The Rightshifting Curve

They say a picture is worth a thousand words:

The Rightshifting Chart (click to enlarge)

Here we see the basic population-distribution of (knowledge-work) organisations (blue curve) with relative effectiveness plotted on the horizontal axis, and percentage plotted on the vertical axis. Also appearing here are the consequent productivity (green line) and waste (red line) curves.

In a nutshell, the blue curve shows that the vast majority of organisations (peak of the curve) are highly ineffective, compared to their relatively very few highly-effective cousins (right-hand end of the blue curve).

The red and green lines show the consequences of this ineffectiveness – for example, that median organisations spend around eighty percent of their resources (time, people, effort, money) on non-value-adding activities (red line: waste). That’s four days out of every working week wasted, across the whole organisation!

Rightshifting Defined

“Rightshifting” is a word I’ve invented, with the meaning

“Improving the effectiveness of knowledge-work businesses.”

Why invent a new word?

Because I could find no existing word or short phrase with this meaning.

The nearest phrase, “process improvement” fails on at least four counts:

  1. It contains the word “process” which, more and more, is falling into disrepute (folks just don’t like the implications of compliance, domination and control).
  2. There are many paths to improving the effectiveness of knowledge-work businesses, a process focus only being one (and not one of the better ones).
  3. It does not speak to context – knowledge-work businesses – where the path to improvement is very different from the path for e.g. manufacturing, construction or service businesses.
  4. It does not emphasise “effectiveness” – a crucial aspect in a world where most folks believe efficiency is King and have little or no awareness of the difference between the two concepts.

Note: By “knowledge-work” organisations, I mean any kind of organisation in which the creation, manipulation and dissemination of knowledge is a core competency. Software development organisations are a prime example of this kind of organisation.

Online Rightshifting Resources

The are a number of videos, presentations, slides decks, etc. online to help explain the Rightshifting concept:

Original Agile North 2008 Slide deck
Note: A recent blog post provides a new commentary for each slide in this deck.
Video of Magrails11 presentation

Video of Lean Kanban Benelux 11 PresentationRightshifting Explained” (Session 2, led by @PG_Rule)

Further Reading

The Business Case for Better Software Practices ~ Steve McConnell (pdf)

  1. Cecil said:

    Hi Bob,

    Thanks for sharing that. That sounds like a great idea to me. Even though I tend to believe the graph, I would be interested in seeing the hard data it is based on together with the method to collect these pieces of information.

  2. Hi Cecil,

    Thanks for joining the conversation.

    The graph (blue curve) is (originally) from a Steve McConnell paper (See e.g.: http://www.stevemcconnell.com/psd/13-businesscase.htm). The productivity and waste overlays conform to figures from the ISBSG databases – you can see some of these charted in the Lean Kanban Benelux 11 videos mentioned above.



  3. @flowchainsensei It seems researchers O’Boyle and Aguinis have concluded the Gaussian distribution of the Bell Curve is a myth bit.ly/JHKFgK as well. Also reported on NPR and elsewhere recently n.pr/JHLd6b

    • Hi Daniel,

      These days it’s getting harder and harder to find examples of that. The classic example from (Taylorist) history is shifting pig-iron. Maybe cleaning services or building maintenance might qualify. Although using knowledge and accumulated know-how, these seem to me to rarely create any new knowledge. IANAC.

      – Bob

  4. Nan said:

    Pretty! This has been an incredibly wonderful article.
    Thank you for providing this information.

  5. David said:

    Hi Bob,

    The first “Perspectives on Rightshifting“ link doesn’t seem to be working – I get the error: “Oops! There seems to be some problem in loading the presentation. Please refresh your page or try again later”

    The new commentary blog post works fine though – thanks.

  6. Nick said:

    Hey Bob, I attended one of your talks in Switzerland recently. Can you give me some examples for companies in the robust synergistic or even chaordic space? In your talk you just mentioned Facebook (how would you rate Google?). Would be interesting to have a look at some of them an learn how to improve…

    • Hi Nick,

      Thanks for the question. I’d tentatively place some number of companies in the synergistic space, including Menlo Innovations (just been reading Joy, Inc.), Salesforce.com, Reaktor (Finland), Spotify, and Red Gate software. I’m wary of classifying organisations from the outside – hard to separate their PR from reality. Chaordic might include Forward Internet Group (UK). Google I’d place in the Analytic space. I find it hard to regard them as really effective.


      – Bob

  7. Tom Heisterkamp said:

    Sorry that most links to video’s are broken 😦

    • My apologies. A sad byproduct of relying on public video hosting sites like Vimeo. 😦

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