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

March 6, 2015

Kanban from the Inside: 4. Customer Focus

Filed under: Books,Kanban,Values — Tags: , , , — Mike @ 11:17 am

This is the fourth installment in a roughly weekly series of short excerpts from my book, Kanban from the Inside. Chapter 4 covers the fourth of the Kanban Method’s nine values, customer focus.

Core Practice 3: Manage Flow

Is this a mistake? How do we get from Manage Flow to customer focus? Indulge me for a moment—let me cheat a little, expanding the wording of this core practice to express more fully what this practice really means:

CP3 (expanded): Manage flow, seeking smoothness, timeliness, and good economic outcomes, anticipating customer needs.

This chapter focuses on customer needs and how to anticipate them better. Smoothness and timeliness are covered in the next chapter, on flow. Keep in mind “good economic outcomes” as you read both chapters; economic decision-making is covered in Chapter 15.

Why Customer Focus?

Task focus, role focus, team focus, project focus, product focus, company focus, technology focus . . . the list goes on. So many ways to lose sight of what we’re in business for!

Just as it does inside the delivery process, effectiveness upstream depends on the values we’ve explored so far:

  • Transparency: The system must make visible the difficult choices that need to be made. The decision-making rationale should itself be explicit. Decisions are the focus of feedback loops (prioritization meetings, for example).
  • Balance: The amount of WIP in the system is controlled, both to maintain a reliable supply of high-quality ideas and to force timely decision making. If needed, additional control can be gained by allocating WIP by customer, budget line, risk category, strategic initiative, and so on.
  • Collaboration: The work of qualifying items for further development is shared among the originators of those items and the people who will service them. Instead of sucking risk into the system prematurely, all parties (and there may be several involved) keep their options open until commitment is timely.

Let’s see what customer focus adds:

  • Whose needs do we think are met by these ideas?
  • Are we meeting needs fast enough?
  • What is the data telling us? What are people telling us?
  • What might lie behind those needs?
  • What needs might be going unmet?
  • How can we test that?

In short: Can we develop a better sense for what will be needed?

Anticipating Needs

If there’s a single idea that I’d like you to take away from this chapter, it’s making the mental shift away from doing what is asked, taking orders, fulfilling requests, meeting requirements, and so on, and reorienting the process toward discovering and meeting needs. It’s a shift from an internal perspective (what we think we know) to an external one (what’s still out there to be discovered). It’s also a shift from the past (what we’ve been told) to the future (when the customer’s need will be met).

Next up: 5. Flow. Previously 3. Collaboration: Start from the beginning: 1. Transparency.

March 2, 2015

Featureban updates, March ’15 edition

Filed under: Kanban,Training,Values — Tags: , , , , — Mike @ 3:58 pm

I’ve recently facilitated a number of Featureban sessions:

This coming Thursday evening I’ll be in Derby, the guest of Agile Derby. It’s not often that I get to do Kanban-related stuff so close to home, so I’m delighted!

I’ve made some updates to the deck:

  • Encouragement in slide 5 for players to discuss their moves in a “standup” meeting.
  • “One of” and “Both” in slide 5 and what is now slide 8 are shown in bold. These are easily missed if not emphasised by the facilitator.
  • An additional debrief slide after each of the first two rounds, mentioning over the course of the two rounds all six core practices and their corresponding values (five out of nine). Feedback on this change has been very positive.

In the second debrief, facilitators should draw a distinction between visual management and the operation of true kanban systems. I make a point not to mention “collaboration” until it is mentioned from the floor (which it will, without fail). The likely mention of “multitasking” is the invitation to discuss how we have succeeded in limiting work in progress across the whole flow, and why that’s important.

A French translation is now available and a German translation is in the works; ping me for an introduction if you need one. If you’d like to make a new translation or any other derivative work you don’t actually need my permission (Featureban is published under a sufficiently friendly license) but do drop me a line if you’d like the original PowerPoint slides rather than the PDFs (see the Resources link above).

February 27, 2015

Kanban from the Inside: 3. Collaboration

Filed under: Books,Kanban,Values — Tags: , , , — Mike @ 10:07 am

This is the third installment in a roughly weekly series of short excerpts from my book, Kanban from the Inside. Chapter 3 covers the third of the Kanban Method’s nine values, balance.

I find it helpful to think of collaboration as something quite concrete, bringing to mind some specific examples of famous creative collaborations. Lennon and McCartney, Watson and Crick, Marie and Pierre Curie—these are collaborations that have made huge impact, not just in their chosen fields, but in popular consciousness, too. These aren’t just people being nice, cooperating with each other in some general way; these are relationships in which the whole is somehow much greater than the sum of its parts, where creative energy exists between those involved as well as inside each one individually.

We can’t expect every workplace collaboration to be quite as spectacularly productive as these examples, but if our knowledge-based organizations can’t generate some excess creativity over what each individual can generate on his or her own, why do they exist at all?*

*(footnote) Why do firms exist? Economists still wrestle with that. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theory_of_the_firm and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knowledge-based_theory_of_the_firm

Next up: 4. Customer Focus. Previously 2. Balance: Start from the beginning: 1. Transparency.

February 20, 2015

Kanban from the Inside: 2. Balance

Filed under: Books,Kanban,Values — Tags: , , , — Mike @ 2:36 pm

I’m posting every week or so some short excerpts from my book, Kanban from the Inside. Chapter 2 covers the second of the Kanban Method’s nine values, balance.

Balance Demand versus Capability

Inside the system, we balance workload against the system’s capacity, both for the sake of the people doing the work and for the improved performance and predictability that comes as a result. But it doesn’t have to stop there.

Interesting things happen when your system’s capability to deliver against each category becomes known. You can help your customers to make better-informed choices. This in turn has an upstream effect, an effect on how work flows from the customer. Managed proactively, this is demand shaping, a way to improve outcomes still further by promoting balance across a broader scope of a system and over longer timespans.

Work item categorizations and classes of service help you manage to multiple time horizons simultaneously. There’s no point in remarkable delivery rates in the short term if we’re busy bankrupting ourselves through insufficient attention to sustainability. Likewise, we can’t be forever spending our investors’ money on long-term work so nebulous or grandiose that customer value will never be delivered.

In a nutshell, Kanban helps you balance demand versus capability over a range of timespans. This is a powerful management strategy to apply both inside and outside the system.

Seeking Balance

Balance is a strange thing—we really enjoy it when it’s there, but achieving it takes anticipation, vigilance, and effort, sometimes even the occasional breakthrough. For me, it is this—as much as the significant technical merits of WIP-limited pull systems—that makes balance such an important value.

To help bring balance into your application of Core Practice 2, try prefacing it with “Find ways to”:

  • Find ways to limit work-in-progress, using every available lever.
  • Find ways to limit work-in-progress at every organizational level, looking for ways to bring those deeper imbalances to the surface as trust is built.

Perhaps you can come up with a phrase that captures the essence of your organization’s current need for balance. It’s a trick that works with other practices too.

Next up: 3. Collaboration. Previously: 1. Transparency.


February 12, 2015

Kanban from the Inside: 1. Transparency

Filed under: Books,Kanban,Values — Tags: , , , — Mike @ 8:46 pm

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.

January 3, 2015

Two years on

Filed under: Books,Kanban,Values,Work — Tags: , , , , — Mike @ 10:45 am

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!

November 4, 2014

Notes on my #lkuk14 keynote – Inside Lean Kanban

Filed under: Kanban,Values — Tags: , , , — Mike @ 10:23 am

Here’s the deck for my keynote yesterday, with which I opened Lean Kanban United Kingdom 2014 (#lkuk14):

Inside Lean Kanban (#lkuk14 keynote) from Mike Burrows

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!

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.

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