Helping the Gnomes that Code

Some emphasize that product development begins with writing code and that effort transforms into a win. The lingering question for this type of three-part development model is “What is Phase 2?”

What is Phase 2?

Some emphasize that product development begins with writing code and that effort transforms into a win. The lingering question for this type of three-part development model is “What is Phase 2?”

What is Valued by Gnomes that Code?

Many managers track business metrics and project metrics during Phase 2 to forecast the potential to win.

What is valued by gnomes that code?

Gnomes associate winning with factors that include autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Dan Pink wrote about what motivates individuals in his book Drive.

Gnomes can develop autonomy, mastery, and purpose in an environment when there is a moderate amount of volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors. Gnomes can benefit in a development environment that is characterized by a moderate amount of adventure, risk, and uncertainty. Taleb called this type of environment antifragile.

Development Options

Taleb wrote ‘The option is an agent of antifragility.’ An agent obtains results.

An appropriately designed network continuously synthesizes development options that provide the potential to take action that may result in a favorable gain. When an attractive gain may be realized, options are exercised.

Development options:

  • Include tasks that are likely to improve the antifragility of the network during a project
  • Are a response to the question ‘what should the network embrace now to improve the potential to win in the future?’
  • Are continuously synthesized and exercised during a project within the development network to refine the focus and direction of efforts to generate a win
  • Are consistent with the concept of safe-to-fail experiments that have an asymmetric payoff function (large potential gain, small potential loss)
  • Are exercised, evolve, or expire

The capabilities of the network impact the attractiveness of the development options that are generated.

To the extent that options are exercised and provide feedback, confidence in their attractiveness tends to increase.

Multiple options can be active simultaneously to provide multiple opportunities to win within the network’s current capabilities and within the project’s current constraints.

Precursors to Development Options

Analysis is a precursor of synthesis. Analysis is a problem solving approach that divides the whole into its constituent parts. Synthesis is a process of connection.

A synthesis approach enables one to imagine how several capabilities may work together to produce the desired result. Validation may follow from a combination of decision, action, interaction, and more observations.

John Boyd represented these items in his OODA Loop sketch in his final briefing titled “The Essence of Winning and Losing” in 1995. I have expanded Boyd’s notation to represent the interactions of individuals and their efforts during a project.

A series of OODA loops with hierarchy

John Boyd’s OODA Loop sketch notation can be expanded to represent the interactions of individuals and their efforts during a project. This illustration includes the representation of simultaneous efforts within a hierarchy and the pursuit of two options simultaneously.

The following notation represents synthesizing options and exercising options throughout a development project.

Synthesizing and exercising options during new product development

Synthesizing many options and exercising attractive development options should occur rapidly throughout a project. ‘Synthesize options’ includes imagining solutions and documenting them. The cloud filled sky background of the ‘exercise option’ portion of this graphic represents the interaction of prototypes with the environment (which includes customers).

Designing to Improve the Capability to Synthesize and Exercise Attractive Development Options

Optionality can be improved by design. Concepts that can be employed in a development environment to help gnomes that code improve their capability to synthesize and exercise attractive development options include:

  • Requisite variety
  • Pair Development
  • Disintermediation
  • Recursion

When the network has requisite variety, the network has to potential to recognize all problems and to activate appropriate responses.

Requisite variety

Requisite variety addresses the importance of having proficient practitioners with a diversity of capabilities that can be mobilized in a dynamic network. The table indicates that this environment has requisite variety because the number and type of responses represented is greater than or equal to the number and type of problems represented.

Requisite variety is associated with mobilizing a network of contributors with diverse specialties and multiple perspectives. To be successful, individuals may require additional training, access to individuals with unique expertise, and new ways to cooperate.

During the project, individuals engage and disengage to maintain requisite variety and avoid the paralysis associated with excessive variety.

Pair Development facilitates the synthesis of options to develop a self-correcting focus and direction informed by the analyses of multiple perspectives.

Pair development is implemented by facilitating the interaction of individuals of different disciplines (such as a coder and a market specialist). Pair development may include activities such as dialog and sketching.

Pair development with gnomes

Pair development provides an opportunity for interaction through activities such as dialog and sketching to transform orientations. The result of pair development should be a synthesis of options, not a summary of previous activities.

Pair development provides benefits beyond distributed cognition. The purpose of pair development is not cross-training. The result of pair development should not be a summary of previous activities.

Disintermediation efforts may involve removing layers of management or removing other barriers. Disintermediation efforts may have objectives such as:

  • Improving agility
  • Rapid recognition of problems
  • Rapid implementation of solutions
  • Faster cycle times

Achieving these objectives may require the re-design of the network to facilitate communication, cooperation, collaboration, and harmony among individuals.

Achieving these objectives may require evolving the way that individuals experience the interactions of customers with prototypes (or other experiments related to the product being developed). Direct observations that promote full-fidelity interactions are preferable to mediation approaches such as presenting individuals with reports that summarize activities.

Recursion is a solution or technique in which large problems are solved by reducing them to smaller problems of the same form.

Recursion is a solution or technique in which large problems are solved by reducing them to smaller problems of the same form.

Recursion is a solution or technique in which large problems are solved by reducing them to smaller problems of the same form. A recursion approach works best in a development network with requisite variety that observes the interactions of multiple potential customers with evolving, functional, holistic prototypes.

The network’s perceptions of large problems shape the focus and direction (schwerpunkt) of the project. When developing a new product, the large problems include the customer’s experience with the product.

Large problems are evaluated by the interactions of people with products during activities such as buying, setup, use, maintenance, and troubleshooting. The large problems include the customer’s perceived value of the new product in comparison to alternatives.  The large problems may be evaluated in terms of the delight produced using the product to accomplish a task.

Recursion approach to new product development

A recursion approach provides multiple channels of feedback to a development network with requisite variety that evaluates multiple opportunities to win. Customers interacting with prototypes is represented in the upper-right corner. Four snapshot of the development network are represented during the project.

A recursion approach provides multiple channels of feedback to evaluate multiple opportunities to win.

A recursion approach works best in a development network with requisite variety that observes the interactions of multiple potential customers with evolving, functional, holistic prototypes. The interactions provide multiple opportunities to detect mismatches and develop corrections.

Mismatches: the difference between the phenomena that is observed and the conceptual description of that situation

A recursion approach provides validation that is beyond the results available from surveys. Prototypes are evaluated beyond their functionality. A recursion approach includes evaluating how one user describes a solution to another user.

A recursion approach is used to validate the attractiveness of development options.

When practicing recursion approaches, individuals that tend to identify themselves as independent specialists shift to identifying themselves as contributors to development options. Their perspectives change. They engage in efforts to solve the large problems.

Transitioning from Coding to Winning

Gnomes know how to write code.

To transition from writing code to winning, gnomes benefit from concepts such as requisite variety, pair development, disintermediation, and recursion contribute to improving the capability to synthesize and exercise development options rapidly in an antifragile development environment.

This enables gnomes that code to become winners that code.

The gnomes synthesize and exercise options.

During Phase 2, the capability to synthesize many options and exercise attractive development options rapidly enables a properly prepared network of individual contributors to realize non-linear gains that are not possible by alternate development approaches such as ones that focus on managing mandates. This enables gnomes that code to transition to winners that code.

 

Diversity in Expressing Wins

Ultimately, gnomes that code express their wins through actions that are consistent with motivating factors such as autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Gnomes that code may express their wins to their peers through recurring actions such as pushing files to their Git repository or answering questions on StackOverflow. These types of actions improve their development experience.

When the gnomes that code win, their success propagates. Customers express their wins by actions such as posting product reviews that described how the products enable them to be successful. Managers achieve their desired business objectives and project objectives. Managers may express their wins through actions such as presentations and publication on innovation. They may be rewarded with stock options.

Individuals in different roles express their wins to their peers through unique actions

Individuals in different roles express their wins to their peers through unique actions. Gnomes that code may express their wins through actions such as pushing files to their Git repo or answering questions on StackOverflow. Customers may express their wins by actions such as posting product reviews that describe how products enable them to be successful. Managers may express their wins through actions such as presentations and publications on innovation.


Notes:

The “What is Phase 2?” question was included in the “Gnomes” episode of South Park, Season 2. 16 December 1998. That episode provided an inspiration for this post.

The Law of Requisite Variety was formulated by W. Ross Ashby.

This post included material from my book Developing Winners.

Podcast[Requires iTunes or Apple Quicktime. Duration 9:24 minutes:seconds]

Antifragility in New Product Development

In the book Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder, Nassim Nicholas Taleb shared insights on optionality that can be expanded to include new product development environments.

This post provides an introduction to the non-linear gains associated with antifragile systems that may be realized by designing new product development environments that help individuals improve their capability to synthesize many new options continuously and enhance their proficiency to exercise options that are attractive. This post includes a comparison to concepts represented in Boyd’s OODA Loop sketch.

Fragile, Robust, Resilient, and Antifragile Development Environments

Taleb’s classification of systems as fragile, robust, resilient, and antifragile may be used to characterize development environments. Every development environment can be characterized in terms of its fragility, robustness, resilience, and antifragility.

Antifragile: Things that Gain From Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Antifragile: Things that Gain From Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

A development environment that tends to be fragile does not welcome disorder. When uncertainty is injected, the results may be unpleasant.

In a fragile development environment, one obstacle can prevent the realization of value. Examples of harmful conditions include:

  • Incorrect, incomplete, or misleading information
  • A problematic handoff between functional groups
  • Disagreements among functional groups

Unpleasant results may include delays, cost overruns, and insufficient adoption of the product. Individuals tend to be frustrated. The more fragile the development environment, the less likely it is to thrive.

From project-to-project, a robust development environment tends to survive unchanged. Processes tend to be preserved. Individual contributors tend to retain their employment status.

From project-to-project, a resilient development environment survives changes from external factors. After a project is complete, there may be changes such as a re-arrangement of the organizational chart. New tools may be incorporated. The organization survives to serve the needs of the next project.

The word ‘antifragile’ is an adjective created by Taleb. It can be defined as the exact opposite of fragile.  According to Taleb, “Antifragile is beyond resilience or robustness.

An antifragile system thrives and grows when exposed to a moderate amount of volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors. An antifragile system benefits from a moderate amount of adventure, risk, and uncertainty.

Iatrogenesis

In Chapter 7, Taleb described the concept of iatrogenics as “damage from treatment in excess of the benefits.”

Iatrogenesis: preventable harm resulting from the treatment or advice of a healer.

The word iatrogenesis is not common in product development but harmful inputs may come from multiple sources. These include:

  • Specialists that assume that solutions to development problems relate to their area of expertise.
  • Innovation pundits, consultants, and vendors that offer their favorite tools and techniques as solutions
  • Interventionalists that believe that their contributions will improve outcomes
  • Status quo

It may be difficult to recognize the harmfulness associated with specific sources because of cognitive biases or unvalidated claims. Recognizing harmfulness is more difficult in development environments that isolate individuals of different functional specialties.

New product development efforts can suffer from iatrogenesis. Approaches to recognize potentially harmful inputs and reduce potential damage from harmful inputs include:

  • Requisite Variety
  • Disintermediation
  • Pair Development

Requisite Variety

The concept of requisite variety can be used to emphasize the importance of having a diversity of potential responses in a development environment.

Requisite Variety: For a system to be viable, only a variety in responses can force down the variety due to disturbances.

The Law of Requisite Variety was formulated by W. Ross Ashby

The Law of Requisite Variety was formulated by W. Ross Ashby

For a development environment to be successful, only a large repertoire of possible responses can address the variety presented by a complex set of development problems that emerge throughout projects.

In a new product development environment, requisite variety may be achieved by mobilizing a network of contributors with diverse specialties and multiple perspectives. To be successful, individuals may require additional training, access to individuals with unique expertise, and cooperation.

Without requisite variety, previously successful responses to familiar patterns may not be recognized as insufficient responses.

Without a variety of potential responses at the appropriate times, a development environment may be fragile.

If there is excessive variety, the agility of the development environment may be reduced. To ensure appropriate adaptability, the network determines that certain responses should be amplified. Other responses are attenuated.

Disintermediation removes layers between individual contributors and data. It removes barriers between decision makers. One way to facilitate disintermediation in new product development environments involves individual contributors experiencing the interactions of customers with prototypes (or other experiments related to the product being developed). Direct observations that promote full-fidelity interactions are preferable to mediation approaches such as presenting individuals with reports that summarize activities.

Pair Development is implemented by facilitating the interaction of individuals of different disciplines (such as a coder and a marketer). Pair development provides an opportunity for interaction through activities such as dialog and sketching. The result of pair development should be the synthesis of options, not a summary of previous activities. Typically, no slides sets are used during these interactions.

Pair development in new product development

The result of pair development is the synthesis of options that is informed by the analyses available from multiple perspectives.

The purpose of pair development is not cross-training. The purpose is to develop a self-correcting focus and direction informed by the analyses of multiple perspectives.

Reducing iatrogenesis is a pre-requisite to synthesizing more attractive options.

Typical Options

A typical option, such as a financial option, provides a buyer with the potential to take action by a specified date without an associated obligation to buy or sell. Typically, an individual decides to exercise an option based on their perception of value at a specific time.

According to Taleb, optionality is the property of asymmetric upside (preferably unlimited) with correspondingly limited downside (preferably small).

Optionality: a quality of state where choice or discretion is allowed.

In Chapter 12 Taleb stated that “An option is a substitute for knowledge” In Chapter 13, Taleb wrote “antifragility supersedes intelligence.

The value of a typical option depends on factors such as the negotiation skills of the individuals involved and the type of control individuals have over their decisions. Development options require additional proficiencies.

Example

Taleb summarized the experience of Thales, an ancient philosopher. Thales acquired an option to use equipment that may be needed during next year’s harvest. His potential profits or losses were not be determined solely by the accuracy of a crop forecast. If there was an abundant harvest, he could exercise his option for the equipment and be rewarded financially. If the harvest was scarce, he could decline his option and not suffer a loss. The harvest was bountiful and Thales built a substantial fortune.

Development Options

To improve the potential for success in new product development environments, an option must be more than a negotiated agreement based on a speculation. Development options are the most valuable when associated with current capabilities or a capabilities that may be acquired within an appropriate amount of time for an appropriate cost within the project constraints.

The approach to development within a network of individual contributors includes the interplay of capabilities with analyses and synthesis.

Synthesis is a process of connection. Synthesis generates something new and different. A synthesis approach enables one to imagine how a several capabilities may work together to produce the desired result.

In a properly designed new product development environment, proficient individuals analyze situations and synthesize new options continuously.

The interplay of synthesizing options and exercising options to improve antifragility

The interplay of synthesizing options and exercising options improves antifragility

The interplay of synthesizing options and exercising options includes interaction with the environment (feedback) that enables a network of individuals to comprehend, shape, and adapt during development. This enables operation at faster tempos and rhythms and the compression of cohesive observation-orientation-decision-action time cycles.

The capability to synthesize many development options and exercise a few attractive development options rapidly and repetitively enables a properly prepared network of individual contributors to realize non-linear gains that are not possible by alternate approaches such as ones that focus on managing mandates.

Comparing Development Options to Concepts Represented in Boyd’s OODA Loop Sketch

Concepts related to development options have similarities with concepts represented in John Boyd’s OODA Loop sketch.

  • The concept of synthesizing development options is similar to the Observation and Orientation items represented in Boyd’s OODA Loop sketch.
  • The concept of exercising development options is similar to the Decision, Action, and Unfolding Interaction with Environment items represented in Boyd’s OODA Loop sketch.
  • The outcome from cycles of synthesizing a multitude of development options and exercising a multitude of development options is consistent with victory and the representation of a “series of maneuvers” in an OODA Loop context.
  • The non-linear gains associated with exercising attractive options in antifragile environments are similar to Boyd’s themes for vitality and growth.
Concepts related to development options have similarities with concepts represented in John Boyd's OODA Loop sketch.

Concepts related to development options have similarities with concepts represented in John Boyd’s OODA Loop sketch. Synthesizing development options is similar to the Observation and Orientation. Exercising development options is similar to the Decision, Action, and Unfolding Interaction with Environment items.

Enhancing Optionality throughout Development

For each development project, the goal is to change the environment to improve the capability to synthesize a multitude of development options and exercise a multitude of development options that are attractive. To increase this capability throughout development, invest to improve the following objectives:

  • Design the development environment to embrace optionality
  • Produce new repertoire based on theory and refined by practice with others seeking a high level of proficiency. This requires a sustained, deliberate effort.
  • Develop the capability for rapid cycles of observation, orientation, decision, and action which is based on the OODA Loop concept from John Boyd.
  • Improve the capability to shift rapidly between options which is similar to the concept of Fast Transients from John Boyd. This is similar to improving agility.
  • Improve the capability of individuals to synthesize options that are cohesive across the network and cohesive over the duration of the project(s).
  • Improve the proficiency to exercise attractive options. Identifying attractive options includes developing a holistic perspective and recognizing iatrogenesis.

Antifragility and Development Experience

Individual contributors invest much of their time in new product development projects. Their personal investment is what Taleb refers to as “skin in the game.” I refer to an individual contributor’s day-to-day and year-to-year set of perceptions and responses as Development Experience [DX].

There are multiple approaches to improve an individual contributor’s development experience by reducing fragility, increasing robustness, or increasing resilience of the development environment. An individual contributor’s development experience may improve dramatically by designing the development environment to improve antifragility. According to Taleb, “The option is an agent of antifragility.” Options make vitality and growth possible.

Development options are agents of development experience. Development options drive non-linear gains in antifragile development networks. Designing to improve development options stimulates better performance from individual contributors even when there is volatility. This inspires better performance from others. This creates virtuous circles, beneficial cycles of development efforts. This inspires greater commitments to project success.


Additional Information

1. Taleb includes Post-Traumatic Growth as a characteristic of antifragility in Table 1 in his book. In “Beyond Surviving New Product Development” I defined:

Post Development Growth: the positive changes experienced by individuals that result from enhanced new product development capabilities. Post Development Growth includes reflection to achieve cognitive clarity. It goes beyond reflection to action.

An antifragile development environment is more likely to produce Post Development Growth. This tends to enable better outcomes in future projects.

2. A fragile development environment is consistent with the model introduced in “The Devastating Zero Model of New Product Development.”

3. Too many inputs may be harmful because it may be difficult to discern the valuable from the harmful or signal from the noise. Too many inputs reduce a network’s agility. A requisite variety approach must include ways to evaluate potential contributions to project goals. One approach is the development of “continuously correcting, network-informed schwerpunkt” described in my Reimagining How New Product Development Artifacts Impact What We Should Be Doing Today post.

4. This post included extracts from my book “Developing Winners: Assimilating the Insights Encapsulated in Boyd’s OODA Loop

Podcast
[Requires iTunes or Apple Quicktime. Duration 15 minutes]