Category Archives: Workplace Systems

Clean Interviewing for Technology conversations

giraffe, chris barbalis.

Alternative title:

Writing Software, hardest job in the world, 40 years man and boy…

Writing software that meets people needs, that is.

What’s the problem with just talking to people to find out what they want?

When we talk to people, we use shortcuts that help us to understand. We assume that what the other person means by, say ‘website’, ‘connection’, ‘usability’ or even ‘tested’.

Shared understandings can work fine, but very often problem arise when we think we have an understanding that isn’t there. Meetings can start and finish without the attendees really understanding the models in each others heads, and spend time discussing their unknown lack of understanding, rather than the pressing concerns.

Perhaps the HIPPO (HIghest Paid Person in the rOom) gets the last say, based on their unexplained model?

We let the things in our head get in the way of understanding the things that we’re trying to understand in other people’s heads. It’s our brains relentlessly finding patterns and connections to make life easier for itself. We need to act differently.

Clean Interviewing

Clean Interviewing, rooted in David Grove’s Clean Language, is a way of structuring conversations in a way that is incredibly effective in finding out the information inside someone’s head, without influence from the stuff in your head.

Alongside the questioning is the approach to questioning that is best describes showing curiosity towards a person or situation.

When talking to other people we often think that our stuff is like their stuff. Our idea of something is the same as theirs. This is great quick social glue, but if we are coaching someone, or trying to find out something in particular , our unknown lack of understanding can get in the way.

Think of an Elephant. (Or a Website).

An example of this is to ask a group to “think of an elephant”, and then ask them to describe their elephants. None will be the same, some will be close up, or cartoon elephants, or an elephant in a specific place. Questions like ‘Hear Music’ or ‘Think of an ideal day at the beach’ also show how we can really not know what someone is thinking. If you asked me to organise an ideal day at the beach for you, you may not get what you like. You’d get what I like.

Unlike coaching, when we’re interviewing, the interviewer gets to decide the purpose of the conversation. There is an agreed subject to discuss, and this will often be something that has happened in the past, or will happen in the future.

In technology, I’ll suggest Clean Interviewing helps:

  • Discussing the model in the customers, product owner and  develops head
  • In Incident postmortems to discover what happened in safe environment
  • When reviewing work, looking for what went well and lessons learned
  • When getting requirements from a customer for software

 

So what is Clean Interviewing?

Clean Interviewing is a style of asking questions that have roots in Clean Language questions designed by David Grove. Davids questions remove the model, ideas and worldview of the person asking the questions.

We can use Clean Interviewing when we want to find out about

  • Someones favourite holiday destination
  • The needs they would like to have met with software
    • Their goals
    • The way they work with others
  • Their ideal
    • Team
    • Programming Language
    • Work Environment

Examples of Clean and Contextually Clean Questions

A contextually clean question takes the basis of a clean question for example, keeping the speakers context out of the question, and adding the exact words used in the answers.

  • Is there anything else about that X
  • What happens before X?
  • ..and that’s X like what?

Clean Interviewing adds context that is known by both parties, so you can use words used by the other person, or are known in the context of the conversation

So for discussions about developing a new website

  • What happens before people get to your website?
  • Is there anything else about a customers order?
  • and what happens before a customers order?
  • and that’s interactive like what?
  • and is there anything else about that data?
  • and that’s a customer journey like what?
  • and that’s individual user experience like what?
  • Is there anything else about individual user experience?
  • (and for people who know me) ..and that’s digital like what?

The words in italics are the interviewees own words, or things that are known in context of the conversation.

Of course you cannot have all the questions lined up before you start, you’ll use the words given to you to build an understanding of someones mental model.

Writing Software, hardest job in the world, 40 years man and boy, etc

Software is a set of instructions, running on a machine that follows instructions really well. It’s the ultimate machine. The code never gets tired, or goes rusty, or deviates from the configuration. This is powerful.

People wanting software to meet their needs have models in their head of their problem and solution. Those models can be incomplete, or unconstrained by reality. In an agile Scrum team it’s the job of the Product Owner and the developers to build something that meets the customers needs.

I’d suggest that this is much harder than for example tailoring clothes or even writing a song for someone.

Bridging the gap between the models in someone’s head, and the constraints of software is a huge task. Clean Interviewing can help with understanding requirements.

This post was inspired by a session at Northern Taste of Clean, facilitated by James Lawley and Caitlin Walker..

Advertisements

DevOps Metaphors in a Nutshell.

Image from ribbonfarm.com showing Gareth Morgan’s 8 Organisational Metaphors

This is the first DevOps post on make10louder. DevOps is a way to develop and run software that removes organisational boundaries and shares tools and culture.

DevOps is similar to a marketing and sales department working closely with factory operations to make sure the factory can build and deliver what the customer wants.

TL;DR

This post looks at the different types of work in building and running software. I’ll suggest organisational metaphors reveal useful insight into DevOps; removing the boundaries between development and operations, and delivering value to customers. We can work better from understanding all the perspectives these metaphors give us.

Gareth Morgan’s Organisational Metaphors

The organisational metaphors I’m using are from Gareth Morgan’s Images of Organisation. (This book referenced by Microservices Architecture , coachesOpen University MSc courses, and ribbonfarm.com).

There are eight metaphors; Machine, Organism, Brain, Culture, Political System, Psychic Prison, Change and Flux and Instrument of Domination. All the metaphors can be true at the same time. People are likely to favour a dominant metaphor in their understanding of the organisation. This means the organisation will be working in ways they cannot see.

The metaphors that I think Devs Ops uses are:

  • Organisations as Machines
    • with known input they should produce identical output
    • ideally ‘well oiled’
    • People as interchangeable cogs, once trained or certified
    • Input, process, output.
    • reducing variation
    • A leads to B leads to C.
  • Organisations as Brains
    • Who knows what
    • How information spreads
    • Constant learning through feedback, and learning to learn
    • Viable Systems and management cybernetics
  • Organisations as Organisms
    • Adapting to the variety of a changing environment
    • Evolving an organisational DNA
    • Having a survival strategy
    • the best fit with the environment survives
  • Organisations as Cultures
    • The way we do things here
    • Value Systems
    • Norms and Patterns of Behaviour
    • Dominant cultures and sub-cultures

I don’t see DevOps best practices covering:

  • Organisations as Political Systems
  • Organisations as Psychic Prisons
  • Organisations as Instruments of Domination

There are some useful lessons looking at real world problems through these lenses, that I will leave to another post.

Metaphors in a DevOps World

#1 Computers are actually Machines

This is not even metaphorical. Don’t configure computers by hand. Person A should not configure a computer better than person B. Computers are often still treated like they need configuration by a wizard.

DevOps insists we treat computers like machines, configured accurately by other computers by running code.

This gives us to easily replicate systems, and have reassurances that if something is wrong it’s not because the wrong wizard configured them.

We treat monitoring metrics in the same way. Automate and get data on all the things.

#2 Processes are machine-like, but controlled by Brains influenced by Culture, in a complex unknowable future environment.

We design our process to run smoothly and they’re automated where possible. We have a strong culture of doing the right thing when things go wrong and we learn from our mistakes. With double loop learning we also ask ‘is this still the right thing to do?’

#3 People are not Machines

People are a complex combination of all eight metaphors.

In a DevOps people are give time to learn and apply their knowledge safely. They are given the tools they need and trust to know how to best use them without involving centralised experts. We encourage a culture of experimentation, honesty, shared ownership of problems and customer focus. Machines cannot do these things.

#4 The value created by software can be seen as the output of a machine

The output as seen by the customer is the number one priority. Customers don’t care how parts of the value stream are working. They care about the output of the entire system, and internal optimizations can have negative consequences. Systems Thinking 101.

#5 Working Software is a machine, used by People, in a changing environment

Software, like the computers it runs on is literally a complicated machine. Although software may behave in ways we don’t understand, without AI, it’s knowable and predictable. It may still be incredibly complicated, but it’s theoretically understandable in advance if the starting point, context and inputs are known.

Problems arise when people use the software. We can start to understood people using the metaphors of brains, culture, organisms and a healthy dose of biases via psychic prisons.

We should automate as much of the machine part of software as we can, in the knowledge that the needs of the people using it will take all of our attention.

We can’t automate software development, but using Agile methodologies to move bits of functionality from customers heads into predictable code, we’re riding a flux and change metaphor.

DevOps Metaphors in a Nutshell

Computers are machines. Build them with code, don’t craft them by hand.

Processes are designed and improved like machines, but in the knowledge that bad stuff will happen. Culture will help you do the right thing when it does, and brains will help your organisation improve. As an organism you need to adapt to a changing environment. Today’s solutions are tomorrows problems.

People and Teams can learn and adapt, but can also follow anti patterns. All the Organisation Metaphors help here. Metaphors of Political Systems and Psychic Prisons (think Cognitive biases) may also help diagnose issues where you’re following good practice, but things still are not working.

Software works like a machine in a complex environment including people, and all of their metaphorical ways of seeing and acting. Crossing this chasm is the work of developers often aligned to the agile manifesto. The use a dominant metaphor of flux and change, but produce software that has a repeatable output.

Conclusion, and So What?

Organisation metaphors reassure us we’re looking at the right things and show us how we can more fully understand situations.

DevOps is a mixture of theory and sound practical experience. Metaphorical insight can help us.

Clean Scoping and Seeing Systems

instagram.com/bogdandadaOverview

In the post  ‘Listen carefully, it’s the System talking I wrote about Barry Oshry’s Seeing Systems model. This describes the conditions we are in when working with other people, and how we can choose to behave in the relationship. I called these choices balcony or basement behaviours. Barry has an excellent book too.

I recently heard Caitlin Walker describe her method of Clean Scoping at the Metaphorum 2017 conference. This is an approach to understand or scope potential work to see if a Clean Language approach is suitable and is likely to work. The rest of this post discusses how I see these two approaches adding value to each other. I recommend Caitlin’s book ‘From Contempt to Curiosity‘ for more details.


Seeing Systems

In the Seeing Systems model, if we are trying to build a relationship with someone in the CUSTOMER condition, we’d like balcony customers, rather than basement customers. As someone responsible for the overall delivery of whatever a customer needs, we can choose to act as balcony TOPS.  A quick overview is:

Balcony TOP’s want to create a systems that can meet the challenges that they face. They empower people in the system to use their unique knowledge to improve the outcomes.

Balcony CUSTOMER’s engage in the details of what they need, provide feedback on the delivery progress, suitability and timing. Reading a bit more into Barry’s work I feel balcony CUSTOMER’s also see the power they have in using and developing the solution. They are not just asking for the answer provided to them.

Clean Scoping

Clean Scoping is part of Caitlin Walkers Clean Language and Systemic Modelling ™ approach, that i feel is a practical way of seeing if the necessary balcony conditions exist. In Caitlins case Clean Scoping is used to decide if she wants to work with the client or not. If we can’t choose our customers then we may try to influence them to behave in a BALCONY way.

Using the two models together allows us to understand what we are trying to do, and have a practical guide to having the conversations.

Caitlin is explicitly trying to create a system that is able to solve the problems it is trying to face. This is done by ensuring she is working at a sufficiently high level in the organisation to make sure the changes stick, ensuring that balcony customer behaviour exists, and transferring the skills to the customer so they are self sufficient.

Customer Behaviour

At my work organisation there is a group interested in how to develop and encourage balcony CUSTOMER behaviour from CUSTOMERs we work with. Catilin looks for this behaviour in potential clients at a high level in the organisation before agreeing to work. Described in her book, ‘From Contempt to Curiosity‘ Caitlin looks to encourage this behaviour – called Quadrant 3 behaviour – at different hierarchical levels of the organisation once there’s buy in. At my work we don’t get to choose our customers.

Using Clean Scoping questions, the organisational behaviour we want to have happen are balcony TOP, Balcony BOTTOM, balcony CUSTOMER.

Clean Scoping Questions

The help achieve this organisational behaviour, Clean Scoping questions would be:

  • And what do we see and hear when <balcony behaviour>?
  • When do you naturally get the <balcony behaviour> you’re hoping to get more of?
  • What is happening at the moment?
  • What is working well?
  • What is not working well?
  • What needs to happen, so what you would like to have happen is automatic?
  • What would need to be true for people to naturally behave like this?
  • What is happening at the moment?
    • Often Uncomfortable patterns are happening. This is often the difference between what we ask of others and what we do ourselves.
    • For example when we behave as a basement TOP with heirarchy, and expect others to behave as balconies. Behaviours are coupled.
    • Acknowledge what is true is true
      • Worldviews and perspectives are important here, and metaphor models can help
    • What would need to be be true for people to naturally behave like this? – People working to their strengths and acknowledging others strengths and contribution.

Biased and basement Behaviour

Behaviour from biases ensure that the patterns from the past continue. These are often confirmation biases that form part of the coupled relations in the Seeing Systems model. The blind reflex response is precisely why the relationships are here, and not in a better place. If we expect or behave with basement behaviour from another, we’ll get it in return – especially if there is organisational hierarchy.

Why and how

This post has covered some of the how questions for the why questions in the previous “It’s the system talking” post. There is a bit more to this…

 

Listen carefully, it’s the System talking.

I’ve been interested in conversations, relationships and working together. How can we relate better at work and home. How is our behaviour affected by those around us, hierarchy, and our willingness to do emotional work – managing feelings and expressions to help a situation progress.

We often react to people  instinctively, pairing our response to their behaviour. Sometimes we choose to break a pattern of conversation, either with empathy for the other persons condition at the time, or to sabotage ourselves and the situation.

Barry Oshry has developed an incredibly useful model to discuss these situations, allowing us to see beyond the people, and to see the system talking. Of course all models are wrong , but some are useful (quote from George Box), and we’ve found Barry’s Seeing Systems model provides brilliant insights. There is a great introduction written by Barry, called Total Power Systems. Ignore the red cover and the words “total” and “power”. It’s not like that.

I worked with colleagues to develop and run workshops, asking ” could you work better with colleagues who had taken this workshop” and ” could you work better with colleagues who have not taken this workshop”. Responses are 100% positive for working better with others who have done the workshop. It seems to resonate.

Barry Oshry’s Seeing Systems Model

Barry’s Model has four conditions that we find ourselves in, in conversations and relationships

  • The conditions change regularly
  • They affect how we behave
  • They affect how others relate to us
  • The conditions are not roles, and do not imply hierarchy
  • But hierarchy is an ever preset overlay

None of the conditions is better or worse. They just are. And they are

  • Topoften overburdened and held accountable
    • Can create a system that thrives, where members are knowledgeable about the system and can use their full potential working in the system
    • When we are TOPS we often sabotage the situation by keeping responsibility to ourselves, away from others including BOTTOMS who can help
  • BottomHard done to
    • Are uniquely placed to see the problems that occur, and to identify and help correct issues
    • When we are BOTTOMS we sabotage the situation when we see problems we hold tops responsible. We don’t feedback suggestions. End of Story.
  • Middle stretched or torn 
    • Able to function as the organisations web, connecting parts and co-coordinating
    • We sabotage ourselves as MIDDLES by connecting primarily with one side or the other to the detriment  the relationship
  • Customerusually righteously screwed
    • Are in the best position to evaluate the delivery process and quality
    • We sabotage ourselves as CUSTOMERS when we hold delivery system solely responsible for delivery. We take no responsibility.

Each condition has two types of behaviour, we’ve called these balcony and basement. Balcony behaviours are positive, appropriate and “Using Yours Powers For Good”. Whereas, basement is the stuff we don’t like in others:  disruptive, argumentative, disengaged.

We move between the conditions often in conversations, and employ balcony or basement responses, usually re-actively without thinking. I’ll give examples later.

We do not act alone

The way we choose to communicate affects how people communicate with us. Hierarchy at work affects this, but we are not our role. Our unthinking reaction – called the “dance of the blind reflex” by Barry, is reinforced by  hierarchy.

  • Anyone who is responsible in a situation is a TOP in interactions
  • Anyone tasked with doing something is a BOTTOM in interactions
  • Negotiating between TOPs and BOTTOMS we are MIDDLES
  • Anyone getting something done for them is in the CUSTOMER condition

We can move between roles in the course of a conversation, meeting or day, often when walking down the corridor between conversations. The model helps us to have empathy for others in their condition. We can choose how to respond. It won’t always be easy or appropriate to respond with balcony response when we choose.


Example Situations

A tidy room.

As a parent you’d like your young child’s room tidying. You’re got hierarchy here. You can approach the conversation a number of ways.

You can tidy the room yourself. Your child is a CUSTOMER. If engaged to be a BALCONY CUSTOMER they could help, and tell you where everything goes, so all the toys are in the right place. You’re kind of both happy, but as a parent you’ve created yourself a job. If they’re not engaged, parental hierarchy may mean they don’t give you feedback, they could just wait until you’re finished, and then constantly ask where things are. If they can’t find anything, it’s your fault. Forever.

At worst, basement TOP behaviour, with hierarchy may have induced BASEMENT customer. At best it created work.

You can ask your child to tidy the room, giving instructions and guidance as the room gets tidier. You’re CUSTOMER/TOP, child is BOTTOM. They ask where things should go, and you’re there to tell them. You tell them what to keep, what to throw away and everything. They may learn after a few times to tidy the way you like it, assuming there is not too much new stuff. If anything changes they expect you to tell then what to do. Years later they may still expect to be told how to tidy their room.

By giving detailed instructions you’ve not created an autonomous system for keeping the room clean. You’ve helped  create a dependent basement BOTTOM behaviour.

As CUSTOMER/TOP you could create a system for keeping the room clean. You could encourage your child to be a BALCONY BOTTOM, by letting them tell you how the room works. What gets used the most, what they don’t like, and letting them work out how to tidy it all up, what to throw away etc. You’d need to check together  that everything looks OK, and check whats thrown out, but this feedback builds a better system, for example they learn they can’t throw out Christmas presents from Dad, no matter how uncool they are.

 


Example Holiday Advice from a Travel Agent

You want to go on holiday. Booking through an all inclusive agent you’re the CUSTOMER. You could walk in and just say “Here’s £1000. We want a family holiday where we’re all happy. Over to you. It better be good, or I’ll give you a terrible online review.” This sounds like basement CUSTOMER behaviour.

Or you could have a list of what your family like, for travel options, activities, temperature, food. You could work with the travel agent to get what you want. This may take more time, but you’ll probably get a better holiday.

From the travel agents perspective, they could behave as a basement TOP, and hold onto responsibility, or build a system that gets people the best holidays.

The travel agent may specialise in holidays for the over 50’s. When a group of young adults come in to book a wild holiday they could hold onto responsibility, and start figuring putting something together from scratch that they’re not familiar with. After all, they’re TOP and responsible. Or they could refer the group next door to the Student Travel Center. If the Student Travel Center refers groups of over 50’s back, then they’ve just created a system to get people the best holidays.

Interestingly, once on holiday, the agent is often a MIDDLE. Customers may complain about the standard of the food and accommodation. Hotels may complain about the lager louts that the travel agency send to the hotel, and the Travel agent is torn between the needs of both. Basement behaviour of reflexively siding with one or the other may not be good long term business sense. Balcony behaviour is a balance.

 


Example of Chief X Officer, working at boardroom level

A CxO is not always a TOP, despite being far up a companies hierarchical structure. For example the part of the organisation the CxO heads will provide service to the rest of the organisation. In meetings with the rest of the organisation, there could be two strategies.

When in meetings responsible for the delivery of their part of the organisation, a CxO would be BOTTOM. They need to deliver, and there is a choice of BALCONY or BASEMENT BOTTOM behaviour, that would have a different strategic outcome.

They can just do as they are told, and hold the next level up to be responsible for the outcome. This behaviour may be induced to be reflexive.

Or they may accept they are in the best place to recognise, diagnose, and get the resources to tackle the issues and work to rectify them using the knowledge and insights they have. If they are allowed. This behaviour is coupled with those in the TOP condition.

The CxO would soon leave the BOTTOM condition when making things happen, but may regularly be MIDDLE or CUSTOMER as well as TOP.


Example of calls to IT Service Desk

IT service desks staff receive calls from CUSTOMERS who often need things fixing. In the initial discussion they are TOPS responsible to the CUSTOMER. They can encourage BALCONY customer behavior where the CUSTOMER helps get their problem fixed, by providing information, feeding back on progress and being involved in the solution where required.

The service desk staff, in the TOP condition can hold responsibility for fixing the issue to themselves, when they need to involve others in the resolution. Involving others may involve moving into the MIDDLE condition to talk to others to get the problematic situation fixed, and be between the CUSTOMER, and the new BOTTOM.

The situation gets interesting if it turns out a 3rd party is involved. After being involved in a complicated problem, isn’t it just great when you can give the lot to someone else and say ‘you just fix this’. We’re in the basement CUSTOMER role here holding the 3rd party to be responsible, end of story. We’d act as MIDDLES between the Service Desk customer and the 3rd party. This is understandable, but maybe not helpful for getting the real customers problems fixed.

Silo Working

The above Service Desk shows an extreme example of Silo working – When we pass things between organisation silos we’re in the CUSTOMER condition, and it’s easy to fall into the basement. It’s often expected to behave as a basement CUSTOMER and hold the delivery system totally responsible. Helping them is not a good use of our limited time.

However we’ve all worked closely with others, times when we’ve temporarily removed barriers and worked together, as balcony CUSTOMERS, working with balcony TOPS, MIDDLES and BOTTOMS. It’s how we get important things done.


This is the goal of Barry Oshrys lifetime work, to help people understand how they relate to each other, and how their reactions can be conscious choices to work in a way that has the potential to induce positive behaviour in the people they are working with.

When we talk to other we should listen carefully, it’s often the system talking.


What can this help us with? When we hear “culture must come from the top”, we can understand “top” to mean hierarchy. ANY of the conditions that people at the hierarchical top of an organisation find themselves in, will be the basis of induced behaviour – effectively setting culture.

In this sense culture does come from the top. HOWEVER, if we apply Barry’s model to itself we find that if someone in the TOP condition and top in the hierarchy sets a direction, and “has the answer” then they may induce the basement BOTTOM behaviour of “I’ll just do what you say – and you’re responsible for the results.”

Any cultural change ideas, applied from the top/TOP down in a basement way are not likely to produce the desired change.

This induced behaviour has echos in the Theory X / Theory Y management styles. Barry Oshry’s work shows how we may induce Theory X behaviour reflexively when we may be wanting to develop relationships and create systems that utilise the resources and intelligence of the people in the system.

IT From Common Resource to Strategic Partner

800px-cows_in_green_field_-_nullamunjie_olive_grove03

This blog post is about IT in large organisations, including public organisations like councils and businesses where new Tech competitors are changing the environment of business. The environment is changing, or more accurately, being changed by the strategies of competitors.

Organisations are looking for a digital strategy to combat this threat, moving digital to the heart of what they do. IT for it’s part is keen to become a Strategic Partner to the business. So what is stopping it?

Where did IT departments come from?

It’s worth looking at how IT departments may have been created. They traditionally exist as a cost on the balance sheet, providing common resource to other areas of the business, often underpinning other parts that are necessary, but may not directly exchange value with the environment, like accounting, marketing or HR. The may also run internal and external websites, but they are unlikely to be the core value propositions.

If not managed,  common resources can suffer from the “tragedy of the commons”. The popular example is common grazing land is so overburdened by people wanting to graze their animals that loses it’s initial value. People are assumed to want to maximise the number of animals on the common land.

Common IT Resources

Many people in IT departments will recognise this, with many unrelated customers in the business wanting their work to be prioritised by the limited IT resource. Like in the tragedy they want to get value from the resource. There is now no such thing as an IT project – they are business projects central to strategy. But with a common IT resource each may be another cow on the  metaphorical field.

The big issue is ‘Who would strategically partner with an unmanaged commons?”. It’s a very risky proposition.

From an Unmanaged Commons to Strategic Partner

Managed commons can and do exist. Elinor Ostrom studied working, managed commons, and found that there are 8 organising principals common to functional commons. Applying these to IT could provide the step towards being seen as a potential Strategic Partner.

Eleonor’s rules applied to IT may look like

  • Define clear group boundaries
    • This is perhaps the easy part, but it’s vital to understand where the boundaries are, so you can understand and manage the work and relationships across them
  • Match rules governing use of common goods to local needs and conditions.
    • Your rules will differ from other commons, best practices won’t work. You need to look at what is required by the people who use the resources.
  • Ensure that those affected by the rules can participate in modifying the rules.
    • For natural commons like an inland fishery the fish don’t get a say. For IT departments there is likely to be internal work that needs be done, for example upgrades, patching and audit requirements.  So the IT department itself, alongside Project Managers, Service Managers, Marketing and Finance should discuss the rules for using the common resoure.
    • Users of IT resources need a way of getting work done
    • They need a way of getting progress reports out
    • They need a way of getting ad-hoc questions answered by subject matter experts.
  • Make sure the rule-making rights of community members are respected by outside authorities.
    • We need to sell the idea that IT will work better for everyone as a managed common resource
    • We should have rule for getting urgent business requirements discussed and done appropriately – so that there is not a requirement for the use of higher authority to get work done
  • Develop a system, carried out by community members, for monitoring members’ behaviour.
    • Monitoring should be done bu users of the commons. It is in their interests that the rules they helped create are followed.
  • Use graduated sanctions for rule violators
    • Starting small, and agree. What sort of sanctions would you like to see?
  • Provide accessible, low-cost means for dispute resolution.
    • Anticipate things may go wrong, and we know how issues will be resolved quickly and easily
  • Build responsibility for governing the common resource in nested tiers from the lowest level up to the entire interconnected system.
    • Create systems within systems, with each level being viable. The Viable Systems Model would be ideal for creating, or diagnosing this organisational structure.

There are many other areas of organisations, or entire organisations that are Common Pool Resources. Strategically some may aim to be well managed commons, others may need to use this framework to be seen as a potential strategic partner by other areas of the organisation or environment.

Workplace Systems Thinking Groups

This post is an overview of a talk by Tim James and Mike Haber at the SCIO open day in Manchester in October 2016. Pauline Roberts kindly made some great notes, and I’m using these notes as the basis of this post, and adding extra information and links.

At the talk in Manchester Mike and Tim gave an overview of some very powerful systems thinking work they have been doing in the workplace. Both have developed Systems Thinking groups in the workplace to share, support and learn from one another. Tim’s group is called Systems Thinkers Anonymous and Mike runs a strengths workshop. Both groups run for 1 hour per week over lunch time. 

The origin of this talk was a SCiO development day. These are days where systems practitioners meet to discuss practical problems they are dealing with. At a recent London Development Day Tim and Mike realised they were both facilitating systems thinking groups at their workplace, and although the groups were very different they had a lot of similarities. Looking at the differences and similarities has been really interesting.

Notes taken from SCiO open day by Tom Hitchman

Notes taken from SCiO open day by Tom Hitchman, @Carbonliteracy

 

How Mike’s Group Started

Mike started by running the introduction to systems thinking workshop “Draw Toast” with 45 people, and follow up sessions exploring boundaries using football matches as an example helping people start to think systemically. This was an example of using a single systems ideas, boundaries in this case, to investigate a situation. Mike had spoke at SCiO on this previously, and has a set of cards for workshops planned.

After these two sessions Mike asked a small number of colleagues who had attended previous sessions to investigate Clifton Strength’s Finder and Clean Language to see if using both ideas at the same time would be useful.

This group has been meeting weekly for about 10 months, and has moved to discuss more approaches, but in a largely unstructured meetings, using a lean coffee ish format. People bring their own ideas and situations.

Tim’s Group

Tim’s Systems Thinkers Anonymous group developed alongside a blog to engage and help others. The blog at http://systemsthinkersanonymous.com/ has helped their learning and a wide audience has now been drawn in to share learning and encourage systems practice and systems thinking. Tim’s group is more structured, and looks at systems approaches from Burge Hughes Walsh Training and consultancy.  There is a wide range of approaches and Tim’s blog discusses how the group has applied these to their problems. There is suggested work to do before each session, and a structure to the learning.

Example of rich picture from Tims group

Example of rich picture from Tims group

Tim’s blog is a great narrative of how the group has run, and has some great examples of applied Systems Thinking, including lots of diagramming techniques, Soft Systems Methodology, Rich Pictures, and guests including Jean Boulton talking about complexity

Comparisons

Whilst both groups are about drawing people into systems thinking, one is very structured and one is more organic. This demonstrated the versatility of how systems thinking can be shared at a grass roots level in organisations.

There was a discussion about “safety” of the groups, both as a protection from those who may challenge the legitimacy of the group, and the safe spaces for discussion that were created.

The branding of learning was helpful – both groups use freely available materials that helps give legitimacy and openness to the groups – the materials are available to anyone.

Content

Mike started using Clean Language as a way to model how people feel and  using Strengths Finder to understand how people work, and asked how the two pieces of information can support working relationships. The organic nature of the group allows emergence of topics for discussion that make people look at situations differently. The lack of agenda is its power. They are able to discuss things that would otherwise feel “unsafe” to talk about in the workplace. People are able to explore their own behaviour in a non-judgemental environment. Non Violent Communication was introduced as an amazing framework for doing this. He aims to explore Barry Oshry’s work next but the organic nature of the discussions will allow any topics prevail – whatever what people want to explore.

Tim has observed barriers being brought down and people feel they can talk about systems thinking in a way they never could before.

Tim noted there is a thirst for this kind of group due to the lack of training budgets in the NHS. Going into the systems thinking space is very different for those in the NHS. It is engaging and powerful and helps people look at the problems they are facing.

 

Questions

Do people think outside in or inside out? Are the groups on the outside, inside or are there some linear thinkers who are getting broader? And how this fits with the populations as a whole?

Tim – they have attracted people who would normally be attracted to the group. They have lost one or two but most have stayed.

Mike – similar to Tim, it’s people who are interested, but is quite rigorous calling out woolly thinking. There has been a definite shift towards practical systemic thinking in the group, and good practical examples of the use of the tools in work, and in other relationships.

 

Are the boundaries open?

Tim has taken in new members lately.

Mike – problems of scale as it is over lunch time. We definitely have a tight group, but are currently using the group to plan a series of three one hour workshops using Barry Oshhrys Power Systems framework.

 

Are either looking at a time when they can be an overt challenge to the organisation?

Tim- The blog – reflective text, way of engaging with other and also it can create autopoiesis – others could do the same if they wanted to.

Mike explained how people are starting to ask to be taught things about systems thinking there is an appetite for practical systems thinking, but it may need to be grass roots.

What do we get from the groups

What is emerging – fun! They are really enjoying their journey. There is a lot of work to set up a learning group but it is worth it. Whilst it isn’t for everyone most people are keen to support one another. Tim is doing project on public health, another on isolation (particularly for the elderly) and how to do commissioning for outcomes.

Shared ideas for Future Groups

Timing

Both groups meet weekly. If someone misses a meeting it’s a week until the next one, and there is a great benefit in running at the same time and day each week.

Content #1

The content of each group is sourced from books, websites and videos, and is open to anyone. There is no secrecy about the tools we’re using. Having a open source of content is important.

Content #2

The content the group discusses should reflect their interests, and if possible their issues.

Drivers

Both groups we’re initiated by a person interested in a group forming, who was able to get people interested. There may be some work involved, but both groups now meet if the initiator is not there.

Planning /Purpose

Each groups started with a completely different purpose. Tim’s group had a syllabus. Mikes started with one lunchtime meeting to look at a couple of techniques to see if they had merit – like a academic peer review. It continued and looked at other ideas because there was a interest to do so.

Official Support

Neither group has official support or funding. Margaret Wheatleys “Proceed until apprehened” works here. The groups are authentic, and are not suspect to ‘fear of missing out’, or have members who are there because they need to be seen there. A downside is a lack of direct influence. This can also be an advantage, as people can simply behave differently, and explain why afterwards which can be powerful.

Safe Spaces 

The groups are safe spaces where difficult conversations can be held. In the case of Mikes group, the group is quite tight. It would be hard for new members to join due to the shared language and understanding that the group has.

Any new group would need to be mindful of this, although it is not a negative in itself.

 

 

 

Why are people replacing robots?

Mercedes-Benz is replacing some of the robots in their factories with people.

http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/feb/26/mercedes-benz-robots-people-assembly-lines

3127953038There had to be some passionate conversations between factory managers, and executives at Mercedes-Benz with this one. Replacing some robots with people has caused all sort of problems. If the factories are quite new, and were built for automation they probably don’t have many toilets near the factory floor. Or a large car park, or canteen. Robots don’t drive to work, and need to eat. Factory managers will take personal and professional pride in running efficient operations and automation has made cars affordable, reliable and available.

What is going on when the factories start employing people to replace robots? Wearing an efficiency hat this doesn’t make sense. Robotic factories have been the only future imaginable for years.  What has changed? Does the factory rulebook need to be rewritten?

Increasing pace of change and complexity 

From the Guardian article:

The robots cannot handle the pace of change and the complexity of the key customisation options available for the company’s S-Class saloon at the 101-year-old Sindelfingen plant, which produces 400, 000 vehicles a year from 1,500 tons of steel a day.

We need to be flexible. The variety is too much to take on for the machines. They can’t work with all the different options and keep pace with changes.”

Robots can’t currently mange the complexity of the customisation options. People are currently able to outperform robots at tasks requiring variety, at least until the robot manufacturers catch up.

Managing Variety 1: Making something you can sell

To find where this variety has come from, we can start in sales. Mercedes is in business to sell cars to customers. To do the sales folk need to offer what the customer environment wants, a…

… dizzying number of options for the cars – from heated or cooled cup holders, various wheels, carbon-fibre trims and decals, and even four types of caps for tire valves –

There may be customer demand for these, or marketing could have created the demand. Either way, with a lean, efficient production line, the sales folk are selling something the robotic factories can’t make.

Variety 2: Selling something you can make

Mercedes need to reduce the variety their customers demand to a level their factories can cope with. Balancing this equation is essential. Of course the ultimate offer would be a custom Mercedes for each customer, but this is not possible for the cost of a Mercedes.

To do this marketing and production have to work together to design and market cars that they can make in their factories. Mercedes-Benz are a luxury brand, so cost efficiency is not the sole purpose of the factory.

Marketing has to create and manage demand for the sort of customisation that their factories, restructured with people and robots, can produce. People can cope with the operational variety that robots, or people behaving like robots can’t.

Using robots, machines or computers increases efficiency, but reduces the ability of the system, in this case a factory, to cope with variety in an fast changing environment.

At every level we must ensure that the variety equations balance. If a car dealer can’t supply what the customer is asking for, they will buy elsewhere. If the factory can’t make what the car dealer is selling then the business won’t last long.