Lean Thinking

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, 17 October 2017 22:09

The Improvement Paradox

Published in Agile

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.

Tuesday, 22 August 2017 19:37

Incremental Organisational Change

Published in Agile

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?

Tuesday, 08 August 2017 11:23

Attractors

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.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017 11:17

Open Financial Figures

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?

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