Lean Thinking

Dave Martin  

Dave Martin

We've all been there. We know that there is a better way to do what we are doing. There has to be. The universe isn't cruel enough for this to be the only way. If only you had a few minutes to think about the problem you are sure you could come up with something much better. Problem is, you don't have a few minutes. You are flat out trying to get whatever it is you are doing, done. And because the way you are doing it is inefficient, it's taking ages and you are already at risk of missing your deadline. You just have to keep going and hope you have some time once it's finished to work out a better way for next time. Of course that never happens because the next task is also inefficient and so that time to improve never materialises.

As AA Milne said in Winnie The Pooh -

“Here is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin. It is, as far as he knows, the only way of coming downstairs, but sometimes he feels that there really is another way, if only he could stop bumping for a moment and think of it."

Welcome to the improvement paradox.

03 October 2017

Teams As An Ideal Gas

I have a confession to make. I'm a bit of a physics nerd. Actually that's not true. I'm a huge physics nerd. I'm not a trained physicist, I'm an engineer by training (which is pretty close...BTW that loud noise you just heard was a bunch of physicists' heads exploding at the thought of being compared to an engineer) but I have always loved physics. All that sets the stage for my next sentence - I was reading an article the other day on ideal gases (as you do) and suddenly thought that gases make a great metaphor for our teams. Stick with me on this...

An ideal gas is a construct physicists use to better understand the behaviour of real gases. Real gases are messy and awkward and do some strange things (like heat up when you compress them) which make studying them difficult. An ideal gas is a conceptual model of a gas that you can use to infer the behaviour of a real gas. In an ideal gas, you assume that the particles that make up the gas are free to move without impediments and when they interact, they do so in a perfectly elastic collision - both particles rebound and go about their business with no loss of energy. The speed of the particles is related entirely to the temperature of the gas. The hotter the gas the faster they move. This also makes an ideal gas a model of an ideal team.

19 September 2017

Pirate Teams

A few months ago I saw a meme floating around contrasting a good agile team with a group of cowboy coders. Their chosen metaphor was a nautical one. The good agile team was the navy (age of sail style) - disciplined, focused, effective, working together for a common purpose. The bad team was, of course, pirates - rough, undisciplined, attacking stuff at random, scary but ultimately ineffective.

I looked at that, and knowing a little something about pirates (real ones, not the Long John Silver/Jack Sparrow/Captain Hook type Hollywood ones) it didn't quite ring true. In fact, if you look a little deeper, the age of sail navy is actually quite a good metaphor for traditional organisations and pirates actually make a great agile team. Since this is International Talk Like A Pirate Day, heave to for a moment ye scurvy dogs and let me explain.

05 September 2017

Why Do Agile Teams Slip?

"Come and have a look at my team" says my new stakeholder. "We have been doing agile for a few years now and while we started well, I think we have slipped back to old habits". How often have you heard this when starting a new engagement? Quite often? What do you see when you take a look? It's usually lack of planning, absence of meaningful retrospectives, ineffective standups, lax WIP limits, poor metrics, mini waterfalls. Yep. They have slipped all right.

When you ask the team why they think they have slipped, you will usually get answers like "we scaled up and things went wrong" or "the rest of the organisation is pulling us back" or "some key people left" or something like that. In my experience these are never the real reason. They may have contributed, but the underlying problem is something else entirely. That underlying problem is almost always the same - they never had the basics right in the first place.

Last time we looked at some of the challenges around organisational change and the need to flip the system from one attractor to another. But where does that leave us? We know organisational change is hard. We know that we need to change the state of the system. We know that traditional approaches run out of steam and the system settles back to where it was before (often after thrashing wildly). We know we still want to change organisations. But how? How should we be doing organisational change?

Traditional approaches fail for a few reasons - they try to do a massive change all at once but don't add enough energy to push the system into a new state, or they add so much energy that the system breaks completely and descends into chaos, or they go the other way and try to do a low energy change but they can't sustain for long enough and they don't manage to shift the system. So what do we do?


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