Essence

I came across this word “Essence” through an article in Communications of the ACM, while I was on an assignment with Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) working with the electrified powertrain department (PT-66). The division had embarked on an ambitious project to develop an all electric luxury SUV, the iPACE.  The team was looking at ways to develop software in an agile way without compromising on the safety standards (IS0 26262/Functional Safety) within the given time. The article I stumbled upon was – The Essence of Software Engineering: The SEMAT Kernel (Jacobson et al.). The initial summary caught my attention and here are the key points mentioned (please note this article was published in Oct 2012)

  • Some areas of software engineering today suffer from immature practices.

Specific problems include:

  • The prevalence of fads more typical of the fashion industry than an engineering discipline; 
  • The lack of a sound, widely accepted theoretical basis; 
  • The huge number of methods and method variants, with differences little understood and artificially magnified;
  • The lack of credible experimental evaluation and validation; 

I think the software industry (now fashionably called the Tech industry still lacks the discipline that it needs in order to avoid the disasters caused by the malfunction of MCAS systems (a system fitted on the Boeing’s 737 MAX Aircraft that caused two major accidents – Article the Crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302: Explained through Graphics’ 2021).

In JLR we were experimenting with introducing the concepts of “Agile” without using the word, to bring agility in the processes and in behaviours. I was looking for a mechanism for building a vocabulary and possibly an ontology (wiki -an ontology is a way of showing the properties of a subject area and how they are related, by defining a set of concepts and categories that represent the subject.). Ontology is one of my favorite areas of study and research, which is actually derived from Philosophy. Which also means the study of being (Onto – Being, logy – Study).  I found that Essence is like a glue that can bind information science with philosophical constructs of ontology. I’m not an expert in  Essence and the SEMAT framework, in fact, I did not study the Essence in detail to avoid any influence on my own thinking. 

My thoughts about Essence are as follows when it is used in the context of transformation.

  1. Understand the essence of the organisation, the soul. That will be the core of Essence on which you can build the enterprise transformation framework.

The organizations should do a self-assessment of their true essence. That is mainly encapsulated in its “reason for existence” for that organization.  One can find it by asking – What, How, Who and Why for the “reason for existence” of the organization.

 In the journey of transformation, it should retain the ‘core’ while the rest all can change. In fact it should be taken care that the “core” is retained. 

Example: Many years back I worked with Infosys, in my view one of the core of that organisation was Meritocracy. Similarly, when I was at Wipro, it was around Integrity. In a real transformation journey, you have to do a detailed and much deeper assessment of it. 

  1. Taking Responsibility 

Organizations should stop looking at canned “Frameworks” and expensive consultants to solve their challenges. They can be used as a “catalyst” but not as solutions. Equally important is to take full responsibility for the outcome and not to put blame on the frameworks and consultants. 

Adhering to Simplicity 

The larger the organization the simpler the approach should be. Simpler does  not mean easy, nor does it mean a short cut or compromised solution. It should be based on a strong foundation, based on values and principles. 

Based on a Context

Context is decisive, it plays a vital role in any transformation. The approach to transformation should be contextual. The implementations might differ from one unit to another depending on the business need, geography and culture.  

The Basic Structure 

Basic constructs of Object Oriented Methods can be used to define a methods library. Most of the management approaches have roots in Taylors “Principles of Scientific Management”, while most of the approaches are not relevant, the core essence of that theory “ a scientific approach is better than the finest type of ordinary management”, is still valid.  The biggest gap in the current approaches to adopting various frameworks is not giving sufficient attention to the solid theoretical constructs. . 

The missing “piece” 

In most of the frameworks, the key missing piece is there is not enough guidance on the person (actor) performing that activity.  In the early days of process improvement, the focus was always on maximising efficiency. It was achieved by using advanced tools. In the current era of knowledge work the most important factor that determines the outcome is the person who is doing the work and his/her state being. 

In the knowledge work, the outcome is a function of 

Individual Outcome = Function of ( competence x  state of Being*) 

Where 

Competence = skill x knowledge x experience

Being (state of) = function current(behaviour x mindset x emotional state x bodily state x thought process) 

Sometimes a person may be energetic and can do more things while at other times the person might have some health and wellbeing challenges that might come in his/her performance. It is difficult to explain but easy to experience. For example – on a particular day, everything happens the way you thought it would happen and on top of that you also receive some unexpected gifts – you will feel good right? Then you might say, “ I’m happy now !” – at that time you are in a state of “being happy” in the same way if things have not gone as per your plan and you drop your coffee cup on the floor and break it, you will experience a sense of irritation, anger, and frustration. That can be called “being sad”.  Only human beings have the ability to identify and distinguish their “state of being” but you can accurately identify your own state of being. Our assessment of judging the state of being for others will not be accurate. 

“Being sad” is not the same as “Being frustrated” or “being helpless” or “ being irritated” 

The important point to note is “being” is a dynamic constant that takes various forms, that is the reason in eastern philosophy it dwells into the idea of your natural being or original being – as your essence. 

Conclusion 

There is absolutely no need to come out with a new set of frameworks, methods every week. In the current world of social media the approaches that make a big noise get people’s attention. Most of the time, the method creators and/or the custodians have commercial interests, that is not wrong but it is not very explicit. The danger is, if we try to apply any of the frameworks without a proper understanding or without the right context it will not yield the desired results and also creates a bad reputation for the industry/profession itself.  

It is also understandable that everyone wants to contribute (with good intentions) but we should not forget that we are standing on the shoulders of the giants. Let’s not forget to acknowledge the work done by these giants. 

References 

Jacobson, Ivar, Pan-Wei Ng, Paul McMahon, Ian Spence, and Svante Lidman. 2012. ‘The Essence of Software Engineering: The SEMAT Kernel: A Thinking Framework in the Form of an Actionable Kernel’. Queue 10 (10): 40–51. https://doi.org/10.1145/2381996.2389616.

‘Boeing’s 737 MAX Aircraft and the Crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302: Explained through Graphics’. 2021. The Seattle Times. 10 March 2021. https://www.seattletimes.com/business/boeing-aerospace/boeings-737-max-aircraft-and-the-crash-of-ethiopian-airlines-flight-302-explained-through-graphics/.