Agile

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

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:

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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.

    img_10931

    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.

    img_10981

    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.

    img_10971

    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

BOOK REVIEW- Understanding Variation: The Key to Managing Chaos

understanding-choasDAN’S SCORE: Stars 4
Understanding Variation: The Key to Managing Chaos
by Donald J. Wheeler


Why is a variation book on an Agile blog? Well, I did say this was Evolving Agile. I’ve come to understand the concepts Agile is teaching is only part of the puzzle. I believe W. Edwards Deming to be the grandfather of Agile. Understand Deming—better understand Agile. And Deming emphasized understanding variation above everything else.

I read this book at a time when several things were happening in my life that were pointing towards understanding variation. One was I was discovering Deming and this was the one concept I really struggled with. The second was my company was investing in people learning Six Sigma. I was unable to attend the training, but was certainly interested (ironically, my company was also trying Agile, but were having an awful time implementing it—I wonder how the Six Sigma experiment is going). All signs seemed to be pointing me in learning it.

I first saw this book listed in an article written by Davis Balestracci, “Deming is Dead . . . Long Live Deming.” (btw, this is one of the first online articles I read about Deming and is an EXCELLENT read. I highly recommend it. Its also where I got the idea to read Deming Dimension and Fourth Generation Management).

Balestracci recommends this book, among others, to read instead of spending a ton of money getting a Six Sigma belt. This book was recommended by others as a good starting point for beginners.

Its a good book and I learned a lot. Having a fear of math, I was leery about reading it, but Wheeler is a good writer and breaks things down in an easy-to-understand way for us who are math challenged. There’s lot of pictures and graphs. Its broken down into small segments so easily digested. Its also short—about 121 pages without the appendix. I finished it in less than two weeks (and I’m a slow reader). It teaches the concept of variation, explains the jargon, and walks one through examples and what to look for. Some of the bigger things I learned about was specifications (this is the voice of the customer) and that the actual process—represented by the control charts is the voice of the process. Its important to understand the difference between the two. It also goes over special and common cause variation which is key to understanding variation. In the end, it got my feet wet and I tried my hand at making control charts (which I will write about in a future post).

For better understanding agile– the immediate effect was it helped me better understand the concept of velocity. For example–if your team has a velocity of 50, 47, 52, 41, 37 there is no reason to panic that your team’s performance is getting worse (or worse yet-get mad at them for slacking). Its just the natural variation in your team’s system. The key will be figuring out how to reduce the variation. Simply understanding this concept helped me tremendously as a scrum master and agilest.

Ultimately, though, I couldn’t make the leap from the book’s examples (which were primarily from the manufacturing and financial sector) into my own IT world. In other words, I didn’t quite understand how it could help me with what I was doing specifically. Still, it showed me this stuff made sense after all–I just needed to now figure out how I could apply it.

Bottom line—this is a great book to start to understanding variation.You may not come away with how exactly it can help you, though, like me. I would recommend Fourth Generation Management as a follow up. Joiner goes into more detail about how to reduce the different types of variation and is more nuts and bolts.

Buy Understanding Variation here.

BOOK REVIEW- Winning

jack-welch-winningDAN’S SCORE: Stars 4
Winning
by Jack Welsh


My wife, god love her, rolled her eyes after hearing me going on and on about the virtues of Agile and Deming-style management for the millionth time.

A manager herself (and often my sparring partner over the best way to manage), she was growing tired of my pontification. “You know,” she said with a frown, “there’s other management styles out there.”

I decided to take her up on this and look at a contrary style.

Another reason I selected this book is because one of my fellow employees, after eyeballing the library on my desk, told me, “I’d prefer to take advice from people who have actually ran a business.”

Ouch.

So, I selected Jack Welsh’s book, Winning. Welsh is probably one of the biggest influences on management in the last decade. Warren Buffest said Winning was the only management book that was needed. It’s hard to argue with Welsh’s advice. After all, he grew GE by 4000% during his stay as GE’s CEO and made it the largest company in the world.

I’ll admit, this book rattled my confidence. Welsh’s ideas would certainly better resonate with the circles I’ve worked in than any of the Agile exhortations I’ve spouted. Many would say his management style is superior because the proof is in the pudding, and despite Deming’s belief that there is no instant pudding, Welsh has a hell of a lot pudding. It’s hard to argue against.

Overall it was an interesting read and I learned a lot.

At first, I was calling Welsh the anti-Deming. But as it turns out, Deming and Agile have a lot in common with Welsh. Here are some of the thing I saw:

Welsh

Deming/Agile

“There is no easy formula (for success).” “There is no such thing as instant pudding. (i.e. no recipe for success).”~Deming
“Variation is evil and must be destroyed.” Welsh is a huge supporter of Six Sigma. “If I had to reduce my message for management to just a few words, I’d say it all had to do with reducing variation.” ~Deming
You must develop a culture of trust in order to develop a culture of candor. Trust is important in both Agile and Deming philosophy. Deming often talks about the importance of driving out fear.
Believes an organization must have a culture of learning. PDSA, an appreciation for knowledge, kaizen and retrospectives are at the heart of Agile and Deming philosophy.
Believe culture is very important. It’s just as important as strategy. Also believe culture is important and the key for successful change or the biggest obstacle for change. “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”
Change is important. Also embraces change.
“Don’t get the mentality of ship it then fix it.” Build quality into the product the first go around.
Does not like quotas. He said it ruins a meritocracy. Also hate quotas.
Believes management must change in order to succeed. Interesting enough, he brought up the post war Japanese miracle as an example (though did not mention Deming). “It would be a mistake to export American management to a friendly country.” ~Deming
Doesn’t like the concept of the boss needs to knows it all. There needs to be a culture of employees coming forward with opinions and ideas and the boss needs to listen. Every voice needs to be heard and everyone needs to feel like they can come forward and speak their minds. Hate command and control. Absolutely hate it.
People are important. So important he believes the HR director should at least be equal to the CFO. Lots of focus on understanding people and what motivates them. Respect for people underlies Agile concepts and is core to Deming’s teachings.

That being said, there are some key differences:

Welsh

Deming/Agile

Differentiation or 20-70-10 or ‘Rank and Yank’ is critical to his philosophy of success. He says it creates a meritocracy and is fair for everyone. Welsh admits this is the most controversial of his philosophies. Deming hated ranking. He called it a destroyer of people. Ironically, this was also the most controversial of his philosophies.
Emphasis on the individual and heroic effort. He believes stars are critical to success. He talks about undaunted individual effort a lot and chalks it up to much of GE’s success over the years. Both agile and Deming emphasize teamwork over heroes. Jeff Sutherland said if you need heroics it’s a sign of poor planning.
Results is the best indicator of success. Deming said beware of management by results (MBR) or management by objective (MBO).
Does not mention the importance of a system. Systems are key in both Deming and agile thinking.
Rely on leaders who have a sixth sense—i.e. “the ability to see around corners,” trust their gut, are intuitive, have an uncanny ability to see things others do not, people who just have a ‘knack,’ people with natural abilities (i.e. its something that can’t be trained) Emphasis on science to bring about improvement (PDSA, understanding of psychology).

I enjoyed reading this book and would recommend it to Agile and Deming practitioners. It gave me better perspective on what I think most people in the U.S. would prefer as a management style. Perhaps there is something there we can leverage to instigate change? After all, looking at the two philosophies, there are plenty of similarities. Perhaps we can build from there? I’m certainly going to borrow some of his ideas such as the importance of creating an organization that can be candid with one another.

I’m going to continue to study contrary points of view and post what I found on my blog. After all, Taichi Ohno told us, “We are doomed to failure without a daily destruction of our various preconceptions.”

You can buy Winning here.

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).

 

img_1076

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