Monday, September 09, 2019

From values to rituals

In the previous chapter, I left you with a map of brexit. I said that I had avoided the use of values within it ... mea culpa ... I had left some in there. Two values in particular - fairness and equality (see highlighted point 1 in figure 1)

Figure 1 - Brexit Map

But what are values?  Values identify what is judged as good or evil within a culture. They are more than just the operating norms or principles of behaviour, they are beliefs and often abstract concepts of what is important, what matters, what is worthwhile. They are within and derived from a collective (see point 2)  i.e. the values I share with best friends, a family group, a squad of soldiers, a company, a political party or a nation state. An individual may have many values which come from many collectives and in some cases those values can conflict. The individual is then forced to choose.

Values are also not fixed. What society values today is not necessarily the same as five hundred years ago. What we understand by those values is open to interpretation and evolves with the value. We also build enabling systems to embed and represent our values i.e. democracy (see point 3) in nation, or a town hall in a company or a family gathering like a wedding or seasonal holiday.

When we think of values, we need to think of a pipeline of continuously appearing and evolving values within that collective. Some get rejected, some evolve to be universally accepted and understood in meaning. I've represented this in figure 2 (point 1) using a small box to represent "values" and a larger box to represent the evolving pipeline of "values".

Figure 2 - A pipeline of values.

Those values aren't simply isolated things but interwoven and connected. In the case of collective they are often in the rules, in the constitutions or in the legislation. It doesn't mean they started there however, they existed before and evolved to become accepted.

Take a group of people and a few values and simply ask them to plot them on a map and to look at the interconnections. This is exactly what I did, expanding the exercise to various polls in order to refine the positioning. Since maps are a way of de-personalising a space and talking about the issue, I deliberately picked a highly charged subject. In this case, workers' rights and slavery within the US (see figure 3)

Figure 3 - Connection of values.

At first sight, it might look confusing. What has Worker's Rights (such as the idea of a right to paid holiday given the US currently has no Federal laws requiring this) got to do with the Abolition of Slavery (a well understood idea, accepted and embedded in law though unfortunately not yet completely gone).

In "Our Forgotten Labor Revolution", Alex Gourevitch discusses the Knights of Labor, the first national labour organisation in the United States, founded in 1869 by Uriah Smith Stephens. The organisation was based on a belief in the unity of interest of all producing groups and proposed a system of worker cooperatives to replace capitalism. The emancipation of slaves had inspired a further movement to emancipate workers from the domination of the labor market.

The Knights’ expansion into the American South began in 1886 at their general assembly meeting in Richmond, Virginia. In a conspicuous show of racial solidarity, a black worker named Frank Ferrell took the stage to introduce the Knights’ leader, Terence V. Powderly, before Powderly’s opening address. To defend his controversial decision to have a black Knight introduce him, Powderly wrote “in the field of labor and American citizenship we recognize no line of race, creed, politics or color.”

After the general assembly the Knights spread throughout Southern states like South Carolina, Virginia, and Louisiana, setting up cooperatives, organizing local assemblies, and agitating for a new political order.

Such change of values and structures however are rarely welcomed from established collectives nor individuals who seek to control. For the Knights of Labour, an organisation striving for better rights for all through "co-operation" then the response was alas, very predictable.

First the Louisiana state militia showed up, sporting the same Gatling guns that had, only a few decades before, been used for the first time in the North’s fight against the South. The militia broke the strike and forced thousands of defenseless strikers and their families into the town of Thibodaux, where a state district judge promptly placed them all under martial law. A group of white citizen-vigilantes called the “Peace and Order Committee,” organized by the same judge that had declared martial law, then took over and went on their three-day killing spree. 

The modern US workers' rights and movements are decedents from these early Labor organisations which themselves are decedents from emancipation. The 1963 march for jobs and freedom showed this connection between both the civil rights and the workers rights movements. Martin Luther King described how both movements were fighting for “decent wages, fair working conditions, livable housing, old age security, health and welfare measures, conditions in which families can grow, have education for their children, and respect in the community”. They were the "two architects of democracy" as King would explain.

Even the modern idea of universal basic income is derived in part from a value that all forms of economic dependence are incompatible with free citizenship. Our legal systems reflect this evolving nature of values in the precedents and components upon which they are built. They are chains of values that have in part been codified and hence can be described. They consist of evolving components building upon one and another. 

On communication
The enabling system for our values (in this case above we have chosen democracy)  requires mechanisms of communication. This is not only needed to diffuse the values among wider groups but to enable challenge and the evolution of those values. Of course, in order for communication to happen then there also needs to be some measure of psychological safety within that collective unless your intention is not to evolve but simply to propagate. The same mechanisms seems to appear whether we're discussing a political change of values within a nation state or simply a company. If we choose the collective as a "company", use a town hall as the enabling system rather than democracy and refer not to the many and the few but workers and executives, the same map provides a useful starting point for discussion of a company. 

In one such interview the question of the purpose of the company arose. Initial reactions discussed goals and the need to economically survive though examples were given of organisations that were temporary with a fixed ending point. The idea was then refined by the phrase "The purpose of the company is to succeed in achieving its values but this also requires economic success in order to survive".

The problem with this idea is that other forms of collectives have existed long before companies and we can't simply tie the idea of a collective to economic success. Fortunately economic success is simply a measure of competition and we can tie the idea of collectives to competition with other collectives.

In figure 4, I've provided an early map used to discuss companies. A few things should be noted.

Point 1 : the many and the few have been changed to workers and executives.

Point 2 : it is recognised there are many types of collective - a pipeline of forms from well understood company structures to co-operatives. Rather than draw the box across the entire map, a simple square box was added to denote that this wasn't a single thing.

Point 3 : the term economic has been replaced with competition. A collective needs to succeed in achieving its values but it is also in competition with others. In the case of the company this is economic competition.

Point 4 : there is a pipeline of enabling systems from the moderately well understood ideas of democracy to town halls to hack days. In order to diffuse the value these enabling systems require some mechanism of communication.

Figure 4  - Communication, Company and Values.

From Rituals to Gameplay
With more discussions comes more flaws and there are many in the map above. Success in competition doesn't just require values to be diffused by some enabling system but instead many components are needed. Communication itself was just one of the many principles (universally useful practices) that we described as doctrine highlighted in Part I (repeated in table 1 below). To complicate matters more, communication itself is evolving but then so are all the other principles. Even "focusing on user needs" is not universally accepted but more of a converging principle. 

Another problem with the map is the notion of hierarchy. There are many different ways of structuring a company from the rigid concept of silo'd hierarchies to holocracy to two pizza teams to anarchy.  Even this space is not a single idea but a pipeline of evolving components.

The map above also lacks any notion of the competitive landscape it is dealing with. The principles of doctrine (see table 1) whilst universally useful need to be applied to and are derived from an understanding of the competitive landscape.

Table 1 - Doctrine.

Alas, our understanding of the space that our companies compete in is both primitive and evolving. The concept of mapping a business (for example, using a Wardley maps) is not widespread, nor is it well understood or even accepted. There are far more diverging opinions on this subject than converging.

On top of this, you have the issue of gameplay. There are 64 publicly available forms of context specific gameplay derived from Wardley Maps (see table 2) which is only part of the total known which itself is a fraction of the possible. This list is constantly changing as new forms of gameplay appear and existing methods evolve. Some of these forms of gameplay are fairly positive in nature (e.g. education) whilst others are Machiavellian (e.g. misdirection). The use of them depends upon the competition that you are facing, the landscape and your values. However, in their use they can have long term impacts. You can become known as the company that co-operates with others, creates centres of gravity around particular skillsets or you can become known as the company that raids others for talent whilst misdirecting its competitors. This history can become part of your culture through the stories will tell each other.

Table 2 - Context Specific Gameplay

However, it's more than just stories that make our history. There are echos from past gameplay, from past practices, from past values in the rituals, the symbols, the stories and the talismans we use. The insurance company example (in Part II) is one of a ritual of customising servers which echoes from a past practice which at some long forgotten point, made sense. These rituals, symbols, stories and talismans are part of an evolving pipeline that represents the collective's memory.

Let us add this all to our map. From figure 5 below:-

Point 1 : Our values, enabling systems and principles are pipelines of evolving components represented by single square boxes.

Point 2 : Our structure is an evolving pipeline of methods from anarchy to two pizzas.

Point 3 : The principles and gameplay we use are influenced by our understanding of the competitive landscape which in general remains poor today.

Point 4 :  Our gameplay is a pipeline of constantly evolving context specific techniques. In general, we have a poor understanding of these techniques, their context specific nature or even how many there are.

Point 5 : Our collective's memory echoes past value, past principles and past gameplay. This collective memory can influence how we feel about a collective and our own psychological safety within it.

Figure 5 - From Rituals to Gameplay.

Towards a map of culture.
We are now in a position to propose a map for culture. I've done so in figure 6.

Figure 6 - A Map for Culture.

Other than highlighting areas where it has gone wrong or disagreeing on the placement of components then your first reaction should probably be "I can't see culture on this?"

That is because the entire map represents culture - the pipelines of evolving principles, values, enabling systems, memory, gameplay, collectives that we belong to and interactions between them. It is all culture. It is all involved in helping us describe our "designs for living". Our extrinsic behaviours are learned from our interaction with it, our intrinsic behaviours play out on this space. 

Being a map, it's also an imperfect representation of the space of culture which itself is evolving. It does not fit into a pleasant 2x2, there are no cultures to be simply copied from other companies because both others and ourselves change with the landscape, with the collectives' memory of the past, with the evolving values and principles that are at play and with the collectives that it touches upon and people belong to.

At this point, your reaction should be "What the hell am I supposed to do with this?

For that, we will need another chapter.

Thursday, September 05, 2019

Exploring Brexit

The first rule of brexit is “you’re wrong”. 

No matter what you say on brexit then someone will argue that you’re wrong and that they’re right. So let us start by concluding that whatever map I’m going to produce on the subject is wrong which is ok because all maps are wrong anyway. The purpose of a map is never about being right but instead helping to create a better map. Hence, I’m going to start by saying that I accept that the maps are wrong but I’m not interested in why they are wrong, I am only interested in a better map. So, if you want to discuss this subject then produce a better map. Everything else I will consider a waste of time wrapped up in individual political capital, stories and desires. If you want to have a shouting match over some narrative then find a mirror and knock yourself out silly. Since the map is wrong, I’m going to assume the assumptions are wrong as well. It’s all wrong but that’s ok. The question is whether it can be useful.

In discussions with a group of people who voted Leave and Remain a couple of key words and phrases resonated. On the Leave side there was the idea of an elite (the few) versus the people (the many). This concept of “the many” was also replicated in the Remain discussion but through terms such as populist, appealing to populism and even a mob. Whilst variation existed in what those terms actually meant and who those groups were, the idea of a many and a few was fairly consistent. Hence, I will start with those as my main two users - the many and the few.

On the Leave side emphasis seems to placed on two key concepts - democracy and control. Both we couched in terms of the collective rather than the individual i.e. “our democracy” and “we are taking back control”. On the Remain side emphasis seems to be placed on belonging and freedom. This was often a mix of both individual and collective as in “We are European”, “We are part of Europe” (i.e. a sense of belonging to a wider collective) and “Benefits of freedom of movement” (i.e. how I or other individuals benefit from this). To a lesser extent this also occurred with discussions over wealth, as in the Leave side tending to more grandiose discussions of a “Global Britain” invoking a more collective slant whereas the remain side tended to discuss both the economic impact to them and issues of safety to the unfortunate - “Do I need to hoard food?”

Two other interesting ideas appeared early on in the discussion which were the idea of hierarchy and responsibility. Whilst hierarchy could often be well articulated and agreed upon, its associations seems to diverge. In almost all cases it was described in relationship to ideas of control but in some cases it was associated with belonging as in “a tribe needs a leader”. I tend to avoid the use of the word tribe finding faction a far more appropriate term, hence I will use faction in this description. However, what was highlighted was a distinction between meaning i.e. does an accepted meaning exist for the term) and association (the strength or weakness of associations between meanings. Hence we can agree on what hierarchy means but can disagree on what it is connected to i.e. belonging.

In contrast, and quite unexpectedly, the notion of responsibility exhibited differences in meaning. For some, when describing ideas such as “We need to pull together” what is meant by “together” is not the same. For some, together describes more of a collection of individual responsibilities i.e. in the melting pot of the market, the overall effect caused is through a collection of individuals acting. For others together describes a collective responsibility i.e. we as a group need to achieve something.

Of all the terms raised, notions of “safety” and the term “democracy” were particularly fascinating. Safety showed not only disagreement over specifics but people exhibited a reluctance to discuss the issue in the company of others with a different view. The reactions were often either quickly defensive, closing down the conversation, talking over each other, failure to listen or simply not engaging.  These reactions are the sorts of behaviours often seen when discussing in psychologically unsafe environments.  The notion of safety also had strong resonance with the Remain parts of the group in terms of membership of the EU with the benefits of "a larger trading block", dealing with defence and outside threats. 

The idea of democracy had some peculiar divergence with general agreement on the term and ideas of fairness and equality but disagreement on what is fair with notions of the referendum being “cheated” or “stolen” or the Parliament "subverting the will of the people".

So, to begin with we have concepts of a few vs many, individual vs collective, democracy and control, belonging and freedom, wealth and safety, responsibility and hierarchy, safety and democracy. Many of the terms had disagreement over specifics or associations but convergence in terms of general meaning. From these discussions, we have enough components to create basic map using the axis of “ethical values” described in Part I. 

I’ve used the ethical values axis simply because it appears more meaningful in this context. Hence we start with concepts, emerging meanings, converging meanings and things which are universally accepted and agreed upon. Remember, the terms are simply labels for the different stages of evolving capital. Where possible, I’ve also avoided adding in any principles (e.g. communication and challenge) or concepts of values in both society and local groups. I’ve also added in the term Agency as in the power and independence to influence one’s own environment as it was an idea that was often described with few being able to give meaning to that term. Lastly, remember that we will assume the map is wrong, the sample size is far too small but that’s ok as this is only a stepping stone to a better map (see figure 1). I've highlighted weak associations as dotted lines.

Figure 1 - Brexit

Let us use this map to describe some of the narratives that appeared to be in play. Do remember, that since I was the person recording and transcribing the interviews that I will have my own perspective and bias. Fortunately, that will be exposed in the map for you to challenge.

The Few
On one side, there are the few. The few wanted control for the individual (i.e. themselves) and by this we mean both the agency (the power) to act independently and control over others (a collective) through some form of hierarchy. The purpose of this agency was economic wealth, as in it both needs it and provides it and creates safety for that group. The sense of belonging here was more a tool for controlling a collective i.e. the few were the faction leaders and the sense of belonging (to the faction) was focused on controlling the collective. This narrative I’ve shown in figure 2 as red lines and text (which I've also made bold and increased the thickness).

Figure 2 - The Few

The Many
One the other side, there are the many. The narrative tended to again discuss control but in a sense of a collective that belongs together (as a faction) which is focused on creating safety for the entire group. This was wrapped in notions of collective responsibility with the “freedom to discuss and challenge” with each other. The notion of collective responsibility was also tied to concepts of democracy through both equality (the line of “one person, one vote”) and fairness (the glib “no taxation without representation” was stated). This narrative I’ve shown in figure 3 as green lines and text (which I've also made bold and increased the thickness).

Figure 3 - The Many

Now let us overlap these narratives - see figure 4. Whilst there maybe disagreement on the meanings and the associations between terms, common core ideas appear in both narratives - that of control, of belonging, of collective and of safety.  I've highlighted in blue and made those terms bold. There are also clear distinctions, in one narrative responsibility is to the individual and safety is strongly connected to economic wealth, in another the responsibility is to the collective and safety is more to do with engagement, being part of the faction. What we are slowly starting to visualise is the description (these are only narratives) of two distinct cultures with overlapping and common components.

Figure 4 - Overlap

Why does this matter?
If we can visualise the landscape then we can start to learn patterns and determine ways of manipulating this environment to our favour. For example, we might wish to educate to create a common understanding of some idea or we may wish to emphasis or create new associations. From the narrative of the few then a key component is economic wealth however from the narrative of the many then the focus appears to be on safety within the group. Hence I might wish to establish an association between the collective and economic wealth and I can do this through a sense of belonging i.e. “Make America Great Again” or “A Global and Prosperous Britain”. What I am emphasising is the importance of economic wealth to the collective. My intentions might be to diminish collective responsibility and emphasise individual responsibility over time hence reinforcing my advantage but I cannot start with that message (see figure 5).

Figure 5 - Focus

The point of the map is not that it is right but that we can discuss these issues, identify common components and start to learn how to change the landscape to our favour. We can start to add these components to our future map of culture, combining these elements with communication and challenge but before we do this we need to explore further including the areas of values, symbols, rituals and embedded knowledge.

Oh, and if you're looking for the answer to brexit then I'm afraid you'll have to look elsewhere. I'm much more interested in the mechanics of culture and populations.

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

Mapping Culture

How do we map culture? What is culture? Will mapping a culture somehow effect it?

In one interview with a global company that relied upon the use of stories, an observation was made that was quite startling to begin with but obvious in hindsight - “maps are helping us shift our culture”.  

One of the issues with using stories in decision making is that stories are often tied to an individual - the storyteller. We even teach people how to be a better storyteller as though the idea itself has more validity if only presented in the right way. This personalises decisions as it is not so much about whether we believe the story but whether we believe the story teller. Hence the conversation can quickly become political. One of the advantages of putting the idea down in a map is that we now focus on challenging the map. It depersonalises the discussion. It enables the company to have some difficult discussions about its future and to identify how its culture needs to change with less of the baggage of politics.

The company itself faced a changing market but it was also in denial over the change. Part of the company, on the engineering side, could see the change coming but one part of the business, who happened to be the strongest storytellers, disagreed. The storytellers were winning and revolt was fermenting elsewhere due to frustration over the inaction in the face of perceived doom. This tension had exploded in the boardroom into quite heated arguments whilst at the same time defensive gang-like mentalities were evolving elsewhere. The threat for the company was a web giant was about to industrialise their main product area. The storytellers dismissed this as not being important because users would like their new product features. The engineering group disagreed. Whether conscious or not, exceptionally long powerpoint presentations were used by the storytellers to communicate their vision or more aptly “to beat doubters into submission”.  In cases, this “death of thought by powerpoint” had become so bad that rules had been created to limit powerpoint presentation to no more than 2 hours and 60 slides of heavy text.

The CEO of the company was more of a steward (a peace time CEO) rather than a war time CEO as depicted by ideas of great generals or conquerors. They saw their role as building consensus and brokering conversation rather than leading a charge. Unfortunately the consensus had broken down into hostility. Groups of engineers with strong local leaders were refusing to work with the business on projects that they considered “daft”.  With revenue growth softening, any culture of safety and belonging within the organisation had been diminished by recent layoffs. Off-sites had become profanity laden blame meetings. However, despite this various groups at a low level from engineering to the business did work together in a highly collaborative fashion. Those groups were the gangs under strong local leaders.

By a set of happy coincidences, a small part of the engineering function had recently introduced the use of maps. The maps had “quite a revolutionary impact” as one interview told me. The maps had depoliticised the problem. People were talking about and arguing to the map rather than each other. This had enabled the engineering group to explain their concerns, allowing for more challenge and discussion over ideas. It enabled them to explain how the market was changing, how the competitor was playing the game and how they would need to change. The maps have spread from the shop floor to the board room building communication, challenge and trust. They were having “positive effects along the way in all but one group”. The one group that strongly resisted this new way of communicating were the storytellers. They operated in a far more hierarchical manner, with strong control of the narrative and a view that we just needed a better story.  The problem was always something else i.e.  “engineering isn’t listening” or “the story was explained right”. The maps directly threatened their control over others, they allowed people to challenge and it was no longer possible to hide behind the fog of long powerpoint presentations and well spoken narrative. 

Whilst the impacts of maps are talked about in glowing terms, the only point we should really note is that changing the means of communication can change our ability to safely challenge an idea, to express our concerns, to collaborate with and trust others. Different communication mechanisms can result in very different culture. As one commentator noted “you can't change the culture by diktat, it's a function of the experience of the people. If you want to change the culture you have to change the experience of those people. Maps enabled us to communicate with each other, we were finally discussing ideas and concerns by talking and listening rather than being presented at”.

The introduction of maps can influence your culture but that should not be a surprise as some of the first parts of doctrine are communication, challenge and situational awareness. But does that mean a map of culture will impact culture and what is culture anyway? We’re no closer to answering that question other than to say the means of communication matter.

Kroeber, A.L., & Kluckhohn, C. (1952) said that by culture “we mean all those historically created designs for living, explicit and implicit, rational, irrational, and non-rational, which exist at any given time as potential guides for the behavior of people”. The key to this phrase is in the words “designs for living” as it highlights the interactions between people and this is where communication comes into play. It might seem trivially obvious but there is no culture without people and without communication. Instead there are just fragments of some past culture. Our focus therefore has to start with the interactions of people but which people? In the example above, we have two different cultures represented by two different groups. One was a top down driven, narrative focused, hierarchical and politicised culture that resisted challenge. The other was more of a bottom up, emerging local leaders, high degrees of challenge and communication that focused on the landscape. This is not to say that one group was wrong and the other right but simply to acknowledge that difference. Whilst maps had enabled different forms of communication and challenge, it was the two competing groups that had highlighted the differences. 

Hence, we’re going to continue to explore these issues of culture on our path to creating a map.  So, we need something with different types of people, possibly highly political and with division between those groups. I can’t think of anywhere better to start than with Brexit itself.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

What culture is right for you?

During 2005-2006 with the implementation of a pioneer-settler-town planner structure in a high tech startup in Old Street, London (a barren wasteland of technology at that time), one noted observation was that the different components of the structure appeared to have different cultures. A more recent set of observations (2014-2016), through examination of company’s doctrine has shown us that the principles used in companies are not the same and not even necessarily uniform within a company and this appears to impact the adaptability of the organisation.

To put it simply, if I take a list of universally useful principles derived from mapping (see figure 1) and then compare companies with a simple traffic light system (are you good at this or not) then differences exist (figure 2 and 3).

Figure 1 - Doctrine, a list of universally useful principles.

Figure 2 - Doctrine within a Web Giant

Figure 3 - Doctrine within a Banking Giant

Now, we cannot say which principles matter more and the doctrine list itself is constantly expanding. For example, as technology evolves then there is a constant co-evolution of practice and some of those practices are instead universally useful principles i.e. focus on user needs or use appropriate methods (i.e. XP vs Lean vs Six Sigma).  

It's worth unpacking this a bit more. Practice itself tends to be tied with a specific implementation of an underlying systems i.e. best architectural practice for compute as a product included disaster recovery tests and capacity planning. The practice itself evolves - it doesn't appear fully formed - and hence we have novel, emerging, good and best practice i.e. all four stages of any evolving capital (see figure 4).

Figure 4 - The stages of capital and the labels we use.

When technology evolves, a novel practice can co-evolve due to some characteristic change. In the shift from Compute as a Product (stage III, see figure 4 above) to Compute as a Utility (stage IV, see figure 4 above) then the characteristic that changed was MTTR (mean time to recovery). In the old world, when a server went bang it could take months to get a new machine. In the new world, it can take seconds.  This allowed for a new set of practices (which we labelled, overtime, as DevOps) and included design for failure, continuous deployment, distributed systems and chaos engines (random introduction of failure into the system). Such practices then themselves evolved and are now considered good (becoming best) architectural practice for compute as a utility.

This is best seen with a map, hence I've highlighted the process in figure 5. It's worth noting that a major form of inertia to a change of an underlying technology are the best practices that existed with the less evolved technology. It's not just pre-existing capital (i.e. sunk cost) that causes a resistance to change (such as shift from product to utility) but also the practices associated with the past way of doing things.

Figure 5 - A map of co-evolution with technology.

Sometimes, within the maelstrom of a changing technology there emerges a set of practices that transcend the context and are universally useful i.e. focus on user needs or think small i.e. know the details.  Sometimes these practices are hidden in more context specific practices i.e thinking small hidden in both micro services and the use of cell based structures. These practices are not dependent upon the underlying technology and the specific context.  These practices we call universally useful principles and doctrine is simply a collection of universally useful principles. The appearance of such principles is often by happenstance or as a process of people rethinking how we do stuff.  The principles do have a contextual side to them i.e. my user needs are not necessarily the same as your user needs but overall a focus on user needs is seen as universally beneficial.

However, what matters in competition is also your competition. Being hopeless at these principles doesn't matter as long as your competitors are the same. If we all ignore user needs then no-one gains any advantage. It only becomes a problem when a different style of company (such as the Web Giant) enters our industry (i.e. Banking). Finally, within a single company these principles aren't even uniform. Some parts may well have a different style of leadership and a different emphasis.

Overall, these statements should not be surprising - "cultures and related principles are different between organisations and within organisations and this may have an impact on performance".

Unfortunately, this leads us to a question of “What culture is right for you”. The problem with that question is in its unpacking.

Firstly, we have to define what culture is in order to distinguish between what maybe right or maybe wrong? In 1952, the American anthropologists, Kroeber and Kluckhohn, critically reviewed concepts and definitions of culture in the academic world and compiled a list of 164 different definitions. Any review of popular business press shows the term is equally, if not more so nebulous today. Despite this, we assign almost mystical properties and powers to “culture” with memes such as “culture eats strategy for breakfast”.

The subject matter itself is complicated in terms of many different components that influence it from learned to inherited behaviours, from both social to personal constructs, from layers to manifestations, from determinism to relativism, from the semantic to symbolic history. It is also complex in that many of its attributes appear emergent as with many evolving processes. The field is also littered in business press with many inadequate concepts that do no hold up well to scrutiny such as the idea that culture is homogenous (as in one thing), that it is evenly distributed among members of any social group (including organisations), that individuals possess just a single culture or that culture is simply custom or that somehow culture is fixed rather than transient and timeless.

At best, we can say that culture contains many things from experience, learned behaviour, knowledge, meanings, relationships, hierarchies (i.e. power structures), capabilities (i.e. skills), values, possessions, aspects of belief (i.e. ethical position relative to others), principles and attitudes. It has many layers from the individual to the group to the organisation to the nation. It has many perspectives which may vary with context.

In terms of the question, the problems with it can be stated as follows :-

1) with the word “culture” and its definition.
2) with the words “what is right” as this requires some measure of what is right and acceptance that there may be many rights and many wrongs both of which may change with context.
3) with the words “for you” as there are many perspectives. There is also the derived implication that culture can be directed because there is no point in knowing what's right if you can't get there. The issue here, is that many parts may only be ever emergent i.e. we might be able to nudge but can't force a direction.

This mess of a subject however does not prevent a thriving and lucrative industry of self-help guides, performance value matrices, eight or ten step processes and declarations of what makes a successful culture - short term wins, empowering employees, establishing a sense of urgency, communicating the vision, from good to great matrices etc. Most disturbingly, many of the characteristics described as associated with success often through positive case examples can equally be found in those that failed. This also leads to a notorious problem of outcome bias where we adopt some approach simply because others we see as successful have used that approach and finally confirmation bias where the evidence that such an approach works is that others are now adopting it. This seems to lead to an endless barrage of memes and the desire to get "big names" to bless some approach. 

From my personal experience, the net result of an extensive reading of business press left me with one of two paths, either join some cult of belief around the latest management guru or throw my hands up in horror and retire to the marsh I inhabit. Fortunately, anthropology came to the rescue. The single distinguishing difference between anthropology and the business press when it comes to the issue of culture is that anthropology is observation led and focuses to minute detail on observation whereas the popular business press seems to start with a hypothesis and find case examples to fit it.

This question of observation provides me with a route into the field, because maps are all about observation. The very start of the strategy cycle (figure 6) is the first O of OODA - observation, from which contexts can be learned and patterns discovered then reapplied.

Figure 6 - The Strategy Cycle.

It's not just activities and practice that evolve. From figure 4 above, we could map knowledge as a form of capital. As a primitive example, I've added a quick map of population genetics using the knowledge axis. Now, you might disagree with how evolved the components are, you might add additional components that are missing but that's the point of maps. Our evolving higher order systems are built upon evolving lower order components whether activities, practices, data or knowledge.

Figure 7 - Population Genetics as Knowledge.

In the same way, we have to accept that culture has many components rather than being one thing. It is a construct built on constructs. The question is, can those components be mapped or can mapping help? We already know that mapping has proved useful in terms of understanding a competitive landscape, investigation of practices, determining what appear to be commonly useful principles (i.e. doctrine) and examination of other forms of capital (i.e. knowledge or data). Maps inherently have perspective and many layers can be used from the individual to the nation state. Maps are designed around the concepts of evolution and for this reason maps can assist with both the complicated and the complex (emergent behaviours).  Maps are a context aware mechanism of communication and learning for both past actions and potential future behaviours. 

At first glance, these concepts of context and of universal patterns appear to chime well with the ideas of culture. We already have some fair advanced thinking on landscape, on doctrine and on inertia. We can even expose attitude through organisational structures such as Pioneers - Settler - Town Planner.  But there are limitation with maps. The technique is imperfect (all maps, in order to be useful, have to be imperfect representations). We also know that maps themselves can change behaviour, from the tackling of bias to inertia. Maps have the potential to be a visible artefact of culture and as much a part of the landscape as a means of visualising it.  The most severe limitation is that maps depend upon evolution of capital.

However, ideas, the meanings between them and even our values and ethical constructs evolve. In Edgar Schein’s Organisational Culture : A dynamic model he directly refers to the changing nature of value from espoused values to assumptions to unconscious responses.

In mapping terms, a similar evolutionary scale can be acquired by combining the labels from different forms of capital (across practices, data and knowledge). Taking figure 4 above, I've highlighted the following labels (figure 8) to provide a scale of  :-

Stage  I: Concept (and observation) - an espoused value.
Stage  II : Emerging - the evolution of an espoused value as an emerging theme.
Stage III : Converging - the conflict between emerging themes to form an assumption or an array of assumptions
Stage IV : Accepted - the unconscious response when the once espoused value has become an accepted norm and taken for granted.

Figure 8 - Labels for ethical values.
As with any form of capital, we can simply map this and combine it with other forms of capital. Using the ubiquitous cup of tea example, we can add to the discussion not only the physical components, any practices, any knowledge, any flow of capital (i.e. finance) but also considerations of value and ethics such as fair trading or green energy (see figure 9). In this figure I've changed the x-axis (in red) to the labels used for discussing ethical capital.

Figure 9 - Expanding the cup of tea.

Since the labels on the x-axis are simply notations for stage I to IV of capital, I have provided the alternative labels in the figure above but normally, I just use the labels for activities (from genesis to utility) as in figure 10 whether I'm talking about activities, practice, data, knowledge or even ethical values. This provides a good enough representation for me.

Figure 10 - A normal map including ethical values.

Since mapping itself is derived from the strategy cycle, it is inherent in maps that the existing state is derived from looping around the cycle i.e. past action informs the present. This would mean that culture (as with other forms of capital) in an organisation would not only be a set of evolving components that interact but also a consequence of past actions (i.e. loops). The choices of today being limited by past contexts and decisions. This means that culture cannot be measured against some standard because it is dependant upon the landscape, varies with history and is inherently emergent in the same way that strategy is. 

However, this doesn’t mean patterns don’t exist and hence the same climatic patterns (rules of the game), context specific patterns (methods of manipulating certain contexts) and universally useful principles (i.e. doctrine) can exist. 

Finally, mapping does distinguish between the needs (it describe a chain of needs in a landscape) versus the want (i.e. often how we wish to influence or manipulate the landscape). This difference of wants and needs is also present in culture i.e. the a set of generic wants of the poor and the middle class might be identical but the needs can be very different. All has a cultural bearing when it comes to describing a landscape.

Though all maps are an imperfect representation of a space, they have uses in communication, learning and pattern recognition. Some of the components of culture (whether principles or attitudes or ethical values) can be mapped with the assumption of values evolving as described above. Some of the components of today's culture are a consequence of past choices in past landscape. In the same way that we have technical debt to past choices and inertia to change from past success, we should also see cultural debt and inertia to change from ethical capital.

Of course, I've specifically focused on activities (one type of capital) with a particular reference to technology in this discussion whereas co-evolution can occur with many forms of capital i.e. co-evolution of practices (and hence the appearance of principles) can occur due to evolving knowledge or data or even practices themselves (in a delightful recursive twist).

This, however, is a dangerous line of inquiry. As we already know, competitive markets can be easily mapped and manipulated through gameplay from a local industry to nation state. The problem is not can we map and manipulate the culture of a local organisation to create some favourable change as we can simply do this by giving someone the list of doctrine and ask them to examine the company. The problem is can we manipulate the ethical values of a wider system such as a nation state once we have mapped it?

For over a decade, I've been hesitant to explain more on this topic. Times have changed though. Mapping has spread enough that I should open the door a bit more.

Monday, May 20, 2019

A fond and final farewell

It is with great sadness that I write on the sudden and unexpected passing of Martin Burns. Death has become a frequent visitor in my world as of late, each time cruelly taking a friend and in selfish terms, making my life the poorer for it. I will miss Martin, his humour, his graciousness, his willingness to debate, to foil, to challenge, to question and so much more. I will also miss the occasional game of werewolf.

I have many fond memories of Martin, from LASCOT to SAFe, from dinner to party, from that occasional quiet time when we just got to chat. Oh, and chat we would across political spectrums to project methodologies to the Eurovision song contest. We not only agreed but disagreed on many a thing but that was the true magnificence of Martin. We could debate, discuss and always remain friends. Never a cross word, just robust challenge. I will miss that. I will miss his support and his kind words of encouragement.

His jovial smile, his laugh, his mannerism, his character, his love of Scotland, his love of life. I enjoy the memories, I'm sad at the parting and I'm angry. O' Death, get to fuck yer wee man, this was a low blow. But then, that is not Martin. He would celebrate life and I will celebrate his.

I will miss Martin. I will miss a friend.

My thoughts at this time are with Lucy and the family. 

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

What is an expert


I often see examples where people add characteristics to a map or use new definitions for one of the axis. There's nothing wrong with this and I want to encourage people to explore. One recent effort by Manish has the axis as Rookie to Expert which leads to the question - what is an expert?

A map (and I have an entire creative commons book on this, if you want to know more) is a map of capital. The nodes are stocks of capital and the lines are flows of capital. On the x-axis, I normally use the labels for activities - genesis, custom, product (+rental), commodity (+utility).  But you can map not only activities but practices, data and knowledge. We use different terms for each stage of evolution of these forms of capital which for reference I've included in the table below.

All of these forms of capital have common characteristics as they evolve.  These characteristics are captured in the cheat sheet, which even after nearly a decade, I still find to be a useful tool though to be honest, it's embedded deep in my mind these days.

So what has this got to do with expertise? Well, let us take a grossly simple map of healthcare starting with the public and assuming some form of Government sponsored healthcare system. One of the components is treatment but treatment isn't a static thing. There is constant range of new treatments produced whilst the once remarkable becomes routine, even dull. 

So, what do we mean by expertise? Well an expert could be someone who is experienced in a broad range of treatments. They would be a generalist or an expert in general practice.

 But an expert could equally be someone who has specialised in a particular area e.g. the novel study of epigenetic cures or even appendicitis. This person would be a specialist

What is important to understand is that every node on a map can in fact be itself a map.  For example, if we expand out Appendicitis into its own map (see below), there will be many components involved in its treatment. A specialist would have in depth knowledge of each of those components.

Now, you might ask me why the nodes on the last map have no labels. Well, it's because I don't know what they are. I've just added some node and links as a way of saying - there will be components involved but I have no idea what they are. If you actually want a map for it then you'll need to talk to an expert on the subject.

The only people who can actually map a space are those with expertise in that space. In the same way, the only people who can draw you a map of London (even a crude one) are people who have either been to London (physically or virtually) or seen a map.

The beauty of maps is we can have many experts (both generalists and specialists), sharing and communicating with each other through the use of maps and hence improving them. This leads to  best thing about maps. For a rookie like me, then a map is the fastest way I know of bringing me upto speed of a complex and complicated environment. It's also the fastest way of discovering just how little I know.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Rebooting GDS


There has been a lot of chatter recently about rebooting GDS (Government Digital Service). Don't get me wrong, GDS has made mistakes but some were actually my fault. I made a terrible assumption in writing the "Better for Less" paper to do with mapping and how much people were aware of it. In hindsight, I should have pushed mapping into that paper rather than leave it as background noise.

So, in order to avoid making this mistake again, I want to extend this question of rebooting GDS and tackle the scenario of you're newly minted CxO (CIO, CEO et al) or Dept Head or - it doesn't really matter. 

The first thing you're probably going to feel is a bit of panic. Who put me in charge? I know there is the temptation to stamp your mark on organisation, to create that strategy which will propel the company to fortune but I'm going to ask you to hold your horses. The Titanic might be sinking and we've got to plug the massive great big hole before messing around with the deckchairs or plotting a new course.

To begin this journey, I'm going to introduce you to the strategy cycle (figure 1). It's fairly simple :-

1)  Have a purpose, a moral imperative.
2) Observe the landscape you're operating in and the climatic patterns that impact it (in terms of business we call these economic patterns). These patterns are useful for anticipation of change.
3)  Orient your organisation around the landscape using basic principles (known as doctrine).
4)  Decide where you're going to play, game the landscape to your favour and act. This is collectively known as leadership.
5) It's a cycle - every time you or anyone else acts it can change your purpose, the landscape, where you need to act etc.

I'm going to assume you don't have a map of your business landscape. You might have things like business process maps, systems maps, mind maps and a host of other things called maps but none of these actually are maps. The odds are, you're blind to the environment. But that's ok, so is almost everyone else.

When it comes to using the strategy cycle then is these early stages we're going to skip climatic patterns, anticipation, gameplay, leadership and all that good stuff. Instead, we're going to focus on doctrine and how to stop the organisation from actively harming itself. We're going to plug the Titanic!  We're just going to loop around adding doctrine.

Now, there are forty patterns that make up doctrine. These are all universally useful to any organisation but not all doctrine is made the same i.e. some is more important than others. Hence, I've provided a phased implementation of doctrine and we're going to start with principles in phase I (marked in blue). These principles are challenge assumption, know your users and know your user needs.

But how to introduce challenge in the organisation? Doesn't challenge already exist? Why challenge?

Ok, for most organisations you have endless lists of committees - global architecture group, business strategy forum, policy committees etc. They are generally full of well meaning people but there's usually not a lot of actual challenging going on and communication is nearly always suboptimal. If the organisation is of any size it'll have lots of waste, failed efforts, bias and duplication but no-one can really tell you how bad the problem is. When most CxOs stumble on this, they often want to take stock.

Taking stock of a large estate (whether IT or otherwise) is usually a pretty daunting task and the problem we're trying to solve is not "what we have" but "don't do silly things". Hence we really don't need to know how much waste we have, we just want less of it. To solve this we're going to introduce a group which will become a future bedrock of strategy in the organisation. That group is Spend Control.

The beach-head of Challenge

The purpose of spend control is simply to challenge what we're doing. It's important to remember that it doesn't control the budgets. Those budgets belong to other departments. Spend control simply says that if we're going to spend more than £25K on something then that has to be presented us and exposed to a bit of challenge.  To begin with, spend control should simply ask - who are the users, what are their needs and by what metric will we measure those needs?

You can even reinforce this by going around leaving posters of "What is the User Need?" or sticking it on the back of your phone as per Liam Maxwell (former UK Gov CTO)

Who are the users, what are their needs and by what metric will we measure those needs - surely everyone does this? You'd be surprised. Last time I counted, less than 20% of organisation could clearly identify their users and far less could describe their users needs. You might be lucky and be in one of those exceptional organisations but chance are, you're not. 

So, how does spend control work? Well, a project owner turns up at spend control with a project that they've got budget to spend £100K on. Spend control asks who are the users, what are their needs and how we will measure this?  The response can often be "I don't have a clue, it's only a £100K". 

Well, spend control's job is to ask the project owner to find out. But remember, the project owner is also the budget holder and so they can simply ignore spend control on the grounds that "It's a waste of my time".  You'd be amazed at how many people try to get exceptions to spend control because they're too important to be challenged on basic questions.

Let us assume the project owner does the work anyway. They might be successful but the problem for the project owner is should something go wrong then there is paper trail that they refused to ask the most basic of questions. This is the other side of challenge - you need to ask the questions and audit what happened. Now, what is happening here is spend control is not only building up a picture of things we might be doing (the projects coming into spend control), the users we serve, their needs and how we measure success but it's also building up a picture of which project owners listen, accept the challenge, succeed in projects and also understand their users. This is all good stuff.

At some point, maybe six months or a year into the process, then spend control needs to have a showdown with one of those failing project owners. You need to emphasise that people can't keep on just doing stuff without understanding the users, their needs and some basic metrics to measure against. This showdown is rarely comfortable but you need to push for no exceptions to the idea of being challenged. Once you're there,  the beach-head of challenge has been established then we can start to ramp things up.

Introducing Awareness.

At this stage, we going to extend spend control to ask more questions. We're going to go beyond just simply users and their needs but start to look at what is needed to build a project. I've highlighted the extended set of phase I doctrine that we're going after in blue.

The first thing spend control is going to ask people for is a map. This is a fairly simple exercise, you simply start with the users, their needs and then work out the components involved in making that happen. You do this through a chain of needs i.e. this needs that which needs that etc. The tricky bit with a map is you ask people to also put down how evolved the components are. There's an entire book on this, so I won't repeat that here. I've provided a very simple map for a tea shop.

The point of the map is we can challenge more i.e. there's a lot of components missing from this map for a tea shop from chairs to sit on to a method of taking payment. By sharing a map with others we can often find basic things that have been missed. We can also challenge in terms of what we're doing i.e. why are we custom building kettles?

These maps are in fact maps of capital (with flows and stocks). So we can add metrics to the map. Each line is a bidirectional exchange of capital i.e. the user gets a physical flow (the cup of tea) in return for a financial flow (money to pay for the cup of tea). The capital itself can be physical, financial, social, risk, information ... all sorts of things and yes we can build P&Ls from this.

The point is, we're now asking who are the users, what are their needs, how will we measure this, what components are involved, where is the money going and challenging across the lot. As we get more maps, we can even discover duplication between maps i.e. we're building the same thing twice. The worst I've found in Government is 118 times. The worst I've found in the private sector is a Finance company that has managed to rebuild the same thing over 1,000 times. Do remember, it's not because people are daft but because of suboptimal communication. People just don't realise they are doing this.

Let us repeat those steps just to be clear.

Step 1 - Focus on the user needs which means you also need to identify the users.

Step 2 - Know the details i.e. what is involved in building the thing. This allows others to challenge, find missing components and create a common image which can be communicated with others.

Step 3 - Reduce duplication.  When we have several maps then we usually start finding duplication rather rapidly. In general, I hold a view based upon experience that over 90% of the P&L of most organisations is waste. It's a far bigger problem than people realise and I'm genuinely surprised by organisations that have any sort of handle on this problem.

Step 4 - Reduce bias. I can't tell you the number of times I've come across organisations custom building what is a commodity because it's so common that it is normal. I've had people looking to invest in robotics (with lovely business cases provided to show an ROI for the capital investment within 12 months) to improve the efficiency of some workflow for a problem that only occurs because they're custom building something which is a commodity. In this case, the item was custom built racks, the problem was standard servers didn't fit into their custom built racks requiring people to remove cases, drill holes and add new plates. The "proposed solution" was to replace people with robots. The actual solution was to stop making custom built racks and start using standard racks. This sort of stuff is very common.

Hence, use the maps to challenge and question - why are we custom building this thing?

At this point, you want to give the changes another six months or a year to bake into the process. Spend control should be challenging across a much broader spectrum of things from the user needs, to the components involved, to duplication, to bias and where we're spending money.  The process of making a map is fairly quick - a few hours or so - but expect more resistance. Everyone likes to talk about the importance of challenge but no-one actually likes to be challenged. Expect lots of demands for exceptions and why this is too complex to go through the process and a host of other excuses. 

Don't get disheartened. In some cases, spend control will be able to really help others by showing them that what they're building is also being built by others. This will enable people to focus their efforts on stuff that matters, to get rid of the common (the boring) or even identify opportunities across multiple maps for building common services. But there will always be those who think they're too important. Just remember to record the advice given, those who ignored and what the end result of the project was. Build that evidence base. I'm afraid you'll probably need a few more confrontations with failed projects before it becomes accepted that challenge is not a bad idea.

What is also happening behind the scenes is you're also now building a view of the landscape you're competing in. All those maps are connected, part of a wider landscape and you're starting to get a view of this and your estate.

Finishing Phase I

At this stage, whilst things should be getting better, you're still going to have oodles of failed projects. You need to have built that evidence base and trust before you really embark on this part of the journey which is all about completing phase I (highlighted in blue).

To begin with, we going to have to start breaking down projects. Just because we have a map, doesn't stop people trying to build the entire map in some Death Star like project outsourced to their friendly SI. You'll need to introduce ideas like FIRE (Fast, Inexpensive, Restrained and Elegant - see Lt Col Dan Ward) and constraints. What we need to do is break things up.

Step 5 - break into small contracts.

The usual resistance to this is because it makes the landscape more complex as I've got multiple contracts now and interfaces between them. Please note the interfaces already existed and no amount of pretending they don't by trying to hide it in a big contract is going to make them go away. But breaking into small contracts is vitally important because it means we can now apply appropriate methods.

Step 6 - apply appropriate methods.

You might not be aware of this but there is no magic one size fits all method for project management anymore than there is for purchasing. You need to apply multiple methods at the same time. Hence you'll tend to outsource those more industrialised components on the right whilst building in-house with agile techniques those uncharted and uncertain components on the left. You'll also use different purchasing mechanisms. 

The overwhelming majority of large scale failures that I see come from misapplication of techniques and almost all of them can be anticipated before the project has even started. Typically, we'd take a project like the one above and outsource it all in one big contract. To mimic this, I've just marked all the "mini contracts" as outsource. Now the components on the left hand side are uncharted i.e. novel, new and changing. We can't actually specify them because they constantly change. Hence sticking them in a contract with components that can be specified always ends up with excessive change control cost overruns.  People argue that next time we need to specify it better but you can't. The solution is to use appropriate methods.

Step 7 - Learn about context i.e. what works where.

Helping and advising project owners on how to manage their environment is where spend control can truly shine. At this stage spend control will already be on the path to becoming the intelligence function that every organisation needs. But let us not get carried away with the future. At this stage you've completed all the doctrine in phase I and should be embedding that into the organisation through spend control. You're challenging across multiple aspects from the user, user needs, components, how we treat them, where we spend money etc. All the time you're learning about the environment and what methods work where, removing duplication and bias and hopefully becoming fitter and leaner.

You should be a couple of years into your journey. We've still several more phases of doctrine to go and we're years away from creating adaptive cell based organisational structure that use multiple cultures to cope with evolution (see below) but we're better than we were. We're also a good 5-10 years away from being able to effectively anticipate change, to use maps to target the landscape and to start learning how to manipulate the market and write strategy. 

At the beginning, I did say hold your horses on organisational change and strategy because the honest truth is most people haven't got a clue how to do this - it's pretty much all random, blind luck, memes picked out of the air. The reason why you felt panic is because you didn't know what to do. The good news is, most executives don't either.

Rather than blindly stumbling around, it's far better that we've made our first steps and mapping is itself a journey. You will eventually get to the point that you can play those more advanced games but let us get these basics sorted first. As a a rule of thumb in the private sector, by the time you complete the first phase of doctrine then you should probably set a stretch target of demonstrably reducing waste in the P&L to about 50% or below i.e. less than 50% of the P&L expense is waste. Obviously, some players are already far better than others. In Gov, there tends to be less waste because there are pre-existing mechanisms of challenge such as the MPA, NAO and PAC but even in such spaces, it's more than possible to save billions.

When it comes to the original question of rebooting GDS, I can't emphasise enough the importance of focusing and doubling down on spend control.