Positive Incline Mike Burrows (@asplake) moving on up, positively

July 29, 2015

Three talks and a brand new class

Filed under: Kanban,leadership,Values — Tags: , , , , , — Mike @ 4:11 pm

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!

June 5, 2015

Kanban from the Inside: 17. Smaller Models

Filed under: Books,Kanban,leadership,Values — Tags: , , , , — Mike @ 8:02 am

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.

May 16, 2015

Coming soon: Agendashift

[Update: Now cross-posted to Agendashift’s new blog. View on blog.agendashift.com]

Imagine a change process based on choice and collaboration:

  • You (an individual or team) take an assessment of your choosing, invite a coach to facilitate one with you, or opt to participate in a survey
  • You explore online an analysis of your own inputs and the aggregated inputs of your colleagues, identifying strengths, weaknesses, leading and lagging areas
  • You identify the prompts or categories that best describe your collective agenda for change
  • You track actions through to completion until it’s clear that they have taken hold and are delivering the benefits expected

No emailing of spreadsheet-based questionnaires. No being left wondering what’s happening to your inputs. No imposition of priorities from on high. No failure of ownership and follow-through. These are my “itches to scratch”. Whether you’re a consultant, a client, or managing without external support, Agendashift can help you too.

Right there are Agendashift’s four A’s: Assessment, Analysis, Agenda and Action. Of course it doesn’t have to be as linear as that: given time, Action should dominate, kept on track with periodic recalibrations from the other three.

You’ll see a free version launched in the next few weeks that anyone can try without obligation. A little after that, paid accounts will bring the ability to design new assessment templates and to manage client/team workspaces.

Agendashift will launch with a “Values-based delivery” template adapted for public consumption from my book with the help of some much-appreciated collaboration. If you have ideas for other templates (your own practice’s tools perhaps, or more specifically Agile or Lean than mine), do get in touch.

Meanwhile, leave a comment, follow @agendashift on Twitter or sign up at agendashift.com to be sure of receiving launch news.

May 14, 2015

Kanban from the Inside: 14. TPS and Lean

Filed under: Kanban,leadership,lean — Tags: , , , — Mike @ 5:27 pm

I really enjoyed writing this chapter! My goal was to illustrate the extent to which things can look radically different and yet share the same underlying principles and philosophy. The excerpt below comes after a description of a production line at Toyota; the “TPS” of the chapter title is the Toyota Production System.

Beyond the already-familiar “Kanban“, a number of Japanese terms are introduced. I use them freely in this chapter but rarely elsewhere (and I explain why).


This [preceding] description is rather simplistic, but there’s enough here for some striking characteristics of the system to be noted:

  • All three tools (kanban, heijunka, and andon) are examples of visual management.
  • Inventory of all kinds is limited. Neither basic supplies nor WIP (the subassemblies, or partially-built products) will be replenished until equivalent amounts have been pulled from downstream.
  • Even though, perhaps, it might seem more efficient to do so, the production line doesn’t work in large batches of similar items. Instead, it produces a variety of products spread over the course of the day.
  • Workers on the production line would rather stop the line (for everyone) than allow work of inferior quality to proceed.
  • This system and the kanban boards from Part I work very differently. On the production line, the kanban [1] are sent upstream to signal that there is demand to be fulfilled. On our boards, the cards represent work items as they flow downstream; signals are implied by the gaps between the actual amount of work in progress in each state and the corresponding WIP limits.
  • The heijunka box and our kanban boards both allow the mix of work to be managed.

It seems perverse, not only setting things up to work in this deliberately difficult and seemingly inefficient manner, but empowering workers to bring it all to a halt at any time! Clearly there must something special about the company’s culture for this to work at all, but why would they choose to do things this way?

TPS and Lean in Perspective

To answer that question you must understand TPS as a magnificent example of systems thinking.

It starts with a vision, a true north that gives the direction for change:

  • Single-piece flow, in sequence, on demand, with zero defects; 100% value-adding activities and security for the people performing them

The technology does not yet exist to make it economical to run the entire production line in batches of one (which is what single-piece flow means), but the pursuit of this perhaps impossible vision is what propelled Toyota from its struggles in postwar Japan—where land, factory space, plant, and materials were all in short supply—to the global market leadership position that it now occupies.

The tools support one or both of two purposes:

  1. Satisfying customer demand as quickly and as smoothly as (currently) possible with the minimum amount of inventory
  2. Evolving the company to take it closer to its vision, harnessing the abilities of its entire workforce to smooth flow, reduce inventories, prevent defects, eliminate other forms of waste, and (not least) design new products that customers really want and that can be produced both profitably and sustainably

The two pillars of just-in-time and respect for people are shorthand for those sub-goals.

Often missed is this crucial point: The pillars and the tools can been seen in their proper perspective only once it is grasped that Toyota’s pursuit of perfection is a multi-generational challenge. Toyota works not only to build cars, but also to build the company capable of delivering on its vision.

Divorced from that kind of thinking, the tools of Lean can seem shallow. Without the tools, it can be even worse—too often we hear Lean reduced simply to a short-term focus on waste (perhaps to dress up exercises in cost cutting), or to continuous improvement (important, but very hard to sustain in isolation). The challenge of the Lean movement is to make sure that the thinking is packaged up with the tools so that people can apply them appropriately in context.

[1] “Kanban are like sheep” – One kanban, two kanban, …


Next up: 15. Economic approaches to flow. Previously: 13. Agile. Start from the beginning: 1. Transparency.

September 18, 2014

A process of knowledge discovery

Filed under: Kanban,leadership,lean,Values — Tags: , , , , , — Mike @ 3:32 pm

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.

 

August 8, 2014

Servant Leadership #quote

Filed under: Books,leadership,Values — Tags: , , — Mike @ 8:05 am

Leaders are those who are followed or emulated because they possess the ability, experience, or knowledge necessary for achieving the objective that is pursued, valued or required by others. Thus a leader is in a position of serving others by providing the guidance and direction necessary for a particular outcome or result.

Dallas Willard and Gary Black Jr
The Divine Conspiracy Continued (HarperOne, 2014)

June 3, 2014

“How deep” rebooted: values-based depth assessment

Filed under: Kanban,leadership,Uncategorized,Values — Tags: , , , , , — Mike @ 3:23 pm

[Update 1: do read this post in conjunction with the previous one—Pulling change through the system—I don’t make it clear enough here that the purpose of the assessment is to help generate priorities for change]

[Update 2: the assessment tool has come a long, long way since the version still downloadable from here. Do yourself a favour and go to agendashift.com to use the latest version online.]

It’s fair to say that I have a complicated relationship with the Kanban Depth Assessment tool. With some excitement, I tweeted this picture from the 2102 Kanban Leadership retreat:

A few months after that tweet, I blogged How Deep is “How Deep is Your Kanban”?. Fortunately, I was able to channel my frustrations into something positive, and the eventual result was Introducing Kanban Through its Values.

Meanwhile, I find the tool useful in practice, even if flawed. That’s awkward!

Two years on from the Mayrhofen retreat we’re in Cascais, Portugal for this year’s retreat (#klrpt), and I have the opportunity to test a values-based realisation of our original idea, which I drafted only last week for the final chapter of my book (yay!).

Focusing on outcomes more than benefits, I asked participants to identify and categorise aspects or features of systems they would expect to see in mature Kanban implementations. This picture shows just a small selection:

2014-06-03 12.44.06

(I should explain that “Leadership & the Leadership Disciplines” pragmatically lumps together leadershipunderstandingagreement, and respect. I was actually rather gratified that Pawel Brodzinski expressed the concern that I didn’t give them sufficient individual prominence.)

Now for the measurement part. Sebastian Sanitz presented the Agile Fluency Model (Diana Larsen and James Shore), which uses a simple four-point measurement scale; Sebastian used the metaphor of learning a new language to explain what the different points on the scale feel like.

Since this morning’s workshop I have replaced my prototype’s ten-point scale with this more well-defined four point scale:

  1. Our system exhibits this aspect barely, if at all
  2. Our system is somewhat capable of exhibiting this aspect
  3. Our system exhibits this aspect convincingly, for the most part
  4. Our system departs from this only very exceptionally, understanding and managing the consequence when it does

These are applied per aspect; there are typically half a dozen or so of these per value category. I aggregate results within each category using a geometric mean (compared with a simple arithmetic mean, this gives more weight to lower/weaker scores, ie the aspects likely to be in most need of attention).

You can download the spreadsheet here: values-based depth assessment.xlsx. Some screenshots of the assessment worksheet and the radar chart visualisation are shown below. For the book, I will incorporate a time-based view from Ruben Olsen.

Screen Shot 2014-06-03 at 15.05.42

 

Screen Shot 2014-06-03 at 15.07.24

I honestly believe this to be an improvement on the old tool, but I know that there will be those that would still prefer to see it based on a checklist of low-level practices. I’m afraid to say that you’re unlikely to get that from me! Still, I’d be grateful for feedback, soon enough that I can accommodate it before the book’s publication (September, fingers crossed). If it takes additional work to separate the tool from the book—context matters, after all—that’s fine.

May 30, 2014

Pulling change through the system

Filed under: Kanban,leadership,Values — Tags: , , , , , — Mike @ 11:50 am

I’m busy finishing the very last chapter of Kanban from the Inside. It’s about the last step of the STATIK implementation process, namely rollout. I treat rollout as a long-running, open-ended process that is very amenable to visual management. In fact, it seems to be hard to find a significant Kanban implementation these days that doesn’t maintain some kind of visual management system in parallel with the main delivery system, devoted to change, problems, out-of-the-ordinary dependencies and so on.

With Kevin Murray of Valtech, I’ve had success with variants of what we call the “Problem Board”:

Problem Board

Anyone can add new problems to the input column on the left. After triage and ownership assignment, in-progress problems move vertically between the daily and weekly areas according to the amount of time we wished to devote to discussing them. Once “Sorted”, problems are “Closed” once we are sure that they aren’t going to resurface, decisions have been logged, and so on.

The board we’re using right now board is similar, except that we have conventional swim-lanes that span the board horizontally, each for a defined work stream. Unfortunately this means losing the daily/weekly split, but with a complex delivery to manage, it is more important that we’re able to organise problems this way.

Jeff Anderson‘s book The Lean Change Method includes this very nice design:

Clearly, it is very much about change management. It emphasises two things that are important to me: agreement (one of the nine values), and validation (which I describe in the chapter on customer focus). Separating qualitative validation from quantitative verification seems very smart too; typically teams will be happy to confirm behaviour changes long before it is possible to confirm any significant performance improvement.

Next week I’m at the Kanban Leadership Retreat in Cascais, Portugal. I would be very pleased to discuss STATIK and compare change management kanban systems there. General purpose (like mine), or change specific (like Jeff’s)?

March 26, 2014

STATIK, Kanban’s hidden gem

As far as I can tell from my extensive research (two Google searches), I’m the first person to notice that the “Systems Thinking Approach To Introducing Kanban” could go by a nice acronym, STATIK.

Not heard of it? You’re probably not alone. It’s not widely regarded as a first-class component of the Kanban Method, but maybe (and I’m expressing just a personal opinion here), we could change that.

You may recognize the steps:

  1. Understand sources of dissatisfaction
  2. Analyze demand and capability
  3. Model the knowledge discovery process
  4. Discover classes of service
  5. Design kanban systems
  6. Roll out

Our training has included these elements for a long time and we now expect each of them to be taught in accredited training (except perhaps step 6, which is beyond the scope of Foundation level training). If STATIK has a short name already, it’s “Day 2”!

if that doesn’t explain its familiarity, perhaps you’re reminded of the equivalent steps in Lean:

  1. Identify value from the customer’s standpoint
  2. Map the value stream
  3. Create flow
  4. Establish pull
  5. Identify and eliminate waste

In both formulations there’s an implied “rinse & repeat”. They’re not exactly equivalent (STATIK is by design more specific to creative knowledge work) but the parallels are clear.

I’ve been doing a lot with STATIK in the past year and a bit. It’s the focus of Part III of my book; in my interactive workshop at LKNA14 we will explore the combination of STATIK, values, and serious games (I’ve been working with Luke Hohmann on key elements of this); and of course I’ve been teaching, coaching, and consulting. And it changes things!

So to the real point of this post: I’m learning to be a little skeptical when I hear of changes driven from the board – “improvements” to layout, policies or WIP limits designed to drive changes in behaviour. I’d much rather hear that discussion of customer dissatisfactions or team frustrations is provoking discussion on how system changes might achieve one or more of these three things:

  • make the impact of these issues more visible
  • bring suspected root causes closer to the surface
  • start in some testable way to address these issues

Changes to kanban systems then follow, as necessary.

I hope we’re agreed that change should be implemented with understanding, agreement, and respect (the three values I call leadership disciplines). STATIK is a highly actionable implementation of that guiding principle. I commend it!

March 21, 2014

The Kanban track at #lkna14

Filed under: Kanban,leadership,lean,Values — Tags: , , , — Mike @ 5:00 pm

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!

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