Lean Thinking

Tuesday, 14 November 2017 21:08

Are Hyperproductive Teams Real?

Published in Agile

We have all heard the story of the hyperproductive team. That beautiful creation that is 400% more effective that regular teams. The team that never stops getting better. But how many of us have actually seen such a thing in the flesh? I have been lucky enough to see one or two but most teams never reach those lofty heights. Why? Is it because we have the wrong people? Not smart enough? Not talented enough? Not committed enough? I don't think so. I have seen very talented teams struggle while teams that had much less raw talent went on to do great things. Although talent helps, there is no guarantee that a talented team will become hyperproductive and a less talented team will not.

Is it the methodology they use? Is scrum the recipe for hyperproductive teams? Is it Kanban? Crystal? SAFe? Less? Again, none of these things seem to matter. I have seen teams struggle and succeed with all methodologies. So what is it then that allows some teams to become hyperproductive? In my experience, there is one thing that allowed my hyperproductive teams to become hyperproductive - they are parts of hyperproductive organisations. The hyperproductive team is a myth.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017 23:08

The Limits of Management (and Umbrellas)

Published in Agile

When a team in an organisation decides to do something a bit different (like adopting agile), the rest of the organisation tends to push back and force the team to conform to the normal way of doing things. A team, isolated and on their own, can only resist that pressure for so long until they have to give in. It's like standing outside in a thunderstorm - sooner or later you will get so uncomfortable that you will have to retreat to shelter.

But what if you could take some shelter with you? Something like an umbrella perhaps? It's not exactly comfortable standing under an umbrella in a raging storm but it will let you withstand the elements for longer than you could if you didn't have one. This is what we do in organisations when we start to engage leaders. When the team's leader gets engaged with the change, they can provide some shelter to the team. They become the team's umbrella. But as anyone who has stood outside with an umbrella in a storm will know, the protection they provide is limited at best. We need something better.

Tuesday, 05 September 2017 17:33

Why Do Agile Teams Slip?

Published in Agile

"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.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016 17:42

Coaching vs Capability Building

Published in Agile

If you work for a large organisation and you want to transform the way you work to be more agile, what's the first thing you do? Chances are it's hiring a coach or two. That's not a bad way to start. Experienced people to guide the transformation make things much easier. But what do you do once the first pilot is done, you have proven that it works and demand is growing? More and more people are wanting agility. Your current coaches can't handle the load. What do you do?

What most organisations do is here some more coaches. And some more coaches, and more coaches and more as demand continues to grow. Now, as an agile coach, this has kept me in work for many years so I may be shooting myself in the foot a little when I say that this is a really lousy way to do an agile transformation. Yes, that's right. You heard it. An agile coach says that hiring a bunch of agile coaches is not a good way to transform an organisation. Let's look at why and then look at how we can do things better.

Tuesday, 04 October 2016 14:09

Principles Part 5 - Self Similarity

Published in Agile

We have now covered six principles -
They are built around small, self-organising teams

  • The team has a clear vision of what they are doing and where they fit into the bigger picture
  • The team has a well defined backlog of work
  • There is a content authority responsible for making sure decisions are made quickly
  • There is a clear bidirectional service agreement between the team and the rest of the organisation
  • There is a fast feedback loop that allows the team and organisation to optimise both the process and the product.

At this point we have everything we need to enable a team to operate in a really agile way. The team doesn't need anything else. So why are there seven principles?

The seventh principle isn't a team principle. It's a scaling principle. Very few organisations are able to deliver real value with a single team so the last principle kicks in when you don't have just one team but a team of teams, or a hierachy of teams all working together to deliver value. The first 6 principles define how you should set up your teams, the seventh principle defines how you should link them together -

  • The organisation should be self similar at scale

There are two ways an organisation can handle scale. They can do what most organisations do and add extra complexity to their processes to handle the extra complexity of scale or they can develop a simple pattern (like teams operating under the first 6 principles) that works and iterate that in a self similar way to operate at scale. Add complexity through extra processes or iterate simplicity through self similarity.

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