.
  • Cash Cow – Reap the commercial rewards of a strong product and market share.
  • Sunsetting – Wind down the product in a way that meets the ongoing needs of all the Folks That Matter™️ (e.g. continued support, spare parts, etc.; easing customers’ transition to newer products; etc.). 

Whole Organisation

It’s common for organisations to think in terms of silos. A Product Management or Product Development silo being but one more silo in a long and ever-lengthening list. 

In the quintessential organisation, the whole organisation is geared around – amongst other things – the task of regularly and predictably getting new products and new product features/updates out the door and into the hands of customers. In the longer term, new products are the life blood of most organisations, especially in the technology industries.

We only have to look e.g. Toyota and their TPDS (Toyota Product Development System) to see both an example of how this works in practice, and the huge benefits of the whole-organisation approach.

Quintessential product development organisations embrace a range of progressive ideas such as Prod•gnosis and Flow•gnosis.

– Bob

Further Reading

Marshall, R.W. (2013). Product Aikido. [online] Think Different Available at: https://flowchainsensei.files.wordpress.com/2013/04/productaikido041016.pdf [Accessed 13 Jan. 2022].

Mckenna, R. (1986). The Regis Touch: New Marketing Strategies for Uncertain Times. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley Pub. Co.

Perri, M. (2019). Escaping The Build Trap: How Effective Product Management Creates Real Value. O’Reilly.

Ward, A.C. (1999). Toyota’s Principles of Set-Based Concurrent Engineering. [online] MIT Sloan Management Review. Available at: https://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/toyotas-principles-of-setbased-concurrent-engineering/. [Accessed 13 Jan. 2022].

Live Interviews Suck Donkeys

Hiring sucks.

CVs suck.

And for many folks, myself included, who don’t cope well with live interviews, live interviews suck donkeys.

And that’s before we consider the impact of a wide variety of implicit cognitive biases and prejudices – such as sexism, racism, ageism, etc. – on the hiring process. Impacts which are inevitable when hirers get to see the candidates and their gross visible characteristics (gender, ethnicity, age, etc.).

Alternative

What’s the alternative? When I’m hiring people, I’d much rather script a list of salient and insightful questions, and give candidates the opportunity to consider them and respond, coherently, at the pace that best suits them. After all it’s not like these are the kind of questions where one can find the answers on the internet, all neatly pre-packaged and gift-wrapped.

And when being hired, I’d much rather have the opportunity to present coherent and considered responses to questions, rather than make up some lame and half-assed response on the spur of the moment.

Are we hiring people for their skills at live interviewing (i.e. politicians) or for their skills in actually doing the job at hand?

How do you feel about live interviews?

– Bob

Compassion Makes For A Better Developer. Period.

I’m loving the book “Compassionomics” by Steve Trzeciak, Cory Booker and Anthony Mazzarelli. I’m finding oodles of research-based data and information of immense relevance to software development organisations, and to businesses generally. 

Not that research, science, and evidence is going to sway folks much if at all. Yet, for those already swayed, the information in the book might be useful. 

There’s a bunch of terms – terms widely in use in the medical business field – explained in the book. Here’s a brief introduction to some of them: 

Burnout

“Decades of rigorous research have identified three hallmarks of burnout: emotional exhaustion (being emotionally depleted or overextended), a lack of personal accomplishment (the feeling that one can’t really make a difference), and depersonalisation. Depersonalisation is the inability to make that personal connection.”

~ Trzeciak & Mazzarelli

Depersonalisation also results in reduction in empathy for patients, and in treatment with compassion.

Compassion Fatigue

Literally, running our of compassion for patients.

Adherence

In the field of medicine, adherence is defined as the extent to which patients are able to follow treatment recommendations from health care providers. Non-adherence is, of course, the opposite: patients patients not following treatment recommendations.

The most common example of non-adherence is when a patient is supposed to be taking prescribed medication but is not taking his or her pills. But non-adherence can be about much more than just not taking medication. It’s also a factor with other treatments, like patients with kidney failure who do not show up for scheduled dialysis treatments. Or when a physician recommends that a patient modifies a certain behaviour – like quitting smoking, losing weight, or exercising regularly – but that patient doesn’t follow through.

Compassion Satisfaction

Compassion satisfaction is the degree to which a person feels pleasure or satisfaction from their efforts to relieve others’ suffering. Aside: It’s this idea that informs the Antimatter Principle.

Compassion Fatigue

Compassion fatigue (emotional exhaustion, depersonalisation, and, in this case, also taking on stress from taking care of those that are stressed from being sick)

“A lack of compassion leads to increased workforce issues”

“A new field of research is suggesting that when organizations promote an ethic of compassion rather than a culture of stress, they may not only see a happier workplace but also an improved bottom line. Consider the important—but often overlooked—issue of workplace culture…Employees in positive moods are more willing to help peers and to provide customer service on their own accord…In doing so, they boost coworkers’ productivity levels and increase coworkers’ feeling of social connection, as well as their commitment to the workplace and their levels of engagement with their job. Given the costs of health care, employee turnover, and poor customer service, we can understand how compassion might very well have a positive impact not only on employee health and well-being but also on the overall financial success of a workplace.”

~ Dr. Emma Seppälä, “Why Compassion in Business Makes Sense”

Emotional Labour

Emotional labour is the management of one’s emotions (both one’s experienced emotions as well as one’s displayed emotions) to present a certain image.

For decades, researchers in management and organisational behaviour have been studying emotional labour by service workers across all types of service industries. For health care providers, emotional labour includes the expectation of compassionate behaviours toward patients, even if those providers aren’t actually feeling an emotional connection with the patient in that particular moment. (A word of caution here: Please resist the temptation to trivialise emotional labour as “faking it.” It goes much deeper than that…)

Neuroplasticity

Recent advances in neuroscience have overturned the long-held belief that the brain’s structure and function was essentially fixed throughout adulthood, in favour of neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity refers to the human brain’s ability to form, reorganise and grow new synaptic connections, even through adulthood. 

Summary

Are you really telling me the all this research has no relevance to the software industry? That developers, etc., have no need of compassion? That compassion won’t make for a better developer? Tcha!

– Bob

Further Reading

Trzeciak, S., Booker, C. and Mazzarelli, A. (2019). Compassionomics: The Revolutionary Scientific Evidence that Caring Makes a Difference. Studer Group.

Getting Along

When all is said and done, all our artifices, all our strivings, all our efforts to organise work… it’s simply about figuring our how to get along (with each other). 

If we’re getting paid but not being productive, the payers will rankle and cavil, and they and we won’t get along. If we’re producing stuff that doesn’t meed the needs of our customers, they will feel frustrated and they and we won’t get along.  If we treat some folks like pariahs or cogs in our machine, they won’t feel valued or respected, and they and we won’t get along.

There’s really no more to work, and organisations, than getting along. In Rightshifted organisations, for example, such as the quintessential ones, folks simple get along better.

What does it take for us all to get along?

– Bob

The V8 Question

There are multiple ways to open a conversation with a new client (organisation). Here’s a few I use from time to time:

The Miracle Question

Derived from Solution Focus Brief Therapy (SFBT).

Example:

This may seem like a strange question to ask, but please bear with me. Imagine going about your life as normal and heading off to sleep at the usual time.

Unknown to you, during the night, something happens – a miracle. When you wake up the following day, something exciting has happened.

The very problem that brought you to see me today is no longer there.

What would be the very first difference you would notice in your life?

See also: How to Use the Miracle Question in Therapy: 3 Examples

The Clean Language Opening Question

Example:

“What would you like to have happen?” or

“What would you like to have happen in [context]?”

And my take on the clean opening question, the Antimatter Opening Question:

The Antimatter Opening Question

The V8 Question

For a different perspective and dynamic, and for all the petrol heads out there.

A V8 engine with twin turbos

Example:

If your organisation was a V8, how many cylinders would it be firing on, at the moment?

And to appreciate a V8 firing on all cylinders: https://youtu.be/3DVPfJxr4Wo

– Bob

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