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!

A process of knowledge discovery

Creative knowledge work is a process of knowledge discovery. You might say that this statement goes a long way to define creative knowledge work and let the rest be left the imagination, but there is still plenty to be said about the process of knowledge discovery.

In Kanban from the Inside I make 16 mentions of “knowledge discovery” – clearly it’s an important term! They are concentrated in these chapters:

  • 4. Customer Focus, about the value
  • 10. Patterns and Agendas, which introduces the Kanban Lens
  • 20., 22., and 23., which take us through the STATIK implementation steps Model the Workflow (aka Model the Knowledge Discovery Process), Design Kanban Systems, and Rollout respectively

The presence here of the customer focus value is a clue that I leave precise technical definitions to others. Instead, I describe the coming together of attitude and actual practice, which (in general) values encapsulate superbly. My conclusions could be summarised as follows:

  • Aim not merely to take orders or to satisfy requirements, but instead to anticipate and meet needs at the right time
  • Be humble about how little you really know; proceed accordingly
  • Be humble about how inadequately your process uncovers needs; help it to adapt
  • Even after delivery, expect to learn more about how needs are being met; validate!

In short—and with apologies to Stephen Covey—begin humbly with the undiscovered need in mind.

I use the word “humbling” every time I retell the story of my first introduction of an explicit post-delivery validation step. Tired of seeing my teams deliver against unneeded requirements, I insisted on it out of pure frustration and with a “that will teach them” kind of negativity, aimed mainly but not exclusively at our customers. The effect on the whole process was however nothing short of profound; the end result being real collaboration at every stage of the process!

Nowadays, and with the advent of the likes of Lean Startup and Lean UX in which validation is formalized, we know that a commitment to validation is a highly repeatable way to catalyze a shift from requirements-driven to hypothesis-driven development. The Kanban Method doesn’t make this commitment explicit, but it is a widely recognized practice fully in keeping with the customer focus value and the core practices of “Manage flow” and “Implement feedback loops”. And for me personally, there’s no going back.

 

Did I mention that I have a book out?

Thrilled that I can move Kanban from the Inside to the “Published” column now! Complete with an awesome foreword by Luke Hohmann, It’s available in paperback on Amazon (I checked .com, .co.uk, .de and .fr) and a Kindle version will be available very soon. Reviews should start to arrive in the next few days.

[Update: As of September 29th the Kindle edition is now available, and a PDF e-book is also available via the djaa.com store.]

It has been quite a long haul, but I don’t regret a minute of it. It all started right here 20 months ago with a humble blog post Introducing Kanban through its values, but that title describes just 9 of the 23 chapters. There’s also all the “models”—Systems Thinking, Lean, Agile, Theory of Constraints and so on—and the implementation approach, STATIK. Serious work on the book started in July last year when I presented an outline to Janice and David; writing took a little less than a year after that, but then there’s all the other stuff…

I should mention that we can handle bulk orders and can produce corporate branded versions with your logo on the cover and your message on an inside page. Enquiries to sales@djaa.com. You can enquire after my own availability there also. In the immediate term given current workload, single days in the UK or an evening’s hop away.