Lean Thinking

Tuesday, 20 September 2016 18:42

Principles Part 4 - Feedback Loops

Published in Agile

So, where are we now? Over the last few weeks we have looked at the first 5 of my agile 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

We have a pretty good setup going now - we have an efficient delivery engine (the team), a destination (the vision), a route (the backlog), a navigator (the content authority) and last time we added a clear service agreement, so the team and organisation know what's expected of each other. With this sort of structure they can really start to get things done. But there is still one more thing to add to make the team really high performing - the ability to improve.

This is where my sixth principle comes in -

  • There is a fast feedback loop that allows the team and organisation to optimise both the process and the product.
Tuesday, 06 September 2016 18:38

Principles Part 3 - Service Agreement

Published in Agile

When we left our hypothetical team last post, they had the first 4 of my principles applied -

  • 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

They have their powerful delivery engine (the team), they have their destination in mind (the vision), they have their route planned (the backlog) and they have someone looking head and changing the route (and even the destination) if things change (the content authority). Is that all they need?

No (otherwise I would only have 4 principles not 7). The team is going to need some support from the organisation. Management support to help remove roadblocks, release funding appropriately, make sure the team has the right resources and so on. At the same time, the organisation needs to know that the team is going to get to its destination in a reasonable time and at a reasonable cost. After all, this isn't a casual road trip; the purpose is clear - to deliver business value, and the organisation needs to know that the team is doing that.

This is where principle 5 comes in -

  • There is a clear bidirectional service agreement between the team and the rest of the organisation
Published in Agile

Often in large organisations we have to deal with groups with names like "legal" or "compliance" or to use an example from my days in the healthcare software industry "patient safety". To a project manager, the function of these groups seems to be to throw up obstacles and prevent getting things done. These groups tend to appear out of the woodwork near the end of a project, inspect everything that has been produced, identify a bunch of problems and then block release until they are all fixed. The problem of course is that at the end of a project, everything has already been built so changing things is hard and expensive. There is also a very good chance that the money is starting to run out so these changes would push the project well over budget. Throw in a rapidly approaching release date and a team already stressed with defects and last minute changes, and it's no wonder project managers view these groups with dread.

Of course, these teams are not just a bureaucratic hurdle to be jumped. They do an important job. The organisation could be in serious trouble if they release anything that is illegal or is not in line with whatever regulations they are under. Groups like legal and compliance have the skills and knowledge to make sure that doesn't happen. In the healthcare company I worked for, patient safety was responsible for exactly that - the safety of the patients whose treatment was administered through the software we wrote. They were trained medical professionals, with years of hospital experience, who assessed what we produced and made sure that in the stressful, overworked environment of a typical hospital, that the software could be used without the risk of accidentally administering the wrong drug or the wrong dose or operating on the wrong leg (or even wrong patient) or anything like that. That's a pretty important thing to do. We knew how valuable it was. We still hated dealing with them though. Product managers would jump through hoops to get their product classified "non-theraputic" so they could avoid a safety review. The downside of course is that there was no safety review. If only there was a way that we could get the value that these groups provide without all the downsides.

Published in Agile

Take a thin steel rod. I'm sure you have one handy. Clamp one end in a vice (which you also have handy...I know I do) so that it's sticking straight up in the air. Now move the free end of the rod to the side a little and let it go. What happened? Did it spring right back? OK, now move it a little further. Still springing back? If you keep going, moving it a little further each time, you will find a point where the rod no longer springs back but bends permanently. Materials scientists call this the elastic limit. Below this limit, materials experience elastic deformation - they spring back to the way they were before once the force is removed. Above this limit, they experience what is called plastic deformation - they no longer spring back but permanently change shape.

So why am I giving you this lecture in materials science? Because organisations behave the same way. When you apply a force to them - when you change something - the organisation is very good at snapping straight back to the way it was before.  As soon as you stop pushing the change, the change disappears. We've all seen it happen. As soon as you relax, the change evaporates and within a short time the organisation is happily doing what it has always done.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016 11:09

The Team As A Decision Making Unit

Published in Agile

Teams hold a special status in agile. Teams are at the heart of all agile frameworks and much of the focus of the agile community is on growing and supporting teams. Not just any teams, agile teams stress things like self organisation and cross functionality. There is no denying that a really good agile team is an awesome sight to behold. The amount of stuff they can get done is nothing short of remarkable. But there are also an awful lot of agile teams that have the same properties but their performance isn't anywhere near as good. So what is wrong with those teams? Is it the people? Is it the environment? Is it the nature of the work? What stops some teams from performing where others with the same characteristics flourish?

In an effort to understand why, I have been thinking deeply about the concept of the team; why they are so effective and why we insist on certain characteristics for our agile teams. The conclusion I have come to is that it's all about the ability to make decisions.

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