Maria Alfredéen (one of my behind-the-scenes collaborators on the LKNA13 conference version of Introducing Kanban through its values) recently prompted me to consider the limits of transparency, something most of us in the Kanban community value very much. Could too much of the wrong kind of transparency get in the way of flow, either because we’re looking at the wrong things or because it keeps our attention too narrowly on the concerns of one part of the end-to-end process (and “suboptimising”, the cardinal sin of systems thinkers everywhere)? In other words, can transparency and flow sometimes be in tension with each other?
At the BCS-organised London Lean Kanban Day last Saturday, Clifford Shelley spoke of productivity metrics whose publication would cause more harm than good. I couldn’t help wondering whether they should have been collected in the first place (which I think is Clifford’s view too, though I didn’t verify this). On Twitter afterwards, I discussed with Pawel Brodzinski and Paul Klipp whether the appropriateness and effectiveness of transparency was a function of existing organisational culture, in particular of the amount of trust that pervades the organisation. We had surprisingly different perspectives on that, but I think we mostly agree that transparency does have its limits.
Customer focus to the rescue
Without making major changes to teaching materials, keeping the Kanban value system at the front of my mind when teaching does seem to make a difference. For one recent group, customer focus was the value that seemed to touch the most nerves, got conversations going (both lively and reflective), and influenced even their initial attempts at kanban system design. To me it seems significant that one of the values that doesn’t immediately jump out from Kanban’s principles and practices should have this kind of impact when made explicit.
When identifying work item types and their respective workflows, “Know what you’re delivering, to whom, and why” was the catchphrase (and it stuck – I had it played back to me the next day)
When exploring what self-organisation really means – and it’s not “working with people you like” as Dave Snowden joked on Saturday – we saw customer focus supplanting excessive role focus and task focus
Sensing near-completed work getting “pulled” towards the customer, this feeling strengthened by the deliberate way we reviewed board designs and later conducted stand-up meetings
Considering the positive impact on team and customer behaviour (I’ve seen both) made by introducing post-delivery validation. Did we deliver to the customer’s satisfaction? Is it meeting their needs as hoped? Are we happy that what we did is supportable and sustainable so that the customer and team will stay happy?
Revisiting those conversations on transparency and flow I now wonder: is customer focus the thing that will keep them in balance? I have reason to think so. Seeing work pulled towards a customer whose interests we care about surely puts local efficiency into proper perspective. So too does measuring things that matter to the customer (lead times, predictability, quality) rather than things that don’t (lines of code, hours spent in the office).
I now see customer focus not just as something nice or important, but as one value (of three) that help give processes and process improvement a good sense of direction. Part of an “outlook for improvement” as the current draft of my Chicago talk has it.
Lean Agile Scotland takes place in 21st-22nd September in Edinburgh with a programme that looks fantastic – great job guys! I’ll be there, giving the shorter (or at least faster), 45-minute version of my talk “Kanban the Hard Way”. Get by touch by September 6th if you’re thinking of attending – and you definitely should – you can get a 10% discount on the ticket price with my promo code.
I’m on the pre-conference programme too with the accredited 2-day class “Successful evolutionary change with Kanban” taking place 19th-20th September. It’s probably the last class I’ll give before December (in London), Edinburgh’s a wonderful city, so why not check it out?
Those events aside, client work keeps me busy. Can’t talk about it, but it’s good…
Key changes, trailed by David at the conference after some testing on kanbandev:
Kanban’s foundational principles are gaining a fourth member on the subject of leadership, to be encouraged at every level from individual contributor upwards. I believe it fits very well – just as with the original three principles (which I like to summarise as “understanding, agreement, respect”), without leadership can you really expect success?
We are gaining an additional practice too (a 6th, to be inserted at #5): “Develop feedback mechanisms at workflow, inter-workflow and organizational levels”. A leaf out of Influencer‘s book, a good bit of Systems Thinking, and another reminder that Kanban is a method for driving organisational change, not a software development process, project management framework or process tool. Feedback mechanisms are a key part of what I’m already doing in the portfolio space and there’s no doubt in my mind that there is a lot of mileage in this practice.
References to “scientific method” have been replaced with “safe-to-fail experiments”, tying the improvement practices we already teach to the organisational understanding of Dave Snowden and other folks in the complexity community. Experiments were an important topic at LSSC12 and this change seems very timely.
There’s another acknowledgement of great thinking from outside the Kanban community in our adoption into our material of Michael Kennedy’s language concerning the “knowledge discovery process“. I love that we have found better words for what some of us already knew deeply but could explain only clumsily.
None of these changes are fundamental – rather they help to crystallise out some thinking that runs right through what we teach in our classes and bring to our consulting clients. That makes them easier to take away and to apply in imaginative ways, and that’s exciting.
My next public classes are in London (June 18th-19th) and Edinburgh (September 19th-20th) and you can register through our UK partners TeamProsource. And you might do yourself and your organisation a favour by sending your managers along to our 1-day event (June 11th). Not that managers (or for that matter non-techies) should feel the least bit excluded from our regular classes – some of the best designs of kanban systems I’ve seen in our classes have come from managers from outside of IT; they get it!
After the big conference month of May comes a June that is packed with Kanban-related training opportunities in London. There’s something for nearly everyone: a one-day event you can send your manager to, an accredited 2-day class, and David Anderson is in town at the end of the month for his 3-day masterclass.
The first of these is on June 11th. Lean Thinking and Kanban for IT is aimed at managers and other senior leaders in IT. The speakers are Jack Strong of LeanKit in the UK (a long-standing user and proponent of visual management and Lean in industry), Patrick Steyeart and Johan Vanwelkenhuysen of TeamProsource in Belgium and the UK respectively (pushing boundaries on the application of Kanban and Lean for projects and programmes), and myself, of David J Anderson & Associates, Inc. We will show how visual management, Kanban, Lean and Systems Thinking can be applied to service delivery, to projects and programmes, and to the problems organisations so often face at portfolio level (a subject close to my heart).
I’ve mentioned Patrick a few times here and it’s fantastic that we have this first opportunity to work together.
June 18th-19th I’m teaching our accredited 2-day class Successful Evolutionary Change with Kanban, operated by our UK partners TeamProsource. Learn not just how kanban systems work at the nuts-and-bolts level, but also how the Kanban Method catalyses organisational change and improvement. “Immensely valuable” was one recent piece of feedback on this class and I must say that I find it very satisfying to teach too.
You may recall my excitement early last year after attending David’s Kanban Leadership Workshop, the forerunner to his 3-dayAdvanced Kanban Masterclass, coming to London June 27th-29th. This is for you if you have a level of Kanban experience (or have at least attended a 2-day class) and wish to develop your knowledge and skills as a change agent, whether that is in a leadership role or as a coach. I really can’t recommend this class highly enough.