Lean Thinking

08 August 2017

Attractors

Written by Published in Agile

Organisational change is hard. I don't think there are many people who will disagree with that statement. But let's look a little closer at it. What about organisational change is the hard bit? It's not getting change started. Generally organisations know they need to change constantly and are quite accepting of the fact that change happens. They have change teams and change champions and change consultants to help their many change programs succeed. But often, at the end of the day, despite all the effort that goes into these change programs, nothing actually changes. Once the dust settles, the organisation is left essentially the way it was.

It doesn't matter what kind of change it is, agile adoption, cultural change, new processes. They all tend to end up with the organisation reverting over time to its old behaviour. Why? Is it just the universe trying to be awful to people who do change for a living? No. The reason change doesn't stick comes from the study of the behaviour of complex adaptive systems. In particular from something called attractors.

Written by Published in Agile

It's bonus time here at work right now so everyone (well, all the permies anyway) is excited about finances all of a sudden. The corridors are abuzz with talk about last year's performance, our EBIT, EBITDA, ROI, earnings, operating costs and of course the most important question of all - "what does all this mean for my bonus this year?". Anticipation builds as finance gets ready to release the all-important set of yearly numbers.

The company's financial results are really important and everyone should engage with them. After all, that's really why we are all here (even us contractors) - to make the company successful. Engaging with the financials is great. The problem here is that people engage for about a week around bonus time, then once that's done and dusted, they go back to focusing on their own individual KPIs and ignore the financials for the rest of the year. That's not what we want. We want people to focus on the financials all the time. So how do we do that?

11 July 2017

Agile Leadership

Written by Published in Agile

In previous posts (here, here and here) I have called out the need for really solid agile leadership to enable change. Without great leadership, change falters. We know what bad leadership looks like - directive, dis-empowering, disconnect between what they say and what they do. We all know the symptoms of bad management. But what does good management look like?

We can do the obvious and just say that good leadership looks like the reverse of bad leadership - non directive, empowering, behaves in accordance with what they are saying and so on. All that is true, but I have seen really empowering, non directive leaders who were still bad leaders at driving change. I think there is something fundamental that all leaders need to make them effective at delivering lasting change. That thing is the ability (and desire) to change themselves.

27 June 2017

Value

Written by Published in Agile

We talk about value a lot in agile. The whole point of agile is often given as "the ability to deliver value quickly". Lean looks at value streams and flows of value. But when we say value, what do we really mean? What is value? The dictionary tells us that value is "the regard that something is held to deserve; the importance, worth, or usefulness of something."

So value describes something that is important to someone. But who? When we ask ourselves this question, we usually come up with and answer of - "the customer". This isn't a wrong answer, customer value has to be our of our key drivers. Make the customer happy by giving them what they want. That's the key to business success. But note that I said "one of our key drivers", not "our key driver". There are other "someones" out there who are also important, and often get forgotten. What about the organisation itself? Its employees?

Written by Published in Agile

We have all seen the press releases come out. The CTO of some big organisation proudly announces that with this new agility thing they are now able to release to market every three months instead of yearly. Great news isn't it? Great endorsement of agile techniques, isn't it? Have you ever worked in one of those organisations? What is it like working in the delivery teams for one of those organisations? Is it, as the press release seems to indicate, some sort of IT workers' paradise where features flow easily into production and there are smiles and profits for all?

Or does it feel like an endless treadmill where releasing every three months just means jumping through all the hoops you had to jump through for the yearly releases but now instead of doing it once a year you are doing it all the time? Where the nightmare month you used to have once a year to push the release kicking and screaming out the door is now your normal workload? Chances are, it's not the first one. Feeling burned out? Are we achieving our results by throwing away one of our key principles - the principle of sustainable pace?

Written by Published in Agile

Last time we looked at the trend towards massive scale in the agile community and some of the problems scale leads to. We looked at an alternative approach. A scaled down approach -

"Imagine, instead of a huge program, we have small groups of teams, say 2-5 teams in a group. Each group manages its own stakeholders, environments, dependencies and the like. Each group is directly aligned to a set of business stakeholders with a common set of outcomes, is funded through an investment pool aligned to business outcomes, not specific project deliverables, and delivers value end to end for the stakeholder group."

This approach would allow the organisation to deliver value efficiently without the need for massive scaled structures and the complexity and inefficiencies that go along with them. The only problem of course is that such a structure is impossible in most organisations because they are built around large programs and large platforms and simply don't have the ability, architecture or processes to handle a scaled down operation.

So where to from here? Can we move beyond scaled approaches to a scaled down approach? I think we can and the first step in that journey is to scale up.

09 May 2017

Should We Scale?

Written by Published in Agile

There has been a trend recently within the agile community to embrace massive scale. Not just a few teams working together but really large groups. Every day we see examples of bigger programs, larger release trains, all successfully being managed through agile techniques. Just recently, a colleague ran a PI planning event for close to 1000 people spread across three countries. I have seen other organisations proudly boasting that they have "the largest release train in the southern hemisphere", with some figures on the incredible budgets that the train is managing. The SAFe framework now has 4 levels rather than 3 to enable it to manage bigger and bigger structures. Less has Less-huge to do the same.

While I celebrate the achievements of the coaches successfully helping organisations achieve this, and the incredible feat of facilitation that a 1000 person, 3 country PI event must be, I can't help worrying that this drive towards massive scale is not altogether a good thing. Large companies want scale because that's the way they are used to working. They are used to thinking in terms of large programs of work involving hundreds of people. In order to help them, we have developed techniques that allow us to handle this sort of scale. But just because we can do something, it does not automatically follow that we should do something. There are significant downsides to scale.

Written by Published in Agile

How do things get funded in the organisation you work for? If you work for most organisations, a business case will be prepared and submitted to management for approval. The conversation around approval will invariably be based around cost and benefit - how much will this cost and how much will this make? This leads to some pretty well known problems. I have written about these problems before (The Problem with Projects and Outcome Based Funding) and they are pretty well known. Ask anyone involved in funding approvals and they will tell you that the process is pretty bad and things need to be done to improve it.

Organisations have tried many things - fast track funding for small initiatives, streamlined approvals processes, delegated approvals, all sorts of things, but the process remains inflexible, flawed and generally broken. I think this comes not from a flawed process but from a flawed starting assumption - that cost vs benefit is the correct way to allocate money. I think we are asking entirely the wrong question. No amount of tweaking the process will help if the process is answering the wrong question. So what is the right question? I think we should stop asking "how much will it cost" and start asking "how much should we invest".

Calendar

« August 2017 »
Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun
  1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29 30 31