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). 

Dynamic Work Design from MIT

Nelson Repenning at MIT has come up with a general approach to knowledge-based employees finding and fixing issues, and make improvements, in real time (video).

Four Core Principles of Dynamic Work Design

  • Reconcile activity and intent.
  • Connect the human chain through triggers and checks (i.e .Escalation: when and how.
  • Structure problem solving and creativity.
  • Manage “optimal challenge” – problems are useful as signals, and create useful “tension”.

Further Reading

Baskin, K. (2018). The 4 principles of dynamic work design. [online] MIT Sloan. Available at: [Accessed 21 Jan. 2022]. (n.d.). Discover Dynamic Work Design with MIT’s Nelson Repenning. [online] Available at: [Accessed 21 Jan. 2022].

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 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:

McConnell, S. (1999). After the Gold Rush: Creating a True Profession of Software Engineering. Microsoft Press. (2013). The Business Case for Better Software Practices | Steve McConnell. [online] Available at: [Accessed 17 Jan. 2022].

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

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).


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


“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


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:

– Bob

We Can All Be Doing So Much Better

Looking on the bright side for 2022, there’s no real blockers to us and our organisations doing so much better in 2022.

And all it takes is reflecting upon, and surfacing, our collective and individual assumptions and beliefs.


The Rightshifting chart illustrates the awesome scope for “better” in our organisations:

Most organisations cluster around an effectiveness of “1”, whereas a simple shift in our assumptions and beliefs about the world of collaborative knowledge work could take us to becoming “3”, “4” or even “5” times more effective. That sounds like “better”, to me.

Quintessential Organisations

In my recent book “Quintessence“, I describe what organisations to the right of “4”, on the above chart, look like, feel like and work like.

– Bob


Ever wondered why so many “Agile Adoptions” end up in the crapper?

Here’s the thing: Agile development, as described in the Agile Manifesto, and as aspired to by the gullible, is fundamentally and irredeemably incompatible with traditional management approaches (commonly known as command and control, Taylorism, Scientific Management, or some such).

This is neither a matter of opinion nor of experience (although I have many such experiences to relate), but of logic. I’ll not make the logical connections here, although I’m happy to do so if anyone is interested. I predict no one will be so interested.

This fundamental incompatibility is the reason we see so many failed Agile adoptions. Management is almost never going to swap out its existing mental models of how an organisation must be run, and so almost never will we see effective software development. (And almost no one seems in the slightest bit bothered).

BTW This incompatibility accounts for the approximately 80% failure rate of Agile adoptions we now know of.

The Gullible

The real kicker, though, is how Agile, as a local optimisation of the first order, will never deliver the benefits its proponents claim. Even those instances that have some impact on the traditional management worldview will only ever serve to enhance, and only marginally, the effectiveness of the development silo. And have little to no effect on the wider organisation. So much effort and risk of failure for so little gain.

The Alternative

I’m often asked “What’s the alternative, then, Bob?”. In a kind of despairing tone, as if it’s impossible to imagine a viable alternative at all.

I suggest at least one alternative is to look at the organisation as a (whole) system. And apply the precepts of flow to bring that system towards the Quintessential. If you need help with that, I’d be delighted to assist.

– 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.

Beyond the Software Teams

One of the biggest constraints on the effectiveness of Agile software teams (the real ones, not the much more numerous pretend, faux-agile ones) is the assumption that the structures, assumptions and beliefs of the host organisation will not change. That it is, in fact,  impossible to get these to change, or to expect them to change.

An assumption which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.”

~ Henry Ford

When this assumption goes unexamined and unchallenged, adopting Agile ways of working within the software teams – or in any part of the organisation, in isolation –  is a highway to hell.

– Bob

P.S. You might like to take a look at my latest book – Quintessence – to see how highly effective organisations approach and solve this challenge.

Further Reading

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

Blueprint For Effectiveness

How would you go about explaining the factors that contribute to a highly effective software development team, group, organisation?

In Quintessence (currently 24% complete), I’ve done it for you! But do you agree with it?

I invite you to take a look (extensive free sample now available).

– Bob


Announcement: New book “Quintessence” In The Works

I’ve just published the Leanpub placeholder for my next book: “Quintessence”. First iteration (likely, 8% complete) will be published soonest!

I’d be delighted if you’d visit the page and express your interest!

– Bob

Helping Employees Get Their Needs Met

When employees see their needs being attended to by their employer, they’re much more likely to contribute. Reciprocity is a cornerstone of the human condition (as is fairness).

Dear Team Lead

Have you ever found yourself stuck in a rut, feeling tired and like you’re in the same mundane daily routine? You may even recognise many members of your team feeling the same way, as they lack enthusiasm in their work. What can you do as a leader to help your team get their zest back through self-fulfilment and a purpose-filled life?

Regardless of industry, sector or job type, leaders and employees can all agree on one thing: 2021 has been a year of change and uncertainty. According to national statistics, job vacancies in the UK are at a record high, with employees across the world joining the ‘Great Resignation’ (a term so common that it now carries its own Wikipedia entry).

But amongst all of the charts, statistics and official data, there are much more human reasons for this shift: reasons that are deeply personal to every employee who hands in their notice. Over the past eighteen months, many employees have had a chance to really reflect on their working lives – to figure out exactly what they want from their job, and how they might be able to craft a lifestyle that serves them on a more ‘existential’ level. In short, many employees have decided – mostly subconsciously – to reflect on their needs, and have begun searching for purpose, fulfilment and meaningful work, to name but a few common needs.

But this trend – towards greater meaning, purpose and fulfilment – doesn’t have to conclude with a resignation letter and a career change. It’s possible that employees can see their needs attended-to, even met, within their current role, and leaders can choose to take responsibility for supporting this process. Here’s how:

Show Understanding of the Importance of Needs

When it comes to motivating and inspiring employees, forget official policies and company handbooks for a moment. Start, instead, with your own behaviour. Are you conscious of your own needs? Are they being attended to by the company? Met, even? How does getting your needs attended-to affect your motivation to lead an effective team? How would you define your own needs, and how does that interact with the work you do? Answering these questions for yourself first will give you a firm foundation from which to help others.

Facilitate Opportunities for Surfacing Others’ Needs

Think about the regular opportunities you have to bring your team together. Instead of small-talk or generic ice-breaker exercises, could you introduce a needs-surfacing element to your gathering? This could be as simple as opening up a discussion about your own needs, or even the needs of the company or its Core Group. Or encourage employees to share their experiences about when having their needs attended to, or attending to the needs of others, has had an impact on them. Or, if you wanted to broaden the discussion out, you could share case studies, experiences or testimonials involving your clients, customers and users. This can be a difficult task for employees who aren’t always exposed to the eventual impact of their work (for example, those in non-client or non-consumer facing positions). Sharing the positive impact of every employee’s contribution to their own and others’ needs can be central in strengthening a sense of organisational purpose.

Readjust and Redefine Roles

Many leaders will be familiar with asking the typical catch-up question: “So, how do you think things are going?”. But this shouldn’t be the end of the conversation. It might be the case that an employee enjoys the role and the culture, but feels a need to focus on a specific aspect of their work, or a specific element of their job. As much as possible, leaders should encourage employees to lean into their needs – this might mean opening up opportunities for employees to deepen their knowledge in a particular area of interest, given that need. Other examples of this “role flexibility” include allowing employees to take trainings or courses related to e.g. their needs for skills development, or refining job descriptions to focus in on an individual employee’s needs. There are numerous opportunities to tailor, readjust or recalibrate roles to fit an employee’s needs. And the payoff? Increased employee loyalty, motivation, engagement, and trust in the company.

Balance Fulfilment

It can be easy to lose sight of the most important element of this question: the personal fulfilment of each employee. Of course, the company’s needs – success, goals and objectives – are important, but ultimately, the company is made up of individual human beings, each with their own needs and hopes. By balancing the needs of the individual employee with those of others – including those of the company – and meeting employees on a personal, human level, we are far more likely to end up with a team of motivated, committed, purposeful people. And, of course, this is what makes an organisation ‘successful’ – not just in terms of external output, revenue or reputation, but in terms of supporting the employees who work for its success.

– Bob

Visual Walkthrough Explaining Rightshifting And The Marshall Model

For those who prefer looking to reading, here’s a visual explanation (with some annotations) briefly explaining Rightshifting and the Marshall Model.

1. Context: Organisational Transformation

Rightshifting illuminates the tremendous scope for improvement in most collaborative knowledge work organisations. And the Marshall Model provides a framework for understanding e.g. Digital Transformations. Don’t be too surprised if folks come to regard you as an alien for adopting these ideas.

2. Imagined Distribution of Effectiveness

How most people imagine effectiveness to be distributed across the world’s organisations (a simple bell curve distribution).

3. Contrasting Effectiveness with Efficiency

Many organisations seek efficiency, to the detriment of effectiveness.

4. If Effectiveness Were Distributed Normally

5. The Distribution of Effectiveness in Reality

The distribution of organisations is severely skewed towards the ineffective.

6. Some Corroborating Data from ISBSG (1)

7. Some Corroborating Data from ISBSG (2 – Productivity)

8. Some Corroborating Data from ISBSG (3 – Velocity)

9. Rightshifting: Recap

10. Plotting Levels of Waste vs Effectiveness

Showing how increasing effectiveness (Rightshifting) drives down waste.

11. Plotting Levels of Productivity vs Effectiveness

Showing how increasing effectiveness (Rightshifting) drives up productivity.

NB This the the canonical “Rightshifting Chart”.

12. From Rightshifting to the Marshall Model

Starting out with the Rightshifting distribution.

13. The Adhoc Mindset

Collective assumptions and beliefs (organisational mindset).

Ad-hoc organisations are characterised by a belief that there is little practical value in paying attention to the way things get done, and therefore few attempts are made to define how the work works, or to give any attention to improving the way regular tasks are done, over time. The Ad-hoc mindset says that if there’s work to be done, just get on and do it – don’t think about how it’s to be done, or how it may have been done last time.”

14. The Analytic Mindset

Analytic organisations exemplify, to a large extent, the principles of Scientific Management a.k.a. Taylorism – as described by Frederick Winslow Taylor in the early twentieth century. Typical characteristics of Analytical organisation include a Theory-X posture toward staff, a mechanistic view of organisational structure, for example, functional silos, local optimisation and a management focus on e.g. costs and ‘efficiencies’. Middle-managers are seen as owners of the way the work works, channelling executive intent, allocating work and reporting on progress, within a command-and-control style regime. The Analytic mindset recognises that the way work is done has some bearing on costs and the quality of the results.”

15. The Synergistic Mindset

Synergistic organisations exemplify, to some extent, the principles of the Lean movement. Typical characteristics include a Theory-Y orientation (respect for people), an organic, emergent, complex-adaptive-system view of organisational structure, and an organisation-wide focus on learning, flow of value, and effectiveness. Middle-managers are respected for their experience and domain knowledge, coaching the workforce in e.g. building self-organising teams, and systemic improvement efforts.

16. The Chaordic Mindset

The Chaordic mindset believes that being too organised, structured, ordered and regimented often means being too slow to respond effectively to new opportunities and threats. Like a modern Jet fighter, too unstable aerodynamically to fly without the aid of its on-board computers, or sailing a yacht, where maximum speed is to be found in sailing as close to the wind as possible without collapsing the sails, a chaordic organisation will attempt to operate balanced at the knife-edge of maximum effectiveness, on the optimal cusp between orderly working and chaotic collapse.”

17. Transition Zones

As organisations progress towards increasing effectiveness, they encounter discontinuities which the Marshall Model labels as Transition Zones (orange hurdles). In these transitions, one prevailing mindset must be replace wholesale with another (for example, Analytic to Synergistic, where, amongst a host of shifts in assumptions and beliefs, attitudes towards staff transition from Theory-X to Theory-Y). Cf. Punctuated Equilibria.

18. What Each Transition Teaches

A successful Adhoc -> Analytic transition teaches the value of discipline (extrinsic, and later, replaced with intrinsic).

A successful Analytic -> Synergistic transition teaches the value of a shared common purpose.

A successful Synergistic -> Chaordic transition teaches the value of “Positive Opportunism”.

19. The Return-on-Investment Sawtooth

Incremental (e.g. Kaizen) improvements with any one given mindset show ever-decreasing returns on investment as the organisation exhausts its low-hanging fruit and must pursue ever more expensive improvements.

Each successful transition “resets” the opportunities for progress, offering a new cluster of low-hanging fruit.

20. Conversation

What has this walkthrough shown you? I’d love the opportunity for conversation.

– Bob

Here’s a video in which the great Russel L. Ackoff explains the difference between knowledge and understanding, and thereby the difference between analytic and synergistic thinking (Cf. Rightshifting and the Marshall Model).

Ackoff on Systems Thinking and Management


Gimme A Break, Here

Here I am, trying to change the world, and most days I feel like I’m being punished for the views I hold and share, and the aspirations I have. Not that it shakes my convictions, nor my resolve.


For more than two decades I’ve been trying to help everyone in the software industry get past the Software Crisis and discover new, more effective ways of doing things. And there are much more effective ways of doing things that the ways in common usage presently (see e.g. Rightshifting, and the Marshall Model).

I’ve not been having much success, I’ll admit.  But I keep plugging away. I might catch a break sooner or later, surely.

The Message

My message is not “I know this stuff, do it MY way.” I’m not flogging a new method. I’m not selling anything.

My message is “The way we’ve been looking at software development for the past fifty years isn’t working. How about we find other ways to look at it? Here’s a few clues I’ve noticed…”

The Old Frame

The old frame for software development – processes and tools, the very idea of “working software” as the touchstone – holds us back and prevents us from seeing new ways of working and doing.

All our focus on technical skills, coding, design, architecture, testing, CI/CD, technical practices, canned and packaged methods, generic solutions, and etc. has had us barking up the wrong tree for more than half a century.

And the almost ubiquitous centuries-old management factory hasn’t helped us make the transition.

The New Frame

I’ve written before about the new frame, but to recap:

The new frame that my long career has led me to favour is a frame placing people, not practices, centre-stage. A frame focused on people – and their emergent individual and collective needs. A frame more aligned to increased predictability, lower costs, less frustration, and more joy in work for all concerned.

A frame comprising:

Software development, as a form of collaborative knowledge work, is a predominantly social phenomenon. And as a predominantly social phenomenon we will have more success in software development when we focus on the people involved, our relationships with each other, our collective assumptions and beliefs, and everyone’s fundamental needs.

I call this the organisation’s “social dynamic”. Improve the social dynamic in a team or workplace and all the good things we’d like come for free. Like Crosby’s take on quality, we might say “success is free”.

I Invite Your Participation and Support, or At Least, Empathy

Changing the world is not for the faint hearted or indifferent. But if you give a damn, I could really use your support. And a break.

– Bob

Further Reading

Rico, D. (n.d.). Short History of Software Methods.. [online] Available at: [Accessed 26 Sep. 2021].

Simon Sinek (2011) If You Don’t Understand People, You Don’t Understand Business. YouTube. Available at: [Accessed 29 Feb. 2020].

We’re Still Working in the Dark Ages


Medievalism is a system of beliefs and practices inspired by the Middle Ages of Europe, or by devotion to elements of that period. Closely related to and encompassing Feudalism, and the Manorial system.


Medievalism’s foundations include Faith, Seigneuriage, and land lordship.


Despite many legal and social changes since the Middle Ages, from the perspective of folks working in organisations there’s not much difference between serfdom then and employment today. Employees are hired and remain employed at the whim of the Lords of the organisation, and dismissed with as little thought – or maybe even less thought – than serfs.

The relationship between employer and employees remains predominantly one of power-over. And although a relationship, it’s hardly ever a humane relationship. And thus hardly ever a positive contributor to organisational effectiveness.


Whilst any kind of universal solution remains a long way off, and dependent on widespread social change, individual organisations can address the issue and consequences through deploying ideas like nonviolence, the Antimatter Principle, and redefining the collection of The Folks That Matter. Above all, though, progress depends on us recognising the medievalism implicit in the way our work works, and our relationships with that, and each other. Are you bovvered?

– Bob

Further Reading

Kahane, A. (2010). Power and Love: A Theory and Practice of Social Change. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.


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