Software development

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). 

What If #10 – Somebody Discovered the Solution

What if somebody discovered the solution to the vexing question of “how to consistently deliver software products successfully – e.g. reliably, effectively, on-time, with quality, and with controlled costs”?

How would the software community react? I posit it would be just like the reaction of the medical profession to the discoveries of Semmelweis circa 1847. i.e. Ridicule, taking offence, and rejection.

How would the lay (business) people across various industries react? I posit they would remain ignorant, or rail against the suggestion that they examine their perspective.

How would the discoverer react? I posit he or she would becoming increasingly frustrated and eventually suffer a nervous breakdown and maybe die or kill themselves.

– Bob

Other Posts In This Occasional Series

What If #1 – No Management

What If #2 – No Process

What If #3 – No Telling

What If #4 – No Answers

What If #5 – Continuous Improvement Is Useless

What If #6 – Agile Nirvana

What If #7 – No Work

What If #8 – Agile Never Happened

What If #9 – What if we helped folks learn how to think, rather than teach them what to think? (Quickie)

Seems like NOBODY in management or product consulting has heard the old adage:

Q: How do you build a great product?

A: Build a great team and they’ll build the great product for you.

Win Organisational Psychotherapy Book Bundles!

In my most recent book, “Quintessence”, I draw a blueprint for the quintessential software development organisation. It builds on the previous two books: 

I’d be super delighted to hear about your take on the following topic: 

What  does a quintessential software development organisation (or product development organisation) look like, feel like and work like – from your point of view?

Or put another way, if you have a picture of the ideal organisation you’d desperately want to work for, how do you imagine it to be?

The best (in my assessment) three entries will each receive a full three book Organisational Psychotherapy bundle, free, gratis, and for no charge (a $99.99 value).

There are extensive free samples of each of the books on the Leanpub pages (see links, above), in case you’d appreciate a “starter for ten”.

Please submit your entries before the 31 January 2022. I’ll be announcing the winners shortly after that closing date. Submissions via the comment section on this post, or more privately if you wish via email to:, please.

Thanks, and good luck with your entry!

– 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.)?


Compassion Makes For A Better Developer. Period.

I’m loving the book “Compassionomics” by Steve Trzeciak, Cory Booker and Anthony Mazzarelli. I’m finding oodles of research-based data and information of immense relevance to software development organisations, and to businesses generally. 

Not that research, science, and evidence is going to sway folks much if at all. Yet, for those already swayed, the information in the book might be useful. 

There’s a bunch of terms – terms widely in use in the medical business field – explained in the book. Here’s a brief introduction to some of them: 


“Decades of rigorous research have identified three hallmarks of burnout: emotional exhaustion (being emotionally depleted or overextended), a lack of personal accomplishment (the feeling that one can’t really make a difference), and depersonalisation. Depersonalisation is the inability to make that personal connection.”

~ Trzeciak & Mazzarelli

Depersonalisation also results in reduction in empathy for patients, and in treatment with compassion.

Compassion Fatigue

Literally, running our of compassion for patients.


In the field of medicine, adherence is defined as the extent to which patients are able to follow treatment recommendations from health care providers. Non-adherence is, of course, the opposite: patients patients not following treatment recommendations.

The most common example of non-adherence is when a patient is supposed to be taking prescribed medication but is not taking his or her pills. But non-adherence can be about much more than just not taking medication. It’s also a factor with other treatments, like patients with kidney failure who do not show up for scheduled dialysis treatments. Or when a physician recommends that a patient modifies a certain behaviour – like quitting smoking, losing weight, or exercising regularly – but that patient doesn’t follow through.

Compassion Satisfaction

Compassion satisfaction is the degree to which a person feels pleasure or satisfaction from their efforts to relieve others’ suffering. Aside: It’s this idea that informs the Antimatter Principle.

Compassion Fatigue

Compassion fatigue (emotional exhaustion, depersonalisation, and, in this case, also taking on stress from taking care of those that are stressed from being sick)

“A lack of compassion leads to increased workforce issues”

“A new field of research is suggesting that when organizations promote an ethic of compassion rather than a culture of stress, they may not only see a happier workplace but also an improved bottom line. Consider the important—but often overlooked—issue of workplace culture…Employees in positive moods are more willing to help peers and to provide customer service on their own accord…In doing so, they boost coworkers’ productivity levels and increase coworkers’ feeling of social connection, as well as their commitment to the workplace and their levels of engagement with their job. Given the costs of health care, employee turnover, and poor customer service, we can understand how compassion might very well have a positive impact not only on employee health and well-being but also on the overall financial success of a workplace.”

~ Dr. Emma Seppälä, “Why Compassion in Business Makes Sense”

Emotional Labour

Emotional labour is the management of one’s emotions (both one’s experienced emotions as well as one’s displayed emotions) to present a certain image.

For decades, researchers in management and organisational behaviour have been studying emotional labour by service workers across all types of service industries. For health care providers, emotional labour includes the expectation of compassionate behaviours toward patients, even if those providers aren’t actually feeling an emotional connection with the patient in that particular moment. (A word of caution here: Please resist the temptation to trivialise emotional labour as “faking it.” It goes much deeper than that…)


Recent advances in neuroscience have overturned the long-held belief that the brain’s structure and function was essentially fixed throughout adulthood, in favour of neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity refers to the human brain’s ability to form, reorganise and grow new synaptic connections, even through adulthood. 


Are you really telling me the all this research has no relevance to the software industry? That developers, etc., have no need of compassion? That compassion won’t make for a better developer? Tcha!

– Bob

Further Reading

Trzeciak, S., Booker, C. and Mazzarelli, A. (2019). Compassionomics: The Revolutionary Scientific Evidence that Caring Makes a Difference. Studer Group.

Getting Along

When all is said and done, all our artifices, all our strivings, all our efforts to organise work… it’s simply about figuring our how to get along (with each other). 

If we’re getting paid but not being productive, the payers will rankle and cavil, and they and we won’t get along. If we’re producing stuff that doesn’t meed the needs of our customers, they will feel frustrated and they and we won’t get along.  If we treat some folks like pariahs or cogs in our machine, they won’t feel valued or respected, and they and we won’t get along.

There’s really no more to work, and organisations, than getting along. In Rightshifted organisations, for example, such as the quintessential ones, folks simple get along better.

What does it take for us all to get along?

– Bob

More Employable

Ineffectiveness is the norm (in particular in the software and collaborative knowledge work fields).

Therefore the less effective someone appears to e.g. hiring managers, the more employable they are. The ineffective fit right in, don’t challenge norms or ruffle feathers, and appear a competent “good hire” even as they join in with sustaining and compounding the organisation’s prevailing ineffectiveness.

Simple Truth

This simple truth explains why some many organisations are so poor at developing tech products, and software more generally. They unwittingly hire “good fits’ i.e. the profoundly ineffective. And never realise the productivity improvments, etc., that they’re leaving on the table.

The (modified) Marshall Model chart (below) illustrates the situation:

How might we help these organisations appreciate their dire situation? Is that even possible?

– Bob

Further Reading

Peters, T.J. and Waterman, R.H. (1982). In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America’s Best-run Companies.  Profile Books.

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

Crosby’s Four Absolutes of Quality Reframed

I recently posted a quickie repeating Phil Crosby’s Four Absolutes of Quality.

I accept that many folks find his choice of vocabulary less than clear. So, here’s a reframing of his four absolutes, reframed in the Antimatter Principle vocabulary (a reframing which you may or may not find more helpful).

  1. The definitions of quality is meeting all the needs of all the Folks that Matter™️.
  2. The behaviour that causes quality to happen is paying attention to folks’ needs.
  3. The performance standard for quality is “all needs met, for all the Folks that Matter™️”.
  4. The measurement of quality is the cost of focus.

– Bob

Quintessence: Who Matters?

A sample chapter excerpted from my new book “Quintessence“ – book available now on Leanpub (free sample also available).

Note: Each of the eighty-odd chapters in Part II of the book takes a specific meme, and describes the collective beliefs and assumptions that quintessential organisations hold in regard to the meme. By taking all the memes in toto, we can understand the way quintessential software development organisations see the world of work – and what makes them so effective. This particular sample meme is about who matters.

Chapter 15. Who Matters


Quintessential organisations regard the needs of their customers, staff, managers, investors, etc. as central to the way the work works. Collectively, these folks are sometimes called The Folks That Matter™️. These organisations invest much effort in:

  • Identifying the various constituencies and the people who belongs to these constituencies.
  • Tracking the set of constituencies, and the changing membership of these constituencies, over time. 

“Understand stakeholder symmetry: Find the appropriate balance of competing claims by various groups of stakeholders.”

~ Warren G. Bennis

The quintessential organisation exhibits the following (collective) attitudes and feelings towards the Folks That Matter™️:

  • A keen urge to understand and track the needs of all the Folks That Matter™️.
  • Inviting folks to come up with explicit policies for defining and tracking membership of the set of all Folks That Matter™️.
  • Practices to both discover and attend to these needs.
  • Defining organisational success in terms of needs met.

Quintessential organisations recognise the major costs and other risks arising from missing out key members from the set of all Folks That Matter™️. These risks receive their continuous scrutiny – both in terms of accurately identifying members and in terms of ensuring these members’ needs are attended to, and ultimately, met. All work of the organisation is geared towards meeting the needs of the Folks That Matter™️. Maximising the amount of work NOT done is achieved by cautious (risk-aware) exclusion of insignificant groups and individuals from the set of the Folks that Matter™️, whilst striving to drive towards zero the instances of omission of significant groups and individuals from the set of the Folks that Matter™️.


Quintessential organisations recognise the distinction between stakeholders and The Folks That Matter™️. The needs of some stakeholders sometimes don’t much matter, and some of The Folks That Matter™️ aren’t actually seen as stakeholders (employees, for example).  Given these distinctions, choosing different terms helps communication and, more significantly perhaps, improves Cost of Focus.

Further Reading

Kleiner, A. (2003). Who Really Matters. Currency.


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.

Quintessence: Undiscussables

A sample chapter excerpted from my new book “Quintessence“, available now on LeanPub (free sample also available).

Note: Each of the eighty-odd chapters in Part II of the book takes a specific meme, and describes the collective beliefs and assumptions that quintessential organisations hold in regard to the meme. By taking all the memes in toto, we can understand the way quintessential software development organisations see the world of work – and what makes them so effective. This particular sample meme is about undiscussibility.

Chapter 12. Undiscussables


Quintessential organisations regard open and free discussion as an essential element in both becoming and remaining highly effective. No topics are taboo or undiscussable. We can’t converge on a most likely hypothesis if there are some hypotheses that are undiscussable. It’s only in the crucible of ideas and debate that we can converge on a common understanding.

In the quintessential organisation, even though discussion of some topics may contribute to people feeling nervous, uncomfortable, or threatened, everyone realises the necessity to work through such feelings, support each other, and discuss these difficult topics, nevertheless. In fact, it’s the most difficult topics that are often those most worthy of discussion. 

Folks look out for topics that might be on the cusp of becoming undiscussable, and make a special effort to brings these particular topics up for discussion. Everyone is aware of the impact of taboo topics, and strives to keep the count of such topics at zero.

Quintessential organisations have zero tolerance of undiscussability.

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.

Jeffrey Sonnenfeld

Further Reading

Schachter, H. (2019, November 9). It’s Finally Time to Discuss the Undiscussables of the Workplace. Controllers On Call. Retrieved June 1, 2021, from

Noonan, W.R. (2007). Discussing the Undiscussable: A Guide to Overcoming Defensive Routines in the Workplace. Jossey-Bass.

‌Sonnenfeld, J. (2002). What Makes Great Boards Great. [online] Harvard Business Review. Available at:

– Bob

Quintessence Now Complete!

My latest book, “Quintessence” is now 100% complete, including the Foreword by Kevin Weiss of Philip Crosby Associates. You can find it at LeanPub. I invite you to take a look and buy a copy right now. 🙂

Why Read This Book?

Quintessence provides organisations with a blueprint of the collective assumptions and beliefs which, together, as a memeplex, manifest the quintessentially effective software development organisation.


E = 𝑓(Mindset)

Organisational effectiveness is a function of the collective mindset of the organisation.

Who is responsible for the effectiveness of your organisation? And what exemplars do they have to help them improve?


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