Lean Thinking

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Last time we looked at what it means to be a learning organisation. There are obvious benefits to having a learning organisation - better decisions, better products, better processes, better, well, just about everything. There are also some non-obvious benefits that are, in some ways, even more powerful than the obvious stuff - it turns out that learning is extremely motivating for people. Learning organisations tend to have very highly motivated, switched on, dedicated people in them and that gives them a huge advantage. It's not just that these organisations attract those sort of people, but the really amazing thing is that the people already in the organisation become more motivated when the organisation embraces learning.

It turns out that learning - getting better at something - is one of the key things that motivate us. When we talk about motivators in a work context we tend not to think about things like learning. We tend to think more about things like pay and bonuses. Psychologists who work in this field divide up motivators into two types - extrinsic (meaning coming from outside) and intrinsic (coming from inside). Things like pay, bonuses, company cars and the like are extrinsic motivators. Things like learning are intrinsic motivators. Guess which turns out to be more powerful? Yep. Intrinsic motivators win. Extrinsic motivators tend to work in reverse - the lack of pay is a de-motivator, but once you are paid fairly, more pay does not equal more motivation. So, what are intrinsic motivators and how do they work?

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Last time, we looked at Striving for Quality and how that means not just ensuring that what you produce isn't simply defect free, but also the right thing, and produced in the right way. To do that, an organisation needs to be able to learn. This is a problem for many organisations. In many organisations, learning is not only not encouraged but is often unofficially discouraged, or worse, it's officially and actively discouraged. I don't mean training budgets getting reduced here. Learning new skills is an important part of organisational learning and people should be given the opportunity to do so, but I'm talking about something different. I'm talking about an organisation learning whether what they are building is the right thing or not. And whether the way they are building it is the right way to build it Or whether the organisational structure they have is the right structure. What I'm really talking about is organisations learning how to become better at everything they do. 

Most organisations are afraid of learning. Why? It seems like such an obvious question - is what we are building, what people want? Organisations will say they are interested. They will quote sales figures and user numbers and so on, but dig a little deeper and they shy away. Did that particular feature meet its goals? Don't want to know. Did that project succeed in the market? Don't want to know. Why? Because if it isn't performing, someone in the organisation was wrong. And they might be important. So it's best not to find out. I have asked about whether a particular feature that a team worked on was meeting its user uptake goals and been told "We don't measure that because that way no-one gets fired for telling the product director that they picked the wrong thing to build". Organisations are afraid of learning because they are afraid of failure.

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Last time we looked at supportive leadership and how that can really let people in an organisation become empowered.That feeling of empowerment will vanish pretty quickly if they feel that they just aren't achieving good results. Nothing is more demotivating than feeling that you have worked all day and achieved nothing, or made things worse. This is where quality comes in. People need to feel that they are doing a quality job to be really happy. Pride in your work is one of the biggest motivating factors out there. Quality is also great for an organisation. After all, if it's not producing quality, how likely is it to stay in business long term?

Now, when I mentioned quality, I'm betting a bunch of you immediately thought about things like defects, and testing, That's what most people associate with quality - building the thing right. But that's not all there is to quality. By itself, building the thing right only ensures that what you build is defect free. Is it the right thing? Building the right thing is an even more important aspect of quality. And what about the way we build it? Is it quality if our processes are bad so that what we build is late to market or too expensive? An organisation needs to consider all 3 aspects of quality before they can really say that they are producing a quality product. 

3 circle image text of build the thing right, build the right thing, build it the right way

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Hi Folks. Back for a new year. I'll be kicking off the year with something I talked about at the end of last year - an in-depth look at my views on what an agile culture looks like. If you can cast your minds all the way back to 2018, I posted an overview of 5 things that I feel are the foundations of a good agile culture. To refresh everyone's memories (including mine) after the holiday season, here they are again -

  • Supportive leadership
  • Strive for quality
  • Learning organisation
  • Enable people 
  • Enhance safety

Today I'll be looking at the first one - supportive leadership. Agile folks talk about this all the time by different names. Servant leadership, supportive leadership, people-focused leadership, and a host of others. We all mean the same thing. The trouble is, when we are asked "well, what exactly does that mean, we generally aren't very good at defining it, and are even worse at giving leaders real, practical guidance on what to do to become a supportive/servant/people focused leader. So here is my attempt.

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