Kanban from the Inside: 3. Collaboration

This is the third installment in a roughly weekly series of short excerpts from my book, Kanban from the Inside. Chapter 3 covers the third of the Kanban Method’s nine values, balance.


I find it helpful to think of collaboration as something quite concrete, bringing to mind some specific examples of famous creative collaborations. Lennon and McCartney, Watson and Crick, Marie and Pierre Curie—these are collaborations that have made huge impact, not just in their chosen fields, but in popular consciousness, too. These aren’t just people being nice, cooperating with each other in some general way; these are relationships in which the whole is somehow much greater than the sum of its parts, where creative energy exists between those involved as well as inside each one individually.

We can’t expect every workplace collaboration to be quite as spectacularly productive as these examples, but if our knowledge-based organizations can’t generate some excess creativity over what each individual can generate on his or her own, why do they exist at all?*

*(footnote) Why do firms exist? Economists still wrestle with that. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theory_of_the_firm and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knowledge-based_theory_of_the_firm


Next up: 4. Customer Focus. Previously 2. Balance: Start from the beginning: 1. Transparency.

Kanban from the Inside: 2. Balance

I’m posting every week or so some short excerpts from my book, Kanban from the Inside. Chapter 2 covers the second of the Kanban Method’s nine values, balance.


Balance Demand versus Capability

Inside the system, we balance workload against the system’s capacity, both for the sake of the people doing the work and for the improved performance and predictability that comes as a result. But it doesn’t have to stop there.

Interesting things happen when your system’s capability to deliver against each category becomes known. You can help your customers to make better-informed choices. This in turn has an upstream effect, an effect on how work flows from the customer. Managed proactively, this is demand shaping, a way to improve outcomes still further by promoting balance across a broader scope of a system and over longer timespans.

Work item categorizations and classes of service help you manage to multiple time horizons simultaneously. There’s no point in remarkable delivery rates in the short term if we’re busy bankrupting ourselves through insufficient attention to sustainability. Likewise, we can’t be forever spending our investors’ money on long-term work so nebulous or grandiose that customer value will never be delivered.

In a nutshell, Kanban helps you balance demand versus capability over a range of timespans. This is a powerful management strategy to apply both inside and outside the system.


Seeking Balance

Balance is a strange thing—we really enjoy it when it’s there, but achieving it takes anticipation, vigilance, and effort, sometimes even the occasional breakthrough. For me, it is this—as much as the significant technical merits of WIP-limited pull systems—that makes balance such an important value.

To help bring balance into your application of Core Practice 2, try prefacing it with “Find ways to”:

  • Find ways to limit work-in-progress, using every available lever.
  • Find ways to limit work-in-progress at every organizational level, looking for ways to bring those deeper imbalances to the surface as trust is built.

Perhaps you can come up with a phrase that captures the essence of your organization’s current need for balance. It’s a trick that works with other practices too.


Next up: 2. Collaboration. Previously: 1. Transparency.

 

Kanban from the Inside: 1. Transparency

I’ll be posting every week or so some short excerpts from my book, Kanban from the Inside. Let’s start at the beginning, with chapter 1, the subject of which is the first of the Kanban Method’s nine values, transparency.


With Kanban, the purpose of visualization and other forms of transparency is twofold: to make the need for action visible and to help people make good choices. These operate at two levels:

  • Action in the form of work that needs to be done; good choices in the selection of work items
  • Action in the form of changes to the system; good choices in justifying, scoping, and implementing change

There’s a virtuous circle at play here:

  • The kanban system organizes the work.
  • People organize themselves around the work.
  • From their fresh perspective, people see that the kanban system could organize the work better than it currently does, and they change it.

Coming soon in this series: 2. Balance.

Two years on

I deliberately delayed the usual end-of-year review to today, the 3rd of January. It’s the second anniversary of my post Introducing Kanban through its Values and I was curious to see how well it was holding up. It is after all the seed that grew into my personal highlight of 2014, the publication in September of my book Kanban from the Inside.

Although the margin isn’t huge, I am not at all surprised to find that this two year old post tops the list of most-read pages of 2014:

  1. Introducing Kanban through its values
  2. Kanban Values exercise released
  3. My book: Kanban from the Inside
  4. STATIK, Kanban’s hidden gem
  5. Announcing Featureban
  6. “How deep” rebooted: values-based depth assessment
  7. Kanban: values, understanding & purpose
  8. Pulling change through the system
  9. A process of knowledge discovery
  10. Understand motivation for change

#7 is representative of 2013 – a followup to #1 and part of a journey of rapid exploration. The 2014 posts represent the fruit of that earlier work, ideas and tools rounded out and made reusable through the writing of my book. I’m thrilled that others refer to STATIK without my prompting (I declared it a success in July). The values exercise and Featureban are popular on slideshare. Matt Phillip flew across to Europe to describe (among other things) his company’s use of the assessment tool (see his deck The Kanban Iceberg; the video of his London talk should be available soon).

What does 2015 hold? For the next three months at least, more delivery management work with Valtech on UK government digital projects. Some private training classes no doubt, and (fingers crossed) a new 1-day public class “Inside Kanban”, probably in partnership with our growing community of UK-based training providers. I have other irons in the fire, but beyond March I’m still open to offers, whether it’s consultancy, training, or interim management.

In the meantime we’re moving house. A second foster daughter joined our family last year, and a Georgian cottage built into a Derbyshire hillside no longer meets our accessibility requirements. The new house is a bungalow on the edge of Wingerworth – still Derbyshire, but flatter and much closer to motorway and intercity railway links. Can’t wait!

Featureban updates

For the uninitiated, Featureban is a simple and fun kanban simulation game.

Minor tweaks to wording on the facilitation deck (slideshare, pdf; drop me an email if you’d like the source pptx file):

There is now a metrics spreadsheet (xls):

Screen Shot 2014-11-28 at 13.22.28

If you or players change the rules in the interests of flow that’s fine, but bear in mind that the flow efficiency calculation assumes that work items require a touch time of two days. Today’s team cheated for a while and ended up with a calculated flow efficiency of 111%!

Fun (almost) guaranteed!

2014-11-28 09.57.57

Understand motivation for change

One piece of feedback I’ve received a few times on step 1 of STATIK (and therefore on chapter 18 of my book Kanban from the Inside also) is that “Understand sources of dissatisfaction” sounds rather negative. What about sources of satisfaction, pride, strength, and so on? Are those unimportant?

It’s a very valid comment, and with David at this week’s Train-the-Trainer class in Cascais, Portugal, we renamed this step “Understand motivation for change”. Ironically, this name existed already as the title for the accompanying class exercise!

We made the change to the Foundations deck right there in front of the class. Other decks and my book will be updated as soon as is practically possible.

As it happens, I am very interested in the positive (the naming of my blog is no accident). My favourite retrospective format—a format that would work well in the context of a STATIK workshop—is the Stanford d.school’s “I like / I wish / I wonder” (“IL/IW/IW”) or “I like / wish / What if” (“IL/IW/WI”) which sometimes I abbreviate to “+/-/?”. In one simple exercise, we find out both what we’d like to change, what we’re keen to preserve, and what needs digging into further.

STATIK requires us to do this from two perspectives, internal and external. As my friend Markus Andrezak puts it, we need both self-awareness and empathy. Let’s strike the right balance between the positive and the negative also. It’s not all bad!

Source: Markus Andrezak

STATIK, Kanban’s Hidden Gem (my #lkce14 talk)

[Updated – see end of article]

The 2014 autumn conference season closes with Lean Kanban Central Europe 2014, one of my favourite events of the year. My talk expands on the STATIK part of last week’s keynote.

It starts with the underpants gnomes, who (like many) might implement Kanban thus:

  1. ???
  2. Put up a board
  3. ???
  4. Profit!

It finishes with purpose:

Know what you’re delivering, to whom, and why

For at least one audience member, the key slides are in the middle, slides 33-34. I described as “a little old fashioned” the idea that we deliver incrementally in order to get feedback. As per last week’s keynote, we need to be validating relentlessly right through the process; only then can we hope to anticipate customer needs. The change to “hypothesis driven development” isn’t just a change of jargon!

Update: This sketchnote captures slide 50 beautifully:

Sketchnote

I wish I could do that!

Notes on my #lkuk14 keynote – Inside Lean Kanban

Here’s the deck for my keynote yesterday, with which I opened Lean Kanban United Kingdom 2014 (#lkuk14):

A few notes on key slides:

  • Slides 9-10 show to a card inserted into each delegate’s welcome pack. The reverse side (slide 10) aided audience participation in later slides
  • Slides 30-42 illustrates resonances between three highly condensed heuristics from Dave Snowden – finer-grained objects; disintermediation; distributed cognition – and six of the Kanban values. Indirectly, all of the Kanban Method’s core practices are represented (I neglected to mention that in my narration)
  • Slide 44 – repeated at the end in slide 73 – is I think the key takeaway. It’s one way to describe the essence of Kanban: operate kanban systems; increase understanding; pull change through the system
  • The intervening slides describe Reverse STATIK
  • Slide 72 is my attempt at a Kanban “big picture”. If you have better drawing skills than mine (most people do) and would like to make it more presentable, get in touch!

Book-related roundup

In chronological order:

In the background are discussions on translating Kanban from the Inside into other languages. I’ll announce them here as soon as agreements are in place.

I should mention also that Lean Kanban UK 2014 takes place the week after next. My opening keynote is called “Inside Lean Kanban”. An echo, not a plug!

Kanban from the Inside is now available on Kindle

In addition to the existing paperback, my book Kanban from the Inside is now available on Kindle via amazon.comamazon.co.ukamazon.de and amazon.fr and (no doubt) other amazons also. A PDF e-book is also available via the djaa.com store.

In a two-sentence summary: understand the Kanban Method, connect it with familiar models such as Lean, Agile, and Theory of Constraints, and learn how to implement it step-by-step in your organization. Learn practical techniques to apply the Kanban Method, always considering the context of your situation and the people involved.

Read it, then leave a review!