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/.

Being Agile – Ontological perspective

Kari L. Granger (US Air Force Academy) shares her experience ..” I was in Iraq as the officer in charge of a unit, but for the first time under enemy fire, I realised that the knowledge I gained from studying leadership during six years of being educated as a military officer with a masters degree in Leadership, did not leave me being the leader I needed to be under fire. For example, knowing that in a frightening situation a leader should be courageous was very different from being courageous in that situation.

Reference (https://vimeo.com/65658787)

“Being Agile” is one of the top topic of discussion in many Agile forums and aspiration for many organisations. Various  aspects of being agile that are discussed in many Agile conferences, meetups and blogs. There are many opinions, views and perspectives about – “doing” Agile vs “being” Agile.  In this article an Ontological perspective about being Agile is shared.

Ontology is a branch of philosophy(in particular meta-physics) focusing on study and nature of ‘being’, this term is also widely used in social science, computer science /artificial intelligence, information science and in many other fields.

The term is derived from Greek words, “Onto” for existence and “logia” for study, science. The Latin derivative ontologia means science of being.

In general ontology focuses on the nature being. For example, let’s consider an apple. The existence of apple can be experienced by sight, touch, smell and taste.  In an apple juice, though the form is changed the existence can be experienced in the form of smell and taste. The “essence” or the being of an apple can be experienced.

In the case of living beings the concept of “being” is different, especially for human beings. Human beings  have wide range of beings in which they express themselves. Normally they are expressed as emotions like “being happy”, “being sad”, “being angry”, “being enthusiastic” and so on.  The being is not just the emotional state but it is much more than that. It is a combination of mental state (attitude and state of mind), emotional state (feelings and emotions), bodily state (body sensation), thoughts and thought process (logic and memory) in a given moment of time or in a given situation.  This also includes mind-set (frame of reference) and world view (model of reality).

In fact, one can’t write/read about “being” then it becomes “knowing”.

From an Ontological perspective, being agile explores the “being” as the ways of being for people and teams. For an effective transition to being Agile all aspects are important.

Unlike psychological models which are based on mind-set and worldview, ontological models are based on phenomenology (a methodical discipline deals with being and action as these are actually lived.  sometime referred as experiential learning). To access ones being tools/practices like mindfulness, reflection, and presence can be of great help.

Another way to distinguish being is to split any activity into doing, having and being domains.

ontology-01

Suppose if you are preparing for an examination, first you take lot of actions (like you do all your preparation), it is in the domain of doing. As a result of your actions (preparation) you will get some results. It is either pass or fail in that examination or a certification. This is called “having” or results of your action (doing). Depending on the results there will be a change in our experience, you either become happy (if passed) or sad (if failed). You are “being happy” or “being sad” based on the results (having)  and action (doing).  This is our default paradigm.

The alternate paradigm considers the innate ability of human beings to alter their state of being. ontology-2

In alternate paradigm, you start with being happy, then take actions like studying and preparing for the exam. Finally as a result of your actions you get some results and choose appropriate ways of being to express it.

This alternate paradigm is used by many leaders and champions in their way of being.  It is like Roger Fedrer starts “being a champion” even before he enters the court , and plays the match to  the best of his abilities (doing) and (most probably) wins the grand slam (result).

This is not something you can use it like a formula but the alternate paradigm is definitely a possibility.

Once you are aware about the difference between “being” , “doing” and “knowing” you can start exploring the experience “Being Agile” and perform (do) agile practices and get extraordinary results (having) for you and your stakeholders.

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End note : Best way to experience the ontological perspective it to attend/participate in an event. I conducted a session in Agile Leadership meetup.  The slides are shared below

I would like to hear your views and feedback, write to me at rmithare@processwhirl.com or call me at +44 782 164 5866