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Productivity

Waiting In The Wings

What’s going to the next big thing in terms of approaches to software delivery? And when might we expect the transition to that next big thing to become apparent?

“The future’s already here – it’s just not evenly distributed.”

~ William Gibson

The Days of Agile Are Numbered

We can argue about how much life the Agile approach to software delivery has left in it. What’s beyond dispute is that there will be something after Agile. And I propose it will  look much different from Agile. I find it inconceivable that Agile is so perfect that there’s no room for improvement. Even though – ironically, give the exhortations to “inspect and adapt” – many in the Agile supply chain don’t want to talk about it AT ALL. Why rock the boat and derail the gravy train?

Customers and users, however, are waking up to the inadequacies of presently lauded approaches. And current upheavals in organisations, such as remote working and the scramble for talent, are accelerating these folks’ dissatisfaction.

Holding You Back

What’s prolonging the transition towards any new approach? Basically, it’s the prospect of the serious pain that comes with the adoption of effective new approaches. SAFe’s transient popularity illustrates how many organisations prefer an ineffective approach, with the illusion of change, rather than an effective approach that actually brings benefits. Any significant uplift in software delivery and product development performance implies a much different approach to running technology organisations, including, not least, different styles of management.

Your View?

What’s your view? What promising new approach(es) do you see waiting in the wings? And if there’s nothing with a recognisable name or label, what characteristics will a new approach have to have to boost it into consideration?

– Bob

There seems to be a vast ignorance amongst developers, other technical staff, and managers about the effect of “the system” (i.e. how the work works) on productivity. And on other dimensions of work, too (such as fun, employee engagement, quality, customer satisfaction,…).

I make this observation given the paltry attention given to how the work works in most organisations. Oh yes, many pay obsessive attention to processes – how the work should work. But never to how the work actually works, on the front line, at the gemba. It’s a bit like Argyris’ distinction between espoused theory (processes) and theory-in-action (the way the work is done).

There are folks (those in HR, Sales, Marketing, etc. stand out) that seem to never have realised that the way the work works is a thing.

Talking about the ins and out of the way the works works, let alone reifying it, marks one out as at least as wacko as those freaky systems thinkers.

 

You Don’t Understand Software Delivery

And the more senior you are, the less you understand. Even if you were once a developer, given that most developers don’t understand software development / software delivery, a developer background is not going to help you much.

Who does understand software delivery? Folks who have studied it as a discipline. And that’s precious few indeed. Of all the “development” folks I’ve met over the years – and that’s thousands – wayyy less than one percent actually have an effective understanding of the field.

Yes, there’s thousands upon thousands of folks who understand coding (programming). But that’s not much help at all in forming a broader and effective understanding of the wider software delivery discipline.

The upshot? The software industry is stacked to the gills with folks who have no clue what they’re doing, except in the narrowest of specialism. And worse, no ability to recognise the one percent. Result? The blind leading the blind. And the hegemony of the one-eyed man.

– Bob

Curious About Organisational Psychotherapy?

Organisational Psychotherapy. That’s a strange term. One you’ve probably not come across before. And one you almost certainly don’t understand in any depth.

Why bother looking into it? Seems like a poor use of your time and attention?

You could be right.

UNLESS, you have some interest in or need for changing the culture of a team, group or organisation.

In this particular post I’m not going to dwell on culture change. You’ll know if its something relevant to you, and how well your current culture is serving your business objectives.

Organisational Psychoptherapy does seem relevant to a whole passel of organisations attempting:

  • Digital Transformations
  • Agile Adoptions
  • Lean initiatives
  • More humane workplaces
  • And the like

but who am I to say?

And if some kind of culture change does seem in some way relevant to you, then might Organisational Psychotherapy serve as a means to effect such change?

You can find some clues in my foundational book on Organisational Psychotherapy: “Hearts Over Diamonds“.

What other means are open to you to in your efforts to change culture?

– Bob

Further Reading

Marshall, R.W. (2018). Hearts over Diamonds: Serving Business and Society Through Organisational Psychotherapy. [online] leanpub.comFalling Blossoms (LeanPub). Available at: https://leanpub.com/heartsoverdiamonds/ [Accessed 25 May 2022].

A Conducive System

[Tl;Dr: What are the system conditions that encourage ethical – and productive, effective – behaviours (Cf William Kingdon Clifford) in software delivery organisations?]

In yesterday’s blog post “The System Is Unethical” I related my experiences of how businesses – and the folks that run them and work in them – remain ignorant of just how ineffective they are at software delivery. And the consequences of that ignorance on e.g. costs, quality, customer satisfaction, etc

To recap: an unethical system perpetuates behaviours such as:

  • Failing to dig into the effectiveness of the organisation’s software delivery capabilities.
  • Indifference to the waste involved (wasted time, money, opportunities, human potential,…).
  • Ignorance of just how much more effective things could be, with e.g. a change in perspective.
  • Bravado and denial when questioned about such matters.

The Flip Side

Instead of the behaviours listed above, we might seek a system that encourages behaviours that include:

  • Continual attention to the effectiveness of the organisation’s software delivery capabilities.
  • Concern over the waste involved, and actions to reduce such waste.
  • Investigation into just how much more effective things could be.
  • Clarity and informed responses when questions about such matters.

Conducive System Conditions

So what might a system conducive to such behaviours look like?

That’s what my book “Quintessence” illustrates in detail. But in case you’re a busy person trapped in a non-conducive system, I’ve previously written about some of the key aspects of a conducive system, here:

Quintessence For Busy People

BTW I’m always happy to respond to your questions.

– Bob

 

 

 

 

Rightshifting Revisited

I was on a call earlier today, and the concept of Rightshifting came up, by the by.

My work with Rightshifting goes way back to 2008, and even earlier. It’s become such a part of my world-view that I rarely reflect on it explicitlty nowadays. Even to the point of not mentioning it much any more.

The call reminded that there are many people, including senior people and decision-makers, that have but a nodding acquaintance with software development, and especially:

  • How poor (ineffective) many organisations remain in their approach to software development.
  • How much productivity (and thus money) is being left on the table because of said ineffectiveness.

Here’s the Righshifting chart, illustrating the spread of effectiveness across different organisations. The spread has not changed much in nearly twenty years AFAICT.

Where does your organisation sit on the horizontal axis of this chart?

– Bob

My favourite quote this week:

What distinguishes exemplary boards is that they are robust, effective social systems … The highest performing companies have extremely contentious boards that regard dissent as an obligation and that treat no subject as undiscussable.

Perhaps the most important…is the capacity to challenge one another’s assumptions and beliefs. Respect and trust do not imply endless affability or absence of disagreement. Rather, they imply bonds among board members that are strong enough to withstand clashing viewpoints and challenging questions.

~ Jeffrey A. Sonnenfeld

Curious?

Are you at all curious as to how much more productive and effective a Quintessential organisation can be compared to e.g. an Agile organisation? And what that uplift in effectiveness means for everyone involved (management, customers, employees, suppliers, society at large,…)?

(Hint: It’s something like five times more productive / effective – see Rightshifting and the Marshall Model.)

Are you at all curious how this can be possible?

I’m delighted to explain. So, if you’re at all curious, and my many posts on the subject here on this blog fall short of meeting your needs, please get in touch. Simplest might be to post your questions in the comments section of this post.

I’m also more than happy to chat on the phone, via email, or Zoom / Google Meet.

All questions answered. 🙂

– Bob

An Open Letter To All Organisations

Having been involved in software (and hardware) for some fifty years now, I thought it might be time to mark the occasion with this open letter to all organisations. Especially to those organisations engaged in CKW (Collaborative Knowledge Work), such as product development and software development.

Enormous Levels of Waste

You’re wasting 80% of your time, effort, money, and human potential on bullshit work*.

You may know this already, but are too embarrassed, fearful of the consequences, or indifferent to admit it.

Or maybe your owners have so much money that wasting 80% of your operating costs is of little or no consequence to them, and thus to you.

Or you may be unaware of the potential upside of adopting modern organisational practices, and of the downside of retaining your traditional management assumptions and beliefs**.

*Bullshit work: a.k.a. busywork – work that consumes time, effort and energy yet adds no value, and meets no needs of any of the Folks That Matter™️.

Rightshifting

The Rightshifting Chart illustrates just how much time and effort gets wasted in CKW organisations:

The Marshall Model

And the Marshall Model explains the source of such waste (it’s the consequence of the collective assumptions and beliefs a.k.a. mindset, or memeplex, of these organisations):

Over the years, various independent consultants have validated these models.

Consultation in Confidence

**If you’d like a brief, utterly confidential, and no obligation chat about how your organisation could benefit from wasting less of your time, energy and effort, please get in touch via e.g. LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/bob-marshall-flowchainsensei-3a2a5b164/ – or via whatever channel you may prefer.

– Bob

Wanna Be More Productive?

Not that many organisations have much of an interest in software or product development productivity. But just in case yours does, here’s a chart showing the effectiveness of various common approach to software development, set against the Rightshifting / Marshall Model context:

Note that all the common approaches don’t get you very far in the effectiveness stakes. Maybe you might like to take a look at “Quintessence” for ideas on how to move much further to the right?

Apologies for mentioning “waterfall” – not even Royce suggested anyone use that approach.

– Bob

Customer Success

The idea of “customer success” is widely understood in the halls of business, if not widely acted upon. “Customer success” is an outcome, sought for its contribution to a business’ own success. This sought outcome carries with it the belief that if a business’ customers can be helped to greater success, greater profits, market share, margins, revenues, customer loyalty, retention, reduced churn, etc. will accrue.

Put another way, businesses focussed on “customer success” believe it’s a means, maybe even THE means, to increase their own success.

In this way, we can see that:

  • It’s a belief.
  • It’s a belief widely understood, even though not widely held or practiced.
  • It’s a means – or strategy – to an end (the end in mind being success to the business doing the helping), not an end in itself.
  • Other means a.k.a. strategies to business success may appear more compelling.
  • Given my previous post “The Fifth Absolute of Quality” which describes “customer success” as being THE purpose of quality, those businesses which reject “customer success” as the means to their own success will likely also reject quality initiatives and programmes.
  • “Customer success” is not synonymous with “customer satisfaction” (far from it).
  • What customers need for their increased success is a subset of their total needs (other needs may exist unrelated to the “success” of that customer organisation, in particular the needs of the Core Group, and other Folks That Matter™️ within those customer organisations).

To sum up, “customer success” is widely understood, although less widely practiced.

The Organisational Psychotherapy Analogue

I posit that the idea of “Attending to Folks’ Needs” – the declared purpose of Organisational Psychotherapy – is analogous to the idea of “customer success”.

Businesses embracing the idea of “Attending to folks’ needs” believe that doing so is a means to increase their own success.

The difference comes from few indeed seeing the connection between attending to folks’ needs and the success of their business.

Some observations on the idea that “Attending to folks’ needs” will enhance the success of the attending business or organisation:

  • It’s a belief.
  • It’s an uncommon belief, held by only a few.
  • The mechanisms by which attending to folks’ needs deliver business success are understood by few.
  • It’s a means – or strategy – to an end (the end in mind being business success for the business attending to folks’ needs), not an end in itself.
  • Few have encountered the idea of attending to folks’ needs, fewer have considered it as a means for the success of their business, and fewer yet have adopted it.
  • Other means a.k.a. strategies for its own success may appear more compelling for the business.

To sum up, “Attending to folks’ needs” is not widely known nor understood as an idea, so not widely seen as a viable means to business success, and so not often embraced or practiced.

– Bob

Postscript

More eagle-eyed and sharp-witted readers may have noticed that this post contains two, apparently different means to business success:

  1. Focus on the success of the business’ customers.
  2. Focus on the needs of all the Folks That Matter.

Actually, I see this a a false dichotomy; as 1) is a subset of 2):

CustomerSuccessPie

I’m Done

Memeology, Quintessence

I’m done with inviting folks to discover better ways to run collaborative knowledge work businesses and other organisations. 

The Antimatter Principle

I’m done with inviting people to build more humane, engaging organisations.

Rightshifting

I’m done with illustrating the gulf in performance and effectiveness between the average organisation or business, and the best. And how much productivity just goes begging.

The Marshall Model

I’m done with inviting people to understand the role of collective assumptions and beliefs in the effectiveness of their organisations.

Effectiveness

I’m done with even mentioning effectiveness. No one seems to need it or want it or even to understand what it is and its role in organisational success.

Emotioneering

I’m done with inviting organisations to consider the way people actually go about buying goods and service, and the role of emotions therein.

FlowChain, Prod•gnosis, Flow•gnosis

I’m done with providing food for thought on how the work in collaborative knowledge work organisations can work awesomely better.

Product Aikido

I’m done with inviting folks to look more deeply into the principles of product development and what makes for more effective product development.

The Giants

I’m done with mentioning the Giants such as Ackoff, Deming, Drucker, et al.

Software

I’m done with software and helping people improve software development, reliability, quality, predictability, etc.. #NoSoftware’s the thing.

Recruiters and the Job Market

I’m done with know-nothing recruiters only focused on their next commission. And a totally broken job market focussed on mediocrity and the status quo. Oh, and CVs too. #NoCV.

The Closed-Minded

I’m done with people that are happiest sitting on their arses (metaphorically speaking) and keeping their eyes, ears, and minds closed to possibilities. Which is everybody, AFAICT.

The Unreliable

I’m done with people that promise to do things, and then, silently, do fuck all.

Agile

I’m done with Agile. Actually, as you’re probably aware, I’ve been done with Agile for a decade and more. I’m just adding it here for the sake of completeness. Oh, and I’m SO done with ignorant people who continue to promote the Agile busted flush.

I’m Done With Better Ways

I’m done with it all. Given there’s zero demand for “better”, better ways seem entirely irrelevant.

And good luck with that status quo. 

– Bob

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 Zappos, 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.

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

It’s the system (the way the work works) that determines circa 95% of an individual’s performance in their job.

Are you still “managing the 5%” (through training, coaching, motivation, appraisals, etc.)?

#Deming

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