In the development of the Nucleon formula, my team and I applied causal thinking while working in, surveying, testing and improving all aspects of IT development.
What is causal thinking?
Causal thinking is moving your focus from the left side of the equation to the right side. If x=y+z and we all agree that it would be more fun with a larger x, then let us — together — ignore the x and talk about how to increase y and z.
So the idea is to shift the focus by looking at what delivers results.
Causal thinking has contributed to the success of my company, 7N. At the same time that we pursued our end goals, we paid close attention to the root causes of high performance, constantly seeking greater understanding of its contributing factors.
I was first introduced to causal thinking and its relationship to performance by my father. He was a professor at the Copenhagen Business School, teaching the benefits of taking an intelligent approach to performance rather than simply demanding better results. The message was direct: move your management attention from the left to the right side of the equation.
He taught that if you work directly with your employees to help them be more capable and better motivated, and provide a better opportunity structure, luck becomes less and less important and performance will improve.
I never forgot his clarity or emphasis on the importance of causal thinking, and as I grew in my career I realized that in the IT world — which is full of logic-minded individuals who need to understand why they are doing what they are doing — causal thinking is even more important.
I consider thinking causally a big paradigm shift. It is not a one-sided discussion. Management and sales should talk together about HOW they can do it better. Perhaps have more meetings. Perhaps address a different part of the organization. Perhaps come up with better pricing.
Let’s look at the competition and not make the competition a problem. What are the features that they’re promoting that we don’t have in our product line? That’s more intelligent, I think. By opening up the equational thinking — this causal thinking — we can help people in an area that is otherwise a black box.
When it comes to performance in complex IT systems development, we also want to do better,but often this discussion simply stops at just that — “doing better.” We want to be faster and cheaper and to deliver more features.
The Nucleon formula provides a way to introduce causal thinking in a structured, proven way. It explains the root causes of performance and what are the important factors. By introducing hard numbers based on best practice, experience, and empirical studies, we can talk about performance in a comparable and objective way. This is what the formula provides.
How can we look at the different areas that we’re not thinking about together and mathematically assess how they affect our performance? To not operate on “gut feelings,” which might have a place (especially for entrepreneurs) but to actually agree on real facts that determine our reality. And when we have assessed what factually makes up our reality, let’s calculate it together. In order to know that these things are right, let’s calculate the numbers and either verify or dispute what we might have intuitively thought.
With causal thinking we can do a deep dive into problems and together address central issues, on the people side, within the organization and in the complexity area. What are the areas of main concern when we want to produce more? The shift into causal thinking is a huge step, and means that we’re bold enough to put numbers on the different factors that will create a useful discussion.
When hard numbers enter the equation, you actually can have robust discussions on what is right and wrong. This is healthy for any organization. “How much does this mean to us? How important is this? Are there other areas that should be more important for us to address?” It’s not “if we should address it,” it’s “what to address, and how important is it?” With causal thinking and hard numbers, we can prioritize and plan rationally.
So, leaders should get out of the “next year we need to do 20% more” mode, or saying “We need a higher share price” or “We need to deliver more projects” or “We need to save more money.” That’s not leadership — it’s passing the buck because they drop these directives on their team with no guidance on how to they should meet those targets.
Looking at what delivers the results.
That’s causal thinking.
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