Critical Thinking and SEMAT’s Essence Framework by Paul E. McMahon

This past April I was asked to speak to a group of Computer Science students at Binghamton University, State University of New York, a school rich in a tradition of great software and systems engineering thinkers. In 1971, when I was working on my Masters degree at the same school, Jerry Weinberg (who was a professor of computer systems at the same school at the same time) published his book, “An Introduction to General Systems Thinking.” The book was reprinted twenty five years later on its silver anniversary and what intrigued me about this book when it first came out, and still intrigues me today is how it focuses on how humans think and solve real problems.

Fast forward to this past April, 2014. I find myself speaking to Binghamton University Computer Science students eager to understand the challenges they will soon face when they move into the world of industry and software development. Like I did in Medellin, Columbia last November, I decided to start by explaining a problem that the software engineering community faces today. I wanted to prepare them (and hopefully not scare them) for the real challenges they would soon face.

After the first 28 minutes of my talk, I then went on to explain how the new OMG standard, Essence, could help the software engineering community solve the problem I had been talking about.

Some of the topics that I address in this talk include:

Part I: The Problem We Face: Setting the Stage for Essence (28 minutes)

The Theory of Performance Improvement
Where We Go Wrong in Implementing the Theory
Insights into Two Types of Real Pain Points that Hurt Organizations
A Final Key Observation About Where We Go Wrong (before getting into Essence)

Part II: Essence: Helping to Solve the Problem (42 minutes)

What is Essence: “A Thinking Framework”
Key Elements inside Essence
Examples of how Essence Checklists Are Different
Representing Practices in Essence, and Why You Would Want to Do This
Explaining Common Practitioner Frustrations and How Essence Can Help
An Example of a Team Using Essence Activity Spaces to Self-Assess
Essence Competencies
An Example Scenario Courtesy of the Essence User Guide Volunteers
What if the Team Can’t Meet a Checklist Item?

At the conclusion of the presentation I came back to a few key points I made in Part I about two types of pain points that keep organizations from achieving and sustaining high performance and I reinforced a key related point about Essence.

This also brings me back to Jerry Weinberg. A great deal has changed in the last 40 years, but some things never change. In the end it is still about humans, how they think and how they solve real problems they face each day on the job.

My final point that I make in Part II of my talk to the students is about how Essence relates to critical thinking. Some of the challenges software developers face in today’s world are certainly different from those that Jerry was thinking about when he wrote his book in 1971, but the need for critical thinking in a world that is moving faster and faster has never been greater.

You can find both parts of my talk at Binghamton University on YouTube. Just google, “Paul E McMahon YouTube” and you should find the two videos;
“Part I: The Problem We Face: Setting the Stage for Essence” (28 minutes)
“Part II: Essence: Helping to Solve the Problem” (42 minutes)

Let’s keep this important conversation going. Love it or hate it, we want to hear what you think. Please provide your feedback through my blog ( , the SEMAT blog (, or the Linkedin SEMAT group.

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts.

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Posted on 8/27/21 7:27 AM.