Evolving organisations

A transcript of Episode 248 of UX Podcast. James Royal-Lawson and Per Axbom are joined by Ola Berg to discuss how and why we should be evolving our organisations.

This transcript has been machine generated and checked by Hanna Sawbridge.

Transcript

Computer voice
UX podcast, Episode 248.

James Royal-Lawson
Hello, everybody. Welcome to UX podcast coming to you from Stockholm, Sweden. We are your hosts, James Royal-Lawson,

Per Axbom
and Per Axbom

James Royal-Lawson
with listeners in 196 countries and territories in the world, from Réunion to Toga.

Per Axbom
And today, we are speaking to Ola Berg. He calls himself a change strategist and an agile guide. He’s a person who hopes to help people understand each other, to feel better, and work better together, and happens to be really, really good at doing this.

James Royal-Lawson
The best introduction, to Ola, comes from his own LinkedIn. Here’s what he writes, I have this vision that every workplace should be a safe and exciting environment where people look after each other, and are super productive, not because they are super humans, but because of the great procedures, the great collaborations and the great culture.

[Music]

Per Axbom
Ola, I am really curious about, how do you, how do you get this passion for agile data that you obviously have? And I mean, it’s, it’s what you breathe, it’s what you post about it’s, and I’ve learned so much from all your LinkedIn posts, for example, but it seems like you’re thinking about agile all the time, but how did it start for you?

Ola Berg
Well, thing is that I’m, I’m thinking all the time. And being a software developer for many years, and I kind of realised pretty soon working with software, in the real adult life, not as a hobby programmer, but in the real adult life, I realised pretty soon that the problem wasn’t so much having the computers understanding us humans, but having us humans understanding each other if we were to make systems that together, or if we should make systems for each other, and so on.

So I, up to that point, I haven’t really been interested in things like team dynamics and how people work together and so on. Because I was kind of a more computer nerdy guy, I guess. And when I looked into what was then called lightweight development methods or iterative incremental development ID or something like that back in the days, late 90s, early beginning of 2000, and so on. It was like a world open for me that actually this is, this is about people, people communicating.

So I got obsessed by communication, and how do people interact? And how do people understand each other and that so much of our well being, and not being so well at work is directly linked to how we treat each other and how we Yeah, how we would do so. At that time, it became a mission because it has to do with how people felt and how healthy they are.

Per Axbom
Fascinating. It sounds so similar to my experience with UX, I was also that, computer nerdy guy, and then you start thinking about, well, it’s really about the people using the products and services. But it sounds like you’re even taking that one step further into the health of the people working within the company will determine the success of the company.

Ola Berg
Yeah. And that’s just not something that I do. But that was, I mean, this thing that we call agile and so forth it is nothing new. It’s it’s not even from the year 2001, where the so called Agile Manifesto was created, it has roots further down in history, and the realisation that in order to make good work, you as a worker must feel good. That is a realisation that has been taught over and over again in history and discovered over and over again in history.

And one of the roots to agile, agile software development is the quality movement of the 80s and before that the lean production or Toyota production system, and what the people pioneers at Toyota and in the quality management system, total quality management, the traditions they discovered early on that the trick is to create a system a development system or a production system that takes care of the workers. And if the system takes care of the workers making the workers feel good, then the product will be good. And people using the products will feel good and be good. So with that, you have to start there.

James Royal-Lawson
This is so interesting because we talk about, like human centred design. And I’ve wondered, well, this makes me think about the fact we say, human centred design. So we’re adding a category to the end of it. Whereas what your, my way of looking what you’ve just said is human centred, is actually what you’re saying is enough, we don’t have to say human-centred organisation, human-centred product, human-centred whatever. It is human-centred.

Ola Berg
Yeah, basically, even though I can think that there is benefit in explicitly stating out that now we are focusing on the organisation, or we’re focusing on the collaboration on this so that we could put the light on certain things. I guess that’s important for understanding but to always have this human centre, in everything that we do, that this profound humanism, must always be at the centre of what we do.

Per Axbom
You mentioned that we keep rediscovering this fact. Really? Why do we keep forgetting it?

Ola Berg
There are many intuitions around work, for instance, that we people tend to have. If it’s fun, it’s probably not that valuable. It should be tedious, if it’s supposed to to produce value, probably because of our intuitions of value and work. I guess that they were formed many, many thousand years ago, when we were living on the savanna digging for edible roots. And basically, if you were to eat many roots, you have to dig a lot. Digging is boring, but the fruits of the work, the fruits of labour, the eating the roots is good.

So I guess the intuition is, you have to work hard, and then you can enjoy the fruits of your labour, I guess that that intuition has come up as well, so that you see that there’s kind of a, you put work and enjoying the fruits of the Labour as two opposite things, and you don’t see that well this could be in harmony.

James Royal-Lawson
Yeah, I guess it comes from the big basic economics of it that, you know, if you’re doing some work for someone else, it’s that you have your value to the reward for doing that work greater than the time you would have been spent otherwise. Because you’ve been able to do more things. So you’re doing something that’s less valuable than the actual task is less valuable to you. Otherwise, you do it, you do something else, yourself, you’re getting reward for that, and then you’re using that reward to enable us do something worth even more So I guess the whole economics behind work, is that you’re doing something you wouldn’t do otherwise, because you need the reward. And that’s not fun, you can argue.

Ola Berg
Yeah, that that could could probably explain a little bit also that we have intuitions around leadership and who’s to decide? I mean, if if I’m in a system where you make the decisions for me, then I should not really complain if you make decisions that I wouldn’t do because I kind of accept that system. But that doesn’t mean that it has to be that way. I mean, you could even if you have had the power over me, you could still ask me: What do you think? And how can we create ‘Win Win’ situations, you and me even though I’m your boss? But since that’s not necessarily the case, and in many times in history, we people tend to slip down to a situation where one person is telling others what to do and expect obedience and so on.

So I think that there are also a natural tendency with authority and that kind of relationship, relations that gravitates towards that. So I think that’s also a contributing factor that we tend to forget. It seems against our intuitions that people could have fun and do productive labour at the same time, it seems. It’s against our intuitions that the people on the lowest level of the hierarchy could make decisions. And those decisions be more more profitable for the whole organisation than if someone higher up did it.

James Royal-Lawson
It’s interesting when you think as well about how, when you when you look into wards, the customers so an organisation or business and its customers in there, it feels like it’s more understood that you need to make your customers happy. There needs to be collaboration there between the business and organisation so that it’s mutually beneficial. You buy that product, the company make some profit from it, but you get some utility and enjoyment from the product. Whereas if we’re looking internally then about the work we’re doing as employees, maybe that relationship isn’t quite as obvious,

Ola Berg
Probably yes, the relationships between many things have happened in an organisation and how that relates to value, is not very obvious. Often. I mean, for one person looking at the organisational chart, they might see that this is how our organisation looks, and they might believe them that the value is created within the boxes of the chart. But in reality, the value could be created in relations between people who are in very, very different boxes. As, as we used to put it in Lean and Agile, we say that the value streams runs across the organisation on different levels and back and forth. And that is not obvious.

Also, if you look at, for instance, you’ve asked HR, how does our performance management system, well what does that look like? And they tell you what it looks like and and you can see that, well, this is obviously not how we create value, but to the people creating the performance management system that was not obvious. So, I think that a lot of the relationships between what is done and the value that is produced, I think that is very obscure in many organisations and that is also why in Lean and Agile methods, we focus so much on visualising this: How are things working together? What are the connections? Who is dependent on who? When, how does value flow? We tried to make this visual so that everyone in the organisation understands how value is created.

Per Axbom
You’re obviously a person who goes into companies and helps them understand why their intuitions may be wrong, why their understanding of the problem may be wrong. Where do you start? How do you go about changing people’s minds essentially

Ola Berg
That’s a really the key thing, because you need to be able to build rapport, having some kind of faith and confidence in what you’re about to tell them and then you tell them things that they don’t initially believe. Especially it seems like the high rep in the management hierarchy you sit your views on what is actually happening. The organisation is very obscured and blurred. Which is why Toyota let’s have this this principle of ‘Hey, manager, you need to go down and see on the on the shop floor, see with your own eyes, what’s happening.’ They work very actively with with with removing that, that disconnect connection.

But in many organisations, in normal organisation, there is a disconnect, which means that I am brought in to to help them, because they have the feel that there is something that is wrong here. They feel that they could work faster, they could work, produce more value. They could be better in replanning and change direction and or whatever you want to do. And I tried to point out where I can see that the root cause to their problems are, and obviously that goes against their beliefs. So how do we change that? Well, by being careful, really, and expose these things in a steady but slow and careful manner. Because it can really be shocking at times.

Per Axbom
Yeah I can imagine I mean, going against your own belief system. That’s hard as a human. And so I mean, I guess it sometimes it usually takes years for someone to change position on something that they believed for many, many years.

James Royal-Lawson
Well, I guess it has something to do connected to the fact that, you know, management, a lot of management will have gone to business school or in part of business education. And what they’re taught in those courses, perhaps maybe 20 or 30 years ago, it’s a very particular view of the world and how we should be worked that gets very much related to production linesm in many situations. And those production line, ways of thinking and ways of pushing your resources in a production line environment is maybe not applicable to how we need to motivate, push and organise our resources, when it’s a thinking economy and thinking organisations.

Ola Berg
Definitely so but even then, I would say that what people were taught in business schools in the 90s and forward are actually not very suited for production lines as well. The times where production lines were really improved and the logistics were improved and what paved the way for the globalisation of the 90s, was very much the insights from Toyota and insights from the quality management, traditions and the insights from flow thinking of logistics. What I think that people in business schools were taught from the 90s and forward, was basically going back even further. They got the picture of value creation that was wrong by then, as well, that were more suited for how value was was created, like in 1910 or 1920 years or something like that.

James Royal-Lawson
Perhaps even earlier, I guess, we’re going back to the Industrial Revolution.

Ola Berg
Basically, yes. So I think that during the 90s it was a step backwards. But some things were definitely better. By then we had all the technical revolution that made it with computers, man could use resources more efficiently, we got lots of innovation going. We also got the political change that open up for globalisation, and international trade and so forth. But I would say that very much of those good things that were happening in the 90s was in spite of the management philosophy of the time, not thanks to it.

And what we see now is maybe where that management philosophy has reached the end of the line, so to speak, and we need to grow further, there is a really interesting thing, and effect here that when a technical invention breaks through and we start to reap the benefits from that, in order to reap the real good benefits from it, we need to have 30 years or so of social invention. How we, organise around this technical invention, how we form new companies, new organisations, new ways of leading new ways of interaction, and so forth, before we actually can reap the benefits from it. If it’s someone said, if many of those sorts of speak loss or tennis is that we have that, that the computers get so in so much faster every year and and memory, so much, broadband so much faster, and so forth. Even if that development were to stop right now, today, then we would still be able to reap the benefits from those inventions for 30 or so years.

If we are to believe what’s happened historically, because the real power comes from how we reorganise around the invention. So we haven’t, I think that what we’re seeing now is the pressing need of reorganising socially around a world when almost everyone has internet access, and we have computers everywhere, and so forth, the things that we got 30 years ago, basically, that we now definitely have, and now we need to reorganise in order to reap the benefits. And I see that what we’re doing with Lean and Agile is basically going back to those management traditions and those ways of doing things from from data that we can see is very, very suitable for the kind of world we live in now.

James Royal-Lawson
I can think it’s quite a, there’s really quite a challenge though, because if we’re saying there needs to be social change, effectively, over a sustained period of 30 years, then that implies that you need a degree of stability over a sustained period for that change to reap most benefit. If you look at what things have happened over the last 30 years, we’ve gone from, you know, home computers, computers in the workplace, email, internet, social media, mobile phones, this, there’s not a period of more than 10 years of stability when it comes to the underlying technology and the way that we’re working. So that surely adds an extra challenge and dimension to the social changes that are needed in order to reap the benefits.

Ola Berg
Yeah, I think that we have, that there are two things you need stability. And you could say that well, what we have had during the last 30 years has been a stable progress. I mean, the improvements have been, or inventions have been incremental, more than ever, we got internet connection 30 years ago. And nothing revolutionary has happened with that, besides that it has become more wireless and more ubiquitous and more effective. Also the computing devices has been smaller and under handier and so forth, but it still a progression within the same paradigm. We don’t had really any system shocks that is so needed in order to, for us to let go of the old ways of doing things.

For instance, if you look at after the World War Two, up until through the 60s, up until to the 70s to the oil crisis, basically, there we saw how it could reap the benefits of modern production, modern life, and so forth. That was no real technical invention. Technically mentioned there have been done before and during the World War Two, after the World War Two with the the new power balances in the world and old, like the British Empire in decline, and the US came for further and so forth. And at the end of that period, we’ll have to have the beginning of the Asian wonder there. We needed that kind of disrupting events that were happening on basically on a social scale, which was the World War Two. So in order to enable these social inventions historically, we have that have been a need for a disruptive event.

James Royal-Lawson
So do you think what we’re going through now, with the pandemic, do you think that perhaps, is the social event, if we look at the technology side of things been an incremental change over the last maybe 30 years? That is what we’re doing now is so much working from home and working remotely and so on, and mass unemployment and scale that we’ve not seen? For generations? Is this the social event that maybe will be a catalyst?

Ola Berg
I think that that is one of the things I mean, we have, for instance, acceptance for for remote meetings, I mean, if this is recorded during the pandemic, and we are sitting in in separate corners of Sweden, basically or this Stockholm area, if it had been before we have been sitting together in the same room, right? And could be what we’ve seen from from the perspective of of agile and how things have gone that we’ve seen that there are many organisations, especially public organisation, public sector organisations where there has been a lot of command and control, that management has not allowed people to work from home, for instance, they haven’t felt secure that ‘Okay, these people are going to do in value’.

And many of those organisations that report that they actually create more value now than ever. Because you the organisation, the organization’s they have to delegate the power to the workers to decide for themselves what I’m going to do because the the the original control structures aren’t there anymore. And we’ve seen an increase in productivity, which you often see when you delegate power to the people on the so to speak shop floor for them to decide and see where do we see we can do the most useful work right now where where can we say about the value system is produced?

So and many organisations that haven’t dared to let go of that kind of control, now they have to. And all of a sudden, they see for themselves that hey, actually, this works. This is not a theoretical concept. We don’t have to sit in our boardroom and make this decision. Should we allow people to work from home? We have to and let’s see what’s happening. And it’s basically it really isn’t about working from home. But it’s working in where are you working? Where you decide for yourself? Where can I be much more than that than you usually do?

James Royal-Lawson
Yeah, I think the flexibility too isn’t all of that, I mean, if looking at how people are working now and the kind of things that crop up in conversations, people are being more human-centred, going back to what we started with that they’re actually pausing their paid work at a time of the day, maybe when they wouldn’t normally, to do something that actually makes them feel better as a human or makes their life better. For example, maybe go get the haircut at 11 o’clock in the morning or helping a child or you know. There’s flexibility in your life at a different level when you’re working remotely compared to being in an office.

Ola Berg
Yeah. And also, I think with the incoming unemployment and people feel that, hey, we’re going to have a downturn in the economy, what really is needed then is the ability to be flexible. The ability to think things over again, look at, okay, hey, what is happening, I’m unemployed, because the way we’re producing value isn’t really valid anymore. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t produce value, let’s see if I can produce value in another way. We’re using new technology or think, come up with new ideas.

So I also think that, in order to have a good economy, where people can can flourish in every way sustainable and, good for people, we need to kind of optimise for our ability to be flexible. And here is what I believe that the Agile ways of working is a part of those kind of social inventions, that we need to learn about the need to practice in order to be able to be flexible, and come up with new ideas on how to how to create value. Because, yeah, agility is seen as synonymous with the flexibility, right?

Per Axbom
I love how you’re emphasising how power structures are changing as well, in the ways that we are working now and during the pandemic. Because I mean, that is so much part of your message about giving the power back to the workers and building trust and allowing them to make their own decisions in a way that perhaps traditional management does not allow. Do you think this will continue? Do you think people realise this?

Ola Berg
I guess that it will be both ways. I guess there will always be a backlash, of course. And there is this, I mean, there is this notion that okay, if we are to how do we empower people? Well, we let go of everything. ‘Laissez Faire’ is synonyms with empowering people. And that is definitely not true. Because if you have a power structure, where some people make certain decisions, and some people makes other kinds of decisions, and so forth. And all of a sudden, many of those decision makers disappear from the scene. That doesn’t mean that you automatically empower people or that what comes after that will be good.

Because this ability to make decisions in your local team in your local group, find out what is the most valuable thing we can do and so forth. That is an ability that needs to be trained, and you need to work on it. It is not enough to just disrupt the existing power structure, you actually need to build something new, and you need to train this capability. And what I’ve seen is that many organisations, they some of them, they get this part with ‘Yes, we need to we need to tear down the the existing power structures’, but they forget about we need to build up the new ones. And when they do that, there will be a catastrophe. And people will not feel very well they will be badly treated. Because just having the getting the freedom but no means of handling that freedom in a productive, sound way that the sound for everyone,will lead to new power structures that will not necessarily be any better.

So we must build the replacement power structures pretty consciously if we want this to happen and have a good effect. And that is something I see over and over again in organisations, that they underestimate what it takes to build the flexible power structure where you can delegate a lot of power to to the workers.

James Royal-Lawson
So they run fast to demolish the old system. And really quickly to demolish the old one, they stumble into the situation where they realise they haven’t designed or thought about the new one.

Ola Berg
Yeah, basically that there are two ditches on each side of the road here and majority of organisations they don’t dare to remove their existing power structure. So they’re trying to keep the existing power structures and build a so called agile parellel, power structure and those two power structures they will just keep eachother hostages. And the other ditch is to where they tear down the existing power structure and then without replacing it with them. And anything then catastrophe answers. And the middle of the road here is to deconstruct existing power structure and transform it into something else very consciously and careful, steady but careful.

Per Axbom
What strikes me when I’m listening to this is that I mean, this implies that everyone has the interest of the organisation as the first thing in mind. Whereas, of course, lots of people have their self interest in mind, which means that people will scramble to actually do what gives them the most power in some instances. And it sounds like that would be one of the really difficult things to mitigate and make sure that people don’t gain that power that what you were saying about new power structures appearing if you haven’t really designed it in the way that you want to.

Ola Berg
Yeah, and I guess that this must be the same problem that you have with UX right? Because in theory, everyone was interested in the user and the user experience and that the sign is, is good for the user. But in a larger organisation, many people when push comes to shove, they’re really aren’t that much into the user, they are much more into their own safety, their own or their own claim to fame within the organisation and so forth.

So, the strategy or tactic that we use in Agile is to make this visible, try to visualise how different actions affect the organisation and the quality and of the work we do and the value. So that also visualise it fast, so that there’s a much clearer link between people’s behaviour in the organisation and the outcome, which means to us that destructive behaviour should be seen, the destruction it makes should be seen very quickly. So we use visualisation, like, transparency tools to make this kind of awakened nervous system within the organisation, if you if you look at organisation as an organism, the visualisation that feedback loops, the the transparency becomes the nervous system, so that the whole organisation reacts as soon as a part of the organisation starts to behave in a way that isn’t good for the whole.

And I guess you could do the same in a good design system. Right if you work with explorative, or if you if you work with with users and user experiments continuously and make the results of them visible, then you would call out any behaviour that is not in the interest of the user. In the same way, we do try to visualise what’s happening in a way that calls out any behaviour that is not good for the organisation.

James Royal-Lawson
Yeah, I mean, I guess a lot of this ties back to the classic prisoner’s dilemma. experiments where you can short term you can trick each other and you try and maximise your your selfish profit by doing a certain decision. But if you work together, you actually get most returns over a longer period. But you have to have that trust above you, we’re going to work together to maximise returns for both of you.

And that’s the same thing when we’re working with user experience designs that well, you know, if we do this, if I optimise this too much, where we’re going to maximise maybe short term revenues, but long term, people are going to be really fed up with the way that we’re tricking them or way that we’re deceiving them or that we’re, we’re putting too much emphasis on the company’s benefits are what the gains rather than the gains for the individual, the user.

Ola Berg
Yeah, exactly. And what is needed in order to have a positive net outcome and the prisoner’s dilemma, are those two things trust and, and or transparency? Yes. If people in those experiments had the information what the others were to decide, then everyone in the system could optimise for the whole system.

James Royal-Lawson
Yes, you collaborate and you maximise the visual collaboration.

Ola Berg
Exactly. So there are prisoners, they have this dilemma by not making them prisoners. We fixed the dilemma for them so that they can create the positive net outcome for all.

Per Axbom
Awesome, thank you Ola for tying this so clearly back to UX That was really well done as well. I am certainly going to deep dive into some of your blog posts more now as well. I mean you’re all over the place always and but it there’s always a red thread. As we say in Swedish. We’ve been talking about red threads now. But really, really important messaging for everyone, and certainly for everyone in UX as well. Thank you for joining us.

Ola Berg
Thank you.

[Music]

James Royal-Lawson
I got quite into the underlying economics of all this with listening back, I definitely put my economist hat on a few times there. Iy was wonderful because we touched on economic social history, economics of production and labour economics, there was some wonderful things to get your teeth into. And reflecting on it from a design viewpoint or a USP viewpoint or production of things in our organisations viewpoint.

Per Axbom
Yeah. I like how he started with, he’s a person who’s thinking all the time. And it’s obvious how he also gets all of us to think in the way that he expresses himself, and gets rather eloquent how,mthese are rather philosophical statements that he’s expressing. So it really makes you think about what it means for UX and what it means for business, essentially.

James Royal-Lawson
But I like also how Ola, even though you’re right, the signal time, and some of the stuff is almost philosophical, he’s still pragmatic. And guess what he was saying there about the 30 years of social invention and follows a technical innovation is something very practical about how we need to deal with this. We it’s not, it’s not something we can rush into.

Per Axbom
Yeah, I mean, we’ve talked to a lot of our guests about how the internet is a teenager. And I think that message is actually really, really important, because I experienced that a lot of people get into the industry, and they’re really frustrated about how slow things are moving, also have to recognise that things have to move slowly, to be able to include everyone on this journey.

James Royal-Lawson
Or, as Ola said, that when we’re dismantling old structures, we’re creating voids. And a lot of the time what we’re making progress now in the in the last 30 years, we’ve been just kicking down the occasional door. And then we’re just like, filling the void with something new, which also is not planned and not thought through. So what Allah was saying about dismantling also just carefully, so you can build new structures carefully, is a very valuable thought to take with you.

Per Axbom
And even now if we’re thinking about COVID-19, and the corona pandemic as a systemic shock, it’s, it’s interesting to just observe the world and what’s happening and how quickly people are jumping to conclusions. And we don’t know yet how the world will change in a year or two because of this. But I think it’s important that we move slowly still, and be mindful of the changes we’re making.

James Royal-Lawson
Yeah, because I think it is a System Shock, we’re gonna go through with the pandemic, because it’s global. We don’t have global events too often in this kind of way. But there’s still a risk that we’re going to, we’re going to fill the void with something that exists now. And a quick polyfill a quick solution to get through it. Rather than, you know, because we haven’t planned for this, we didn’t spend time before agreeing what we’re going to do and fill the new void created by the System Shock. But at the same time, I think we’ve got the chance. If this just because it’s going on for a while, we do have time to iterate, learn and think and reflect on how we wanted to be, I want how we want the new normal to be.

New normal is a phrase that’s coming up quite a bit. I think there’s opportunity that we’re going through a shock, but we’re not we’re kind of trapped in it, like in an inbetween, like a grey zone where we’re not, we’re not before it, we’re not after it, we are in it. And that gives us a chance to iterate and think maybe come with some agreement or design or some plan about what we wanted to be in the new normal.

Per Axbom
Right. And as designers actually we can contribute to that by envisioning and describing and communicating the different types of futures that are possible left to this.

James Royal-Lawson
Yeah, enabling the communication between people. And recommended reading. Reading, do we? Well, you can read our podcasts we have transcripts for almost every single episode, but recommended listening for this time is Episode 224: The business value of design with Jeanne liedtka. Now the reason why I’ve chosen this one is because a fair bit of what we’re taught to know it all ties in aligns with what Jeanne talked about, with delegation to people, to the workers to people on the shop floor and design thinking and business strategy.

Per Axbom
Yeah, that’s a really good one. And if you can spare a little bit of your time, then join our little community of volunteers. We’re always looking for help but transcripts and publishing.

Remember to keep moving.

James Royal-Lawson
See you on the other side.

[Music]

Per Axbom
So James, why did the Scarecrow win an award?

James Royal-Lawson
I don’t know Per, Why did the Scarecrow win an award?

Per Axbom
Because he was outstanding in his field!

James Royal-Lawson
*SIGH*

 

 

This is a transcript of a conversation between James Royal-LawsonPer Axbom and Ola Berg recorded in August 2020 and published as episode 248 of UX Podcast.