Feedback loops — a striking juxtaposition

I’m blogging here a little less frequently at the moment, but only because I’m busy on blog.agendashift.com and our Agendashift LinkedIn group, where I have been previewing new Agendashift functionality as it becomes available to its beta testers. I could easily have made this post there too, but there’s enough Kanban and Agile content here for me to show positiveincline.com some love. And why not!

This week I have been using Agendashift’s shiny new charting functionality to explore the results Depth of Kanbanland 2015 survey (which is still open if you want to give it a try — please do). I was very struck by this juxtaposition:

Screen Shot 2015-08-29 at 12.12.14

At the bottom of the transparency category we have one of the survey’s strongest responses right next to a much weaker one (easily the weakest of the category, though there are weaker scores to come in other categories). For frequent, progress-centric reviews — stand-up meetings and the like — we’re scoring between 3 (“getting there”) and 4 (“nailing it”). But for regular reviews of end-to-end effectiveness, the typical score is a 2 (“early gains”), with a significant number of 1’s (“barely started, if at all”). Hmmm.

Yes, the daily stand-up meeting is an agile practice I would wholeheartedly recommend, particularly when it takes a form that emphasises flow over activity. But how many organisations are struggling needlessly in both their delivery and change efforts as a consequence of their neglect of higher level feedback loops?

Even if you haven’t yet embraced the Kanban Method, David’s Kanban Cadences picture serves as a very useful checklist. For each of the feedback opportunities shown, do you have a good story? In our experience, grassroots adoptions of agile methods do often deliver early benefits, but quickly reach a plateau because there is only so much that a mainly team-centric approach can achieve. The Service Delivery Review meeting in the middle of the picture is a great way to break that constraint, providing as it does a fantastic opportunity to bring together data on effectiveness and progress on change and to share it with a wider audience that may include more senior leaders, outside colleagues, and customer representatives.

cadences

I know that I’m not alone among practitioners of Kanban and Lean/Agile methods in giving high priority to those bigger-picture feedback loops, but if the survey numbers are to be believed, we must be in the minority. I’d love to help change that!

Three talks and a brand new class

Earlier this month I spent a very productive week in Singapore. Our client (a significant player in Asia’s financial sector) added two extended lunchtime speaking opportunities to my agenda, each 2 hours long with time for food and networking. The first was on the Monday, a great opportunity to get introduced to people for the first time. The second was on my last day, a nice way to sign off and a chance to present to some more senior managers from both technology and business.

Adding a mid-week meetup (a evening event that included pizza, a talk, and a couple of rounds of Featureban), that’s a lot of speaking for one business trip!

If you’re thinking of bringing me into your business, this is a really good pattern to follow. There is double benefit: it maximises exposure internally, and it gives you a chance to do something good for your local Lean/Kanban/Agile community also.

At very short notice I am very happy to do any/all of:

  1. A Scrumban case study (this was my introduction)
  2. Agile leadership with Kanban (my Singapore signoff)
  3. Are we there yet? (my current keynote)

If there’s anything in my back catalogue that you think might be more relevant to your current situation, let me dust it down and bring it up to date.

Further to that last talk, I really should mention:

With thanks to my client and to Valtech for creating the opportunity!

Kanban from the Inside: 23. Roll out

For this 23rd and final installment of excerpts from my book I have chosen a very short extract. I chose it not because it summarises the chapter (it doesn’t) or the book as a whole (it certainly doesn’t do that) but because it helps explain some of what I have been doing since publication. Agendashift (tagline: “values-based change for the evolving organisation“) provides tool support for the change management process described in this chapter. The existing work hasn’t stood still either; you can now access an online realisation of a much-improved version of chapter 23’s checklist by participating in our Depth of Kanbanland 2015 survey. And please do!


Roll out

I find it useful to think of Kanban implementation as a three-stage process:

  1. Planning the engagement: preparation in terms of participants, venues, tools, supporting material, and so on
  2. Shaping the agenda: approaching STATIK with the explicit aim of producing a compelling set of agreed upon priorities, goals, and actions
  3. Pulling change through the system: maintaining momentum into the future, ensuring that progress will continue to be both visible and meaningful

This structure can be applied regardless of whether your aim is to build a stand-alone kanban system, to introduce the Kanban Method for the first time, or to reinvigorate fresh cycles of change. You can even use it retrospectively, helping you to think constructively about an implementation that needs a stronger connection with its host organization.

I hope to show that there is no contradiction between introducing Kanban impactfully and remaining true to its humane ethos. Toward the end of this chapter we review the role that the values can play in motivating an implementation.


Previously: 22. Design kanban systems. Start from the beginning: 1. Transparency.

My book Kanban from the Inside was published in September 2014 by Blue Hole Press, publishers of David Anderson’s Kanban book, aka the “blue book”. Complete with an awesome foreword by Luke Hohmann, it is available in paperback and Kindle at amazon.com, amazon.co.uk, amazon.de and amazon.fr and (no doubt) other amazons also. A PDF e-book is available via the djaa.com store also.

Kanban from the Inside: 22. Design kanban systems

It hardly seems possible, but this is the penultimate installment! We have two excerpts this time, both from towards the end of the chapter 22. We’ll finish with reviewing your kanban board’s initial design, but first we’ll look at ways to limit work-in-progress (WIP).


Limiting WIP

A true kanban system incorporates some mechanism for limiting the amount of work in progress. Once again, there are numerous ways to achieve this:

  • Numeric WIP limits, each controlling the amount of WIP in a single column, a span of columns, or a horizontal swim lane.
  • Physical constraints, such as the number of horizontal swim lanes available.
  • Limits on the number of tokens (e.g., personal avatars) in circulation, and attaching them to tickets. The control offered by this mechanism is lessened if tickets are allowed to be in progress without such a token; in this case, it is limiting not the overall WIP, only the amount considered “active.”
  • Policies that control, for example, the amount of WIP per person or class of service.
  • Some external mechanism that releases work into the system only when there is capacity. Scrum achieves this by limiting the amount of work committed to in a timeboxed sprint.

There is a lot to be said for using multiple techniques in combination, for example:

  • Horizontal (e.g., class of service) and vertical (state) limits in combination
  • Physical constraints (e.g., on epics) combined with vertical limits (e.g., on features in active development)
  • Sprints combined with column-level limits, to curb multitasking and to encourage work to move from states of partial completion (e.g., “code complete”) and on toward deployment

When multiple crosscutting mechanisms have been properly calibrated, no limit needs to feel overly constraining on its own, and yet the combined effect is to reduce WIP to levels that might previously have seemed inconceivable. Each limit addresses a particular symptom or behavior, kicks in when needed, and helps to smooth flow overall.


Review

Given the wide range of design choices available, it’s a good idea to review the board design before deeming it to be your “initial” one (don’t ever think of it as “final”!).

Begin with some basic technical checks:

  • How does the board look when populated with work items? Does it organize them effectively? Is there enough room?
  • How much movement will we see between standups? Not enough? Too much?
  • Is it understandable by its intended users? Too complicated? Too simplistic? Ask them, or better still, involve them.
  • Does it make unreasonable demands or assume changes of process, organization, or role that aren’t yet agreed upon? (I don’t say “never” to introducing radical system changes at this stage, but I don’t usually recommend it.)

More reflectively, a good design addresses multiple needs of a broader nature:

  • It brings transparency to what is happening and how it happens, helps better decisions to be made, and encourages self-organization and collaboration. Can you (collectively) picture those things with this design?
  • It helps to bring balance—between demand and supply, across different categories of demand, and so on. Will it do that, even if only tentatively?
  • It encourages both thought and action with respect to customer focus and flow. Refer to Chapters 4 and 5 and try using your board design as a thinking tool.

Lastly, and crucially:

  • In what ways does this design begin to address the specific dissatisfactions and frustrations you captured at the very start of this process (Chapter 18)? Don’t expect to fix all of them right away—it may be better not even to try—but will it bring their symptoms or causes closer to the surface than they are now?

These review considerations—and most especially the last one—apply not only when designing a board for the first time, but when evolving it, too. Better an ugly board whose changes are deliberately targeted than a beautiful one whose refinements exist for their own sake. Learn to see through the board to the system it represents; act on one for the effect it has on the other.


Next up: 23. Roll out. Previously: 21 Classes of service. Start from the beginning: 1. Transparency.

My book Kanban from the Inside was published in September 2014 by Blue Hole Press, publishers of David Anderson’s Kanban book, aka the “blue book”. Complete with an awesome foreword by Luke Hohmann, it is available in paperback and Kindle at amazon.com, amazon.co.uk, amazon.de and amazon.fr and (no doubt) other amazons also. A PDF e-book is available via the djaa.com store also.

Kanban from the Inside: 21. Classes of service

This week’s excerpt comes from the chapter’s conclusion. If you think that classes of service is just a technical topic that has no human (or humane) dimension, think again!


Toward a Healthy Mix of Work

This much should be obvious: You can’t plan to have everyone occupied 100% of their time on fixed-date work, allow them to be interrupted by expedited items, and still expect predictability. Even without the interruptions, 100% utilization on work that must meet stringent deadlines is a recipe not for efficiency, but for extreme unpredictability and delay, not to mention pain at the human level. Systems need slack if they are to absorb variation rather than accumulate it, and people need it too.

You might be wondering what a “safe” (or “humane”) utilization level might be. 90%? 80%? I believe that this approaches the problem from the wrong direction. From direct experience as a manager, and from clients sampled by myself and David, fixed-date items need make up no more than 20% of the workload of most organizations; often, it can be significantly less. After allowing (say) 10–20% for intangible work, and a realistic provision for expedited and other unplanned work, the biggest category of all should be the high-value, urgency-driven work. This is exactly as you would hope it to be, assuming that you seek to maximize the flow of value to the business. Happily, predictability is achievable, too, thanks to the presence in the system of work items that can safely be delayed when time-critical work needs to take precedence.

Classes of service and other categorizations enable some broad-brush prioritization decisions to be made independently of potentially contentious decisions about individual items. Making these explicit creates the opportunity both to align them to wider corporate priorities and to match them to customer needs. So long as there is the short-term flexibility to trade between categories, it should be possible to satisfy both constituencies.

For your workshops, questions like these help guide the overall mix of work in the right direction and prompt discussion about system design:

  • What proportion of our portfolio is necessarily date-driven? Are we entering into date commitments unnecessarily, and if so, can we begin to bring this proportion down? Do we make reference to available capacity when scheduling? Are we able to respond when dates are under threat?
  • How much capacity do we need to hold in reserve for expedited and other unplanned work? What steps can we take to reduce and/or limit the amount we are servicing at any given time?
  • Are we doing enough intangible work? What space do we give people to explore better ways of doing things?
  • What capacity remains for standard, urgency-driven work? Do our systems reliably bring the right items to the front of the queue first?

If these questions make you uncomfortable, perhaps they should! Could it be that people are over-organized—“projectized” or siloed? If your organization lacks the ability to self-organize when and where it most needs it, it is paying a heavy price.

I have in the past described Kanban’s ability to deal with variety as one of its “killer features.” Arguably, the way STATIK encourages organizations to embrace variety is even more powerful. If only it were better known!


Next up: 22. Design kanban systems. Previously: 20. Model workflow. Start from the beginning: 1. Transparency.

My book Kanban from the Inside was published in September 2014 by Blue Hole Press, publishers of David Anderson’s Kanban book, aka the “blue book”. Complete with an awesome foreword by Luke Hohmann, it is available in paperback and Kindle at amazon.com, amazon.co.uk, amazon.de and amazon.fr and (no doubt) other amazons also. A PDF e-book is available via the djaa.com store also.

Kanban from the Inside: 20. Model workflow

The end is in sight – this the 20th excerpt from my 23-chapter book. This week, two excerpts for the price of one!


This chapter looks at three different approaches to modeling the workflow that our kanban system is going to support:

  1. Sketching it out
  2. Top-down decomposition
  3. Bottom-up organization

It’s important to remember that the result that we’re working toward is a working kanban system, not a static model. It’s best not to get too attached to the products of this exercise—they will quickly lose their value once the system begins to evolve.

I’ll keep this simple by assuming that there is just one main workflow involved. If you have more than one, you can take each workflow in turn or use one as the baseline by which the others are described.


Review

Before we move on, here are some good ways to check and improve what you have so far:

  • Quickly combine approaches to validate your model, such as:
    • Produce a sketch from your top-down or bottom-up model.
    • Make sure that actual work items map to your sketch or top-down model, then use the “what does this item need?” questions.
    • Consider whether it would be helpful to group, consolidate, or break down categories.
  • Check that queues are adequately represented and that you know where your commitment points belong.
  • Look to see where the dissatisfactions and frustrations discussed in Chapter 18 might originate.
  • Identify the kinds of knowledge discovery associated with each active state.
  • Seek to de-emphasize functional organization.
  • Present it to other people.

None of this should take long. Remember, sketchy!


Next up: 21. Discover classes of service. Previously: 19. Analyze demand and capability. Start from the beginning: 1. Transparency.

My book Kanban from the Inside was published in September 2014 by Blue Hole Press, publishers of David Anderson’s Kanban book, aka the “blue book”. Complete with an awesome foreword by Luke Hohmann, it is available in paperback and now on Kindle onamazon.com, amazon.co.uk, amazon.de and amazon.fr and (no doubt) other amazons also. A PDF e-book is also available via the djaa.com store.

 

Featureban – notes for facilitators

It’s about time I posted the notes I email to people who ask about facilitating Featureban, so here goes…

Here’s a link to the latest powerpoint: (withheld – I’m happy to share but do please email me for this)

You might find it helpful to take a look at the slideshare embedded in Are we there yet?. You’ll notice a bonus round 4 there that’s not in the standard deck. Take advantage of the Creative Commons licensing and make your own customisations! The checklists shown in the deck are now available via Agendashift in the Values-based Delivery assessment template, the basis for the Depth of Kanbanland 2015 survey.

Time priorities depend very much on needs, goals and audience. Typically I do either:

  1. Rounds 1 and 2 and a “here’s one I prepared earlier” on round 3, plus lots of time for Q&A on all things Kanban and Agile (the sessions I’m running at my current client are positioned as Agile training)
  2. All three rounds with a few minutes debrief for each

In the last meetup I did, I achieved #1 above in about 75 minutes. Your mileage may vary. The job of the debrief is to let people make the connection with the workplace.

I make a point of comparing the rules of round 1 and round 2; everyone should agree before playing round 2 that the only change is the WIP limit. I’m careful not to use the word “collaboration” until participants make the key observation that it improves significantly in round 2.

Stop round 1 as soon as most teams have delivered a couple of items. Most teams will have lots of WIP in the 2nd column. DO NOT reset boards between rounds 1 & 2. Advise teams to hold replenishment events when their backlogs become depleted. In later rounds, they might reuse “done” tickets to save time.

A WIP limit of 3 in round 2 works well. The fact that it is imposed by the facilitator rather than proposed by the team can be discussed later when you get to “improve experimentally, evolve collaboratively” (CP6) in the debrief.

One other tip I’ve heard from a couple of other facilitators: the atmosphere and interaction around the game is improved if the board is mounted vertically (eg using a flipchart). It means there’s less time staring down at a table!

Kanban from the Inside: 19. Analyze demand and capability

We’re two chapters into Part III and getting into the nitty-gritty of Kanban implementation using the STATIK model. This week’s excerpt comes from the chapter introduction.


The previous chapter was all about context and perceptions, mostly keeping implementation considerations off the table. This chapter is about gathering some specific qualitative and quantitative facts about the current process that will inform the design of kanban systems.

If you can do this collaboratively, you will further reinforce the work of the previous chapter. If that’s not practical, you will need to share and review what you find after you have done the legwork.

This analysis needs to generate both qualitative and quantitative understanding. Qualitatively:

  • Understanding the different types of work involved will help you to identify the different variations in workflow that need to be managed.
  • Understanding the different sources of work will help you to prepare for, shape, and manage demand as it arrives.
  • Understanding why the work is needed will help you to understand the types of risk involved so that they can be managed appropriately.

Quantitatively:

  • Understanding the quantity of work involved will help you choose a manageable granularity to visualize and control it.
  • Understanding the gap between actual process capability (measured in terms of delivery rates, lead times, predictability, etc.) and the expectations of customers and the wider organization will highlight what kinds of improvements are needed.
  • Quantitative analysis of work recently delivered, currently in progress, and waiting to be worked on may tell us where improvements are most likely to be found.

Next up: 20. Model Workflow. Previously: 18. Sources of dissatisfaction. Start from the beginning: 1. Transparency.

My book Kanban from the Inside was published in September 2014 by Blue Hole Press, publishers of David Anderson’s Kanban book, aka the “blue book”. Complete with an awesome foreword by Luke Hohmann, it is available in paperback and now on Kindle onamazon.com, amazon.co.uk, amazon.de and amazon.fr and (no doubt) other amazons also. A PDF e-book is also available via the djaa.com store.

Kanban from the Inside: 18. Sources of dissatisfaction

We’re at the start of Part III, which explains how to implement Kanban using the STATIK model.

Last November (two months after Kanban from the Inside was published, I posted here Understand motivation for change. Bear in mind as you read this week’s excerpt that any major revisions of the book will very likely involve a change of title to this chapter. Possibly one of emphasis too!


Any kind of deliberate change needs two key pieces of context:

  1. Its scope—some boundary around what we do now, within which the change will be focused—the “what” of the change
  2. Its objective—an expression of what we hope to achieve from the change, relative to how things currently are—the “why” of the change

In the beginning, it is unlikely that either of these will be known in any great detail. Don’t let that worry you unduly—it’s much better to start by exploring the problem space than to try to nail down solutions prematurely. And let’s be realistic about this: Scope and objectives are often determined more by what people feel is organizationally possible than by what is necessary. As change agents, we can find this very frustrating, but it’s okay: Let’s start with what’s possible; the impossible we can do later!

We start with sources of dissatisfaction because they lead very quickly to something much more positive: a set of things that people might want to achieve. Additionally, when we take the trouble to explore properly why these dissatisfactions are a problem to people, important issues like scope and sponsorship tend to become much clearer.

This is not the time for isolationism. You will need to talk to people! Be prepared to go out and meet them or to bring them in; make them part of the conversation.

Two Perspectives

Given even just a rough idea of scope, we can easily identify two quite different perspectives:

  1. The perspective of those working in the system—their first-hand understanding of the system itself, their impressions of how it is perceived externally
  2. The perspective of those outside of the system (customers, higher-level management, providers of related services)—how it helps to meet their broader needs (and what those might be), their impressions of how their immediate needs are serviced

Because we are getting people to look both inward and outward, it is no disaster if we later decide that we got the scope boundary wrong. Wherever we place that boundary, we learn a lot a by reconciling the two perspectives and accounting for any important differences. Opinions on the placement and nature of the boundary may be revealing, too.


Next up: 19. Analyze Demand and Capability. Previously: 17. Smaller Models. Start from the beginning: 1. Transparency.

My book Kanban from the Inside was published in September 2014 by Blue Hole Press, publishers of David Anderson’s Kanban book, aka the “blue book”. Complete with an awesome foreword by Luke Hohmann, it is available in paperback and now on Kindle onamazon.com, amazon.co.uk, amazon.de and amazon.fr and (no doubt) other amazons also. A PDF e-book is also available via the djaa.com store.

Kanban from the Inside: 17. Smaller Models

The purpose of chapter 17 is to cover a number of models that help explain things we’ve seen already in parts I and II or might need for Part III (Implementation). I’ve thrown in a few bonus items also! All together:

  • Little’s law, a beautifully simple formula with a nice visual interpretation (and an excuse to revisit cumulative flow diagrams)
  • The Satir change model, the late Virginia Satir’s powerful description of the change process
  • Two coaching models, the very useful thinking tool GROW, and Toyota’s A3 (first mentioned in Chapter 14)
  • Jeff Anderson’s Lean Change Canvas via a digression into the Pyramid Principle
  • Various models of facilitation, including games
  • Two models of leadership and collaboration, T-shaped leadership and triads

This week’s excerpt introduces the last of those.


Models of Collaborative Leadership: Triads and T-Shapes

The Triad is a very simple model of collaboration and collaborative leadership that has been practiced deliberately in a surprising variety of places. Thanks to Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization, the book by Dave Logan, John King, and Halee Fischer-Wright, we understand its applicability to corporate and community life. Triads appear in some churches in the form of prayer triplets (my wife, Sharon, has been a member of several of these); the model was even practiced by the KGB!

A triad connects three people, united by some common purpose. Sometimes it is the result of one person introducing two previously unconnected people; sometimes they are formed to perform some specific task. Effective triads obey two rules:

  1. Each member takes some responsibility for the relationship between the other two members, providing strength.
  2. Growth comes not by turning triads into quads, but by forming additional triads involving one or two members of existing triads, thereby creating networks.

I’m the kind of person who approaches a “networking event” with dread, and the triad model is just about the only form of networking that works for me. I have learned to make a point of introducing people whom I know to share some common interest. That’s rewarding in itself, but often I reap double or triple the benefit in the form of fruitful collaboration and new introductions.

Triads express collaborative leadership when they are used deliberately to share knowledge, to create opportunities, and to form bridges between different parts of the organization. I have encouraged graduate recruits to form long-lasting triads and to help one another to grow their networks from them, and I have used them short-term to solve specific problems.

Morten Hansen describes T-shaped management, which is somewhat analogous to the T-shaped people I alluded to in this book’s preface. His T-shaped managers encourage collaboration in two quite distinct ways:

  1. Much in the manner described in Chapter 3, close collaboration inside their part of the organization
  2. Addressing the downsides of collaboration described at the close of Chapter 3, “disciplined” collaboration across the wider organization

The key to Hansen’s model is that this second kind of collaboration is required to be purposeful and effective; it is not about networking for its own sake, and it is expected to deliver results in healthy proportion to the effort expended. Ill-disciplined collaboration may be worse than no collaboration at all.

Both models are entirely compatible with Kanban’s at every level kind of leadership. Triads don’t need to respect organizational boundaries at all, and those T shapes can emanate from anywhere. We can all do it.


Next up: 18 Understand sources of dissatisfaction. Previously: 16. The Kanban method. Start from the beginning: 1. Transparency.

My book Kanban from the Inside was published in September 2014 by Blue Hole Press, publishers of David Anderson’s Kanban book, aka the “blue book”. Complete with an awesome foreword by Luke Hohmann, it is available in paperback and now on Kindle on amazon.com, amazon.co.uk, amazon.de and amazon.fr and (no doubt) other amazons also. A PDF e-book is also available via the djaa.com store.