Engineering Excellence


Is your business going to fail because your product development (engineering) capability is in the toilet? Probably not. Are you leaving much success (value) on the table? Definitely.

Maybe you don’t really want or need awesome “success” – however you define that. Growth, profits, fun, kudos, whatever. In which case no worries. Move along. Nothing to see here.

Maybe you’re satisfied – or simply resigned – to being a one-product company, with no real plans for developing any more products in the future. That can work. Even in the long term.

And there are other paths to a “successful” business than engineering excellence. You probably work in such a business, even now. One that has chosen another path, that is. How’s that working out for you? I mean, how’s it meeting your needs?

“People simply feel better about themselves when they’re good at something.”

~ Stephen R. Covey,The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness

Even if your business (more specifically, the folks in charge) wanted to take the engineering excellence path, it’s just so damned hard, isn’t it? Easier by far to pay lip service to the idea, delude yourselves and others – like customers and investors – that you’re serious, while actually just futzing around making it look like some progress is being made.

And let’s not forget, engineering excellence doesn’t just apply to your business’ products and services. It’s arguably even more relevant to the way you run your business (the way the work works).

Do I have any advice for those very few folks with the horn for actually doing something about engineering excellence in their knowledge-work business? Yes. It’s spread across the nearly three hundred blog posts I’ve written here over the past five years. Not that anyone’s listening. Which kinda demonstrates my point.

– Bob

Business Benefits

Some suits jumping

“It isn’t what we don’t know that gives us trouble, it’s what we know that ain’t so.”

~ Will Rogers

How many times per minute do you see someone claiming their approach / service / idea / book / snake-oil offers “business benefits”?

So often, I’ll wager, that the phrase has just become meaningless noise. I mean, It’s hardly something to distinguish one from the masses, is it?

It’s not even as if “business benefits” are what business people are looking for. No, really. Go take a look at Core Group Theory (Kleiner) or read through Dirty LIttle Secrets (Sharon Drew Morgen) if you’re in any doubt about that.

Deming’s First Theorem: “Nobody gives a hoot about profit.”

~ Bill Deming

What do you feel when you see the phrase – or one of its related, fatuous, kin (profit, business success, growth, …)?

It’s easy to fall for the “groupthink” that leads to the fallacious assumption that business people are driven by these kinds of thing. Hint: Try asking a “business person” what they themselves, personally, feel – and need.

You might be surprised. And they may be, too.

– Bob

Further Reading

Positioning ~ Al Ries and Jack Trout
Who Really Matters ~ Art Kleiner
Dirty Little Secrets ~ Sharon Drew Morgen
Value Forward Selling ~ Paul R. DiModica

Dumb Fraud

This post – and its assenting commenters – illustrates why Agile is screwed. For as long as folks are dumb enough (ignorant of the facts) or fraudulent enough (in possession of the facts but choosing to ignore or suppress them) to believe that we can improve organisations without regard to the issue of local optima, Agile implementations will continue to fail by a ratio of 3:1 or greater.

So, I’m kind tired of dumbsters and fraudsters whining that the issue of local optima doesn’t matter.

Here’s just one note from Ackoff on the subject: “70% of Business Improvement Programs (TQM, Downsizing, Benchmarking) Decrease Performance“. If you think the same issues do not apply to Agile, then you’re dumb – or in denial, which is much the same thing in my book. And if you think they do apply to Agile, but you’re not going to mention it to your customers and clients because it’s, ahem, inconvenient, then you’re a fraud. Or worse.

If you’re looking for a non-ranty, reasoned explanation of the subject, may I refer you Ackoff, Senge, or most relevant I think, Goldratt (Theory of Constraints)? (But not Argyris).

But perhaps despite the opening, the aforementioned post was more about making a start, doing what you can, and gaining data from experimentation. Well, I’m all for that, with the important caveat (irony of medical analogy not lost here) of doing no harm.


And if you’re hoping (for indeed it is much more of a hope that a certainty) that “making the true bottleneck apparent” to your paying customer or client will have a positive effect, then maybe you should have the professional courtesy (and courage) to place the risks and possible outcomes (scenarios) on the table before deciding whether to play the cards you’ve been dealt – or to fold?

I think Argyris would approve of that.

– Bob

Further Reading

The Goal ~ Eliyahu M Goldratt
Agile Coaching – Maybe All You Can Do Is Send a Hallmark Card ~ Eric Laramée

Debate to the Death

I’m stupid. Real stupid. Time and again I get sucked into debating with people who quite clearly are only interested in exercising their enormous intellects (and egos) in some internet version of the College Debating Society. Maybe it’s because I’m too interested in others’ opinions that I stick at it. Maybe it’s just politeness. Maybe it’s down to my value system. FWIW StrengthsFinder has told me that one of my signature themes is Includer. In any case, it sucks.

I’d be much happier if we could more often find the charity and humility to do more mutual learning, and less ego-wanking. Actually, now I’ve go that off my chest, I’m resolved to break the pattern. I’ll use the keyword “Squirrel!” to remind myself.

So if you see or hear me say “Squirrel!”, you’ll know what I mean.

And please, don’t try to debate this with me. Squirrel!

– Bob


I’d prefer to have the luxury of being able to share this pain with folks whenever a debate hove into view, and yet I struggle with my Ladder of Inference telling me that the folks who choose the debating route will only continue to debate, albeit on the new topic of whether debating has any merits. If anyone has any ideas about how to get out of this doom loop (a.k.a. bind) I’d be grateful.

Further Reading

Using a Case Study to Learn the Mutual Learning Model ~ Benjamin Mitchell
Towards a Culture of Mutual Learning ~ Ilana Nevill

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