The Kanban track at #lkna14

It should come as no surprise that the Lean Kanban North America 2014 (#lkna14) conference has a Kanban track. What you might not know is that I’m its chair. I’m taking the opportunity here to say a bit about what we have in store:

Talk 1 is from me. I will answer three questions about the Kanban Method:

  1. How does Kanban help self-organizing teams make better decisions?
  2. How does Kanban help improve service delivery so that we can anticipate customer needs more effectively?
  3. What does Kanban have to say about organization and culture?

That should set up the other four talks nicely:

  • Eric Green tackles Kanban practices and team-level sustainability via a remarkable true story (about which I don’t want to say too much right now – you’ll have to hear it for yourself)
  • Russell Healy, well known as the creator of the awesome getkanban game, shares with me an interest in the “Inner Game” (I book I often recommend, John Whitmore’s book Coaching for Performance, is from the Inner Game camp).  Russell will be speaking on the “Inner Game of Kanban”. I can’t wait.
  • Another pillar of the Kanban community, Yuval Yeret, joins us as co-speaker with Yaki Koren, Limor Saden, and Keren Yahalom of Amdocs for “Amdocs SBG: Moving Thousands of People to Kanban within 16 Months”. Their case study is all about scale: large-scale change and service delivery at scale.
  • For the last talk of the track I have reached out to Frode Odegard. I expect Frode to challenge us to think harder about how Leadership at every level actually happens. His talk is called “Leadership as a Design Problem”.

In parallel with my Kanban track we have Beyond Budgeting and Evolving Product Management tracks; then Lean Applied, Managing Risk and Lean Startup the following day. These two “track days” are book-ended by two days of interactive workshops, each with its own program of keynotes and other plenary sessions. I’ll be leading a workshop called “Shaping the Agenda with Values and Serious Games” (more on that soon).

This all takes place May 5-8, 2014 at the Hyatt Regency, Embarcadero, San Francisco. Be there!

My InfoQ series on Kanban’s agendas, Agile India 2014, and some overdue thanks

Over the past few weeks InfoQ has published a series of three articles I’ve written on Kanban’s agendas. Older articles don’t link to newer articles so I list them here in order:

  1. The sustainability agenda
  2. The service orientation agenda
  3. The survivability agenda

Some thanks are overdue. Luke Hohmann (who saw a very early draft) and Ben Linders (InfoQ editor) weren’t just encouraging (which they were), they rightly insisted that I had some work to do. Quite a bit of work as it turned out, but for their thoughtful and at times robust comment I’m very grateful.

Next week I’m speaking at Agile India 2014 in Bangalore, on the Scaling Agile Adoption Track (day 1, Wednesday afternoon). Values and agendas might just get a mention! Here, Ellen Grove deserves a thank you for requiring me to address the challenges of scale more directly.

Working in parallel on talks, short posts, longer articles and the book really works for me. The trick now must be to finish the book before I find yet another avenue to explore!

Kanban Values Exercise released

[Cross-posted from edu.leankanban.com]

I’ve added an exercise on Kanban’s values to the foundational and advanced practitioner training decks. This has become a fixture even at train-the-trainer events and I ran it twice(!) at the recent Kanban Leadership Retreat in Monterey.

From the perspective of a Kanban trainer there are some obvious things to like about it:

  • It’s a gentle reminder of the foundational principles and core practices of the Kanban Method
  • It generates lots of high quality discussion (no group has yet got as far as the visual representation part at the end)
  • It prompts thoughtful reflection

Less obviously, I am integrating it into my teaching of the systems thinking approach to introducing Kanban (see David’s LSSC12 talk if you don’t know what this is). Part of the power of values is that they can represent both benefits and practices; this means that we can use them to connect the rollout approach (the last step of the process) to the needs of the organization (captured in the first step).

By popular demand we are releasing it separately under a Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike license. You can download the PDF from Slideshare, and I will provide the pptx on request (drop me an email).

Tips to the facilitator:

  • This is best done on paper (don’t hand out the later slides that have the model answers)
  • Complete and check the principles before attempting the practices
  • Do the principles in reverse order (it’s just easier that way) and cross off the answers you have used
  • There are no trick questions (“We aren’t evil!”) – if there seems to be an obvious correspondence of words, it’s safe to go with it
  • Groups of 5-8 people if possible; multiple groups can report back afterwards
  • Allow 45 minutes. It’s possible to do it quicker than that but groups do seem to appreciate the time to think and discuss.

Top posts of 2013

By a country mile, my most popular post of 2013 was this one:

I would have chosen that one myself, so I’m pleased! Nice to see the perennial favourites (Kanban in a nutshell and Learning together: Kanban and the Twelve Principles of Agile Software) knocked off the top.

Completing the list of top 5 posts of 2013 are these:

And my “editor’s picks”:

Thanks for reading, and Happy New Year!
Mike

Kanban’s agendas on video, renamed

Over the weekend between the LKUK13 and LKCE13 conferences I reworked the three agendas into my “Kanban through its values” talk. It’s now available on video (below).

NB: As described here by David, we’ve since renamed them – they’re now the sustainabilityservice orientation, and survivability agendas. I align them to the values as follows:

  • The sustainability agenda builds on the values transparency, balance, and collaboration. It describes a common approach to Kanban adoption at the level of individuals and teams, often motivated by the need for relief from unsustainable practices and workloads.
  • The service orientation agenda brings together the values customer focus, flow, and leadership. Building on the sustainability agenda, the service orientation agenda describes a more outward-looking approach to change.
  • The survivability agenda is the most overtly cultural agenda of the three, and the most ambitious. Its values understanding, agreement, and respect represent commitments and disciplines that support organizational survival strategies based on adaptability.

Watch out for a series of articles on InfoQ expanding on these. The first instalment should be out in early January.

One method, three agendas

Working in the US last week with David on some updates to the Kanban curriculum, it struck me soon after writing my last post (where I was thinking out loud) that the Kanban Method speaks to multiple agendas:

  1. The continuous improvement agenda – kanban systems feeding the process of ongoing improvement[1], providing grist to the mills of Agile retrospectives, Lean improvement routines, collaborative PDCA and so on
  2. The service delivery agenda – using service orientation as a lens[2] on process and organisation, being clear about what we deliver, to whom and why, understanding and deepening the knowledge discovery process[3], catalysing collaborative, customer-focused delivery at scale
  3. The humane, start with what you do now agenda – the Kanban Method’s very distinctive, values-centric approach to leadership and organisational change

(Forgive me for presenting these in this inside-to-outside order – it aligns to my talk[4])

Many people both inside and outside the Kanban community find it easy to identify with that first agenda. For better and for worse, it integrates very comfortably with other frameworks, the “better” part being that it helps (a lot), the “worse” part being the limits imposed on Kanban’s reach by attachment to existing models.

I’ve majored all year on that last agenda; from my initial post in early January, explaining Kanban as a system of values has been very fruitful. Invoking Bruce Lee (yes, that Bruce Lee) with “be like water” and “no method is method”, David elevates Kanban’s approach to change to a philosophy.

But neither agenda adequately reflects the impact that Kanban can have from the moment it is introduced. It’s a paradox often observed: how is it that the start with what you do now method so often heralds such immediate change?

Perhaps we’ve invested too much in explaining how Kanban works and too little in describing its effects. We must allow the possibility that some familiar messages that continue to resonate strongly with those that deeply understand Kanban may do little for those that don’t.

The service delivery agenda is distinctive enough (actually quite radical in many organisational contexts) and gets quickly to the immediate benefits. We know from teaching to this agenda that it resonates. Yes, change management and leadership are necessary to bring it about and continuous improvement will sustain it, but those messages can come later.



[1] Or POOGI, the improvement cycle of the Theory of Constraints

[2] See David’s post The Kanban Lens and the kanbandev discussion

[4] Don’t forget LKUK13 (London) next week and LKCE13 (Hamburg) the week after!

Kanban’s Organisational Design Principles?

Give or take a word or two, the Kanban method’s Foundational Principles have looked like this for a couple of years now:

  • Start with what you do now
  • Agree to pursue evolutionary change
  • Initially, respect existing roles, responsibilities and job titles
  • Encourage acts of leadership at every level – from individual contributor to senior manager

Does that last one really belong in that list? Much as I like the principle, I wonder. In the language of values, understandingagreement & respect (leadership disciplines, the environment and working agreements around the process and conduct of evolutionary change) then leadership (which tends to go hand in hand with change of any kind; we encourage an at-every-level variety).

Let’s try for size this new list (a list of concepts, not a serious attempt at canonical wording):

  • Service-orientation, by which customers have their needs met through single services or multiple coordinated services
  • Decentralised control and self-organisation, improving adaptability and responsiveness, easing reconfiguration both between and within services
  • Leadership, sustaining the system and change therein

These aren’t quite so foundational to the Kanban method, but are the kinds of organisational design principles that successful Kanban implementations seem to follow.

Would this change my values model? Not really. Leadership stays because it must. Self-organisation is a significant theme when I explain transparency; decentralised control slots fits both there and with leadership. Service-orientation fits with flow just as comfortably.

We’d be left with this:

  1. The foundational principles returned to their original three
  2. The six core practices as they currently are
  3. Three organisational design principles

We like?

New “onions” picture for #LKUK13

The “word art” of my original Kanban is like onions post proved to be a bit unmanageable and I’ve been experimenting with various layouts. At LKUK13 (just three weeks away!) I’ll debut this latest iteration:

Kanban layers

In due course I’ll make it clickable, linked through to the relevant pages on meldstrong.

The talk describes Kanban as “the humane, start with what you do now approach to change”. It gets refined with each delivery, usually by deleting slides. I’m trying to spend less time on the detail to make more time for reflection; each layer suggesting its own way of looking at organisational context.

Removing the clutter has helped me see a couple of things more clearly:

  1. There’s a virtuous circle between transparency (the value) and self-organisation (the organisational design principle). New ways of looking at things suggest new ways of working, and vice versa.
  2. Kanban’s evolutionary change can be explained as iterating on agreement. As ever, the related disciplines of understanding and respect keep things safe.

More of that in London. Hope to see you there!

My notes for the Portfolio Management panel at #lkfr13

Yesterday I had the privilege of sitting on a panel on the subject of portfolio management at Lean Kanban France. Our facilitator was Thomas Lissajoux and my co-panelists were Ian Carroll, Chris Young and David Joyce.

Thomas did us the great service of asking for some notes ahead of time. I found his headings really helpful, and I’ve decided to share my notes. And here they are…

How would you define ‘portfolio management’?

I see portfolio management as managing at that kind of level where maintaining the right balancing between competing projects is as big a challenge as any individual project.

What are the specifics of a lean/agile approach?

Depressingly, I see too many people talk about portfolio management like it was a sausage factory. The story goes like this: “just pay attention to the quality of ingredients going into the machine and success is guaranteed”. I doubt that this metaphor works very well even for sausages!

A lean approach means several things:

1)     Paying attention to the balance of demand and capability (supply), managing WIP relative to capacity and relative to lead time aspirations

2)     Paying appropriate attention to flow, because speed, predictability and timeliness matters (to the extent that there are economic penalties when we get these wrong)

3)     Expecting the way we manage the portfolio to keep evolving. That evolution needs to have some positive effects at project and organisational level that customers will recognise and appreciate, and there needs to be effective feedback in the other direction too (success and failures at project level should generate portfolio-level learning).

In which context/clients do you do portfolio management?

I’ve twice been in the role of portfolio manager myself, once with a $XXmillion annual budget, the second time at a smaller scale but with wider organisational impact.

Nowadays as a consultant I find that many problems on the ground point back to problems in portfolio management. Parts of the process get overwhelmed, and the organisational feedback loops aren’t fast or capable enough avoid real pain and cost. I’ve seen extreme cases where the whole portfolio seems to be grinding to a halt (there are reasons why this happens, a topic for another post maybe).

What about the previous situation and its shortcomings?

In many organisations, to get a project started it’s enough merely to sell the idea. The capability of the organisation to deliver and the impact on existing work is not given much consideration.

What key practices/tools/artefacts/meetings/metrics do you use?

  • The sheer number of projects (relative to the capability to manage them effectively)
  • Their value (with an understanding of the relationship between value and urgency)
  • Planned, potential and actual burn rates (making sure we have the capacity to deliver; too often the sum of all promises doesn’t match the sum of available effort)
  • Lead times
  • Amount of work in certain key states
  • $WIP

Tool-wise I’ve had success with

  • A3, as a means to test project rationale
  • Changes to portfolio reporting (feedback loops)
  • Customer validation – for its own sake and as a catalyst for process change
  • Regular customer meetings (cadenced)

What about the Kanban principles and practices at portfolio level?

They need to be applied with imagination. Add the phrase “Find ways to…“, perhaps “Find multiple ways to…”.

Core practices:

  • Find (multiple) ways to visualise work at portfolio level (transparency).
  • Find (multiple) ways to limit work in progress at portfolio level (balance).
  • Look at how policies can drive better portfolio performance (transparency again).
  • Pay attention to the feedback loops (and again!)
  • Keep improving and evolving (collaboration)

Foundational principles (or rather, their underlying values):

1)    Understanding: Make sure change is based on genuine understanding of how things work now, taking both internal and external perspectives

2)     Agreement: Always have the right people (ie those with a stake in the solution) solving problems at the right level, seeking agreements that will hold in practice

3)     Respect: the first two, plus creating the expectation that improvement will benefit people, not just the numbers

4)     Leadership: grow the next generation of portfolio managers (growing yourself in the process)

Additionally I would add that the portfolio mindset and Kanban are really complementary. Identify

  • different kinds of projects
  • different risk profiles
  • different stakeholders
  • different budgets/appetites

Make these dimensions visible (I mean an in-your-face, Kanban’s-killer-feature kind of visible, not just a filter on a report), aim for a healthy mix of work. With success comes trust in both your ability to deliver and the underlying principles and techniques that make it happen.

What challenges did you face?

Pretty much everywhere, far too many projects and projects that take far too long to deliver.

  • In one company, more projects than there were people, not just in IT but in the whole company!
  • In another, projects taking multiple years, little thought given to the possibility of incremental delivery

What key advice would you have for ‘change agents’ about to dig into portfolio management questions?

  • How is demand managed against capability?
  • Are lead times too long? (a very different question to the one of whether projects are late – dates tend to be genuinely critical on no more than 20% of a typical portfolio – though the long projects tend also to be ones most prone to delay)
  • Can you put a value on the amount of WIP (I refer to this as $WIP)? High shock value!
  • Another great metric once you understand it: What is that WIP costing in delayed business opportunity and delayed feedback?
  • Is the typical project process set up just to deliver to spec or to meet an evolving customer need? See recent posts Stand up meeting, thinking tool, leadership routine and Anticipating needs ahead of time.

What are the next steps? How can you improve/scale?

Quantify, visualise, sanity check. Look for imbalances. Look for sources of unpredictability, especially waiting. Look at the relationship between project size and predictability.

And remember that scale comes with addressing coordinating costs and other kinds of friction end-to-end, not from rolling out more process or adding layers on top.