Beyond Agile Gratitude #2 - Lean Thinking and the Kanban Method

Beyond Agile 150Now that my Beyond Agile book has been published, I would like to thank people who helped shape its content and ideas. David Anderson has done much to popularize and explain lean and the Theory of Constraints thinking.

The Kanban Method can teach agile practitioners many useful ideas about incremental improvement, successful organizational change, and improved team performance. So, rather than considering it an alternative to agile approaches, I like to think of it as a compliment, another source for ideas, tools, and solutions.

We have a tendency to get attached to our personal favorite agile approach, whether that is Scrum, XP, or something else, and regard alternative approaches as somehow inferior or derivative. However, the Kanban Method has some useful additions, so let us see what it has to offer.

First, many people are confused between kanban and the Kanban Method, so it is worth some clarification. The Japanese word kanban (usually with a lowercase k) means “signal,” “sign,” or “large visual board.” Agile teams often use kanban boards to visualize their work. These kanban boards typically show queues and work in progress (WIP). They may also show WIP limits for activities and expedite paths for urgent work.

The Kanban Method (usually capitalized) is a complete process for defining, managing, and improving the execution of knowledge work. David Anderson developed it in 2007 and, like agile, has its own set of values, principles, and practices. More than just using kanban boards to track and manage your work, it is a full lifecycle approach for running and improving knowledge-work projects.

Kanban

David and I worked together in the early 2000s on the Agile Project Leadership Network (APLN) board. He appreciated the concepts of agile and combined them with concepts from Theory of Constraints and lean design to develop a method focused on the flow of work that could be applied to any knowledge-work scenario. Unlike agile approaches that suggest a complete switch to agile work execution, Kanban starts with the process you have right now and provides tools to improve its service.

This makes the Kanban Method much easier to adopt, as no big upheaval, retooling or enterprise-wide training is required. Instead, the Kanban Method principles are applied to the way things are currently done.

Kanban Principles

  • Change management
  • Start with what you do now.
  • Agree to pursue improvement through evolutionary change.
  • Encourage acts of leadership at every level.
  • Service delivery
  • Understand and focus on your customers’ needs and expectations.
  • Manage the work; let people self-organize around it.
  • Evolve policies to improve customer and business outcomes.

Based on these principles, three parallel and ongoing agendas (themes of work) are employed:

Kanban Agenda

  • Service orientation: Look outward and focus on performance and customer satisfaction. Ask How can we meet and exceed customer goals?
  • Sustainability: Look inward to find a sustainable pace and improve focus. Make intangible work visible and then balance demand with capability.
  • Survivability: Look forward to remain competitive and adaptive to more change. Scan for the emergence of disruptors and value diversity to better handle change.

Throughout all the approaches, a core set of values based on respect and collaboration is embraced. These are:

Kanban Values

  • Transparency: Sharing information through straightforward terms improves the flow of work.
  • Balance: The understanding that competing elements must be balanced for effectiveness.
  • Collaboration: People must work together to be effective.
  • Customer focus. We must know the goal for the system.
  • Flow: The realization that work is a flow of value.
  • Leadership: The ability to inspire others through example, description, and reflection.
  • Understanding: Kanban is an improvement model that starts with self-knowledge.
  • Agreement: The dynamic co-commitment to move together toward goals, respecting, and where possible, accommodating differences of opinion.
  • Respect: Valuing, understanding, and showing consideration for people. A foundational value underpinning everything else.

We can use the Kanban Method to help introduce positive change into a team or organization. The “start with what you do now” and “agree to pursue improvement through evolutionary change” concepts are nonthreatening and difficult to argue against. So, if faced with an organization or department that is reluctant to change its ways, the Kanban Method is an excellent approach.

It also brings some great insights often missed in agile approaches. For example, since knowledge work is invisible, managers may not know how much work someone has on their plate. Encouraging people to make their work visible helps them show and explain their workloads to others. It also enables coworkers to see what people are working on and then pitch in where they can…”

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Thanks, David, for your popularization of and explanations of Theory of Constraints thinking. They are more relevant today than ever as people in organizations everywhere look to transform their work.


PMI-ACP and My New Book “Beyond Agile: Achieving Success with Situational Knowledge and Skills”

10 YearsIt has been 10 years since the PMI-ACP exam was created, and I published my PMI-ACP Exam Prep book. I recall the Steering Committee meetings where we discussed what we believed was necessary for agile practitioners and team leaders to have experience in and an understanding of.

Since then, the exam has been updated a couple of times based on Role Delineation Studies (RDS) and Job Task Analysis (JTA), which is how PMI surveys practitioners and asks what techniques are commonly used. However, the core content has mainly endured unchanged, which is testimony to its usefulness.

CommitteeI remember discussing the scope and goals for the credential among the committee that comprised: Alistair Cockburn, Mike Cottmeyer, Jim Cundiff, Jesse Fewell, Mike Griffiths, Ahmed Sidkey, Michele Sliger, Dennis Stevens and PMI researchers.

In addition to an agnostic understanding of Lean, Kanban, Scrum and other agile approaches, we also agreed people should know about the basics of servant leadership, conflict management, team decision making, and coaching. So our scope included more than just Lean and agile; it had a little leadership and emotional intelligence.

Agile and Leadership 1

At the time, someone suggested a three-tier credential consisting of something like Agile Basics, Agile Journeyman (journeyperson), Agile Consultant that mirrored Shu-Ha-Ri. PMI leadership rightly reined this in, explaining it was a good idea, but how about we just focus on getting the basic level credential created for now.

PMI was correct to focus on the universal fundamentals. As we get into more advanced topics, there is no single correct answer. So, topics like agile scaling frameworks, strategies for motivating teams, the pros and cons of different leadership approaches that get deeper into agile, leadership and emotional intelligence were never tackled but are topics that my blog readers know I care deeply about.

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My new Beyond Agile book is my exploration of these topics (plus others.) I dig deeper into unlocking the power of individuals and teams. How can we encourage better engagement, focus on the project goals, and ditch non-value-add mindsets and processes? These are based on my experiences and research.

You likely won’t agree with everything I suggest, and that’s fine; not everything will work for your situation. However, I am confident you will find many valuable concepts and connections between ideas you thought about separately before.

As the book title suggests, it goes beyond agile. Sometimes the best way to tackle a problem might be with a plan-driven approach. Agile Myopia is the mistaken belief that every project situation has an agile solution.

Agile Leadership and Plan Driven

I am more of a pragmatist. Sometimes, the best way to assess and analyze risk is with the risk management process from plan-driven project management approaches. We may then choose to implement the risk responses in an iterative, incremental way via our backlog and spikes, but that again is being pragmatic.

My previous post mentioned a disconnect between teams being agile and the highest-performance teams I was able to work with. These high-performing teams hardly discussed agile concepts or paid much attention to the agile ceremonies, although they lived the mindset emphatically. Often what set them apart was the deep industry experience and knowledge they had gained, making them trusted partners within the business groups they served.


Beyond Agile Model
I set out to define what sets high-performing teams apart and outline the steps to replicating them. There may be no formula but I did uncover a set of knowledge, skills and thinking tools people can use to chart their own course. It represents the What’s Next beyond the ideas in my PMI-ACP books and provides a broader landscape to explore. I hope you enjoy it.

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Can We Still be Agile?

Can we still be agileHow does work from home impact our use of agile approaches? If co-location is no longer possible, can we still be agile?

Yes, of course we can, and in many ways, now we need to be more agile than ever as we try new approaches, learn and adapt how we work. However, let's address the co-location question and look at agile practices in remote work situations.

Continue reading "Can We Still be Agile?" »


Agile 2018 Conference – Unraveling Team Dependencies

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I am excited to be presenting on the Enterprise Agile track at the Agile 2018 conference in San Diego, August 7. I have worked with several organizations this year that had issues with work dependencies between teams. My session called “Two-Pizza Team Heartburn Relief: Solutions to Team Dependencies” highlights the shift to global rather than local optimization.

We will investigate dependency problems through animations and simulations and then explore some candidate solutions. Each brings their own issues – if these problems were solvable they would have been already, but the suggestions do help considerably. Here is the description from the conference program:

Small teams are great - until they cause bigger problems than they solve. Small teams can communicate more effectively than large teams. They can leverage face-to-face communications more readily and share tacit knowledge without the need for so much written communication. However, for large endeavours, using many small teams present their own problems. Work dependencies between teams can cause major delays through costly hand-offs, mismatched priorities, and blocked tasks.

This workshop introduces strategies for structuring teams to reduce hand-offs and dependencies that create blocked work and delays. By investigating the (lack of) flow through multiple teams we can diagnose the cost of hand-offs and culprits of delays. We examine tools for making hand-offs and dependencies visible to highlight and bring collective attention to the problems. We then explore resolution patterns and work structures that maximize small team communications but limit negative aspects of managing multiple, inter-dependent project teams.

Learning Objectives

  • Understand the time and cost penalties of team dependencies and hand-offs
  • Gain tools for making dependencies, queues, and blocked work visible
  • Learn how and when to balance small team benefits with more dependency issues
  • Share implementation patterns and strategies to maximize team throughput
  • Examine the pros and cons of larger teams, feature teams, and product vs. project development.

That probably sounds more technical than it really is. It is a workshop to show people how teams often get stuck with work items when they rely on work from other groups. It combines anecdotes and experiences from 20+ years of agile consulting along with some insights from Troy Magennis on dependency delays, and Dominica DeGrandis, author of Making Work Visible.

Through case studies and exercises, we explore the hidden impacts of well-intentioned small teams. First, we’ll explore the “mostly harmless” two and three team dependencies, and then see the impacts when five or six dependant teams try to get work done. Please come along if you are attending the conference and have issues with dependencies between teams.


The Importance of Focus

Edison BulbI have an old-fashioned Edison bulb desk lamp. It’s to remind me to focus (and because I like steampunk, industrial design). A 40-watt incandescent bulb will barely light a room, but a 40-watt laser can cut through aluminium, leather, and wood. It is the same amount of light energy, just focussed instead of being diffused.

The same principle applies to our attention, work and teams. Diffused and scattered there is not much impact. Focussed and concentrated that energy is very impactful. Removing distractions and focussing on a single deliverable at a time allows us to complete our work faster with fewer defects.

Aligning a team to a common vision and purpose directs their energy towards it. No longer diffused to fulfil a dozen competing demands, effort is channelled to the shared goal. Distractions come in many forms. Fancy tools, cool architecture, requests from different groups. If we do not pay attention to focus, our laser beam team becomes an Edison bulb, it is busy and glowing, but not very effective.

So, be cautious of distractions. Monitor time and energy directed to the project goal compared to energy directed to peripheral activities. Work life is like a greased pole with a 40-watt Edison bulb at the bottom and a 40-watt laser at the top. We must always be striving upwards to focus because as we relax we slide down towards distraction.

(Also visible in the picture is my “Do The Work” Post-it. another reminder to focus and a pointer to work on the same topic by Seth Godin and Stephen Pressfield. I guess I could get a 40-watt laser too, but that would scorch the cat rather than amuse it. Plus yes, it is snowing here and yes, my windows are old)