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Reflections

This is my DeLonghi four slice toaster. It’s been doing sterling service in my kitchen for the past seven years. If you’re looking for a toaster, you could do a lot worse.

Only last week I (finally!) discovered the “bagel” button. Which turns off one element in each slot so as to toast only one side of a bagel, burger bun, etc.

What’s this anything to do with employees?

It strikes me we often treat employees like I have treaded my toaster. We overlook some of the things they can do, really useful things, through familiarity and/or lack of attention. Their talents in some areas go begging because we’re habituated to seeing them in only one light. We succumb to the functional fixedness bias (not limited to objects, methinks).

Aside: FWIW I’ve never used the “defrost” or “reheat” buttons either. I guess my toaster is currently quietly looking for a new, more appreciative boss.

Why I Blog

Thare’s a few key reasons why I’ve been consistently and regularly blogging for the best part of fifteen years now:

  1. To invite conversation. I love conversations. I love personal interactions and the exchange of perspectives. Blogging has not served me too well in this regard, so far.
  2. To clarify my thoughts. I find writing my thoughts down serves to refine and clarify them.
  3. To change the world. Some ideas, such as nonviolence, fellowship, love and dialogue have the possibility to change society in general, and the world of work in particular, for the better. I feel privileged to invite folks to encounter these ideas.
  4. To listen to and learn from others, and experience their alternative perspectives.
  5. To share my experiences. I probably have more experience in software delivery (and life) than most. Maybe my sharing equips readers with extra experiences, albeit vicariously.

– Bob

Some months ago I penned a quickie on the purpose of organisations, as stated by Philib B. Crosby (and a statement with which I have much sympathy):

“The purpose of organizations is to help people have lives.”

~ Phil Crosby

To elaborate on this only slightly, and particularly in the context of hierachical management so beloved of Analytic-minded organisations everywhere:

“The purpose of organisations is to help people have lives. And the more important the person, the more their organisations serve them in having lives.”

~ FlowChainSensei

See also: Your REAL Job

How often do we see folks touting “tech innovation” with nary a mention of e.g. relationship innovation, and innovations in “being human”?

Here’s some valuable non-tech innovations you could be pursuing:

  • Nonviolent Communication (Marshall Rosenberg).
  • Empathy.
  • Compassion and Compassionomics.
  • Zen.
  • Nancy Kine’s Thinking Environments.
  • Dialogue skills.
  • Appreciation of Power Dynamics in the workplace.
  • Reflection and surfacing one’s own assumptions and beliefs.
  • Attending to folks’ needs..
  • Apprciation of the role of the Domination System and the Myth of Redemptive Violence.

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

The software crisis will NEVER be over unless and until senior management comes to understand software development, and what makes it highly effective (in those extremely rare cases where it IS highly effective).

What will enable that understanding? Not the promotion into senior positions of folks with front-line experience (most have no experience of effective practices).

Coaching/education might do it – when the senior folks seek it out and engage with it themselves.

I believe exemplars can help (which is one of the reasons I wrote Quintessence).

The most promising way forward is normative learning, especially when guided by capable facilitators. How many senior folks are ever likely to go to the gemba and see what’s REALLY effective?

Alternative: Dispense with management entirely. Also highly unlikely, but beginning to gain some traction as an idea. Cf Reinvention Organizations (Laloux 2014), etc.. This approach doesn’t actually address the issue of folks understanding what effective software development looks like, though.

Further Reading

Laloux, F. (2014). Reinventing Organizations: A Guide to Creating Organizations Inspired by the Next Stage of Human Consciousness. Nelson Parker.

Choices

As a society, and as a species, we have a choice: 

The Domination System, supported by the Myth of Redemptive Violence

OR

Nonviolence, especially an end to violence against women and girls.

It’s either-or time, folks. 

#StopViolenceAgainstWomen means #EndTheDominationSystem

Which in turn means we cannot expect the present Domination System (government, politicians, the retributive “justice” system,…) to do ANYTHING constructive or useful. Action is simply contrary to their interests.

– Bob

Further Reading

http://www.endviolenceagainstwomen.org.uk. (n.d.). A different world is possible. [online] Available at: https://www.endviolenceagainstwomen.org.uk/a-different-world-is-possible/.

Sea Change

Last week whilst presenting a session on Organisational Psychotherapy (and Memeology) at Lean Agile Exchange 2021 I noted that Organisational Psychotherapy is a “sea change for the software industry, and business more generally”.

Does the software industry need a sea change? Probably not. At least, not on the supply side. Long schedules and high fees make for a cosy business. But on the demand side? Customers of software development seem inured to delays, poor due date performance, low quality, high costs, and a host of other frustrations and dysfunctions.

Inured, yes, but not entirely resigned. Hence attempted adoption of new approaches such as Agile, SAFe, and so on. And yet such attempted adoptions fail in at least 80% of cases. This is hardly news, and compares with some 95% failure rates in attempted Lean adoptions (in manufacturing industries).

So, if for no other reason than moving the needle on success rates in e.g. Lean or Agile adoptions, some fundamental shift in approach seems necessary.

Or do you disagree? Shall we continue to bash our heads against the wall of methods, processes, practices and tools, seeing little to no improvement – or might we seek a sea change in approach? And if the latter, what might that sea change look like, entail?

– Bob

LeanAgileExchange 2021 Conference Report

I’m concerned. I’ve been thinking that folks seem less engaged with my blog, Slack workspace, etc.
But the past two days have caused my to rethink somewhat. It’s been the 2021 edition of the LeanAgileExchange conference (virtual). And I’ve been seeing the same lack of engagement there as elsewhere.

Seems like indifference and lack of engagement is a more or less ubiquitous phenomenon, presently.

The Conference

Overall, I found the event rather, umm, flat. Which is to say, lacking in excitement, a sense of occasion, buzz.

I guess it’s really hard to translate a successful IRL format into the virtual space. Or so it seems.

Not that everyone, especially the organising team, seemed to be doing other than their very level best. Everyone I “met” was keen, courteous, helpful, pleasant and diligent.

The Content

With three tracks (I loathe multi-track conferences, whether IRL or virtual, BTW) over two days, we had some 28 sessions to choose from. I did my usual “butterfly” thing, and frequently exercised the Law of Two Feet.

Aside: I tend to treat all conferences as OpenSpace events, whether formally governed by the Four Rules, the One Law and the Two Insects of OpenSpace, or not, whether IRL or virtual.

The sessions I stuck with were few, but I did much enjoy a couple:

Most sessions were recorded (although not publicly available), and I have yet to catch up with a few I missed on the day.

The Hallways

Although supported by Slack, I missed the hallways and lounges of IRL conferences. I generally spend little time in sessions, much preferring to hang out in the interstitial spaces for pleasant and interesting conversations. I find Slack to be a very poor substitute, more useful as an intercom or public address system.

My Session

I feel driven to briefly mention my session – “CultureShift through memeology”. The three-track setup meant that few attended (some 20 people, IIRC, the conference hosting, I guess, some 200 attendees, all told).

And aside from two most welcome Q&A questions and a smattering of chat, zero feedback (so far). Aside from using the session as a mini book launch for “Memeology”, my key message was (as ever):

“Organisational Psychotherapy proposes a sea change for the software Industry, and for business generally. Away from methods, processes, practices and tools, and towards people.”

I truly wonder how many folks are even interested in a sea change, let alone feel the need for one. This session failed to answer that question.

Summary

As this was a ticketed (paid-for) event, I wonder how many people felt they received value for their money? Personally, as a speaker, my entry was complimentary (thanks! to the fine Software Acumen folks for that). Even so, attending was hardly (borderline) worth my time.

– Bob

I speak to a lot of CTOs, VPs Engineering, Heads of Development, Delivery Directors, Delivery Managers, etc..

Almost all of them seem hell-bent on delivering (e.g. software) products and product increments a.k.a. features. Almost none of them seem to have heard of the old saw:

“How do you build a great product? Build a great team and let them build that great product for you.”

C’est la via. And it’s their ball.

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