Damn Outcomes!

It seems in vogue to extol the praises of “outcomes” when discussing e.g. software and product development. Setting aside the challenges of defining what we might mean by “outcomes” (I dislike getting into rabbit-hole discussions of semantics), there’s one key aspect of this debate that seems to escape folks’ attention. W Edwards Deming nailed it decades ago with his First Theorem:

“Nobody gives a hoot about profits.”

Even so, Deming said little about what folks (managers, in his frame) DO give a hoot about. We can turn to Russell L. Ackoff for an insight into that:

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

As Dr. Ackoff says, a secondary focus on profits is just the cost executives must pay in order to maximize their rewards. The actions taken would be different if the well being of the organization was primary and the well being of senior executives subservient to that aim.


So, to outcomes. The outcomes that delight will be those that maximise the executives’ (and other folks’) well being. When developing a piece of software, how often do the specifics of the well being of the Folks That Matter get discussed? Indeed, is the subject even discussable? Or is it taboo? In your organisation?

How unsurprising then, that software as delivered is so often lacklustre and uninspiring. That it fails to address the core issues of the well being of the Folks That Matter? That it’s the wrong software.

As a developer or team, do you ever afford your customers (a.k.a. the Folks That Matter) the opportunity to talk about their well being? And how what you’re doing for them might contribute to that well being?

So, might I invite you to stop talking about specious and illusory “outcomes”. And start asking the difficult questions of your customers (and yourselves)?

Here’s a possible opener:

“Would you be willing to discuss what it is you need for your own well being?”

– Bob

Further Reading

Nobody Gives a Hoot About Profit ~ The W. Edwards Deming Institute Blog post
Agile Competency Is A Crock ~ Think Different blog post

Death On My Mind

WarningSign Caution! Raw emotions, vulnerability and plain-talking on display.

For many years now, every day starts with me asking myself “Is today the day I’m going to kill myself?” It hasn’t happened yet. So I wonder will there ever be a day when it does happen? And yet, the little voice still asks the daily question.

Where does the voice come from? Damned if I know. I don’t believe I’m suffering from depression. Or bipolar. Although given the state of mental healthcare provision in these parts, I’m unlike to find any help in resolving that question. Even if I felt like following that path.

I’m guessing – in a self-diagnosing kind of way – that my feelings of anxiety, ennui, frustration, envy, idealism, contempt, outrage, exasperation, bewilderment, disbelief, resentment self-pity and despair indicate that some of my needs are not getting met. I’m also guessing that these unmet needs include (in no particular order, as far as I can discern):

  • meaningful (human) connections
  • opportunities to make a difference – whatever “making a difference” might mean
  • some relative financial stability and security i.e. a modest regular income
  • self-empathy
  • empathy from others
  • opportunities to help people (although, maybe this is a strategy for getting the above needs met)

I can’t for the life of me (sic) understand why the unmet-ness of these needs makes me wonder about something as final as suicide. In the cold light of day, they hardly seem to possess the giant import my subconscious confers on them.

But there it is.


Most days, life just seems so damn pointless. And little to zero prospect of any future day being any different. It’s that tiny possibly, though, along with the love and concern I have for my family and friends, that keeps me from pulling the metaphorical trigger. I do appreciate those folks who let me know that I’m making some kind of difference in their lives. But it does little to dispel the feeling of futility.

Why write about this?

I have no clear aim in mind. But maybe there are some other folks out there with similar thoughts and feelings. Perhaps it’s an attempt to empathise. A different path to meaningful (human) connection? Or maybe just putting these words down can shine a light on the matter, for my own reflection.

Will I publish this? I generally publish most of my ramblings. So I guess this one will get published too. Thoughts of consequences swim in and out of consideration. But who can tell where disclosure will lead? Or non-disclosure? Surely any shift has to be for the better?


I’m thinking there’s likely no simple solution, no one thing that will get my needs met. No one thing to quieten that insistent little voice. But just presently, I’m guessing that some gainful employment might help. Some role that involves working and making meaningful connections with folks that are looking to make a difference too. Would you be willing to consider if you might know of, and be able to put me in touch with, someone like that?


You may be inclined to respond. That would be fine. Although I’m not looking for sympathy. Or advice. In any case, thank you for reading this far. I anticipate some judgmentalism, too. We’re only human, after all.

– Bob

An Open Letter To My Audience


Firstly, a big “Thank you” to you, my audience for your continued attention and participation.

But just why do you choose to listen to me? I mean, what needs are you trying to get met? Here’s some options folks have shared with me over the years:

Insight. As in “Oh, I hadn’t thought of it like that. But now you’ve mentioned it…”

Perspective. As in “Oh, I hadn’t thought to look at it that way. But now I do, I can see…”

Useful new ideas. As in “Oh, we hadn’t thought of that before, but that idea could be useful to us…”

General curiosity. As in “I’m curious about stuff – and maybe I’ll learn something.”

Entertainment. Not that I’m a comedian or entertainer. Don’t look to me for laughs or a dance or a song. I don’t even have a particularly sparkling personality or charisma. Some folks do find thinking-out-loud entertaining, I suppose.

A break from work. We all appreciate a break.

My boss told me to read it. Sympathies.

Push or Pull?

Whatever the reasons, most folks in my live audiences just turn up and play the blank slate. That’s to say, they seem to want me to PUSH information at them. Which is a choice I respect. But there are other choices. Like coming prepared, for example. Specifically, coming prepared to PULL information. I have an extensive blog, I’ve written papers and been videoed, I tweet a bit. I always feel disappointed when folks turn up not having any real fore-knowledge of what I’m talking about. Which, btw, is most people, most of the time.

It doesn’t really bother me having to introduce my material before getting to the meat of meeting folks’ needs. God knows I’ve done that often enough. But it’s not very stimulating for me, and more importantly it leaves so much less time for helping you folks get your specific needs met.

So, if you’re thinking about being in my audience any time soon, would you be willing to give a little thought as to whether you’d like to make some preparations, some study, beforehand? Would you be willing to think about whether pulling information might work better for all concerned? Would you be willing to give some thought as to how we might work and learn together? It would help me meet my need of providing you with the best possible value in our limited time together. And maybe it might help you get more of your needs met, too.

– Bob

%d bloggers like this: