Monday, October 22, 2012


Manipulators will usually assume manipulation. Why is this?

But first; what is a manipulator? I define a manipulator as someone that attempts to steer another's behavior by covert means - by limiting or filtering the information passed on. I see this as a destructive behavior that damages the organizational system; which relies on free flowing information in order to respond appropriately.

From time to time I have clashes with the manipulators in my organization. Sometimes this is about my wish for greater transparency - something manipulators greatly fear, as their methods do not work in such an environment. But more often than not this is instead because they assume I have a hidden agenda (as they do) and therefore imagine the worst kind of motives for my behavior.

I find this assumption that others must share one's own motivations fascinating - as I do not think in this way. The very first thing I do is try to model the motivations of those around me, based on long conversations and some observation. Doing this I have concluded that people have widely varying primary motivations. Some are primarily motivated by safety, some intellectual challenges, some want the best for the company and some only to advance their own career (these are usually the manipulators).

So why do manipulators assume that everyone else always had a hidden agenda? That innocent questions are an attempt to circumvent or challenge? And how is it that in almost every organization manipulators prosper at the expense of our efforts to achieve transparency?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Are corporations dead?

I recently watched again Clay Shirky's excellent presentation on cognitive surplus (which I strongly recommend you to watch).

After some days of absorbing the information in this presentation an idea, or question, has formed in my mind; are corporations dead? Is the age of corporations over? Perhaps groups of engaged individuals will, in the future, achieve more than large organizations ever can. Perhaps we are heading for a future of small companies and voluntary groups. Is large scale capitalism on the decline? Is the growth of Open Source the first indication of this shift?

What will the world look like without large corporations?

Why senior management will never "get" agile...

When I'm discussing "agile" or "management 3.0" etc with colleagues someone inevitably voices their frustration that, despite these ideas having been around for decades, senior managers still don't "get" agile values. And this apparent lack of understanding can indeed be extremely frustrating. However, I am of the opinion that it is somehow inevitable, and here's why...

Senior managers live in a hierarchy and as such they have "risen through the ranks" to get to their current position. Their world view is that they have achieved this higher status and larger salary due to their abilities and experience; that they are somehow in possession of some higher level or better quality of "talent". 

However, research tells us that this is not so. Agile and non-tayloristic management values are built on decades of evidence that it is team performance that is crucial, not individual performance. Team maturity models show us that the performance of teams increases with time (up to some limits). We have many maturity models but all have in common that mature teams out perform new ones. New research in collective or group intelligence gives us a hint as to why this is so. Group IQ seems dependent upon the average EQ of a group and the equality of the groups communication patterns. While I know of no research testing the relationship between these two I think it is reasonable to assume that mature teams are more open and vulnerable which will raise their internal EQ scores, and that they communicate more openly and equally. If I am correct these two effects will lead to an increase in Group IQ over time as the team matures, thus explaining the observed performance increase. It will also explain why problem teams (which in my experience almost inevitably suffer from communication problems) will inevitably perform poorly, regardless of the talented individuals in the teams.

So, how does this relate to senior managers? In order for them to understand and accept this view they must also come to understand that their own success is a product of the environments they were in as much as it is their own abilities. They must also accept that they are not necessarily especially talented. There are few individuals that can easily make this leap given that it involves them giving up their positive self image for a more complex explanation. Who wants to admit that they may not be as talented as they thought they were?

For this reason I believe that most of todays senior managers will not "convert" and will in fact struggle against the adoption of agile values within their workplace.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Short update

I haven't posted in a while - life has been getting in the way of blogging :P

I've needed all of my energy for a large change project at work and have had little time and/or energy to do any blogging. If it is any consolation my reading has also suffered. Which might also explain the lack of blog posts ;)

As if work wasn't enough we are also expecting a new addition to our family any day now which demands more of me as a father and a partner. As you might understand my focus right now is on my home life and so my blogging naturally suffers.

I am however working on a couple of new posts and will publish them just as soon as I find the time to finish them.

Friday, March 16, 2012

The democratisation of the workplace.

As I Tweeted just the other day:
We are looking at a movement for democratisation of the workplace that is no less significant than the industrial revolution.
I believe that many things we see around us and read about in the media are signs of a current shift in the nature of work and the workplace at least as significant as the Industrial Revolution.

I believe that the current democratisation of the workplace is one part of this. But what do I mean by democratisation? I mean that the organisational structures and the orgaisational processes that exist in companies are becoming less hierarchical and more collaborative. And I think this democratisation has emerged as a response to two main pressures:

1. The increased complexity of doing business.
Many research papers are now citing business leaders who believe that the complexity of doing business has risen substantially in recent years. Organisations must, in order to cope with this increased complexity, mirror the business situation and create newer and ever more complex organisational structures and processes. The old hierarchical models of organisations and processes are unable to adapt to this increased complexity and so new collaborative models are of necessity born.

2. The rise of collaboration through Online gaming & Social media.
Social media & online gaming have resulted in a generation of employees highly trained in collaboration and very aware that they are embedded in a network. This has given them an almost instinctive understanding of complexity and a mindset that sees hierarchies as highly inefficient problem solving structures. This network view also carries with it a dislike for Taylorist management where a manager is a) assumed to be more competent and know more than his/her subordinates; and b) possessing a theory x mindset and believes that work is somehow intrinsically negative and that employees must be coerced into working hard. These employees have experienced free collaboration and view it as a far superior way to solve problems and they view their work as, potentially at least, a set of problem solving exercises with the opportunity to learn and grow.

These two forces (along with the larger shift in the nature of work) will, I believe, result in entirely new collaborative structures in place of the organisational models we see doing business today. The borders between the organisation and the customer will be blurred, there will be collaboration in place of management, and many leadership functions we see today will be transformed into mere supporting services.

I call all of this the "democratisation of the workplace" and whether you like it or not, I believe, it will very soon be coming to an organisation near you.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

World of Warcraft management bootcamp

Today's young developers seem to know an awful lot about management.

When I entered the software development industry some almost 20 years ago I was green and naive. I knew more or less nothing about software development and I knew less than nothing about management of people and teams. This is not the case today. Today's young developers have been trained in collaborative problem solving and goal achievement since they were barely out of nappies, or diapers in the case of my American readers.

In online games, such as World or Warcraft, loosely coupled groups collaborate to achieve sometimes seemingly impossible goals. They organize the work, prepare & plan, select leaders and adapt to changing situations on the fly. Yes, they have leaders; but these leaders are subject to constant peer reviews and should they be found lacking they are quickly replaced. Reputation within the community - based almost entirely on previous performance - determines seniority and although many activities are tightly disciplined events; individuals are always free to select which endeavors they deem interesting or important enough to take part in.

This organisational framework mirrors the best agile organisations I have seen or read about. This should not be surprising as research shows us that this is the way humans have collaborated to achieve goals for all of our history. It is only really since the industrial revolution that we have attempted to build large organizations without collaboration and with rigid permanent hierarchies.

This early training has resulted in young developers possessing remarkable management skills often far more advanced than many of their older and more experienced colleagues at work. In agile organizations this is not a problem but in organizations with traditional Taylorist views of management there is an inevitable conflict. These young developers know very well how to organize their work and quickly see where improvements to the organization could be made. Managers, feeling threatened, attempt to tighten their grip on what they perceive as a rebellious workforce unwilling to follow conventions and rules. It is the irresistible force meeting the immovable object.

So I believe the advancement of so called modern (but in reality very old) management techniques is inevitable, as is the decline in Taylorist thinking, and the future belongs to these young masters of collaboration, trained in the arena of online gaming.

P.S. I could have also included something about their early exposure to open source projects, but I decided to save that for another post :P

Monday, January 23, 2012

Hunter-gatherers, play & software development

Work does not have to be toil, it can be play.

I recently read the article Play Makes Us Human V: Why Hunter-Gatherers' Work is Play by Peter Gray. Since then I have been reflecting upon what his findings mean for the modern software development workplace.

In our most primitive societies, hunter gatherer societies, play is extraordinarily important. Work is simply an extension of play and the societies have no real concept of toil (or negative unenjoyable work). Work (which in their case is hunting or gathering) is comprised of optional and  collaborative ventures that involve mastery and purpose and a large degree of autonomy. They get no reward for this work other than the product of the work itself which they freely divide amongst the whole group. Their behavior really reminds me a lot of open source projects. In both open source projects and hunter gatherer societies, people are free to choose what projects to work on based on alignment with the larger goals of the project and the opportunity to practise and develop their skills. So, how can this knowledge be used to create a modern workplace which best matches our species predispositions?

Work should be play not toil. I think both employers and educationalists could learn a lot simply by contemplating this simple statement. As much as possible (and in the case of software development this is to a very large degree) work should be organized so as to minimize toil thus maximizing the sensation of play.

Developers should be encouraged to a large degree to make their own tools. If they need to automate something, or if they need to improve something they should be free to do this. They should be free to experiment and to constantly seek improvements. They should own their environment which will then make sure it is enabling for them and not restrictive.

Work should be collaborative. Hunters hunt in packs and humans still perform best when working in groups and not when isolated in small cubicles.

Work should to a large degree be optional. If it is possible make it optional to take part in a given project. If this is not possible at least make the distribution of work a matter for the teams themselves and thus make the actual work done by each developer optional.

This article gave me another perspective on why the practices and values I use and promote have worked in the situations I have seen. I think there is a strong alignment in the principles of people-focused organisations, management 3.0, agile development, etc. and the organisation of work in hunter-gatherer societies.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Agile culture is a culture of learning and growth, built on trust.

This is a re-write and summary of some of my other posts which I wrote for the ALE book project which seems not to be going anywhere just now. I recently re-read it and think it is a nice summary of several of last years blog posts and could therefore be interesting either as an introduction to my ideas or as a summary of them. Enjoy.

I work with productivity. It's what most agile coaches do; we try to create an environment that empowers teams and makes them as productive as possible. To do this you have to think an awful lot about motivation and psychology. About the cultures where people perform and and the cultures where they don't.

One can, in the software development industry, often get the impression that there are two types of developers. One category, the average developers, do their jobs well-enough but they lack that extra drive and talent to make them truly great programmers. The other category read all the blogs and books they can, know several programming languages, and have a constant hobby project or two that fills their free time. Most people who have worked in the industry an length of time will tell you to hire all of the talented developers you can as they are much more productive than the average developers. This is based upon the assumption that talent is something innate and unchanging.

Mindset is a book by Carol Dweck that challenges this view. In it she talks about "fixed" and "growth" mindsets. These mindsets are created in childhood and affect performance and attitudes to an astonishing degree. Even organisations can possess and propagate these "mindsets". The fixed mindset believes that our abilities are more or less fixed and we can do little to change this - some people are just more talented than others. The growth mindset believes that our abilities can be developed and grown, given the correct stimulus, and that talent can be developed over time.

These beliefs lead to two basic problem solving mindsets: The fixed mindset sees problems as opportunities to showcase one's abilities, whilst the growth mindset regards problems as opportunities to learn and grow. Needless to say people and organisations with the growth mindset consistently out-perform those with the fixed one. Luckily for us we can change our (and others) mindsets moving us (or our organisation) from a fixed to a growth mindset.

Apparently, generic praise leads to a fixed mindset, which is demotivating in the long term. According to her research, people with a fixed mindset consistently avoid more difficult tasks (when given the choice) and were even prone to lie about their performance. Non-generic praise leads instead to a growth mindset and increased performance. Unfortunately, the differences in generic and non-generic praise are subtle and mistakes are easy. In the case of children Carol gives the examples; "you are a really good painter" (an example of generic praise which will lead to a fixed mindset) and "that painting is really good" (an example of non-generic or specific praise which will lead to a growth mindset). An example for those of us in development organisations might be: instead of; "Thanks Eric, you are a great developer", we should be using; "Thanks Eric, you did a great job on that task/task x".

You can find out more about the book or buy it at and learn about her other project at

So, where does this talk of mindsets take us? If we cultivate a culture of learning and creativity, if managers invest in their developers instead of trying to rate them and control them then we can give the vast majority of developers the drive and the enthusiasm to become talented developers. But we have to motivate them, we have to give them leadership. Unfortunately, in business school they still often teach a 19th or perhaps 20th century approach to management and leadership that simply doesn't work for knowledge workers. There seem to me to be two main cultures of management alive in companies today:

There are those that focus on extrinsic rewards - Salary/rewards are directly coupled to performance. Motivation becomes an issue as research has shown that something people get paid for is not as motivating as something people do for the love of it, regardless of how motivating it was to begin with. The extrinsic rewards undermine peoples intrinsic motivation. The managers job is now to try to raise performance, weed out the lazy and reward the hardworking. They have little time to think about improvements to the system. A culture of apathy and resignation emerges amongst the employees as no-one wants to take risks and makes mistakes when it affects their rewards/salary. As a reaction to this a culture of control emerges in management as they focus on trying to counteract the apathy spreading through the employees and focus on maximizing employee performance. The management view of employees becomes one of distrust; people do not work hard unless monitored and controlled. Unfortunately, within this pairing of company cultures this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy; the employees merely comply with the increasingly bureaucratic guidelines and goals. People learn to game the system to do as little as possible whilst maximizing their rewards. Talented individuals, being denied freedom and responsibility and being hampered by controlling bureaucracy leave, and employee turnover rises. These companies are too focused on delivering upon given promises, their developers too focused on avoiding blame or following a plan to think creatively. Depending upon the business model, competition, etc. the company may or may not be profitable. But it will not have a high performing, committed, workforce and will be vulnerable to outside competition.

The second group focus instead on intrinsic rewards - Here, there is no direct connection between performance and salary. Everyone is paid very well for their knowledge and experience and so they do not need to think about how to get a higher salary or better rewards. People work as hard as they can and do their best without supervision, based upon their own intrinsic motivation. The manager's job is to create a healthy and motivating environment by setting clear goals and eliminating obstacles for their teams. Well-publicized and transparent career ladders allow for salary progression as one gains experience/competence. The employees attach and own the overall goals of the company and use these as guidance in all situations. Everyone is committed and employee involvement leads to high productivity and low employee turnover. The success of the company is still dependent upon the overall business model but if there is any way to make this succeed the workforce will find it. Obviously I, and many others, support the second strategy above. I believe that this is the beginning of a new 21st century view of management and motivation.

To succeed with any difficult endeavor you need inspirational leadership. The team (not to mention everyone else) has to have a clear understanding of the goals and they have to have committed to these. Within the software development industry we live in a world of complex problem solving, this world is not deterministic and is seldom entirely predictable and creative thinking is the key to good problem solving and therefore the key to building great systems, but we still need guidance when making decisions on a daily basis. We need a set of common goals to guide us and commitment to this common set of goals is crucial. This commitment is, in my opinion, a critically important constraint and it is built on a foundation of trust.

Without trust you cannot have open communication. Without trust you will develop a culture of blame. Trust is vital on a bunch of different levels; between team members, between the team and management, from management towards the team, etc. etc. Trust ensures open and honest communication, without which any project involving human beings will have a high risk of failure. Trust ensures that problems are raised, and therefore addressed, early on. Trust ensures that retrospectives are open and blameless, a prerequisite for successful retrospectives. Trust between team members is vital for the transition of a group to a team and the growth of team spirit. Trust toward management is vital in building commitment to the goals and, finally, trust from management - that the team will do their best and don't require micro-management or control, and that they should be allowed to solve their own problems - is vital in all Agile projects.

So, finally, if we have inspirational leadership and motivated teams with an agile mindset and a whole bunch of trust then we have a bunch of enthusiastic people hungry to learn. Regardless of our development method if we have a learning culture then our team will perform well. People will then have the commitment and skills necessary to overcome obstacles and to solve problems as and when they occur. We have created a culture of talent development, where we are constantly learning and growing, in short, we will have created an agile culture.

Monday, January 09, 2012

#stoos and boat building

I was discussing the various blog posts and feedback from #stoos with my friend and colleague @bjoernlinder and I realized that they seem to be pursuing a different strategy than I would have used. To describe this I would like to use the metaphor of boat building:

Let's say we have come up with a much better way to build boats. We see everyone else sailing around in what we think are really crappy boats and we have an idea about how to build boats better. So what do we do? Do we try to evangelize about our fantastic boat idea and try to get everyone else to build our fantastic new boat design instead of their own? No, we don't. We do not do this because it will have little chance of success. What we decide to do is to find a sympathetic boat builder that we can convince to do an experiment; to build one of our fantastic boats for us. Once our fantastic boat is built and sailing and everyone can see that it out-performs all the other boats then the boat builders will naturally want to use our design and convincing them will no longer be a problem!

So how does this relate to our problem and #stoos?
I have been eagerly reading the various feedback and blog posts from #stoos and am struck by the seemingly theoretical nature of the output. For example, we have now a list of stakeholders. We already know the stakeholders, any one of us could have sat down in a room and written that! We might not agree 100% on the order of importance but who cares? These details are not important. We are discussing evangelizing about our ideas when what we need are examples, activities, best practices, and above all PROOF.

What I believe we should do is find some companies where we have influence that we can convince to do some experiments. Once we have a bunch of successful companies using the values and principles which we are wanting to promote, and which perform better than traditional companies and once we have some data and facts about this improvement, THEN it will be much easier to convince other companies to follow suit.

What we need are some experiments and some data and then we need to write a book documenting this and then we can change the world. Or, at least, this is what I would do.