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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Hi Folks. I know I'm supposed to start my series on agile culture today but I'll be taking my regular holiday blog break very soon and I'd rather not start the series then have a long break between posts. So, I'll start that series in the new year and drop in a quick post that has been inspired by an ongoing discussion at work. The discussion is around coaching approach - do we coach practices or do we coach mindset?

As context, we are in a large organisation and, as most agile programs do, have started by coaching largely around practices. The discussion is around whether we should switch from practices coaching to mindset coaching. One of the coaches posted a picture on our coaching WhatsApp group (apologies for the quality, I don't have an original source) -behaviour, perspective, mindset cycle image

The comment was "it's time to move from behaviour to mindset". Let's unpack that a little.

27 November 2018

Agility Culture

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Over the last few posts we have looked at the four key things that organisations need to do in order to become agile - Distributed Decision Making, Execution Efficiency, Measure what Matters, Inspect and Adapt. In each of those I make brief mention of an "agile culture" that enables them. It's now time to take a deeper look at that agile culture and see what it is.

What is an agile culture? To me the culture is a set of organisational behaviours that enable agility to flourish. If you think about two garden beds - one has poor soil, little sun and get no attention. The other has good soil, plenty of water and lots of sun. If you plant identical plants into each bed, which one will do better (and it's probably best not to ask my wife about flannel flowers at this point - a lovely Australian native plant that flourishes on neglect in rocks by the side of the road but curls up its toes and dies when lovingly tended in our garden)? Agile culture is the well tended garden bed that lets agility thrive. All too often we see agility struggling - thin and weedy, straggly yellow leaves. That's because the culture wasn't there to support it.

13 November 2018

Inspect And Adapt

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Over the last few posts we have been looking at the key changes I feel are necessary for an organisation to be agile, rather than just do agile. We have looked at distributed decision making, execution efficiency and measuring what matters. It's time now to cover the fourth key change - inspect and adapt.

This is probably the hardest of all the four changes for an organisation to adopt in anything but the most superficial of ways. By adopting inspect and adapt, they are not just adopting the need to continuously improve. They are also adopting a view of the world that is fundamentally non-deterministic. Where uncertainty is not just normal, but accepted and even embraced. Where long term plans give way to rapid experimentation. This may be a step too far for many organisations.

30 October 2018

Measure What Matters

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So far we have looked at two of the four key elements for real business agility - distributed decision making and execution efficiency. It's time now to look at the third element - measuring what matters. Organisations tend to collect a lot of data They measure a lot of stuff. The problem with many of those measurements is that they are often data that is easy to collect rather than data that is important. 

What's the problem with that? Data is data. If it's easy to measure, why not measure it? Having more data has to be better than less. Not necessarily. There is something important about making a measurement that makes it vitally important to measure the right things, rather than just measuring stuff just because you can. The important thing about making a measurement is that measuring drives behaviour. As soon as you measure something, people will naturally try to optimise that measurement and if you're measuring the wrong things, that can drive some very bad behaviour.

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