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

April 2, 2015

Kanban from the Inside: 8. Agreement

Filed under: Books,Kanban,Values — Tags: , , , — Mike @ 8:51 am

The eighth in a roughly weekly series of short excerpts from my book, Kanban from the Inside.


The Kanban method’s second Foundational Principle is very direct:

FP2: Agree to pursue evolutionary change.

In just a few more words: Agree that change is necessary; agree to pursue it with an evolutionary strategy.

The word pursue is very well chosen. So much stronger than adopt, it evokes the energy and tenacity to counter any complacency, and it reminds us that it’s an ongoing process. Pursuit combines challenge and commitment.


I’d like to remind you that the agreement principle (FP2) starts with the word agree. Don’t take for granted the people involved, nor those likely to be impacted by it.

By way of analogy, I’m reminded of a bumper sticker [1] that would be quite familiar to anyone who lived in the UK during the late ’70s and for many years afterward:

A dog is for life, not just for Christmas

Agreement is not just for the kickoff meeting! Most of the changes that will be catalyzed by Kanban will stick only through agreement, so start as you mean to go on. Part III will help you with this; it describes a highly repeatable approach designed to generate agreement in practice, not just the slippery agreement in principle that falls away as soon as there is work to be done.

[1] Clarissa Baldwin. 1978. The Dogs Trust. http://www.dogstrust.org.uk/az/a/adogisforlife/


Next up: 8. Respect. Previously: 7. Understanding. Start from the beginning: 1. Transparency.

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!

May 22, 2013

Making a case for “leadership disciplines”

Evoking the 70’s bumper sticker “A dog is for life, not just for Christmas“, I suggested in my last post that

Agreement is not just for the kick-off meeting

Let’s extend that thought to the first group of Kanban’s values. What if we positioned understandingagreement and respect not as initial conditions for a learning environment but as leadership disciplines expected of everyone who has responsibility immediately around it?

Putting Kanban to one side, what would your Agile implementation or other significant change initiative have looked like had there had been sustained outside commitment to the following principles:

1. Understanding is a prerequisite for effective change

  • Change will be based on an understanding of genuine problems or opportunities, framed such that upsides and downsides can reasonably be demonstrated and managed
  • Change increments will be sized according to our understanding, safety never compromised (recalling J curves, bet-the-company bravado and so on)

2. Agreement will not be taken for granted

  • Change will be implemented through agreement between those (or between representative of those) who
    • request or recommend change (the instigators)
    • understand what needs to be done and estimate its impact good and bad (the designers)
    • will implement it
    • will be impacted by it

    Clearly, the more these groups overlap, the easier it gets.

3. Respect is a key test

  • Each change will be conducted respectfully
  • Collectively, change will
    • remove sources of frustration and other barriers to success
    • raise levels of trust and safety
    • create the space for creativity and excellence

What if the “skin” of your “culture bubble” was made up of a group of people who are committed to using their authority to represent and defend those three values? What effect would that have, both on the team and on the wider organisation? Rather than those inside the bubble, perhaps it is this group that should be our first concern?

If not our first concern, then at least a different concern. A focus on leadership discipline at the boundary that promotes change inside in the direction we want (including but not limited to customer focusflow and leadership), sustained internally by the drive of the more practice-focussed values of transparencybalance and collaboration.

It strikes me that this formulation (a minor refinement to the model I presented in Chicago) begins to tackle two common misgivings around Agile and Lean.

Misgiving #1: Hierarchy vs collaboration

This misgiving is most commonly associated with Lean, although similar misgivings are sometimes expressed about Agile, in particular around the Scrum roles. How can an apparently hierarchical management system be reconciled with a culture of collaboration?

Let’s be clear about one thing: I have no interest whatsoever in replicating a shop-floor management hierarchy with its team leads, supervisors and so on. But what about leaders already at the periphery of the change initiative? If they’re expecting to see understanding, agreement, and respect and have learned to live those values themselves, won’t that have an effect? I see this expectation catalysing creative collaboration inside the boundary and facilitating collaborative problem-solving across it (thereby growing the initiative’s scope). Doesn’t this give a good picture what the effective leader (or manager) as coach looks like?

To further illustrate the potential for de-emphasising hierarchy, let’s see less of this (me, 2012):

alignment

and more of this (me, 2013):

change-team

Perhaps hierarchy is like iteration – just as it’s interesting and useful to see how far we can take these ideas (many people now assuming that they’re axiomatic to Lean and Agile respectively), it’s also interesting and useful to describe and explore universes that don’t depend on them quite so fundamentally.

Misgiving #2: The “mindset get-out clause”

I have long wished to challenge those who say that Agile can’t work here because the organisational mindset is wrong (or that Lean failed for the same reason). I find this chicken-and-egg excuse hard enough to swallow when expressed with genuine regret; when it’s accompanied by disrespect (of which “pigs and chickens” is but a mild form) I despair!

If we’re agreed that an incremental, evolutionary approach makes sense both for product development and process improvement, wouldn’t it make sense to approach mindset and culture in the same way? With some kind of plan of attack maybe?

Here’s my starting approach in two steps:

  1. Find the skin of the bubble: I’ve learned the hard way that improvement that isn’t end-to-end is often futile; reaching out upstream and downstream is therefore essential. It’s also natural for me to reach out (or up, if you like) to managers – I was one myself and I have no difficulty in identifying with them.
  2. Speak there the language of values: Don’t just gain an understanding of the problem for yourself; insist that shared understanding and agreement are essential, that respect is both a means and an end, and that their discipline as leaders will be critical not only to initial wins but to lasting success. Then explore the other values as you seek alignment between external and internal goals. Balance was for example a key theme of the early part of my last engagement, moving later into transparency and customer focus.

Real life is of course a little messier than I’ve described but I’m glad to have crystallised much of what I’ve been doing over the past few months.

Acknowledgements

Joshua Kerievsky for broadening my understanding of “safety” (see #techsafety) and Liz Keogh for “respect is a test”, both at #LKNA13Michael Sahota for “culture bubbles”; Steven J Spear whose book The High Velocity Edge (mentioned here) is still exerting its influence.

I’m grateful also to Jim Sutton and Martin Burns for feedback on earlier drafts of this article.

February 11, 2013

Hear me interviewed on SPaMCAST

I had the pleasure last month of being interviewed by SPamCAST’s Tom Cagley. It’s now up as SPaMCAST 224 – Mike Burrows, Kanban Values. I’ve never appeared in a podcast before and I’m very pleased with the result. Thank you Tom!

I reference these posts:

We touch on some more general aspects of leadership, on what it means to be a change agent, and on why some improvement efforts are ineffective. It may become apparent that the issues raised by “Potato, tomato” and “Agreement: it’s not about you” were on my mind at the time too.

London Lean Kanban Day deserves a link after I described it rather vaguely as being “in London, in March”. I’ll be doing a new version of “Kanban the Hard Way” that (naturally) features values. It’s not quite a values-centric talk – that’s in the works for LKNA13, more on that soon.

 

January 31, 2013

Agreement: it’s not about you

Filed under: Kanban,leadership,Uncategorized,Values — Tags: , , , , , — Mike @ 7:22 pm

Google this morning gives 62 hits on “agreement” for positiveincline.com. Admittedly that includes some dupes, but it’s definitely an itch I keep scratching. Most recently:

Agreement is right there in the second foundational principle, “Agree to pursue incremental, evolutionary change”. I like to turn this around: would you reasonably expect to be successful in implementing change without it? Could it be that it’s lack of agreement that’s limiting your progress? Or perhaps there is some agreement but it’s not deep enough – you’re agreed on the existence of a problem but not on its impact or causes (see understanding)?
Introducing Kanban through its values (January 2013)

On agreement, Greg Brougham brought to my attention Ackoff’s distinction between agreement in principle (a theoretical kind of agreement) and agreement in practice (an agreement to live with the consequences of a decision, accepting that agreement on “better” can be effective where consensus on perfection is impossible).
Kanban: values, understanding & purpose (January 2013)

Where in the assessment tool [is] agreement – “Agree to pursue incremental, evolutionary change” is a foundational principle of Kanban and the organisational scope of any agreement is surely assessable. As a change agent, have I achieved 360-degree agreement? If I have, won’t this help make change “stickier”?
How deep is “How deep is your Kanban” (October 2012)

That last one needs some modification. 360-degree agreement is all very well, but it places me at the centre. What happens when I go away? How much agreement is left? If the agreement is about change, is that change really going to stick? David Anderson this week reminded me that change often fails to survive a generational change in leadership. That’s a sobering thought if you’re in the culture game.

I’m struck by the difference in coaching models aimed at getting to “what will you do now?” and other models (the Triad model [1] is a great example) that are more indirect but no less deliberate. Could it be that we invest too much in getting agreement from other people and too little in supporting agreement between people?

I’m pleased to report that I do see some very encouraging signs of the latter kind of agreement in my own consulting and coaching work. It takes time though! I wish I could give some recent concrete examples, but NDAs & such prevent. One day perhaps.

You may enjoy Jason Yip’s article We agree… but… meanwhile. I did!

[1] See The Culture Game – a book by Dan Mezick – Triads are described about half way through the article, and the book it describes is well worth a read.

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