Agile

BOOK REVIEW: Leading with Questions

Leading With QuestionsDAN’S SCORE: Stars 4
Leading with Questions: How Leaders Find the Right Solutions by Knowing What to Ask
by Michael J. Marquardt


I’ve been racking my head on what I can do to better influence people. It is no easy feat. The last book I reviewed focused on changes I can make in myself, this one focuses on how to change others. This book was recommended to me by Jerry Bussell, who founded the Jacksonville Lean Consortium. Glad to have Jerry and his expertise around and I look forward to working with him.

Overall, the book generated some thought and gave me some ideas to try, but this is really a book that should be studied and read several times. It has a lot of depth. Learning to ask questions and then ask the right one is an art form and is going to take a lot of practice.

My takeaways:

  • We are taught not to ask questions in our society. Its considered rude, threatening (like an interrogation), or just annoying. We’re going to have to break this paradigm. I’m not too thrilled about having to break yet another paradigm, but this might be something people may be more willing to change or try than adopting the Deming philosophy. Its also something I can do for myself right now.
  • The first few chapters seemed to be more about convincing the reader that asking questions was a good thing to do. Honestly, I got a little tired of hearing about it.
  • Good quote- “People don’t resist change as much as they resist being changed.”
  • The author suggests this to create a questioning culture
    • Start with the top. Top leaders must start the questioning process. (Every improvement strategy starts this way. A little irritating. I mean, really, do we honestly believe our execs are reading these books??).
    • Create an environment that gets people to challenge the status quo.
    • Connect the values of the company to questions
    • Build questions into every business activities (including your customers and partners).
    • Reward and appreciate questioners and tolerate failures and mistakes.
    • Provide training for people to ask better questions.
  • People are used to the leaders telling them what to do. This makes people dependent. When you start this type of managing style, people will probably become confused. Traditionally, the leaders role is to provide information and have all the answers. If the leader uses a questioning style, people may feel abandoned, or is trying to catch them on something. Its suggested that leaders be honest in what they are doing—tell your people you are trying something different. Its also suggested you gradually introduce doing it so its not so abrupt.
  • I’d add that managers who ask their people questions could be viewed as weak or incompetent. Many people like their leaders to be smart and decisive, otherwise, they become afraid. They want a hero.
  • Leaders and mangers themselves are used to telling people what to do. They see this as a source of power. Leaders see themselves as being right. Its what made them successful. Its difficult for them to say, “I don’t know.” Also, they may not like the answers they get. Ask these leaders to change their ways, don’t tell them to do it. Lead by example. Ask them these questions:
  • “Would you like people to solve their own problems rather than come to you?”
  • “How do you feel when I ask you questions?”
  • “Why do you think leading with questions makes you uncomfortable?”
  • Give people time to think after you ask the question.
  • A team can get stuck. Traditionally, the members wait for the leader to analyze the problem and propose a solution. Team members hold back and wait for the leader to accept responsibility. The wise leader will not fall into this trap. Ask questions. Get them to figure it out and take responsibility. When a team is confused, it is ripe for new possibilities. Teams must learn to share responsibility. They need to share ideas and problems. Asking questions gets us there.
  • Better to ask open ended questions rather than close ended questions (though close-ended questions have their place).
  • Good questions: “If you were me, what would you do?”
  • Things seem to be repeated in the book—same stories. A couple of times I wondered if I had accidently restarted a chapter.
  • How to become a leader who asks questions:
    • Start by becoming more aware of the questions you currently ask and the types of questions people ask of you.
    • Try this- pick an hour and force yourself not to ask questions.
    • Ask yourself more questions silently. It will help you construct better questions. “What does this mean? Do I agree or disagree? How could this be helpful? How does this extend or contradict what I already believe to be true?
    • Before asking a question, ask yourself, what do I want my question to accomplish? Encourage collaborative thinking and cannot be perceived as threatening.
    • Encourage others to ask you questions.

I think this is a book I will have to come back to again in the future. Like I said, there’s a lot of depth. This one isn’t necessarily something one can master quickly, but it presents the opportunity to practice regularly–I mean how hard is it to practice asking questions?

The book can be bought here.

It Starts With Us

I don’t practice what I preach. This became a hard reality for me recently. I was reading Mark Graban’s book and he talks about how easy it is to find fault in others and not see what we may be doing wrong.

morpheus-red-blue-pill

WARNING: Studying Deming will haunt you for the rest of your life!

Deming talks about the transformation of the individual. Its really true. I equate it to taking the red pill. Afterwards, I was often angry with others—why didn’t they get it?? It was too easy to climb up on my soap box and start preaching. It wasn’t really getting me anywhere, though. This added to my own frustration. But wait, didn’t Deming talk about the need for understanding Psychology? Wouldn’t I need to understand it in order to change people’s minds? If so, why wasn’t I doing that? Worse, was getting angry and telling people what they should believe increasing their own knowledge and adding to their joy? I wasn’t practicing what I preached!

And what about my own life? I’m out of shape. I don’t eat the greatest. Was I chasing short term pay offs instead of focusing on the long term like I had been preaching? And then there’s my own family. Was I improving their life? Was I teaching my children the importance of collaboration and helping them find pride in their work and showing them how to continuously improve?

I read a book some time ago about how we influence others and I remember taking away from it that my strongest ability to influence was by modeling. People are watching me. Whether its my Kanban board at work or just watching how I interact and treat others. When one chooses to take the red pill, you’ve entered a new world and have a huge responsibility to help others.

Some things I could be doing better:

  1. How’s my constancy of purpose? Do I even have one? Once I identify it, do I even have the willpower to pursue it and achieve it?
  2. I need more energy and focus. In order to do this, I need to eat more healthy and exercise. In order to do it, I’ll need discipline. I need to go out and get some.
  3. If I want to help others improve, I need to learn how to influence them. I need to be studying psychology more.
  4. I need to be reducing variation in my own life. I can do this by building quality in. For example—just maintaining what I already have (oil changes, taking care of my clothes, keeping my house tidy and clean, finding ways to simplify).
  5. Identify when I’m being short-term minded. I’m stunned at how easy it is to fall into this trap.
  6. I need to be conducting my own experiments and PDSA. Currently I’m experimenting with meditation to boost my will power.
  7. Be more humble. I don’t have it all figured out and I never will. There are others out there who have knowledge.
Untitled

So easy to get into this mindset. I need to check it at the door.

Implementing Change Using Kanban- Part IX

Team Kanban

Ultimately, Kanban is about people. Its not about me and my cool board. These are the good folks who helped me with the project and used the board. THANK YOU!

This is the last install for the Kanban board. The project has ended. Lessons learned have been gathered. A new project has begun with its own board.

Recent Comments

  • “Have you seen his board? You have GOT to see his board.” ~ One of our PMs to our visiting PMO managers.
  • “I love coming over here. It inspires me.”~ One of our PMs referring to our board.
  • “You must fear the cleaning crew.”~ One of our PMO managers after seeing the board.
  • “This is one of the most innovative things we are doing here.”~ One of our employees showing the board to visiting students.
  • “I was skeptical about using the board and the post-it notes, but it worked out pretty well.” ~ One of our team members during Lessons Learned.

Observations

  • I’ve gotten better at explaining the board to people. My go to explanations:
    • “It allows me to sleep at night.”
    • “It leverages the concept that the project is a system and this is a visual representation of it.”
    • “It allows me to easily identify bottlenecks and recognize areas of concern.”
    • “It leverages psychology in that human beings are visual creatures and we process visuals or patterns quicker than text.”
  • I suspect people know I’m busy because they can see the board. Another project manager made this same observation recently. People don’t have to ask if I’m busy. They can SEE I’m busy.
  • Board discipline can be difficult—especially when you are getting overwhelmed with so many demands. I have to be careful not to let it get behind.
  • We had a situation where the board and a spreadsheet were not in line. While neither were exactly correct, the board was more accurate. In some ways, this didn’t surprise me, I’ve noticed the board is often more accurate than any spreadsheet. I’ve often said, “the board knows all.”
  • Our process can be extremely complex. I would need an entire room to create “In Progress” and “Done” columns. I’ve had to consolidate some of these.
  • The board seems to have become a part of the IT department. It doesn’t get the skepticism it once did. People have come to accept it for what it is and understand that it works. Its not a fad.
  • All in all, I would guess 10% of the people think the board is cool, 10% don’t like it, and the remainder are somewhere in between.

Lessons Learned

  • Sometimes your work can take a different path than the one you have created on the board. This can be frustrating. This is usually due to variation and complexity built into the overall system. You have to learn to roll with these, get creative, and adjust.
  • ALWAYS include the team. When I finished the project, I took a picture of just me with the board. Wrong move. Maybe I worked on it the most. Maybe I championed it the most. Maybe most people didn’t quite get it. But we all used it. I took a picture of all involved later and posted it on our company Yammer page. I was told they appreciated it. I should have had them help me take down the post-its and the board. Opportunity lost.
  • You never know how your work can influence others. The team that assisted me is now using their own visual management board. I was more than happy to help them come up with something. I must keep doing this.
  • Share the wall. I want the team next to me to enjoy the “easier-to-sleep-at-night” feeling when using a visual management tool. That means I will gladly surrender some of the wall (they get half!). I’ve started using OneNote to track things where I don’t have enough wall space. I just put on the wall what management wants to see.
BAU Wall

The team that helped me has started their own visual management system. I love this picture. To see Patty taking so much joy in her work and knowing it helps her better understand her workload might be the project’s biggest accomplishment. I’ll ALWAYS be there for you guys!

Experiments

One experiment is posting on the company’s Yammer page. I’ve been inviting people to share in the experience of using Lean and Kanban concepts. I’m going to sneak Deming in there as well. I have one follower so far. Heh.

WIP Limits

Toward the end of the project I was getting more into experimenting with WIP limits.

My biggest experiment was limiting WIP. It got to the point late in the project where I was pretty much the only one working on the project, so I didn’t have to struggle convincing people to limit their WIP. I just did it. I also realized there was much I didn’t realize about why it was important limiting WIP. Things I learned:

  • Dependencies is a huge problem. In one instance, I have a WIP limit of two. Its full. However, I’m waiting on a dependency before I can move both of them forward. This is very common.
  • Because I am waiting, my instinct is to take on more. But what happens is I soon have so much in progress I can’t remember what all I was working on and the problems of context switching sets in. It takes discipline to limit WIP. Fortunately I didn’t have any outside pressure to increase it otherwise I would have.
  • When I find myself waiting, I go work on something else—for instance—that 30 minute side project someone asked me to complete two weeks ago—I can go work on that now.
  • WIP can mysteriously increase. For instance, I had a team member tell me something they were working on needed my help. Suddenly, my WIP increased by one. About an hour later, something we thought was fixed wasn’t fixed at all. It came back. My WIP increased again. This is a challenge and I’m still figuring out how to handle this.
  • I’ve been increasing and decreasing WIP limits. Because of the external dependencies, you have to try to find a balance. Because of variation, these can shrink and expand regularly. I don’t think one should ever set their WIP limits in stone (unless their system has little variation).
  • I now understand the importance of limiting WIP. Its really quite simple and what I was told in the first place—it reduces context switching. If you reduce context switching, you get more speed. This is a hard concept for folks to grasp. Even me.
  • The tendency to start something else without finishing another is very strong. Especially when you have a line of people wanting something from you now. The problem is, you are actually making them wait longer by starting them early. It might make them feel better that you have started them, but ultimately, you will frustrate them because they have to wait a long time and they will begin to wonder, “WHY DOES IT TAKE SO LONG?” Best tell them to wait. They will be better off for it. This takes tremendous courage and discipline.
The Last Pic

The board just before I took it down. Post its to the right! All done! Pinks are external dependencies. Those still in progress go to the next project.

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 VIII

20170327_192100

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.

20170322_104637

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.

20170322_134149

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.

20170327_192100

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).

20170324_110418

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

20170301_144514.jpg

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

Limit WIP.png

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

white-post-its

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

BOOK REVIEW: Out of the Crisis

out-of-the-crisis-by-w-edwards-demingDAN’S SCORE: Stars 3.5
Out of the Crisis
by W. Edwards Deming


Agh. I hate giving my hero’s book 3.5 stars, but let me explain.

This is Deming’s first book published on his management philosophy (1982). I understand, of the two books he wrote on the subject (the other being The New Economics), this one is the most difficult to read. My feeling is Dr. Deming wasn’t used to writing toward the management audience (his previous books were geared toward statisticians) and was so darn brilliant he didn’t know how to ‘dumb’ down his message yet.

I was able to understand about 66% of it. However, I got lost when he delved into statistical analysis and when he gave examples from manufacturing. His style is also a little unusual: a mixture of dryness with flashes of absolute brilliance. Still, I can see why many people would just put the book down or not even bother. They would think its too hard or it doesn’t apply to their line of work. It might be a reason why many just don’t get the Deming message.

Don’t get me wrong. I got a lot out of this book and I did enjoy it. Here are some of the big take aways:

The report on Japanese Automotive Stamping was a very interesting read. It was cool to see what the Japanese manufacturer thought was important to their company (cleanliness, obsession with quality control, importance of training, belief that people are their most important asset, visual communication, etc.)

I enjoyed reading about Deming’s thoughts on goals, focusing on specifications vs. reducing variation, what an incoming manager must do (he must learn), how management tries to implement techniques instead of focusing on improving people, the concept of an immediate customer and an ultimate customer, the importance of learning from a master (and not a hack), why a customer may not have valuable feedback on a product until after using it for a long time (for example, an automobile), how some specifications are beyond the capability of a process (I started using this phrase), the importance of finding vendors and partners committed to continuous improvement, his emphasis on training, his warning against learning something solely by reading a book, and how its natural for people in a company to be suspicious of outsiders telling them how to improve their work (yet he stresses the importance of having outside help).

He introduced me to some new quotes from himself and others. One of my favorites was this one: “They will have courage to break with tradition, even to the point of exile among their peers.” I’ve felt this a lot since my Agile ‘conversion.’

Some of his points hurt. It made me realize how far I have to go. For example:

“Today, 19 foremen out of 20 were never on the job they supervise. . . They can not train them nor help them [their staff] as the job is as new to the foreman as it is to his people . . . He does not understand the problem, and could get nothing done about it if he did.” Ouch. I’m one of those foremen.

He bemoans the fact that the educational system is putting out math ignoramuses. I’m sure Deming would think this would apply to me. I’ve always found Math difficult. I actually have a fear of it.

I was surprised to hear him say that teamwork isn’t always the answer for achievement. He said there are some who are fine doing work by themselves, contribute to the organization, and should be supported. With agile being so team oriented, this idea made me think.

Something he said didn’t sound right: “A pupil once taught cannot be reconstructed.” Is he saying that once a person is taught how to do something, they are stuck doing it that way forever? I’m not certain I agree.

One of the things he talks about is how quality control circles must have management involvement and will eventually fail if they don’t. It made me think about retrospectives in scrum. By rule, management is not to come to these. The thought is that the team will not be open with each other if management is there and management will tell the team what they did wrong or fault the team for what they believe needs to be fixed. However during most of the retrospectives I’ve participated in, the team discussed things that were beyond their control and what frustrated them the most—i.e. things only management could fix! I think, ideally, a retrospective SHOULD have management involvement and would greatly benefit the team and the organization. HOWEVER– in order to reach this ideal state, a great deal of trust must exist between manager and employees. Fear must be completely driven out so the team feels comfortable speaking up. Management would also have to have a great deal of humility to listen to the lowly workers. Admittedly, this would have to be a very mature agile model for this to happen, but I think the agile community needs to promote this line of thinking.

Although, I learned a lot, I would not recommend this book for someone who is new to Deming. I’d recommend The Essential Deming, The Deming Dimension, or Fourth Generation Management instead. However, I think this is essential reading for any Deming disciple. Just wait a little while in your understanding before you pick it up.

Out of the Crisis can be bought here.

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.

Personal Kanban: Bringing Focus to Chaos- Part 1

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If you walk into my work space, you are going to see post-its all over the damn place. If you didn’t know what it all meant, you’d probably just think I was just messy, but there is actually a sophisticated system to my madness.

Central to my personal organization is my personal Kanban Board. I began fooling around with this at my old job back in the summer of 2015. Our scrum team had experimented with one. It didn’t stick, but I started thinking I might be able to use it myself. Right away, I fell in love with it.

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My first board. Picture taken with my old phone. Sorry for the poor quality.

By far, this is the best tool I have EVER used for time, priority, and energy management. The benefits blow me away sometimes: it keeps me sharply focused, allows me to understand how much work I have to do and if I’m getting overwhelmed or too far behind, gives me data on my own performance, allows me to understand how much work I can complete on any given day so I can plan better, and gives me the feeling of accomplishment. It also allows me to sleep better because I’ve emptied my head of all the things I need to do by writing them down and keeping them in an organized fashion. Perhaps best of all– it allows me to be creative and as a result, work becomes fun. I always brighten when I see it and it makes coming to work more enjoyable (even on Mondays!!).

Materials:

  • For the board, all you really need is a flat area and something to divide sections off with. I used the front of my cabinet and masking tape for the board at my old job. For my current board, I use poster board (I use two or three so I can expand it in any different directions as need be) and cut up post-its to create the lines.
  • Post-its
  • Thumb tacks (or command strips)
  • Sharpie

The Board Set Up

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At its basic, the board is divided into four areas. Working from left to right:

  • “To Do” (far left): This is everything I need to do. If I need to do something, I write it on a post it note, and place it in this area. The higher it is on the board, the higher the priority.
  • “Today” (the middle): This is the stuff I plan to work on . . . well . . . today. I work from top to bottom, right to left.
  • “WIP” (Work in Progress): The most important area. This is what I’m working on at the moment. I don’t work on anything else outside this box. Notice it has room for only two post-it notes. This makes me limit my work in progress, reduces multi-tasking, and increases focus.
  • “Done” (far right): This is what I have completed for the day.

Extra Areas.

These are areas I have experimented with. I wouldn’t call them necessary, but they have helped me.

  • “Waiting” (bottom): These are items where I have solicited others to help me complete a task and I’m waiting for compliance. For instance– if I sent an e-mail to someone and I’m waiting for a response or I’ve called someone on the phone and left a VM. Lately I’ve taken the rule that if this area fills up, I won’t work on anymore tasks relating to needing someone else to help me complete something. The reason– it increases my overall WIP, i.e. too many things started and not enough finishing. If I don’t get a response from the person after a few days, I put the post-it back in the “To Do” area and start over again.
  • “Help Boxes” (Top): This is my latest experiment. I often have needed conversations for my supervisor, our tech lead, or our partner. I put these on post-its and place them in the appropriate box . When I get the chance to talk to them, I address the box. Often, these conversations turn into action items and go into the “To Do” box afterwards. If it was just something I needed to know, I just toss the post-it.

It works like this

  1. Things I have to do are accumulated over time. These go in the “To Do” box.
  2. Once a day, I pull items out of the “To Do” box into the “Today” box. I’ll discuss how I determine how much I know I can do in another post (hint—it has to do with those numbers in the top right corner).
  3. Starting from the top right and working my way down right to left and top to bottom, I work my way through the day, pulling post-its into the WIP.
  4. When completed, I put them in “Done” or they go into “Waiting.”
  5. By the end of the day, my “To Do” and “WIP” box should be empty. The “Done” box will be full. There may or may not be post-its “Waiting.”
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This is my board at the end of the day. My “”Today” area is empty, my “WIP” is wrapping things up. My “Done” area is full.

Tips

  • The “WIP” box is the most important box. This is your focus. Set a work limit for it. I do this by making the WIP box the same size as my WIP limit. In this case—two post-its sized. Don’t work on anything else until what is in the box is finished. You will decrease multi-tasking and get more work done.
  • Keep the board within arm’s length from where you work. In my case, its right next to my computer. I think I might be less likely to use it if I had to keep getting up to move post-its all the time.
  • Keep post-its and a sharpie close by. Things come up all the time. If I think of something I need to do, I quickly write it on the post-it and pop it on the “To Do” area.
  • Keep poster board putty nearby for when the post-its begin to lose their stickiness.
  • Keep the WIP box near eye level. When I lose my train of thought or am interrupted, the box snaps me back into focus.
  • Make it bright and colorful. Post-its have a World of Colors collection. I like the Rio di Janeiro. It makes the board look more fun and as a result makes work fun. I personally like having a black backboard. It makes the colors pop.
  • In the beginning, you may change your board a lot as you get used to what works for you, so don’t be afraid to try something or fret if your board keeps changing. Heck, I still change mine to accommodate my needs. You should do the same for your board. Its meant to evolve. If it doesn’t, there might be something wrong.
  • You are going to go through a lot of post-it notes (and sharpies). Make a budget for it. Staples has a sale @ October/November when they get rid of all their back to school supplies. You can get some good deals then.
  • Jim Benson is an expert with Personal Kanban, but I’ve yet to read his book. I’ve kind of grown this idea on my own. Jim has been doing this a lot longer than I have and I’ve seen a couple of his presentations. He’s a smart dude. I’m sure I would get some good ideas from reading his book. Its certainly on my list. You may want to check it out.

In my next post, I will talk about how I determine what all I can do in a day.

BOOK REVIEW: The Toyota Way to Service Excellence

the-toyota-way-to-service-excellence-by-liker-and-rossDAN’S SCORE: Stars 4
The Toyota Way to Service Excellence
by Jeff Liker and Karyn Ross


Liker’s first book, The Toyota Way, was a game changer for me. The points he made kept me up at night. Seriously! I recommend it as a go-to book for people learning agile (or even for those who have been at it for awhile!).

When I saw his new book, The Toyota Way to Service Excellence, co-written with Karyn Ross, was about to be released, I knew I had to get it. I was excited to see it was geared toward the service industry, which many say agile concepts don’t fit.

I wasn’t disappointed. The book is full of nuggets that got me thinking. Looking back over my notes, I have tick marks, stars, and the word “interesting” in the margins all over. Here are some of my favorites:

  • This book talks a lot about change management. That in itself was a good reason to get it. Liker explains the difficulties with American vs. Japanese paradigms and why Lean type of management makes sense to the Japanese but is harder for Americans to grasp. Part of this is Mechanistic (Americans) vs Systems (Japanese) thinking. He included  a cool graph showing the differences. He also pointed out that the Japanese are better at organizational learning than Americans (we are better at individual learning).
  • Related, Liker states its been his experience we cannot change a person’s paradigms with logic, facts, motivational speeches, and intense classroom training. Liker said there are too many defense mechanisms for the brain. It takes time and practice and corrective feedback from skilled coaches. In short “you cannot order, buy, or quickly achieve changes in philosophy.” This is exactly the opposite of what American management wants to hear. We want things NOW. This makes it very tough to change a Western-style organization.
  • He shared researcher Geert Hofstede’s website that shows comparisons of world cultures indicating our emphasis on Individualism, Long term orientation, and Risk avoidance. Americans are highly individualistic, think short term, and take risks. The Japanese are collective thinkers, think long term, and are risk adverse. I’ve shared this website with my own company. Because we are international, I thought it might help us understand each other better and how we work.
  • He has a section titled “Changing Senior Management Thinking.” Liker says senior managers get where they are because they are confident, passionate, convincing and believe they are right. This makes a very tough nut to crack, especially when they are stuck in a traditional American/Western mindset. His advice for midlevel professionals on this matter:“Do your best to learn and grow and make your team the best in the business. The worst that will happen is that lower performers will resent you. But in the long term you will win because you are learning and developing your team and will be rewarded at your current or next employer. Taking on the kingdom and attempting to transform the culture of a multinational corporation is self-defeating. Do what you can with what you’ve got. Start by changing yourself and then find ways to positively influence others, one person at a time.” This is similar to what Deming admonished (and yes, Deming was mentioned often in the book. Liker calls him sensei Deming. Heh.).
  • He gives a really good example of PDCA in action and shows how it can be rapidly deployed. It really got me to better understand how PDCA works and I’m looking to see where I can apply it with my own work.
  • He talks about how Toyota carefully chooses and grows its partners. He has a section warning on the risks of outsourcing services. I’d been drawing this conclusion myself because if one does not have a partner that does not share your values and doesn’t embrace continuous improvement, you are in for a lot of pain. I’ve experienced this in my own company.
  • He states the importance of having a coach or mentor. I’ve thought about this a lot. I certainly read a lot and practice on my own, but I think this is where I am really lacking. I’m really not sure where to find one or one who would be willing to mentor me. Maybe I should make more of an effort to find one.

So, why does it get 4 stars instead of 5? Admittedly, some of this stuff just didn’t make sense to me. The book is very nuts and bolts and if it made my head begin to hurt, I skipped the section (the part about A3 particularly made me cross-eyed). Perhaps I’m not ready for some parts yet and need to come back and study it when my understanding matures. Also—the book switches to a narrative/fiction like style to explain a typical Lean transformation at a fictional service industry. While the point was certainly made (and I applaud Liker for trying something different), at times this format came off a little too hokey for me. It started sounding a little too “rainbows and unicorns.” I’d like to have seen these dialed back a little.

Despite this being an excellent book, I think it may be a little too advanced for the beginner. Liker references Toyota Kata throughout the book. I’m wondering if one should start there or perhaps read The Toyota Way.

Overall, though—excellent book. Glad its in my library. I’ll be referring to it.

Also–the co-author, Karyn Ross, recently did an interview over on LeanBlog sharing some of her experiences about writing the book and her own journey learning Lean. Her interview gave me some seeds for another post.

Buy the book here.

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