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System vs. Psyche w/ Dennis Stevens and Alistair Cockburn | Part 2

Reading: System vs. Psyche w/ Dennis Stevens and Alistair Cockburn | Part 2

The discussion continues between Dennis Stevens and Alistair Cockburn as they further explain the relationship between system effects and psyche effects through the lens of their unique perspectives.


– Yeah, the thing that I had bookmarked and I was thinking about, we kind of touched on it a little bit later, but the specific bookmark was, the frame I was trying to set for conversation was, if the Heart of Agile is just a true set of first principles, and I think it does a good job of reflecting first principles…

– It will last a long time, that’s for sure.

– So, if those things are true, and we’ll spend another time on the edges of some of it, where I think we can still grow, there’s more stuff to learn. There’s nothing wrong that’s there.

– I hear you.

– But, if it was all true, then the question I was gonna sort of see, the part of the conversation with is, what would have to exist in the environment that the people were working in, for them to be able to be successful from those first principles?

– Yeah, I hear you. Now, I know you won’t forget that so we can come back to that, right? That’s safely bookmarked. You say the word ‘principles’ and I don’t see them as principles. So, I kinda twitch like the conversation’s gonna slide off in a way that I can’t handle if I try to follow the meaning of the principles.

– Yeah. Yeah.

– So say a bit more, why you used the word ‘principles’. Was it a conscious word or was it just a placeholder word?

– I think it’s a conscious word. When I was a kid, you know, my dad was a physicist. My father was a rocket scientist. My father helped put men on the Moon, right? My dad also put the telemetrics inside of the nuclear reactor that they had at Georgia Tech. And so, I learned how to program on a PDP-8 connected to a nuclear reactor in downtown Atlanta, by the way. As an 11-year old boy.

– All right, as not everyday everybody gets to put on their resume.

– So, but one of the things, and my godfather was the head of physics at Georgia Tech, and one of the things that they would talk about, is like, there’s like principles, there’s true physical principles underneath things, a lot of physics. So, we can say the physics of Agile, I think you’ve nailed the physics of Agile. When I’m saying, ‘first principles’, I mean…

– Yeah. I mean, as we we’ve talked about, right, that’s been, basically, if there was a such a thing as a life work, as been my life work is that, get the curves. Right? This causes that. And the nice thing about a curve is, it doesn’t tell you which end to be at and tell, the implications of being at one of the ends. And one of the things that I enjoy, literally sliding up and down the curves in different situations and watching the implications of that. Right?

– Yeah. Yeah.

– So, we could call those, the principles of Agile and there were principles fits. Yeah. Now, where I struggle is the kind of Agiles are, those words are imperatives and they were chosen as imperatives, you know, quite deliberately. So they’re active verbs, present tense, imperative, you know, voice, et cetera, blah, blah. Collaborate, right? And so I have trouble seeing, here’s where there’s something in your head that I would enjoy seeing is, if I tell you to collaborate, that doesn’t strike me as a principal, I’m telling you to deliver the SOB, right? It didn’t sound very much like a principal to me, it just… I mean, based on a principle, right? So the principle is that projects go better. Things go better as you collaborate better. And things go worse as you collaborate worse, right? And that, and the principle behind it, the imperative deliver is that, as you deliver little pieces and manage the flow and get the feedback, right, you correct. You have the opportunity to correct errors and, you know, follow the trip. So those are principles, right? And there’s a principle, I guess, underneath each one of the rooms it says… The principle is, if you pay attention to this, things will get better.

– Yes.

– Is that make sense? So that fits the word.

– Yeah. So I think I’m using the word principal incorrectly, then it’s a category of things that are foundationally true. There’s the category of physics of the world that if you don’t collaborate, you’re not gonna get the results you need to win. You have to get ideas between brains and solve emerging problems with emerging techniques. You can’t do that unless you understand what it means to collaborate.

– Maybe you’re using the right… So the word ‘principal’, one of the problems I’ve got is it’s got two meanings, and people don’t sort those two out. One of them I’m happy within, and the other I’m uncomfortable with and the principles, and the Agile manifesto aren’t principles to me, they’re assertions.

– Right.

– And so…

– If I say… What?

– Okay. Yeah. So I see your tension with the use of the word that way. Yes.

– That, so when we say, you know, the principle of, you know, in physics, it’s gonna be a kind of a curve thing, right? If you do this, that happens, right? And so the way I phrased the principle for the Heart of Agile is, the principle is this, right? As you collaborate better, things go better. As you collaborate, worse, things go worse, right? As you deliver smaller pieces, you have the opportunity for feedback and improvement, right? As you, as you… Right? So those are principles of the sliding variety that lets you move, right? The principle says, if you go here, you go there, right?

– Yeah.

– There’s another one that says it’s valuable if… Right? And people use that. My guiding principle is… Right? And then it’s an assertion.

– Right.

– And I’m never comfortable that the people use the word ‘principle’ for that, right? It’s based on the principle that, I don’t know, delivering is good, right? There’s no sliding this around, that’s like, that’s an assertion, right?

– Right.

– Like the manifesto, the best software architectures come from a self-organizing teams. I don’t believe that for a heartbeat, right?

– I struggle with that belief.

– But it’s phrased as a truth, right? So these are truths and they’re marked as principles. So the things we build on, like you said, foundational blocks.

– Yeah. So we can use a different word than ‘principle’, but in my mind I’m always looking at three layers. And by the way, a friend of mine, about 15 years ago, I remember sitting in a coffee shop, and…

– Yeah, did he have sort of shorter hair and a shorter beard in those days? You know, could that happen? I saw this one coming, yeah, good.

– We were both much younger, but I was talking…

– We were both much younger.

– I was talking about assessing everything at three layers simultaneously, and it’s the sort of principle truth layer. And then it’s the application layer. And then it’s like the presentation layer. And so look at, when I’m always trying to operate from… And I find the trouble, when I have troubling conversations, because somebody is having a conversation here and I’m trying to have a conversation.

– Yeah. Typically.

– What you and I were doing at the table one day, talking about business analysis, I think was the topic we were going after. And we were talking about, just the truths that you have to be aligned around the things you’re trying to solve for, and then application of it, a poor application of it doesn’t make the reality of aligning on value, that’s important.

– Right, right, right, right. And I quote that conversation. If I play that back to you, we were in my kitchen, or this particular one I’m thinking about, which is maybe a different one than one you’re thinking about…

– That’s the same weekend, but yeah. Same weekend.

– Yeah, right, right, right. I was challenging… So, this is on the record, right? That I do say these things, you know, in public. People think that we threw the project managers out of the window, when we wrote the Agile manifesto.

– Right.

– And that project managers crawled back in the window through the Scrum Master Program, right? What they didn’t realize is the people we really threw out the window. ‘Cause I was, in 2002 and three, I was giving lectures on how to be a project manager, an effective project manager in a rabidly Agile context, right? So I think it makes sense, right? As you know. The people we threw out the window were the business analysts.

– Yeah. Because…

– They never crawled back in again. They’re still trying to crawl back in. So we were so effective, they didn’t even know, like, nobody even knew… They got banned from the surface of the Earth, right? And so the conversation was, for IC Agile, was the, what we call a value manager track.

– Yes. That’s right.

– [Alistair] Set of skills.

– Yeah, you can… You need those, you need the craft of that. But the role is, it was deployed in most large organizations. The presentation of it was very ineffective in most organizations.

– Yes, sir. And just to put this on the record, my challenge to you was, we’re gonna take a two-person company. We’re gonna take the founder and the programmer. And the founder knows all good founder stuff. So the programmer was out of . Do we, do… Should there exist a skills development track in IC Agile, around value management, given this setting? And I would take the case of ‘no, it isn’t needed’ because they just put their heads together and talk and you would take the side of ‘yes, they do’, right? And that was one of the best discussions because, ’cause, you know, you won at the end, right? It became clear that this skillset we were talking about didn’t naturally reside here, here. So one of the two of them would have to go skill up.

– Yep.

– In the skill area, independent of any role, it would still be only two people, but did have to skill up in this area, right? In the value management thing. That was one of the sweetest discussions I’ve ever had.

– Oh, cool. It was amazing for me too to be invited in your presence, to have that conversation. At that point in my career that was like a big, big deal.

– Well, you’re doing the same thing with assistance versus psyche. And I’m so on the record of, like, it’s all about attitude. My last client, I’m stunningly saying, we have to put some systems in place to, so that the attitude can have, you know, can grow. And they’re like fighting me. ‘No, we just want the attitude’. And I’m going ‘No, no, I just got done talking with Dennis, back up, back up, we need systems’, right? So, you’re totally screwed with my delivery now.

– Well, good. ‘Cause good stuff comes out of them.

– It’s all better. It’s all better. It’s all balancing.

– The thing that I was really trying to think about was, kind of like with the dissection of the word ‘principles’, and I’m saying, if those principles are true, if those things have to be in your head to be successful, what do we mean by ‘psyche’? What do we mean when we say, ‘you have to have the right psyche, the right beliefs’, and how do we get the right beliefs in people’s heads?

– So, I don’t wanna get the beliefs in their heads. I wanna get them acting a certain way.

– Okay.

– I use psyche, so… in my talk, the last talk, and it’ll be in all future talks, I do the four values of the manifesto and I add a fifth slide, and I said, attitudes over structures.

– Okay. Oh, that’s powerful, yeah.

– Oh, wasn’t that nice? Oh, wasn’t that nice, right? So, you will need interventions that are structural, like literally changing the seating position back in the in the co-located days, right? Literally changing the seating… And irony is, I used to consult literally only on structural stuff. I would literally walk into a place and say: ‘Move those people around and everything will go better’. Nothing but structure, right? But those are the enablers, right? Those are the enabling interventions…

– Right.

– And what I always have to say is the magic, right? Individuals and interactions over processes and tools, right? You might need processes, you might need tools, but the magic happens in the way that people interact, et cetera, right?

– Right.

– And so, similarly, like… So, you need the structural interventions, but the… If you want the magic… And so, here I don’t say ‘belief systems’. I don’t say ‘mindset’. I’ve burned off the word ‘mindset’. So I don’t use it.

– Good.

– But ‘attitude’ we can deal with ’cause attitude will come out in the interactions, right? In the behaviors. So you don’t mind, I’ll drop the word ‘belief’.

– Okay.

– But this is the language I’m living in, right? So we’ve got attitudes and behaviors. And so, your question is, what do you have to put in place, right? And in the discussions with my last clients, it’s been… If certain structures are in place, they will inhibit the best attitude. They, the kindest and the most accurate is, they put an upper limit on, right? That’s the way you put, have to phrase it, right?

– Yes.

– You can have the best attitude, but there’s an upper limit to what you can get if the structures are fighting against you. Reward programs being number one on my list, right?

– Yeah.

– And they’re enablers in the sense that, when you get good structures or systems in place, it allows the attitudes stuff to flow naturally.

– Yes.

– [Alistair] Are we in agreement here?

– Yeah, absolutely. And then what becomes really interesting ’cause there is… In my mind, as I was thinking about psyche in the last two weeks, I was thinking about how do you influence behaviors. And I was thinking beliefs, but I’ll shift away from that, right? So I’m trying to shape my language too, as this is emerging here. But I think about not just, like, the governance model and how you measure things and visual systems to create shared understanding and measurement systems to assess performance, all those things are part of the system, right? And team designs who sits together and who’s responsible to who, but there’s a whole bunch of things around the leadership. There’s a whole bunch of things around expectations and how we, what are the rules of delegating? What are the acceptable behaviors or interactions? And I was trying to think about how much of what you talk about is leadership and is leadership part of the system, whereas leadership part of the psyche.

– Psyche I selected only because the illiteration, it’s so cute, you know, system versus psyche, and in psyche, I’m not just doing mindset, but basically all of the psychological games that are going on of which, you know, attitude and interactions and behavior and mindset and all of that would fit, right? But all of the things that are inside I had… And you asked the leadership, right? So, if we do that, what elements of leadership are structural and what elements of leadership are in the personal behaviors and interpersonal behaviors of the person, right? The leadership’s a funny word. It’s a word that still causes me, you know, some amount of grief, because you remember, it’s been over the last 10 – 15 years, managers are bad and leaders are good, right? Et cetera, et cetera.

– Actually, bad managers are bad as are bad leaders and good managers, of course.

– Well, you know, that’s the point. And that’s why I collected a whole page on my website about what do good managers do and what the good leaders do, you know, as a distinction, right? It’s a leader, basically everything gets lumped into leadership. Like, lots of stuff gets lumped in there, that… Who knows. So, and you know, David Marquet had turned the ship around fame, yeah?

– Yeah. Yes.

– He actually lives in our South of me and Sarasota.

– [Dennis] Oh, very cool.

– And I’ve visited him twice and I’ve picked his brains the best I could. And one of his lieutenants from his submarine came and gave a talk at the Heart of Agile conference in Pittsburgh a couple of years ago.

– Very nice.

– [Alistair] And we picked his brain as much as we could.

– Very nice.

– So he has a systemic model if anybody does for leadership, right? He , right? And Alistair’s, you know, ethnographic investigations debunk this stuff as much as I debunk anybody’s stuff. Right? So, just so you know how I do that, I saw him and I said, I asked him a zillion questions and all of his answers were straight out of the book. Like, literally that book is so good. It’s incredible. I got one or two tiny details to color a few of the stories in the book, but basically everything out of his mouth, like he was quoting the book. It’s a how . Then I said, skeptical me, I go, ‘I have a hunch, that that only worked once. Like, you had a, you know, a black swan opportunity, a once-in-a-lifetime and it’s never gonna happen again. I’m gonna float a hypothesis that you can’t replicate that in the business world’. And he said, ‘Well, you’re right, just for starters, ’cause in a business, they don’t have to do what the captain says’.

– Yeah. So it’s fascinating to me, how much of, what’s in that book and how much that gets drawn out in our industry as a way to do things. And people don’t understand the first principles and systemic things that were in place that made that way of delegating work for him. Does that make sense?

– So can I add two bits of information you may not have about him and his story….

– [Dennis] Yes.

– Right? The first is, in his book, he actually tried that stuff once before, when he was down a notch in the hierarchy.

– Right.

– And it literally didn’t work, literally didn’t work. Okay? And that was, he was too open about it. ‘Well, you could, it would be nice, if you write’… It was the same guy, but to your point, partly, there was no system in place. Partly it wasn’t practiced. Partly the crew wasn’t ready.

– Interesting. Yeah.

– So I got to listen, I got through this ’cause I think these are nice bits of information that you fold into your encyclopedia there. So that failed, first of all, then… Yeah, next up. His boss, you know, admiral, whomever name I can’t recall, chose that ship for him, right? Knew him, right? He wasn’t an unknown quantity, he’d been been through. He had these really strange, you know, Marxist ideas about how to run a nuclear submarine. Right? Give everybody autonomous self control and free expression. And you know, like that on the nuclear submarine. And he was scheduled to go after boat and they gave him, I don’t know, a year, year and a half, six months, whatever. And he memorized every nut, bolt, torpedo…

– Yeah, I know that…

– Children of the crew members, everything about the ship. And six weeks before deployment, they swapped them. They gave him a different submarine. Now, why did they do that, is an interesting question to ask, right? So I floated this to him, ’cause you know I like to float hypotheses and I just put them in front of people and see what they say. And I said, ‘I’m floating of the theory that your admiral gave you that ship because he knew you had these wacko-theories and hypotheses about how to run a ship. So he gave you one that was so bad, you couldn’t screw it up’. Right? They were at the bottom. Now, that’s relevant, because they were already at the fricking bottom. Right? And he said, ‘Do weird stuff and they go, , we can’t get any worse. Like, we’re all ready to quit the Navy right now’.

– Right.

– So when we talk about systems versus psyche, the psyche aspect of his new context was super important. He could not have pulled that off. If they’d give him the third best submarine in the Navy, he could not have done that on the third best to make it the best.

– Yeah. Very interesting.

– You really had to take people who were broken. They had nothing to lose by doing totally stupid wax stuff that made no sense, but the captain told them to do it, right? So that’s in the psyche, right? The second thing is, and this is to your point about systems, and I had this discussion, I think with you and if not, with somebody else, the first change he made, he changed the code in the rule book about who signs off the shore leave.

– Right.

– And he says it right there. He committed mutiny right there, right? He absolutely committed mutiny. He took a line and he drew it through the rule book and he wrote his own words on top and says, the midshipmans, or whatever those guys are, get the final say, they sign it off to the person goes, right? Now, I’ve had this discussion maybe with Tony Christensen or somebody. Yeah. Because he was doing this stuff at World Bank of Scotland. And we talked about systems. And it’s the point, you have to change the rule book.

– Right. And there was a muscle there that he was developing, which was a muscle of delegation and a trusted fashion to give people permission to make a decision they hadn’t had permission to make before. It wasn’t a super…

– That only worked ’cause he had the system in place, he had the psyche in place.

– Right. That’s right. Yup. Right.

– And so the third piece of information… So, yeah, the third piece of information is the guy who was his, you know, whatever, lieutenant, it’s in the books. It’s his colleague now, right? Et cetera. And I asked him, ‘So you, like, spent two years under him and you guys had this, like, humming machine. Did you, could you ever replicate that with another captain?’ He goes, ‘No’. my next captain, I try to play this , could do the tummy and tension. The guy said ‘Shut up and do what I said’. He said, ‘I tried four or five times. I tried every single time I could, he shut me down and said, do it shut up and do what I said. So I ended up, I just shut up and do what he said’. Right?

– Right.

– So this is in the systems versus psyche interplay. Right?

– Yeah, it’s interesting.

– Leadership. When you say leadership, how many aspects of that was the leadership aspect and how much was something else, right? And it’s not something else pop is really big.

– Yeah. It’s… So that, where I was taking it in my mind and thought we’d land, it might be a little bit different as we get into it. What I was thinking in my mind is, if we want to teach leaders how to more effectively get organizations to be successful. And that I was going to say, what does success mean? Which is like a next question on this. But if we want organizations to be more successful, do we teach leaders? You have to build systems and then coach the psyche within it. You have to tell, I think the two things have to co-evolve a little bit.

– They do. And this is the interesting part about our discussion.

– Yeah. Or do we teach them to go after changing how people think about their work first, and those people get to sort of evolve their systems. I think in most organizations today people don’t have permission to evolve their systems.

– Hang on, hang on, hang on. You threw some extra where I was like, all, I had my all pulled, next thing you stacked up and you threw some extra words in there. You said he evolved their systems. Evolve their systems. ‘Cause you, you know, like everything… Like everything I do is on the psyche side and everything you do is on the system side. You keep trying to evolve the system and I keep trying to evolve the psyche.

– Scrum, might tell us, Scrum might tell a team to go retrospect and figure out, gets in the way of you being successful and go…

– That’s structural, that’s structural. So let me try something different, right? I just want to show you the difference in the language. ‘Cause like all of your language is structural.

– Yeah, I’m very focused on it, yup.

– But you are and that’s fine. That’s why we’re in this conversation. So I was at a company, yeah, I guess I could say the name. It doesn’t matter. So I was at Vodafone Greece, and I had literally the CEO of Vodafone Greece and the CXO and some direct reports and not another, there were like eight people, 10 people or something like that. And the first thing that I do, is I say, ‘Hey, there’s an interesting way to do an icebreaker. I know you guys all work together. So maybe you haven’t done this one before. It’s kind of fun’. And this came out of a book that I got from Carol Deckers and… Something about leaving. Anyway, it doesn’t matter. Turns out there’s a recognition and competence, you gotta do a grid, right? And… There’s a zone in, yeah. There’s a zone in there where people don’t get recognitions for some of their competencies. So some things in which they’re competent, right? When you boil this down to a binary, like a really tight question, you can say, ‘Name something that you’re good at that other people don’t recognize you for’. It’s a super, super question, right? So I do that inside the group and they’re all doing this and this one, guy’s really funny. He’s an executive. So he starts, basically distressed describing his job role. I’m really good at this and this and this and this and this. And you know me. So I like, I interrupted him and I go, ‘Excuse me, that’s your job description. You’re supposed to be good at that. That’s why you’re in your job. Everybody knows it. So it can’t fit in the ‘what you’re good at that people don’t recognize’, ’cause that’s what you’re good at and they recognize and expect it from you every day. So, come up with something that they don’t recognize you for’.

– Right.

– ‘That you’re good at’. And he goes, right. And it goes, and he finds something. We finished the exercise and I go, so we did that. And they go, ‘Wow, you know, we really worked together for a long time, many years together, but we didn’t know that stuff about each other’. Right? So yeah, opened up. And rolling onto that, I was talking about, now we’re in structural, I’m going like rewards programs, bonuses. I said, executive bonuses often are conflicting. Right? And then you can write quantity versus quality category thing And you gotta fix that, that’s structural, right? And then and the CEO goes, was moving around for a while now here. Yeah, that’s interesting. He goes, ‘Our bonuses are on us as a team. So we’re okay. But I can see that as we break down the goals in our different departments, how they get non-collaborative’.

– Right.

– And so I said, ‘Ah, I’ll take it on as a point that we’ll go and re-evaluate the way those things were phrased, so that we don’t inhibit…’ Right?

– Yup.

– [Alistair] That’s structural.

– Yes.

– And then the last part of that, the anecdote is a person whom I won’t mention the name of, but he’s listening to the entire story, he says out, ‘But Alistair, I work for an organization and everything we do is tied to stockholder value, shareholder value, ROI. He said, ‘You haven’t mentioned ROI once. Like, why do these people even stay in the room with you? Quite frankly. Like, I don’t even understand why they’re in the conversation’. I said, ‘Oh, I treat them like people’.

– Right.

– ‘And they like that. And then they stay. And then they start treating each other like people. And they like it’.

– And they’re more effective because of it.

– Well, so back to your question. That was not, you know, that was, to your question, which do you first, right? And I wanna to show you the sounds of a psyche discussion, right? And the point is, they just like it, people treating them like people. So they’ll go and bend the rules of the organization. They all chat with each other out of hours. They’ll cross responsibility line just to be a mensch with another person. Right? So, you know, I mean, my consulting career’s based off of all, start with the psyche side. Now, what are they not going to do? ‘Cause I guess I’m not successful getting them to change the system. Right? So I don’t try, I don’t stick around long enough.

– Right.

– I say, you ought to do that. And I’m gone three days later.

– Right. But you’re teaching them to think about it differently, and to give them some principles to apply as they think about it differently. And you’re challenging them to bring their skills to bear. And then, as leaders, I would suggest they’re going and changing their system.

– So, listen…

– Maybe on the systems thing, it’s a longer pole. Right? So you have to be there for a longer time. Like, I’m there for three days. I throw pixie dust and, you know…

– It’s actually, so it’s really interesting in my mind as I’m pulling back on. Yeah. So that, that actually goes to my third topic that was in my head. But as I’m pulling back on leadership and what they’re trying to, what you’re trying to do is get them to treat each other as humans and then for them to make conditions appropriate for this human behavior to produce the results that they want without putting a lot of rules around what that has to look like. And they’re kind of letting them figure it out, ’cause they’re smart and can figure it out. So you’re taking… You’re getting to a systemic solution or getting them to behave differently towards each other. But they’re probably, in some regard, changing the rules of the game, so they can be successful. So that’s actually really interesting for change, standpoint, and clearly has to be part of an overall any change effort. I think there’s also then a question that’s in my mind, in our industry in general, but just generally too, is what does success look like? You get them to change and what’s different than it was. And is it they treat each other better or that they’re doing a better exchange of value with their customers and their employees, or that they’re making more profit. What does success look like? What are we trying to accomplish?

– One of the weird things from the ’90s that came out out of my interviews was, as you make things nicer for the workers, their productivity improves. It improves. It’s not a one-to-one, like, it’s not like you throw them cocaine parties every Thursday and they all get happy, you know? And then productivity improves, but you do those motivational things, so they enjoy their work more as they’re working and then productivity improves, so you get both. And I’ve often thought… Often have thought, like since the late ’90s, I did this research without any speculative beliefs. Right? I didn’t start from that as a beginning position. What would I have done? I mean, I was lucky. As you make life better for the workers that their output goes up, right? What would have happened if it had been the opposite? What would have happened if I really, my research showed that you chain people to the desk and you flog them every hour, you know, their productivity goes, what would I have done?

– [Dennis] Yeah.

– So it’s a… Yeah, but it’s kind of a lucky thing, right? That… So… Take for your future, you know, kind of noodling around, length of time that you have to intervene. ‘Cause I’m going to claim that the people don’t want to make the systemic changes. I’m gonna assert that. Not that I have, like, your experience.

– Yeah.

– I think there’s truth in it. And I think there’s a tremendous amount of…. We end up with a tremendous amount of energy in the organization because we approach it actually by getting them to want it more and more by showing the cause and effect. I think that there’s enough momentum in the industry today that people are gonna, ‘If not for Agile, we’re not going to be successful and we tried these 10 things and it didn’t work’. So we’re now willing to try a little harder to create the conditions. Like, really a lot of times we’re coming in as a fourth attempt to solve this, because they tried it without doing what they needed to do. And they’re not willing to.

– How long does it take, if you think of some of your stories, what’s the time duration from the time you suggest, like, they have to start changing the system, till those elements are actually changed?

– If I can’t show dramatic improvement inside of 90 days, they’re not gonna keep us engaged longer to help them move up the curve. So our…

– So give me an example of something that you would have them change, that shows a result within that.

– I would go into a project-based organization that was operating without any context of what value meant and working on 10 times more things than they had capacity to do. And I would say, ‘Let’s form some stable teams. Let’s visualize your work and connect it to value. So you can work on the most important things and make it flow. Let’s just balance capacity and demand. That’s base camp one for us, let’s just do that for you’. And what happens is, productivity goes up, predictability goes up, quality goes up, trust gets built in the organization. And all of a sudden, these Agile practices, like daily stand-ups and Scrums and backlogs and things, because they were doing them before, but they didn’t have the structural elements in place to get value, all of a sudden there weren’t. And then this concept of autonomy, mastery and purpose that drives the engagement within the team, connects. And other people go, ‘We want more of that’.

– So it’s nice as you’ve got all the anatomical body parts of all of that labeled.

– Yeah.

– And what I just heard was, they hear those labels and they see what they see, and now you give them the things that they could ask for more of.

– Absolutely.

– And now, okay. And so, but that was an easy one. I mean, in a sense that’s an easy one because… And I tell stories, you know, I tell stories. So, I go to BBC in London and this guy says, ‘Take a look at our Kanban board’, all right? There’s a big, long white board, about the length of, you know, your office wall. And he goes, ‘We put up the Kanban board and productivity shots through the roof’. And I go, ‘Excuse me, that can’t happen. All you did was to put notes on, nobody typed faster, nobody talked, like… Tell me how it came about, that literally putting sticky notes on a board, made productivity, go up, like, convince me’. And he’s, ‘Well, we first did, like, everybody lists all the things you’re working on’, right? Up go the sticky notes all over the place. And you find three times as many projects in flight as you ever thought about, and it pushed the ball over the left and they made a hard WIP limit of, I don’t know, three things or whatever. Right? That was… And then it was all, you know, then it was all swarming, and nobody got to work on anything that was on the left till there was a space in the one, on the end in one number three. And things that they finished, right?

– Right.

– Right. So you’ll notice I did not talk about cross-functional teams or what are you gonna, stable teams, I didn’t talk about whatever you call, about the autonomy, the head… I didn’t have all your body parts, right? Right. So this is like the lazy, you know, the sloppiest methodology that could ever work. Right? That could possibly work a guy, right?

– Yeah. Well, what I need, Alistair, is I need to make it repeatable and show that we knew what we were doing.

– That’s where having all the body parts helps, right? That’s the point of having the anatomy.

– Yeah.

– The cool things you guys have done. So, what I heard was you were describing it, was, you say these keywords, these keywords, these… There’s like nine keywords. And what they heard was, there are nine keywords or a bunch, like, more than six. Right?

– Right.

– Just keep saying that seven to one again, who was that again? Autonomy mastery-what? Autonomy mastery-what? Autonomy-mastery, what? Autonomy… Yeah. Yeah, get some of that, let’s see what happens. Right? Right? So… That’s what I heard.

– Yep. So it is, so it is, and I have, like, 18 or 20 steps like that. So the first three are foreign teams put the work into a meaningful structure and then understand how much you can get done and make work flow. Like, that’s the first three. And we go all the way up to, how am I making better bets? And how am I learning faster from the customer? But the thing is, if you start at the wrong place and the diagnostic, it’s really hard to start out learning faster from the customer, if you can produce anything. But what’s interesting to me is, forming a small team and balanced capacity in demand, and then having them work and flow, it creates space for collaboration.

– Yeah.

– It’s break points for them to sit in and reflect and improve. Right? It creates opportunities for them to actually…

– Back up, back up. Tell me that again. If you have flow, does not create space for collaboration, reflection?

– Creating a stable team creates the opportunity for collaboration, having them…

– It’s the reflection part. So nothing creates space for a, for reflection.

– Okay.

– [Alistair] Prove me wrong.

– I think when I am working on 100 things with 10 different teams, all at the same time, all arriving together, completed thing. And we kind of look at and go, was this hard? Was this easy? What got in the way?

– So…

– Let’s just say doing pure Kanban, right? Continuous flow.

– Yep.

– The problem with continuous flow is there are no break points. It’s the machine that runs for a year and a half and drives you mad.

– Yeah. That’s right. So I think I’m not suggesting then that Kanban is the right thing. I think you have to have break points and points that you build into your model for reflection.

– So, okay. But, my point is, having the flow, does it create the points for reflection? That one literally has to be added on top.

– Oh, but I’m gonna suggest… Fascinating. ‘Cause my outcome four is, learn to improve your system. And my belief would be that if I don’t have a team with people that I work together with frequently, and a shared set of outcomes that we’re going toward and an ability to kind of get to a point I’ve done this from time to time, we don’t have anything to stop and make sense out of.

– I got it. But what are you gonna, how are you gonna get those, the people to insert a reflection ritual.

– I’m gonna build it into the rules of the game. It’s part of my governance model. As part of my definition. This team meets the second Thursday of every month and reflects on everything I’ve done, what worked well, what didn’t. And because we have a shared understanding of our intent, of our team and our design and I would make the workflow, we can then talk about how to improve it and…

– So, I wanna do, in terms of Euclid’s five axioms, right?

– Yep.

– You had to add that one, right? That wasn’t a natural outcome of that, you had to edit literally on top of the others.

– So that’s interesting. I agree. So, I agree, but if you add them in the wrong order…

– I got you. I just play in, like, I was listening to you, Dennis.

– Yeah, yeah. That’s cool.

– [Alistair] I was listening to you.

– So one of these things I spent a lot of time on, is making it repeatable, make it understandable, but also really thinking about… If I’m trying to manage dependencies and I don’t have the ability to have a stable team that can decide how they’re gonna deliver increments of work, I can’t manage dependencies yet. If I’m gonna try to make better bets…

– No, I got all of that. I got all that. And you guys have done a marvelous job. And I keep finding, trying to find the access to our conversation, right?

– Yeah.

– This is going over and over and over, around.

– That’s what I’m trying, I… Right.

– And the only access I’ve got at the moment, right, out of our conversation is duration, like, I’m talking to a company and I get many one-hour slots over a voice call. Or even if I’m in the same room, it’s still only a small number of one-hour slots. Right? I don’t have, like, you have how many people, on the ground. And one of these places where you’re making me systemic changes.

– Three to 20, depending on the size of the company.

– Correct. And how long does it take you to convince them to make, like, stable teams is, stable cross-functional teams, is a tough ask.

– It’s a price of entry. We don’t even start with them until they’ve decided that they need to be able to do that.

– Okay. So, at the mo– I’m still, I’m looking for a number, man.

– Yep.

– You know, me, I’m all about emotions. I’m not about measuring stuff, but I want a number.

– You know, it’s interesting…

– Joke, Dennis, Dennis, Dennis, stop. That was a joke, humor, humor. That was humor. Irony.

– What’s interesting to me is early on, it took longer to get people to understand they had to do that. Like, they just didn’t believe it.

– Right.

– But more and more and more people have struggled, and now they go, ‘Okay, we’re willing to try it’. It’s kind of, like, what made me think of it, it is the the David Marquet story, like, we can’t get any worse. So we might as well try doing that. We’ve tried everything else.

– I got, I have a story. I have a story from, and I’m allowed to tell at this point in time, Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company. ‘Cause I don’t consult for insurance companies ’cause they never deliver anything. But, I was there in a long gig for, like five, six weeks doing just use cases. And the project manager of this project is, he’s like, I don’t know, eight, nine months from retiring, 64 years old. He’s just, you know, waiting to jump out, and he’s showing me his slide deck. And he… I said, I don’t consult. I told them, ‘I don’t consult insurance companies ’cause they don’t deliver anything. But I’ll talk to you about what your you’re doing’. Anyway. So, and he literally put that in his talk. ‘Alistair does not consult…’ Literally put that in all of those talks. But, I said, you’re doing incremental development, right? For three months deliveries or whatever. Right? For the first time ever in your life. This is an insurance company. They’d never do that. I go, ‘What got you to try that?’ He said, ‘I’ve tried everything else’.

– Yeah.

– This guy is 64 years old. He’s one foot out the door to retire… The last thing, the last thing left at the bottom of the barrel that he’s gonna try just before he retires, is incremental developments. Holy smokes.

– Yeah. I mean, it’s fascinating, you know, so, my sort of thought processes there is, that the underlying physics of what’s necessary for us to solve these types of problems are just true. And so…

– And you’re not gonna get it if you don’t do these things. So, if you don’t have relatively stable teams and you don’t have clarity on what value is and you’re not delivering a way to get feedback and no way to measure it, you’re just not gonna be able to solve the class of problems you’re trying to solve. No amount of ceremony or beliefs, or to a certain aspect, behaviors, in a system that doesn’t provide those. Like, I can act exactly this way in a project ties were kind of 10 things at the same time being pulled in a million directions, as I am in a stable team with a clear backlog, and permission to balance capacity demand. I’m gonna get the results out of this one but not out of this one.

– That’s cute. That’s cute. I like it. I, you know, it’s really interesting, is your your stuff’s fabulous. Fabulous. I just like, I’m jealous. I’m envious. I have absolutely no interest in learning how to regurgitate any of that stuff.

– You know, what’s really…

– I, like have, you know, the attention span of a net these days, so…

– But what’s fascinating, Alistair, is how much influence you got on Mike and I early on in our careers…

– I know.

– [Dennis] You get us to getting here.

– Ah. No, but it’s different personalities. You know, like I’m show up and I throw the air, and everybody feels happy, and you know, and they go off afterwards and say, ‘Let’s get some more of that’. Right? And then they try to do the same in their organization… And there’s a positive ripple effect, right? So, in the attitudes bucket, we’ve got Craig Brown, who’s only got one drum he ever beats. His only one tool. There’s only one hammer in his tool belt, and that’s called garden for pub crawl.

– Yeah.

– It’s all he got. The man has turned company after company around, bigger and bigger companies, more and more global, that’s all he ever does, is take him out for pub crawl. Right? So this isn’t structural, this is how far you can get on a purely attitude, right, psyche basis, literally informal. I just go out to the pub crawl. Right? Boom, boom, boom. So he’s the example of, like, literally what you can do on the one side.

– Right.

– And you guys are what you can do on the other side, it’s like, wonderful.

– What’s interesting to me is that the danger that we run into as we scale and kind of move away from the personality of Dennis and Mike, of the… ‘Cause it’s, there’s still a culture of sort of, it’s still gravitas at the end of the day. It’s still really psychic. I’m gonna trust Dennis to go do this.

– Yup, yup. Yup, yup, yup.

– It’s still some Alistair magic dust.

– [Alistair] Totally.

– I just have some patterns to go delegate it, to get it.

– You know, you’ve got that, well, you’ve got the right… You know, your system’s language plus your wonderful, gray, you know?

– It’s gray, isn’t it?

– Yeah. It is very convincing, man. I’m buying six of whatever you’re selling. I don’t care, right? Just give me a six pack.

– But I think the danger that we run into is, if we don’t pay attention to the psyche and…

– Let me ask you a question. I’m gonna to break it. I’m gonna do my usual thing. I had, from my PhD dissertation, the best question ever.

– Okay, I’m ready.

– Written in the margin of one of my paragraphs and I was saying, blah, blah, blah. We did this and this stuff worked, okay? And in the margin, he wrote, ‘Was it the advice or was it the adviser?’

– Well, that is the challenge of scaling leading Agile, it’s how do we move it from the adviser to the advice? Or what is, how do you build scale and what we think…

– Well that’s, and now we’re in the systems versus psyche, right? That’s where… Yeah. So, let me…

– Shift the conversation. All right. Take you out of the picture, is there anybody besides you who can sell and install the systemic changes?

– We’re getting there.

– [Alistair] That means ‘no’.

– Yeah. Install… Install, we’re getting more and more people, so, I’m totally focused on building a methodology team now, not an implementation, not a delivery team, but a methodology team that can go tell these stories and create the vision at the top that makes it work.

– So you got the language slides, what you need is another person who’s got the right gravitas to sell it.

– Yep. Yep.

– All right. There was a guy, apropos advice versus adviser. One of the most marvelous experiences I had, I was at a company X, I can’t say what X is in this particular case. And they did trading systems and financials, and you know, those guys move really fast, right? Then I know it’s four o’clock and you’d probably have another call.

– No, I just defer it.

– Okay, well, we’ll do this in the next 10 minutes. We can wrap it up as we should. But anyway, so the guy, so I was gonna talk about use cases, right? And it was a show about, all about use cases, right? So the, so I was gonna talk about my stuff. The guy who gave before, was giving a case study and his story was… Yeah, he needed the traders to participate in the writing of the use cases, right? And traders, like, they’re busy people, they’re trading, you know, and millions or billions of dollars per minute or per hour or per day, or whatever. Right? They don’t have any time. There’s, these guys that, like, they’re local. And so he says to them, ‘Hey guys, we’re gonna write some use cases and build you a system that you’ll love and use and blah, blah, blah. But we need you to show up and, you know, help write the use cases’. And they told him, ‘Yeah, we don’t have time for that’. And he said, ‘I got that, you guys are very busy. And so, we’re busy too, you know? So, and so when you have time to help us write the use cases, we’ll make time to build you a system’. And eventually they struck a deal. And then there’s six in the morning, and he brought in the coffee and the donuts. And, you know, they were doing all this stuff before the stock market, or whatever is that about. At the end of his talk, people were rushing up from this big, you know, financial company, rushing up to the stage and saying, ‘How do we do that in our department, how do…’, and I said, ‘You need him’.

– Right.

– Him. You need it. It’s not a method. You need that guy who could stare at the traders in the face and say, ‘When you make time to help write the use cases, we’ll make time to write you some stuff’. Right? Who could pull that off? You need him, right? So this is advice versus advisor…

– Yep.

– [Alistair] Settings, right?

– So, it’s really interesting. And it is the conversation all the time. Like, I can give all the tools in the world, but what you’re trying to accomplish with those tools is different, the long leg of this for us, as we grow, is teaching people to be fighter pilots, not how to build fighters, right? How to fly the fighter in combat. That’s not a great example, but…

– No, no, no, no, no, it’s very good because there’s a minimum skill level, you know, dexterity, smart, blah-blah, attitude, personality, in a fighter pilot, right? And so you don’t take the, what are those big, heavy planes that fly freight? Are they C-47 or what are those things called?

– The C-5.

– C-5, right. So your C-5 pilot is not, you don’t take your C-5 pilot and have them do a fighter plane, right, or vice versa, right? So, yeah, yeah.

– Yeah. My dad hung the telemetrics on the C-5A, the very first one ever built here in Lockheed. And I actually had dinner with Maynard Jackson inside an airplane, there was like 200 people, was such a giant plane. I was like five or six, but I remember how big that plane was inside. And as a little kid it’s…

– Oh, yeah. I think it’s… Oh, yeah.

– Right? But it really is a big aircraft, but yeah…

– That’s pretty cool. So my, I mean, my intention all the time… Now I’m growing my language around systems, right?

– Yeah.

– And what I’m immediately running into is the resistance. Like, I immediately felt that, I did it with this client recently. I started even saying, ‘You need to put certain structural elements, like…’ Right? Attitude versus structures, there’s certain structural elements you have to put in place. I’m using that instead of the word ‘systems’, right?

– Good.

– And man, they don’t wanna go there. They won’t, they don’t wanna go there so bad, that like, you’ll do, like, any amount of personal-charisma-thingy. So they don’t have to go to the structural elements.

– I like what you added to the manifesto, your fifth attribute. And then we’ve talked about this before, but the way that I flip it, when I have the conversation, and I would put enough structure in to make sure I get the right.

– Yeah, yeah.

– I wanna put it right, so you flip it… And it actually says that if you read it, while we value the things on the right.

– Sufficient in order to… yeah.

– [Dennis] Yeah.

– Yeah. Hey, do you have any more bookmarks? It’s been an hour. I will close this off. Wrap it up.

– No, I’ll come back if you’re up for it, and talk again in two weeks, I might seed you another thought process I was having.

– Yeah.

– But I really think this concept of, if what we’re trying, if an avenue to explore is how do we develop leaders to be able to go lead this stuff, which is kind of the path we’re having…

– Let’s go back to that question again. Oh my God. That’s the bookmark for next time. Straight up. You can remember it. How do the leaders… ‘Cause now, damn. ‘Cause to me, well, to me ’cause I’m so biased, right? Leader is all personality.

– Yeah.

– Structure, right? But you would say, ‘Well, if you don’t have sufficient structure too, they can’t do leader of’, right?

– No, so what we are teaching them to do, and why are we teaching them to think about it, and my challenge with the way that Marquet talks about leadership is, that if you can’t take what he did and drop it somewhere. So what does, what is the actual pattern of that? Because if it is this balance, but we have to teach them to look at the two and we have to teach them to evaluate the two. And it can’t be personality driven. Or when that person leaves everything falls apart.

– Another thing is this fell apart, you know, it fell apart the moment that he left, I mean, not the moment he left, but it did fall apart.

– Yep.

– And Neil Nikolai’s, I get to quote him on this, totally changed the culture of an organization from fear-based to trust-based when he was CIO of this place. And I said, ‘Congratulations I’ve never seen anybody change the culture. Like, normally when they leave, the culture goes’, he goes, ‘I have bad news for you. Six months after I left they were fear-based and lost everything I gave them’.

– Yeah.

– And I talk about the push to pull umbrella. Have you seen me do that one? Theory X, theory wise, stock markets, theory X pressure based on the CEO in escapable truth and public companies, right? Best performances from theory Y, quiet space choosing, selecting at the bottom. That means irrevocably that some manager has to be the umbrella, the converter from push to pull.

– Yeah.

– And that was him. Then he goes, ‘Oh my God’. He says, he said to Jonathan, he says, ‘I like talking to Alistair. He just always explains to me what it was I just did’. I never… I think that’s a good thing, real. Well, he’s so awesome if I can decode him and pass it back. Right? And he goes, yeah, that’s what I get. Then I can pass that to somebody else.

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