I was recently approached about the relationship between Systems Thinking, Lean And Agile. Without going into too much depth and using too much terminology I have tried to summarise it in the following diagram.
Agile is an iterative and incremental approach for developing product and services through collaboration between self-organising, cross-functional teams. It promotes adaptive planning, evolutionary development, early and continuous delivery, continuous improvement, and encourages rapid and flexible response to change.
Lean is a management mindset and a set of tools to create customer value, using the least amount of human effort, capital, inventories, time and capital investment in the process. Lean focuses on continuously improving work processes, increasing throughput and flow and removing waste.
A system is defined as two or more parts that work together to accomplish a shared aim. An organisation viewed as a system consists of not only its departments but also all of its interactions (both internal and external) including customers and suppliers. The success of all workers within the system is dependent on management’s ability to optimise the entire system.
Systems thinking is about:
- looking at the whole instead of focusing on components
- understanding components within their context, not in isolation
- paying attention to the interactions between components
- seeing cycles instead of linear cause and effect
By thinking of their organisation as a system, managers can begin to understand and address the problems facing them, their staff and their customers. W. Edwards Deming, an American statistician and management theorist, found the majority of possibilities for improvement are in the system (95%) and the remainder are with the worker (5%). He learned that if you want to change behaviour, then change the system.
Recently I was posed the question “how can we shape organisations to be successful in an environment of digital disruption?”
The convergence of technologies, such as cloud, social, mobile and information (the Nexus of Forces) …. are driving the Digital Industrial Revolution (Gartner). The convergence of these technologies has formed what Fred Wilson has described as the Golden Triangle:
“The three current big megatrends in the web/tech sector are mobile, social, and real-time.”
However, technology is just one part of the digital disruption equation. You can forget about digital disruption if you don’t disrupt your existing (traditional) business models.
Over the years oragnisations have updated their technology roadmaps and invested in new technologies to support their business strategies. Yet organisations have retained their legacy processes and policies and have not adapted new ways of working to compete effectively. Most organisations are built to sustain their existing business models which are not geared towards creating digital experiences for customers. Existing governance structures are often too slow, too siloed, stifles innovation, adds bureaucracy and all too inconsistent.
Increasingly organisations are embracing new paradigms and principles in the way they work in the era of digital. Many of these incidentally come from Agile and its related areas such Lean, Kanban, Design Thinking, Systems Thinking, and Lean Startup. Take for example the U.S. Digital Services Playbook:
- Understand what people need
- Address the whole experience, from start to finish
- Make it simple and intuitive
- Build the service using agile and iterative practices
- Structure budgets and contracts to support delivery
- Assign one leader and hold that person accountable
- Bring in experienced teams
- Choose a modern technology stack
- Deploy in a flexible hosting environment
- Automate testing and deployments
- Manage security and privacy through reusable processes
- Use data to drive decisions
- Default to open
and the UK Government Digital Services Design Principles:
- Start with (user) needs
- Do less
- Design with data
- Do the hard work to make it simple
- Iterate. Then iterate again.
- Build for inclusion
- Understand context
- Build digital services, not websites
- Be consistent, not uniform
- Make things open: it makes things better
Adoption of an Agile models, Lean Principles, a lean way to create a business model and a way to continuously innovate is vital if you want to compete effectively. These (modern) delivery models and principles no longer play a supporting role, but are center stage – it is becoming essential to the success of businesses in the age of digital disruption.
None of the principles and policies by the U.S. Digital Services and UK Government Digital Services is about technology. They are more about how work and business is to be done. The companies that will be successful in the disruptive digital era will be those who look beyond technology solutions but also disrupt their traditional organisation and governance structures and invest in new business models.
The digital disruption is forcing businesses to change how business is done. This requires a business transformation that uses technology to create digital experiences for customers AND equally adapt or introduces new processes and systems to successfully compete. Through evolution of work design, organisations need to adapt and change processes and policies (and we are not just talking changes in IT only). This will be BIG – it means changing one way of being to another. A butterfly is nothing like a caterpillar.
 W. Edward Deming defines a system as a network of interdependent components that work together to try to accomplish the aim of the system. In this case the system is not an IT system, but the organisation as a system.
Kaizen Camp was held in Melbourne this week, 20-21 May 2013. Kaizen Camp is an unconference held in the style of Lean Coffee with 8 sessions, 60 attendees and over 50 topics discussed. It was the first Kaizen Camp in Australia.
The great part of Kaizen Camp is the networking, learning and knowledge sharing using real world, practical experiences. The discussions were stimulating, interactive and there was a high level of collaboration among all participants. It was great to see many of the usual suspects in the local agile community as well as many new faces.
I didn’t take many notes as I was too busy engaged in many of the conversations. Lynne Cazaly created a few fantastic visual notes which I have included below.
The twitter feed was #kaizencamp
Thanks for Jim Benson (@ourfounder), Simon Bennett (@cgosimon) and Safron Bennett (@saffy1) for facilitating and hosting the event.
And a special thanks to everyone for sharing your ideas, insights and experiences!
I look forward to seeing you at the next Kaizen Camp!
Melbourne Lean Coffee
I host Lean Coffee Meetups with Jason Yip (@jchyip) and Kim Ballestrin (@kb2bkb). If you want more discussions beyond the Kaizen Camp event, join us for Melbourne Lean Coffee which are held regularly. More information can be found on the meetup site.
Last week I attended the LAST Conference (Lean, Agile, Systems Thinking) held at Swinburne University. The LAST Conference is a big departure from the Agile Australia 2012 conference I attended earlier this year. There was no fanfare, no big build up, little corporate advertising and significantly less people. It was also only $50 for the whole day but still contained lots of learning opportunities. It lived up to the advertised “low cost, grassroots mini-conference” message.
The conference schedule contained 5 parallel tracks so it was hard to attend all of it. I found myself at times wandering between sessions to get sound bites of what people where talking about. Being held at a uni one thing I definitely liked was the university lecture theatre style of some of the sessions – it felt right compared to sitting in a large conference center. Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay for the last sessions as I needed to head back into work.
I didn’t take any detailed notes, but here are my takeaways (in no particular order):
- Systems Thinking is the opposite of scientific thinking. Systems Thinking is not:
- Rocket Science
- Sea of Systems a handy guide to Systems Thinking
- Invention is the process of discovering something new or come up with an idea. Innovation is the act of of introducing that idea into the market and commercializing it
- Played some neat games that help with agile learning.
- Stages of learning:
- Unconscious incompetence
- Conscious incompetence
- Conscious competence
- Unconscious incompetence
- I had lots of fun in the Visual Collaboration session fine tuning my sketching skills. Use Wong-Baker Faces to visually represent levels of pain.
- Lots of interesting tidbits some of which I already knew but others just heard of in Edgy Agile things.
Here’s a selection of twitter posts on the conference (#LASTconf):
- @RonicaRoth: #LASTconf motto: you are not an attendee. Excited to participate!
- @lynnecazaly: Story structure: people + place + trouble …people want to know why, why this, why different #lastconf @unorder
- @hwiputra: A good storyteller uses concrete words not abstract words #LASTconf
- @hwiputra: Be comfortable with silence when getting stories out #LASTconf
- @AgileRenee: #LASTconf how to measure value? IRACIS – improved revenue, avoid costs, improved service
- @AgileRenee: #LASTconf my answer: the biggest waste in software dev today is doing the wrong work (benefits to cost don’t stack up)
- @libodyssey: culture is the product of behaviour #lastconf
- @ScrumMasterNZ: Work towards “Decision Meetings” and not “Status Meetings” #LASTConf #agile #lean
- @jodiem: Eg this guy has 3 levels of backlog – team-product , release-quarterly and sprint… #confused #lastconf
- @CEPitchford: The motivation for #offshore at REA was not cost it was talent! #win @hwiputra @frankmt #LASTconf
- @CEPitchford: Standup with #offshore team via Skype was hard. We couldn’t understand each other @hwiputra @frankmt #LASTconf
- @CEPitchford: Was hard for Chinese #offshore team to get visas to come to OZ @frankmt @hwiputra #LASTconf
- @CEPitchford: The whole local OZ dev team went to china for 3 weeks to handover to the #offshore team #LASTconf
- @AgileRenee: Find I’m mentally disagreeing with a lot said in the offshoring session in #LASTconf we have talent and should invest in building it locally
- @jodiem: Self service test environments… Where QA env is exactly the same as production env. Cool #devops #lastconf
- @antomarsh: Team rotation from Aus to China critical #LASTconf
- @gusbalbontin: Words such as “framework” and “governance” should never be in the same sentence as the word innovation. #LASTconf
- IrithWilliams: #Lastconf the real job at a standup is to ‘listen, inspect, adapt’
- @magia3e: Too many context changes slows down the #scrum team. Focus on getting to-do done #LASTconf
- @rooosterboy: How is #LASTconf different to #agileaus ? Seriously.
- @magia3e: If u don’t have some sort of continuous integration toolset/capability it will limit your velocity #LASTconf
- @c2reflexions: @AgileRenee doing a song and dance at #LASTconf
- @magia3e: Document the right stuff, but don’t waffle it out. Cut to the essence of it. communicate it with the right collaborative tools #LASTconf
- @CEPitchford: More control from management = less innovation from empowered teams #LASTconf @frankmt
- @CEPitchford: It’s not about execution anymore. It is about learning. #organizationalchange #LASTconf @frankmt
- @CEPitchford: Change programs: do we actually want to change? Or adapt, innovate and LEARN? #purpose #LASTconf @frankmt
- @CEPitchford: The way we still run companies was invented by people who lived in the last century @frankmt #LASTconf
- @CEPitchford: Project schedules and budgets are a work of fiction anyway @brown_note #LASTconf #fishbowl
- @hwiputra: All good leaders believe in their teams. #LASTconf
- @Drew_1609: Best value and most fun conference attended in a long time #lastconf
- @njhoughton: MVP … what’s the minimum thing to go-live … hold this as a meta-frame as you sprint … my examples are #foresight and #Innovation #lastconf
The visual recordings by @lynnecazaly were done using the iPad Brushes app. I have downloaded the app and now I just need to brush up (no pun intended) my skills. Thanks Lynne for the inspiration to try visually recording my notes.
Thanks to the organisers, Craig and Ed for putting together this great event. Snaps!
Nordstrom is one of USA’s leading fashion specialty retailers and is a Fortune 500 company (2011 – ranked 254). When I think of a fashion retail company, innovation isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. So how does a large retail company like Nordstrom innovate? Through the creation of a Lean Startup team, called Innovation Labs. According to their website,
The Nordstrom Innovation Lab is a new, and growing, team. We act like a startup inside of a large company: we move through ideas quickly, using whichever technologies make sense. We also walk the agile walk: the lab is a collaborative workspace with stickies and note cards everywhere, and we follow agile engineering practices like pairing and test-driven development. On the customer-facing side, we use ideas from both lean manufacturing and lean startup, and test our experiments with customers using human-centered design strategies and tactics.
The below video is a brilliant case study on how the innovation lab uses Lean UX and human centered design to build an iPad application (to help customers select a sunglass) incrementally and getting customer feedback in real-time as they work, so they were never working on anything that wasn’t valued by the customer. They were only doing things that was delivering value.
The innovation lab manager, JB Brown states:
Somebody will have an idea and we will find a way to prove that the idea will work.
We really don’t know what the features are yet. We are going to use customer feedback as we go along in order to build the best thing. Building a feature and testing it until we get to the point where we have something that is good enough.
Building the iPad application isn’t complex and the cycle time to develop a feature wouldn’t take long. But what the innovation labs team has done is cut down the feedback loop times. If this application was built in an office away from the customer, getting feedback would have been much longer. And by getting feedback directly from the end users rather than a user proxy, they have reduced the risk of developing the wrong features.
The innovation lab uses a concept called ‘flash build’, a variation of a flash mob, where a software team shows up at a surprise location to build a minimal viable product application so they can get direct customer feedback in real-time.
It is awesome to see innovation and the use of lean and agile principles and practices in action within a large company.
I came across a great article by Masaaki Imai on Gemba Panta Rei celebrating Taiichi Ohno’s 100th Birthday which contained some of his brilliant quotes on management and thought I will re-post them:
“Let the flow manage the processes, and not let management manage the flow”.
In the lean approach, the starting point of the information flow is the final assembly process, or where the customer order is provided, and then the flow goes upstream by means a pull signal such as kanban. On the other hand, the flow of materials moves downstream from the raw material stage to the final assembly. In both cases the flow should be maintained smoothly without interruption.
Unfortunately, in a majority of companies today, the flow is disrupted and meddled with by the convenience of the shop-floor management.
“Machines do not break down; people cause them to break.”
His life-long pursuit was to make a smooth and undisturbed flow as a foundation of all good operations. He believed that wherever and whenever the flow is disrupted, there is an opportunity to do kaizen.
“The gemba and the gembutsu have the information. We must listen to them.”
Taiichi Ohno always placed respect for the worker first in his approach to kaizen. His focus was always on the customer, both external and internal.
“Just-in-time means that customer delight is directly transmitted to those who are making the product.”
Ohno was a man of deeds. Learning by doing was his motto and he did not engage in empty discussions. You pay money to buy books and go to seminars and gain new knowledge. But knowledge is knowledge, nothing more.
“Knowledge is something you buy with the money. Wisdom is something you acquire by doing it,”
But you gain the wisdom only after you have done it. The real understanding of the lean operations is gained only after you have done it. No matter how many pages you may read on lean books, you know nothing if you have not done it.
“To understand means to be able to do.”
In the book Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip Heath & Dan Heath, the authors described the results of a study to answer the question: Would people with bigger popcorn buckets eat more at the movie cinema?
As part of the study, it was carefully engineered to serve the popcorn five days stale. Some people received medium sized buckets and others got a large bucket. The results were stunning:
People with the large buckets ate 53 percent more popcorn than people with the medium size. That’s the equivalent of 173 more calories and approximately 21 extra hand-dips into the bucket.
The book further states that other popcorn studies were always the same:
It didn’t matter if our moviegoers were in Pennsylvania, Illinois, or Iowa, and it didn’t matter what kind of movie was showing; all of our popcorn studies led to the same conclusion. People eat more when you give them a bigger container.”
No other theory explains the behavior. These people weren’t eating for pleasure. (The popcorn was so stale it squeaked!) They weren’t driven by a desire to finish their portion. (Both buckets were too big to finish.) It didn’t matter whether they were hungry or full. The equation is unyielding: Bigger container = more eating.
Recently in To Change Culture, Change the System David Joyce says:
Deming learned it’s not a problem of the people it’s a problem of the system that people work within. He found that if you want to change behaviour, then you need to change the system, and change management thinking that creates it. Doing so, culture change is then free.
To change someone’s behaviour, you’ve got to change that person’s situation.
Kaizen (改善), Japanese for “improvement”, or “change for the better” refers to philosophy or practices that focus upon continuous improvement of processes.
Teams I coach frequently ask me for “best practices”. Do not assume that “best practices” in previous projects will be equally successful in another project. In some cases, “best practices” from one context can be counter-productive in another context. Practices and processes from previous projects should be used for learning and improvement. No practice or process is both complete and optimal – once we master it at one level, we see deficiencies that were previously hidden and the cycle of improvement begins again. You should always challenge yourself to experiement and find better ways of doing things and beating your own standards for excellence –
Improvement usually means doing something that we have never done before.
— Shigeo Shingo
Mistakes are a part of being human. Mistakes are not a sign of failure. Appreciate mistakes mistakes for what they are – precious life lessons that are used for learning and for others to learn form. Part of continuous improvement is learning from mistakes. The only failure is the failure of not learning from your mistakes.
Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
— Albert Einstein
James Hird, the coach of the Essendon Football Club (a team in the Australian Football League (AFL)) took over the coaching of a team this year that was struggling to win games in recent years. A priority for Hird was improvement in the team – “We’re trying to push for continual improvement.”
The club started the season well winning several games, however, they also made many mistakes along the way and had some big losses. The club learnt many valuable lessons from those demoralising losses which enabled it to obtain an all-important victory against the best team in the competition. One of the team players said:
“The coaches were never too up when we won and they were never too down when we lost.”
“The coaches are all just about learning, evolving and improving.”
Even when the team won games and making the finals was in sight, it was still about improvement and getting better. Hird is solely focused on continuing to develop his team – “improvement first, finals second.” Through continuous improvement, Hird believes they will build a good team that can compete effectively and achieve the goal of winning a finals premiership:
“Whether or not we make the finals this year… in 18 months time we want to keep coaching and teaching so we do become a good team.”
“Our team is not built on superstars it is built on all-round effort across the board.”
In a previous post, IDEO had a fail safe culture and which allowed them to fail often in order to succeed sooner:
Enlightened trial and error succeeds over the planning of the lone genius.
It is important organizations foster continuous learning so teams constantly get better at everything they do—improving their work, making decisions, holding good meetings. That’s why successful teams emphasize continuous learning, always going over what they’ve done, identifying what went well and what didn’t, and finding ways to get better the next time around.
The following from Gemba Panta Rei highlights the importance of learning from mistakes through continuous improvemment:
Here are three important lessons from Irish novelist and playwright, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, and wicked wit George Bernard Shaw:
“A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.”
We often say that continuous improvement depends on the ability of people to experiment, make mistakes, reflect and learn from the mistakes. It is truly honorable when leaders create an environment in which it is safe for people to experiment, fail and learn. In fact it may take more courage to allow others to make mistakes than to make mistakes oneself. The good results of these experiments we call kaizen, and the learning that occurs from poor results we call development of human potential. When we achieve good results free of mistakes we call it competence, but mostly it is luck.
“The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it.”
While opinions and ideologies can be had and held with only minimal effort from our armchairs, facts require that we put forth some mental and physical effort. The act of observation requires presence and attention, the accuracy thereof open-mindedness and the will to release held opinions when they conflict with observed fact. Seeing the truth can be uncomfortable. Having truth that conflicts with one’s belief can be even more so. Pointing out the misconceptions in the minds of others can result in being called cynical or worse. Accurate observation must be preceded by and paired with education, alignment and commitment to act to improve a situation, regardless of our preconceived notions in order for continuous improvement to take root.
“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”
I am an Agile Plumber – I eliminate waste, remove blockages and increase flow.
This week we had an agile workshop to establish some goals and create some epics for next quarter’s release for the agile change team at an organization I am coaching.
One of the items we covered in the workshop was to come up with a new team name for our agile change team as a result of some organization changes. Some of the names included:
- Agile Change Team (A.C.T.)
- Agile Capability Delivery Centre (AC-DC)
- The Enablers
- Centre for Agile Practices
….and there were many more.
When we went to vote on a name, a clear winner was Agile Plumbers. This name was quite humorous at first and we all got a good laugh, but the name is symbolic and there is some serious intent behind it.
An important aspect of agile and lean is about eliminating waste, removing blockages, and increasing flow which can really can change the way you build software.
There are many forms of waste including partially done work, extra processes, extra features, task switching, waiting, motion and defects. By looking at the waste that is in the steps you are doing and removing the waste you can do more with less.
We also have failure modes because we’re not paying attention to what it really takes to be agile. There are many roadblocks and blockages to getting to success. There are roadblocks that occur within teams and projects, but there are larger organizational roadblocks which are impediments to any agile approach. Agile touches on many aspects of an enterprise organization and changes many existing organizational processes that are more acquainted to waterfall. Examples include:
- Procurement, such as selecting and working with vendors.
- HR, especially what type of people we want to recruit, and changing manager’s KPIs to align more with a collaborative culture.
- Finance, how we structure the organization’s funding model to align with agile approaches and incremental delivery. Also funding may need to change to support a lean pipeline of work (continuous flow of work), rather than ‘individual projects’.
- Legal, how we write contracts that support agile teams and approaches.
- Training, creating training programs for agile (not only including agile specific topics, but also leadership and soft skills that are required in a collaborative organization).
- Governance, most traditional governance does not work with agile.
- Add your own organizational impact and blockage here that needs removing.
Finally, a goal of lean and kanban is increasing the efficient delivery of value through limiting the work in progress (WIP), making work visible and increasing the overall flow. Optimizing the entire value stream, from initial concept to consumption is fundamental to increasing flow of value through the organization. The idea is to get an idea into the development pipeline and out to the customer as fast as possible by looking at the existing processes and improving them and in the process eliminate waste and create value.
The other advantage of being called an Agile Plumber is that the name creates an memorable impression. In a large organization with many business units and organizational teams, one thing that can be difficult is being able to identify where agile help can be found.
So next time you need someone to help eliminate waste, remove blockages and increase flow, call your nearest Agile Plumber!
I first knew David Joyce, a Systems Thinker and Agile practitioner, through the local Limited WIP Society user group in Melbourne and in more recent times I have had an opportunity to know and work with him. David is one of those people who has a knack of explaining something that you can readily understand and comprehend.
David along with Peter Middleton have just published an IEEE paper, Lean Software Management: BBC Worldwide Case Study that contains anecdotal evidence over a 12-month period, lead time to deliver software improved by 37%, consistency of delivery rose by 47%, and defects reported by customers fell 24%.
These are impressive and enviable results.
David’s paper shows how the use of lean methods and thinking including visual management, team-based problem solving, smaller batch sizes, and statistical process control can improve software development.
Quote from David Joyce’s website –
I believe it will be one of the most significant papers in Software Engineering this decade.
– David Anderson
Great stuff David J !!!