Lessons Learned

Implementing Change Using Kanban- Part VIII

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Our new board! Actually its a wall!!

The board has moved. While it took longer than I thought it would, it still wasn’t too bad. A lot of people in the company were curious as to how I was going to do it. Some were openly skeptical.

This is what I did.

First I had to make sure the board would fit. I measured the length of the current board against how much wall space I would have at the new location. The old boards are actually longer (cumulatively), but the new wall has more height, so I was able to condense. Also, some of the old columns could be condensed. One was even removed. This gave me enough space.

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I measured the columns or rows with post it notes. (example, one column is 5 post its tall and 8  wide). I adjusted the sizes based upon what I thought would be needed for the new wall. I wrote these on the board to help me remember.

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I clipped the post its together with paperclips or binder clips depending on how many post its were in a column and put them in a bag with the name of the column and a number for the sequence of appearance working right to left. In hindsight, I didn’t need so many plastic bags. I could have made due with just a few gallon bags. A post it note on top of the individual piles indicated where they went.

I also took a few pictures of the old boards to help me remember where things were. This helped putting the board back up.

Total time for takedown- 45 minutes.

Starting right to left, I started drawing out the board. I used the post its to determine column width and row height.

I put up the post its. It was important to have poster putty handy. A lot of the post its have lost their sticky, particularly the older ones. This is actually the part that took the longest when putting them up—adding the poster putty.

Total time for putting up- 2 hours.

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All Done. With the height provided by the wall, I could divide the board up into sections (at the top–“TTU”, “Disconnect”, etc.). Charts showing progress are to the right. A quote from one of our satisfied sites is in the top right corner.

Comments once it was up:

“Its like a giant rainbow! . . . but its SO much!”

“I like how you are organized.”

“Dan, people are noticing all the post its on the left side of the board are disappearing.”

“Did Kris (our director) REALLY say you could have the whole wall?” Yes, he did.

One of the remote team members saw a picture of the new space. “What are all those notes doing on the far wall?”

“We’re putting you on another project, but you don’t get any more wall space.” (said in jest, but at the same time I think they were serious also).

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This is the view of the IT production department right outside the director’s office.

Observations once it was up

The board got a lot of stares. I used to be tucked away in a corner, but now the whole IT department is on one floor now and in a big open space. Some had never seen it before, others had seen it, but now it was in their face in a big way (see above). I was glad the board was getting the attention it needs, but at the same time, it also became a target. A couple of people thought I was taking up too much room and taking up white board space (the whole wall is a white board). One manager asked me if I could shrink it so her people would have room to write. I asked her team if they wanted more room, but they said no and thought the board was fine.

I saw people clustering together and looking at the board. I knew they were talking about it. Negative? Positive? I don’t know. I admit for a day or two I was a little paranoid that someone was going to make me remove it or condense it.

The team using the board is now in the same area. Its easier to get to and they can clearly see what needs to be done. There is more interaction with the board.

Challenges

I felt bad that it was taking up so much space. I felt like I was being selfish. What would people think? Why should I get a whole wall just for me?

Leadership still does not come to the board. I wish they would. We always have good conversations when they do.

Links to the rest of this series:
Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V
Part VI
Part VII
Part VIII

Implementing Change Using Kanban- Part VII

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The latest version of our board. Tip-use dry erase markers. Our board changes regularly as we evolve our processes or try to accommodate management demand.

Here is the latest observations, challenges, lessons learned, triumphs, etc. of the Kanban board experiment in my current project.

Recent Comments

“I love the post-it notes.” ~A visitor for one of the other teams.

“It’s so pretty!” An interviewee for another team.

“Hey, whatever works.” ~ Our newest project manager (this is a common comment and bothers me for some reason).

“Its actually pretty ingenious.” ~ Our IT director to our visiting global PMO (who were visibly skeptical of the board). This is the first positive comment to come from him about the boards. I love it!

“And here we are investing in tools.” Global PMO member.

“Are we trying to save money?” Global PMO member.

“I have to tell our leadership that the greatest risk to the project is wind.” ~ Our IT director referring to the post-it notes.

Observations

  • Bottlenecks become more apparent when the time frame is shortened and the work load increases. Ex. I’m the main one updating the board. If others could do it when they complete their work, that would mean I wouldn’t have to do it all the time. At the same time, if I don’t do it, we lose insight into what is happening on the project.
  • The boards take up a lot of space (and is actually growing). What if every project used a board like this? Would we have any wall space left? Would we be fighting for wall space?
  • As numbers/WIP increased and the pressure to hurry up and finish increased, it became more apparent how much time it takes creating post-it notes. The short-term thinking side of me wanted to stop doing it and just get on with the work, but I reminded myself how the initial time spent creating them paid off in the long term. I was surprised at what feels like my ‘instinct’ telling me not to use the board.
  • A pretty big negative for the board is stats gathering. It takes me up to 2 hours gathering the info from the post-it notes and putting it in a spreadsheet for reporting.

Lessons Learned

  • My supervisor didn’t like our process for shipping and scheduling equipment. He wanted us to change it because he thought it was creating bottlenecks. Our team didn’t like the idea. We thought it complicated matters and created a risk. In the end, everyone decided to try an experiment based on what he wanted. The board was updated and after a few hiccups and adjustments, the new way worked just fine. Lesson Learned—Don’t be too resistant to an outsider’s suggestion for changing your process. They might be on to something and you can always try an experiment to see if it works. If not—just go back to the old way. We are fortunate my supervisor simply did not force us to change our process and allowed the experiment.

Triumphs

  • For a couple of weeks, it appeared I wasn’t going to be able to bring the board to the new location. I had a team member come up and talk about possibilities of where we could put it. And here I was thinking no one cared. That really meant a lot. In the end, it boiled down to the IT director, who is determined to make the project a success. I told him the board was critical to the project’s success. He agreed there would be a spot for it in the new building.

Experiments

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The boards’ first attempts at limiting WIP.

  • I’m attempting to limit WIP (without the team members realizing it). It seems to be working. I’m sure if management knew I was doing it, though, they would get mad.
  • I put up a brief synopsis of what Kanban is near the board. My supervisor read it and it sparked some good conversation. I’m hoping others will read it as well. Perhaps I can alter it so its more readable.
  • I think I need to stop giving logical explanations for using the board. I’m trying to ‘testify’ instead. The idea is to appeal to a person’s heart, not their head. I’m trying to remember to say things like:
    • “Its the best tool I’ve ever used.”
    • “It didn’t make much sense to me when I first saw one.”
    • “It saves my bacon on a daily basis.”
    • “It allows me to sleep at night.” (my favorite)

Challenges

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Post-it notes on top of post-it notes–sign of too much WIP!

  • Because there is so much WIP, we have tons of issues identified on the board (highlighted with blue post-its). There are so many, its now become noise and I need ANOTHER post-it (white) to identify higher priority items we need to discuss as a team. Having no WIP limits suck!
  • Limiting WIP is such a foreign/difficult concept here (though the seeds may have at least been planted). I tried to explain why limiting one of my team mate’s WIP would help her but I was told, “No—just send them all to me.”
  • Global PMO visited our office and saw my board. I was happy to see our IT director talk it up (see his comment above). I gave a brief explanation of how the board worked. There seemed to be some skepticism (their comments are above). Its kind of odd to me that a PMO group doesn’t recognize a Kanban board.

Opportunities

  • Another project manager asked me about the board. He said he’s struggling with the organization of his project and needs something. I let him borrow my Kanban book and Stop Starting, Start Finishing. He quickly discovered Kanban was being used elsewhere (one of his team members said they used one at Hyundai). I’ve seen him walking around with the Kanban book and he said he wants to sit down and talk with me about it. One of his teammates has been wanting to try Kanban for some time. He even took my class. This gives us a champion on the inside.

Wishes

  • I really wished our partner could see and use the board. I think it would help them tremendously (which would help us). They seem to be so overwhelmed. I know they are in spreadsheet hell. I’ve been thinking about looking into Lean Kit (though I am skeptical of electronic Kanban boards over physical ones).  It may be too late to use it for this project, but perhaps we could use it on the next one???

Links to the rest of this series:
Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V
Part VI
Part VII

Implementing Change Using Kanban- Part VI

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Our board. Note the graphs to the left indicating trends. I’ll post about those soon.

Here are some recent goings-ons with the Kanban board.

I’ve told this to others in my organization and I’ll continue to say it, this board is central to the project’s organization and understanding. It saves my bacon daily–simply because I know what the heck is going on. I highly recommend one.

Just to remind my readers—my organization does not embrace Kanban, Agile, or any type of improvement methodology or philosophy. This series documents the challenges, failures, and triumphs of trying something different.

  • There are many who still just don’t get it. I still get teased:
    • “Watch out! Don’t knock off any post-it notes!” as a group of people walk by.
    • “What if someone just comes along and . . .”  Person moves post-it note to elsewhere on the board (actually, I can figure out where its supposed to go just by looking at it).
    • “What if there is a fire?” often said with a smirk. (“Everyone grab a post-it note!”
    • Of these comments, I know some of its just good ribbing and some its genuine disbelief. Regardless, this is something I’ve learned just comes with the territory. For the most part, I feel people have come to respect what I do even if they don’t quite get it.
  • The series was featured on the Deming Institute! One of my team members, who had lived in Japan, immediately understood the significance of this. “Everyone has GOT to know about this!” he said. This is about as far as the excitement went, though. I told my supervisor, and he seemed to think it was cool, but didn’t say much about it. When I told our PMO lead, he asked, “Whose Deming?” After I explained, another colleague laughed and said, “It sounds like a cult.” This sucked some of the wind out of my sails.
  • Team members are starting to interact with the board after some encouragement. I’ll be at my desk and here the pop and soft rattle of a post-it note moving on the board from behind me. Its a good sound—the board removes me as a bottle neck. The board is showing the team what needs to be worked on without me telling them!
  • One of our team members, a former navy man, compared the board to boards they use in the navy to monitor ships that are all over the world. He said he likes the board.
  • I’ve said this before and will say it again—it would be better if all those who use the board were right next to it. Those who are at my location work in another room. They have to get up, walk out of their room, down a hall, and in to my area to see what is going on. Up to a hundred feet. I can understand why they might think the board is a pain. I also think this causes the board not to always get updated like it should.
  • Related– it would be better if all our remote partners could see it. I believe one of our partners suffer from cumbersome internal processes and systems and I think our board could give them some clarity. There are things I regularly see that I have to keep bringing to their attention, but if they could see it themselves, they wouldn’t need me to point it out. Ideally, the board would be electronic so all remote team members can see it, but also retain its current size so those in its presence can read it and discuss it.
  • We’ve had new people come on board to help me with the project. I asked them to use the board. There was some resistance to it, including from their manager, at first. This company is used to working in spreadsheets (which I’m seeing more and more of the problems of). One member openly said, “I’m not going to use this.” I think she was intimidated by it, but once I told her why it was important to the project and I showed how it worked and told her not to worry about all the nuances, she chilled.
  • One of the new team members seems to really like the idea. I think he may become a champion of convincing others of the board’s merits. I think a board like this would help them with their own work. I’m wondering if he is starting to see this.
  • The new people have been taking the post-it notes back to their desks. I allowed this because they needed the information on the notes to complete their work. The negative– sometimes I’m looking for a site and can’t find it. I’ve started wondering if this was a good idea. I’m worried the post its will get lost. This again drives home the point that it would be better if we were all in the same location.
  • While everyone knows I’m very aware of what is going on with the project, they are not happy with the results they are seeing (the project has been behind schedule since the first week). This make me concerned that people will conclude that a board like this does not help get a better result. My argument—what type of predicament would we be in without it?
  • Its official. We are moving to a new location and there seems to be some disagreement on if there is room for the board. My supervisor and teammate think so, but others have told me there won’t be any room. I wonder sometimes if I am going to be made to conform. I wonder if anyone has any idea how important this board is to understanding a very complex project and how its central to the project’s organization. Of course, if it can be accommodated–all who currently use the board will be in the same location and that would be very, very good. We’ll see what happens!
  • Someone told me that one of the manager’s admired the fact that I did what I believed to be right despite strong pressure not to. He said we needed more people to do that. I believe they were referring to the board.
  • As I study Lean, I’ve come to the conclusion that the board actually duplicates effort which is wasteful. I have to write information from an e-mail or spreadsheet onto the post-it note. This is the downside. The upside, it puts the information in a form where I am able to synthesize it. I am unable to do this when its in its original form. I wonder if there is a way to get both worlds?
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See the column on the far right? That’s how many we have actually completed! Conclusion- we have plenty of starting and not enough finishing. See those blue notes? Those are things we have to revisit. That’s a lot of rework and only adds to the WIP. I’m not certain how to convince others that this is an issue.

  • This company does not believe in (or understand the importance of) limiting work limits and finishing before you start something else. As a result, the board is getting cluttered with tons of post-its and its getting harder to find specific posts its. There has also been times where I have duplicated a note.
  • During my last post on this series, I wished our partner would start sending over smaller batches at more frequent intervals so we could create flow. I was able to convince them to do that. However, we are still not getting the results we want from them. Because I don’t have a clear insight into our partner’s processes, I’m unable to understand where the bottlenecks are and where to help fix them. Management is getting frustrated. We asked the partner to double their batch size, but because still don’t see good results, leadership has insisted they do them all at once. So much for the concept of flow. . .
  • Because management has asked for everything to be released at once, I predict our board is going to get very crowded and our WIP is going to explode. I wonder sometimes if the board will be any of any use at that point. I might be spending all my time just updating it and that’s not going to help us get any work done. That could just be the fear talking, though. Who knows?

What I wish for

  • I wish management would visit our area more often to understand what is going on and help us solve our issues. The board (and all the charts I display) is just as much for them as it is for our people. They don’t come by, though, and we usually only talk during reporting meetings (which often results in their frustration). Without management being able to ‘see’ what is happening they have to revert to my interpretations. They aren’t getting the results, though, and as discussed, they are very much getting more and more frustrated.
  • I wish there was some way (technologically) for everyone involved in the project to see this board without us losing its size and “physicallness” it currently has. Even if I were to create this board in OneNote (which would be a large undertaking) so everyone could see it, I’m not certain everyone would use it and I would lose the benefits its currently giving the project. This is a risk I’m not willing to take.
  • I wished people at my company would read my blog. Maybe I’ll get ballsy and send my blog to our IT director. Hmmm . . .

Links to the rest of this series:
Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V
Part VI

Making Promises We Can’t Keep

promisesAt my last company, our team was  behind in our work (we had been since I first arrived there). What was left was overwhelming and would require an enormous effort, sacrifice, and possibly working ourselves to the point of exhaustion to get it completed (people were already getting sick or leaving the team).

I told one of the managers we needed to reduce our scope. The reply was the scope had always been what it was and would not change. When I protested, I was told quite flatly– “We promised our customer this and we honor our commitments here.”

This stung. It made me feel like if we didn’t follow through, we would be dishonored by breaking a promise and lose the trust of our customer.

But wait one damn moment.

“Hold on,” I said. “I didn’t promise this and neither did the team, our executives did. Our team was not consulted on if they would be able to do deliver all of this in the time allocated.”

I was told if I didn’t like it I could talk to the execs about it.

For the rest of my time at the company, I’d hear off and on about execs making promises or commitments to our customer and then hear about those expected to deliver being unable to make good on the promise. The execs couldn’t understand why we were always behind or why the quality was poor. “We’re going to lose our contract!” they would say.

So they came down on us. We were told to work harder and were often made to feel like pussies if we couldn’t keep up. I remember one exec prowling the room, looking intimidating, and criticizing us for having the audacity to laugh during a critical time. Fingers were quick to point. Overtime became common (though we remained behind). Burnout, frustration, and people quitting often followed.

One project manager told me this was just our lot in life. The execs promise and we have to figure out how to produce. Really? Does this really have to be the way it works?

This happens not just with our own companies but also our partners and suppliers. I recently had our director tell me that because one of our suppliers is unable to keep up with our demand like they had promised, we would go with a different supplier. I asked how we would know if this new supplier would keep up with the demand? He said they would if we gave them the proper incentive. I replied, didn’t we offer the same incentive to the current supplier? How do we know we won’t just get the same result or perhaps something worse?

 

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American mythos on accepting a challenge. Is something wrong with you if you don’t accept? Many would say yes. Are they right? Is this mentality one reason we continue to fail and destroy trust?

So why are we making promises we can’t keep? I can think of a variety of reasons. Some will make all kinds of promises if offered enough money or incentives (is this a form of prostitution?). Also, its part of our mythos–Americans simply don’t back down from a challenge. We just roll up our sleeves and get to work no matter how big the obstacle. Perhaps the decision makers are just ignorant or overconfident in what their organization is possible of producing. Its also possible the folks making the promise have the skill, knowledge, and wherewithal to do it themselves, but forget they are surrounded by mere mortals or forget they haven’t given their people the resources or skills or knowledge to complete the task. Much of it could be fear related–we don’t want to look like pussies in front of our superiors or peers or we are afraid of losing business or losing our jobs by saying no. Perhaps its a combination of all or any of the above. Regardless, this greed, arrogance, bravado, ignorance, fear, and lack of candor is destroying our trust with both our employees and our customers. Something must be done.

But what?

Two things–data and character.

We must be keenly aware of our capabilities. What does the data say? Have we done something like this before? How did we do? What does our current quality look like? What are our lead times? What rate of quantity can we produce? What is our defect total? Is it reducing? Are we making every effort to reduce variation? Are we committed to improvement and do we make good on that promise? What does the team who will be performing the work think? Have they been given the opportunity to speak candidly on their ability to produce? We have to ask this of ourselves but also of our partners and suppliers as well.

 

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Be like Nancy!

Once we know this, we can better evaluate our customer’s needs and rely on our character to give a solid yes or no. Only the wise and honest will know when to say yes. It will also require courage when its time to say no.

If we currently don’t have any influence at the management level for these types of decisions, we can at least practice our own ability to say no within our sphere of influence. If you haven’t the capability to make good on a promise, have the courage to say, “NO.” Perhaps you will start a new trend in your organization and begin a much needed revolution.

Following in the Footsteps of Assholes

I’ve been wondering lately if one of our biggest hurdles for improvement are the heroes of American industry. When people become successful, we want to know how they did it, and then we copy.

Here are four men I think most of the world admires and a summary of their management style.

13678_bill_gates_surprised-pngBill Gates— Founder of Microsoft. Wealthiest man in the world. Enough said. Well known for his dictatorial style. The articles I’ve read about him describe him as sarcastic, aggressive, and having a fixation on winning no matter what. He was known to bring his staff to tears. Many would say this is what made Microsoft. Do the ends justify the means and should we emulate his management style to become successful ourselves?

thp83ralslSteve Jobs –No one can deny his vision. He had an uncanny ability to predict the future. At the same time, he was described as arrogant, controlling, and mean-spirited. People who didn’t impress him were called “bozos.” Mark Graban, who I greatly admire, also questioned Steve Job’s leadership style. I work with a lot of tech heads and to them, Jobs is like a god. Should we emulate him?

muskElon Musk– It seems this guy is always in the headlines. He possesses tremendous self confidence and is absolutely unrelenting in pursuit of his vision. One employee said she would follow “him into the gates of hell carrying suntan oil.” At the same time, Musk is infamous for breaking an employee. One of his staff said Musk is “best compared to a master who berates and smacks his dog for not being able to read his mind.” The articles I read suggest he bleeds some really good employees who just can’t keep up with him. Of course, there are some who say this is what makes working with Musk so great. They say he brings out the best in them. Is Musk doing something right and should we look to him as a model?

jeff-bezosJeff Benzos– He’s know for his straight talk: “Are you lazy or just incompetent?” We hear of his infamous e-mails with the subject line “?” and how it elicits waves of panic and instant action. It seems instilling fear gets him the results he wants. At the same time, Benzos is on another level in the intelligence department. A former vice president, said that Bezos’ criticisms tend to be right – even when he has no real knowledge of the field. Should all our leaders be like Benzos?

When you look at it collectively, there seems a strong argument that these management styles are the way to go in order to achieve success. The proof is in the pudding, right?

I’ve worked with some brilliant, super-driven people (though perhaps not at the level of the above four). Management put the company in, what they believed, was their capable hands.

Is this the recipe for success?

Here are my observations from working with these managers:

  • No one could keep up with them. They could outsmart and outwork anyone under the table.
  • They always believed they were right. Always.
  • These managers were resentful that everyone wasn’t as smart or as committed as they were and as a result were abrasive to work with. They were often insulting or degrading and had little tolerance for people who couldn’t do the same thing they could.
  • Their personalities created high turn over. People got physically sick and were often demoralized. People quit or asked to be put on another team. This only annoyed these managers even more. Why couldn’t they get good people or why couldn’t people just “get over themselves and just work?” They just couldn’t deal with people and their weaknesses.
  • The product? It suffered. The customer? They suffered. We were always behind schedule and quality was poor. The managers blamed the team members. Some people on the team just stopped caring—i.e. ‘Just tell me what you want and give me my paycheck.’
  • There was so much turnover that new people had to constantly be trained. It put more pressure on these brilliant people to produce and as a result they became more combative and resentful. They were often in charge of training and were irritated when people couldn’t remember everything they had taught them (the method was insert funnel/pour in knowledge approach)
  • I tried to reason with them, trying to get them to understand that they were dealing with mere “mortals.” They didn’t care. To them, the people just had to get better. They didn’t seem to have a strategy on how to accomplish this, though.
  • The Darwinism of the project seemed to be fine with them. If people left—good, they didn’t need to be there anyway. At the same time they were irritated they couldn’t get good people.
BUD/S Hellweek Surf Drills

Should we have a much more rigid selection process in recruiting our employees? The special forces do it.

Before I left one of these teams, I spoke with one of these managers about the regular turnover (I was about to leave as well). She blamed it on the hiring processes. “This is a tough product and you have to get people who can deal with it.” I suggested the people they hired needed to have the tough-mindness of a special forces operator. She agreed with me. Perhaps we were on to something. A rigid selection process such as what they use in the special forces ensures only a certain type of person becomes one. Perhaps we should copy? At the same time, though, these projects in themselves weren’t really that difficult. It had become difficult based upon the decisions in leadership. Besides, it seems everyone thinks their company or project is special and requires special people. Not every company in the world can expect to get special-forces quality people.

Jobs or a Gates or a Musk or a Benzos probably represent .001% of our population. The majority of us are simply unable to do what they can. I know many would fault me for saying this, after all we live in a country where we are all taught and expected to be exceptional. Here’s the fact– most people are just average. I know we all think of ourselves and the people we hire as above average, but if everyone is above average, then no one is.

All this reminds me of how Deming pointed out how managers seem to be able to manage just about anything except people. I think this definitely applies here. We simply must learn to better manage and lead ordinary, fallible, and imperfect people and get the best out of them. What if these brilliant men were able to do that? How much more successful would they be? Many would argue they ARE getting the best out of these ordinary people. And they are doing it with their type of style of leadership. After all, the proof is in the pudding.

Are they right?

My Journey to Understanding Variation- Part II

processUnderstanding variation has not been easy for me. I think many have the same issues and its why one doesn’t see many people talking about it. During my last post, I talked about my first reactions to it, but committing myself to it because Dr. Deming said it was important.

I knew I needed to learn it, but boy, I was nervous about it. All those math equations were hurting my head just thinking about it. But I wanted to figure it out.

At this time, I was having a really rough go at work. We were all struggling: exhaustion, inability to innovate, frustration, low or poor quality, slow delivery times. No one seemed to know what to do about it. There was resistance to the Agile movement. Some thought it should be done away with.

My supervisor implored us to be change agents and recommended we find hard data to help management understand what was going on and to help them understand how we can change. Learning variation seemed like a good place to start.

I found an article about Deming and Six Sigma (I highly recommend the read). The book Understanding Variation by Donald Wheeler was suggested for someone trying to learn variation.

It was a pretty easy read and I thought I had a pretty good grasp on variation after I completed it. When I finished, the time had come to start plotting some points on a control chart. But what to measure?

This was one of the most puzzling parts for me in the beginning. Measure what exactly? A team member who had six sigma experience said it would be difficult to measure anything at the company. Others told me it was possible, but even they said they weren’t exactly sure what to do (they were pretty new to Six Sigma and still learning as well).

We were using Scrum as our methodology (well, a . . . um . . . version of it anyway). I never saw hard numbers coming out of it, though. The only thing I saw was velocity. Perhaps this was the best candidate. I often bemoaned how erratic our velocity was and that it wasn’t even close to consistent. I thought perhaps a control chart would help show how unstable it really was and help us understand what to do next.

I found a free template on line for Excel and got my numbers ready.

This was our velocity for six sprints:

Sprint 1: 52
Sprint 2: 35
Sprint 3: 72
Sprint 4: 65
Sprint 5: 60
Sprint 6: 39

This is what it looked like after plotting:

behavior-chart

This graph indicates a system in statistical control with a variation between about 5 and 100. In more simple terms, it meant our team could predictably produce a velocity between 5 and 100 points and be considered stable.

To say the least, I was not happy.

“You mean its ok for our velocity to be between 5 and 100???? That’s not acceptable!! How is this supposed to help us improve? This shows me nothing!”

I quickly closed the control chart, wondering if I was wasting my time and Deming didn’t know what he was talking about. After I calmed down a little, I started thinking that velocity didn’t work with control charts or perhaps we were just doing velocity wrong. In hindsight, perhaps I should have spoken to one of our employees who had a six sigma belt and she could have explained it.

Overall, I was a little disillusioned and disappointed.

But something told me I just wasn’t understanding this just yet and I needed to be patient.

It turns out, Deming fully expected the situation like mine. He said “the transformation” was discontinuous. The individual will learn a little here, learn a little there, and start making connections. In other words, it doesn’t happen all at once. I didn’t know he said this at the time, though, and if I didn’t have faith in Deming, I probably would have abandoned the idea right there.

I can certainly understand why some would decide not to continue with understanding variation. Our western minds are geared for results NOW and we don’t want to wait around for something to make sense. Time is too short and precious for us. We’d rather move on and looking for lower hanging fruit. Deming warned of this type of short-term thinking.

The next post in this series—the light bulbs start coming on.

Implementing Change Using Kanban- Part V

The previous post in this series is here.

Here’s some of the latest events with our experiment with the Kanban board. I think what amazes me the most is how it continues to evolve–in how it looks, how we use it, and how we are starting to view our work.

  • I added another board to the left of the original. I call this board “Provisioning.” This represents all the sites that are in progress with our partner. There are no process columns. Its because I don’t have a clear understanding of their process. However, I know what sites they have, and I started writing a post-it note for each. It became time consuming to write each and once its on the board, I have a hard time finding it again because there are so many. I decided I would just make the post-it when the partner sent the site. If something needed to be addressed before it was sent over, I would create the post-it and label it with the block or action item. I must say, though, having so many post-its on the board gives us a better visual of how many sites are coming over and the enormity of the work involved.

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    This is a new board–it represents the work we are waiting for from our partner. In hindsight, I’m not so sure we really needed it. We just need to know how many the partner has and if there are any areas that need our attention (i.e. items that are blocked or needs some sort of action).

  • I also added another wall for our clean up. I didn’t create a white wall for this one. I just use pins and the post its and move them over column by column (there are only three). This represents disconnecting the old circuits portion of the project. Once these are completed, the site is considered done. What disturbs me, and I have been pointing this out to our team, is that there are only about 6 sites absolutely done. Why aren’t we finishing? I believe the problem is because of the emphasis on getting the sites to the TTU portion of the project. Once that is done, the interest in the site begins to wane. Management wants us to put our effort into completing more TTUs. As a result, the sites are stacking and not finishing the whole process. I believe the board is highlighting this problem and management is beginning to see the issue. They are giving us another resource to help us finish these up.
  • I believe the importance of working upstream vs. downstream has dawned on us. (is this pull vs. push?) When we work, we read the boards from right to left. I believe this is helping us understand the concept of finishing what we have started. I believe this is a big jump for us. I have spoken to my manager about this concept and he agrees that it is the smartest way to work. That is a relief.
  • Bottlenecks are much more apparent. I really hate seeing them. For one, I quickly run out of space in my columns. See below.

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    See the two long columns of green and yellow? This is a result of working in large batches. The greens will sit there for several days before work begins on them. If I get any more that need to go into this column, the post its are going to get piled on top of each other (which has actually already started). These areas are called “queues.” These items are waiting for us to have time to work on them

  • Bottlenecks are exacerbated because we are working in large batches. Our partner is working in batches of 25. We get nothing then all of the sudden we get a whole lot. One of my team mates is following a similar pattern. He started setting one time a day in the week to work on all the sites that have been sent to him. I understand why he is doing it. He has conflicting priorities, and if he can schedule a couple of hours where he isn’t disturbed he can get it done. The problem is the sites are sitting there anywhere from a day up to a week and it increases lag time. We’ve been talking about batches lately and the trouble of working with large ones. I even showed my manager the concept of single-piece flow. At first he was skeptical, but I think he began to see its merits.

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    Notice how items are piling up in columns–the result of working in large batches. These items come in all at once and then wait. There is also an emphasis on a certain point on the board to be completed. As a result the items to the right of that point are not getting completed. See how all the post-its are clogging on the right hand side of the board? We have a lot of starting and not enough finishing.

  • We are starting to talk about the concept of flow vs. large chunks come through and how it would be better if items were coming over more frequently but in smaller batches. We aren’t sure exactly how to make it happen. My feeling is we will have to change how our partner does their work.
  • Some of the best conversations I’ve had with my supervisor and the head of the IT department is when we are at the board. I can explain and show things to them. It also helps that I keep charts and statistical data nearby so they can se the data. I think they appreciate the transparency.
  • I did a training on Kanban boards. One manager experimented with it some, but so far no one has started using one. I’m told I’m still an inspiration to them though and they love coming into my area. I wish I could help more. I think I just need to work with them more often. Its tough because all our time is limited.
  • I’ve gotten more concrete with our additional post-its. Blue is for action items. Pink is for blocks. Blocks mean the item can not move forward. Blue means the item can move, but there is something we need to do with it. Also, I put the date in the bottom right, the company owner in the bottom center, and the site the problem is associated with in the bottom left. Admittedly, it can get tiring doing this, but it really helps us keep track of so many things we need to work on and the visual lets us see any patterns where these items are becoming a problem. For instance, we see a lot of blue after our TTU. This is because that many issues are encountered during TTU that we have to address. Its made us think more about putting the quality in the first time around and trying to be more proactive instead of fixing it afterward.
  • I use the post-its to hold data (usually in the form of dates) which I then transfer to excel and create graphs. The charts that seem to matter the most to management is the burndown and the run chart showing rate of circuit completions per week (which needs to be at 15 a week in order to meet our target deadline). I keep up-to-date charts near the board so everyone can see it. I believe the charts reinforces the idea that my project management philosophy doesn’t end at colorful post-it notes on a white board—I have a lot of hard data.
  • I’m still getting mixed reactions from different people on the boards themselves. Folks who have never seen them before will often snap their heads with a double take when they enter the room. Sometimes I find people just staring at them.  I did have someone say I had made a mess creating them. Others have told me they think they are really cool. An agile coach told me to talk them up. I’ve been doing that.
  • There is still talk of moving to another location. I’d be fine packing the boards up. It would be pretty easy actually. My concern is having wall space near my future work area. I hope I will be accommodated.

Things I wish we could change to make it better:

  • Have our partner work in smaller and more frequent batches. I think this would even out our overall workload and create flow.
  • Have my supervisor and our IT head see the boards more often. We usually have some good conversations when they come over. I can tell they “get it” and they are getting used to looking at the boards to help them understand what is going on (even if they still don’t understand the nuances).
  • I wish all those who work with the Kanban board were near it. I think it would make it easier for them to identify what needs to be worked on.

Links to the rest of this series:
Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V

My Journey to Understanding Variation- Part I

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I know for a lot of folks, this quote doesn’t make much sense. Truth be told, it didn’t make much sense to me either until just recently. I am now just beginning to understand how profound it is.

Of the four principals of Deming’s System of Profound Knowledge, Understanding Variation has been the most difficult for me to learn, despite studying it the most. I don’t think I’m alone in this. Deming Disciples often bemoan the fact that the companies they consult for don’t use control charts. Joseph Juran lamented how the Hawthrone plant, the cradle of the quality revolution and here he and Deming learned about quality control, had stopped using control charts. I can’t help but think the reason for this is because its such a darn hard thing to understand!

I thought I would record my own journey of trying to understand variation. I’m hoping it will help me sort out my own thoughts, but also help others to understand as well.

When I first heard about how variation could help with management, I had a pretty negative reaction. These are the thoughts that went through my head:

  1. mathJust looking at the charts causes a phobia I have had since my school days. I failed algebra three times. In middle and high school, I had to keep taking basic skills math classes every year because I was so poor in the advanced classes. Math makes me feel very, very, very dumb.
  2. In my experience, only basic mathematics is ever needed in real life. Fancy equations and charts are for engineers trying to design the space shuttle.
  3. People are not sets of data. What do you think we are, robots pumping out numbers? This stuff dehumanizes us. Dr. Deming–you are a mathematical egghead who doesn’t get people.
  4. This stuff is going to take a long time to learn and time is not something I have a lot of. I need results now. I’ll go look for something else.
  5. It doesn’t seem obvious to me how plots on a graph is in anyway going to help me do my job better. At first gloss, this looks like a waste of my time.
  6. From what I have heard and read so far, it doesn’t make much sense. There is a lot of jargon I don’t understand. Its confusing.
  7. It seems like a lot of work for nothing.

Am I alone in these thoughts and feelings?

So, why did I continue?

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  1. I trust Deming. He has a track record of great success. His other advice seems to be spot on. Why not take him up on what he believes is the most important element of all?
  2. I know from past experiences that at first things may not make sense to me, but after awhile it begins to click and I have a lot of ‘oh-my-god’ moments.
  3. I’ve heard from others that at first this stuff didn’t make sense to them either. Perhaps the same thing will happen to me.

During my next post, I will talk about my first experience with control charts. It didn’t go too well.

 

Implementing Change Using Kanban- Part IV

Here’s some latest happenings on my wall charts. The last post is here.

  • The head of our IT department came by my cubicle the other week. My boards attract his attention whenever he’s in the area. We started discussing what was going on with the project. He could see from the board that sites were starting to move through the process which made him glad. He could plainly see the blocks. He was able to help me get rid of six. He seemed a little perturbed we hadn’t figured out how to get rid of them ourselves, though. He then looked at the burn down chart next to the board, pointed at the WIP which was still way above the sloping diagonal line and said he wanted the WIP on the line the next time I gave my report. That was unnerving. All I could say was I wanted it on the line too. Maybe he isn’t pleased how things are progressing, but I hope he appreciates the transparency I am trying to show. Its something he once said he wanted from the project managers. I actually wished he would come by more often so we could have more discussions. At the same time, if he did, I can’t help wonder if he will only blame me for not getting more work done.
  • My other team member gave input on how the board could be better changed– showing the sites that have been queued the longest from top to bottom. He also has becoming by more frequently to look what needs to be done. I wish he sat closer to me so he could have more easy access to it. I think it would help. The problem is, my project is just one of three or four others he has to work on and my supervisor who sits in the next room over, prefers my team member to be closer to him, also, I don’t sit with the rest of my department (which is sort of good, because there is no wall space there).

 

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My teammate’s contribution to improving the board. He wanted to identify how long our sites had been in provisioning.  Note the burn down to the left.

 

  • One day, this same team member came by to look at the board. I heard one of the other employees chiding him about getting into the whole post-it note thing. My team member replied that the board actually had its merits.
  • I had someone ask me how to make a Kanban board so they could use it for their own purposes.  I had to cram what I could in a 30 minute session because his time was limited. He’s used similar boards in the past but hadn’t thought of putting in ‘Done’ columns. I also explained to him the importance of limiting WIP but I’m not certain he understood. Since I went over with him how to make the board (a few weeks now), I’ve seen his board still lying on the ground next to his cubicle. He said he’s been busy. Whenever he comes by he still marvels at my board. Wish I could do more to help him.
  • This same person I helped said that one of these board would help one of the other teams. I had the same thought because what they do is similar to what I do. I know their manager has seen my boards, but she is one of the folks who doesn’t understand why I just don’t use a spreadsheet. Her team would have to want a board like this, and they haven’t shown much interest, and I’m not certain how supportive she would be.
  • There’s some talk of moving the department and there is a concern there won’t be any wall space for my board. I’m not sure what I’ll do in that situation. I could go electronic, but the board will lose a lot if its power if I do that. Its size and location is much of its strength. It will be more difficult to have conversations about it if its tucked away on my computer. It will also make it more difficult to read. Of course, since I’ve been here, there has been talk of moving and it hasn’t happened.
  • I had another project manager come by to view my boards. She really liked them and I could see the wheels turning on how she could create her own. It reinforces the idea that I need to make time to teach how these work. This same project manager said my ideas would find more acceptance and traction in her department than in mine. Maybe.
  • The board is getting more and more crowded with work. Its starting to look like a parking lot. My company does not understand or appreciate the concept of limiting WIP or flow. I’m thinking of ways to rearrange the board that will highlight where items are queuing. My concern is this will only cause people to get upset that we aren’t doing our work. We’ll see. Perhaps it will start more conversations about how having too much WIP is slowing us down.

The next post in this series is here.

Links to the rest of this series:
Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V

Implementing Change Using Kanban- Part III

For those who know me, you know I like boards. Some know I’ve used Kanban boards. Here’s my latest.

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As cool as this one is, the board is actually not a true Kanban board. In order for it to be, we would have to be limiting our work in progress (WIP). This is actually one of the reasons why I struggled with moving to a Kanban board–because I couldn’t figure out how to limit the WIP.

Why couldn’t I limit the WIP? My company takes the traditional approach that the best results are achieved if everyone is at capacity and believes push is more effective than pull. Also, we rely on a partner who have their own methodology for completion. That’s a battle we’ll have to fight another day. Hopefully the board will help highlight the problems of this strategy and one day it can grow up to be a real Kanban board and the company will benefit from it.

One of the benefits Anderson touts about Kanban boards is that they create change by showing the flaws in a system and sparking conversation. Admittedly, I’m a little disappointed this hasn’t happened. Folks haven’t said a whole lot about it (where as the old boards did). Perhaps this is because, to them, it’s just a dry erase board with some post-its, which is rather common place. Or they have just gotten used to me making boards all the time and figure this is just another one of the odd things I do to stay organized. A friend of mine pointed out the board might get more attention if I was more centrally located (I’m kind of tucked away in a corner).

Despite the board not catching on like I’d like yet, it’s still the best tool I have. It’s helped us become better organized, helped highlight troubled areas and streamline our processes, and it continues to keep us hyper aware. Also, personally, the board has helped me understand the concept of push vs. pull and has certainly made me think more about the problem with queues. Also, a couple of project managers in the development department have asked me to do a training session on Kanban. Maybe it won’t catch on in my area but perhaps it will in others.

The board is fairly new and the project is just getting off the ground. There is still plenty of time for it to generate discussion and evolve. I’ll be posting from time to time on how this is going.

I’m ending this post with a couple of close-up shots of the board and stickies.

It’s evolved over time. Glad its dry erase!

Each site gets two post it-colors. One for circuits and one for equipment. These are going on in tandem so go to different areas of the board. Dates indicate when equipment is sent or a circuit installed. Big black checkmark indicates it actually happened. The smiley face means we received an IP from the internet provider.

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Blocks are pink, describe what the problem is, and gives a date on when it became an issue.

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Here’s an example of how the board highlights potential bottle necks. This area got filled really quick one morning. Our tech lead is responsible for completing these. My supervisor saw this cluster and when I explained what it was, he gave kind of a sheepish grin and said, “Oh, I guess I shouldn’t have asked him (the tech lead) to go take care of something at the other building then.”

Fortunately, it was quickly relieved and perhaps the board helped highlight this issue, but this shows the problem of a push vs pull mentality and not understanding limiting WIP.

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The next post of this series is here.

Links to the rest of this series:
Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V