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It is Not What It is that Really Matters

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Rob Bowley wrote a thoughtful post entitled Kanban it just a tool, so why is it being treated like a methodology? To quote Rob:

The thing that’s making me itchy is how Kanban has somehow been elevated into a methodology unto itself… I’m sure proponents of Kanban will say no one is suggesting Kanban is a methodology and I would agree I’ve not seen anyone say it is. The problem is interpretation. People have a habit of focusing on rules and methodologies because they’re a lot more easy to tackle than the problems they we’re created to solve… Kanban is a small part of something much, much bigger, see the whole.

While I agree with just about everything Rob writes, I would like to point out two aspects of Kanban that are of great importance in the context discussed above:

  1. Kanban seems to have an effect on individuals, teams and organizations. The case studies in the LK2009 conference proceedings document some very interesting dynamics.
  2. From a marketing standpoint, Kanban is a fantastic sound bite. I am hard pressed to recall when I last heard such a catchy sound bite.

I have no doubt that additional case studies on the effects of Kanban will be very beneficial. I also know that sound bites can lose popularity faster than you can say “Kanban.” Finally, I wholeheartedly agree with Rob on the importance of setting realistic expectations around  the tool.

Having said that, I would refer the reader to Dean Leffingwell’s post on the LK2009 conference in which he gives the overall lay of the land from multiple perspective. The picture might, of course, change. However, Dean provides a summary that integrates all important aspects of Kanban as we experience and know them now.

Written by israelgat

May 20, 2009 at 8:48 am

Posted in Kanban, Lean

Tagged with ,

Recipe for Success in 2009

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Colleague Annie Shum sent me the following excerpt from Slate’s Daniel Gross article on P.F. Chang’s spectacular performance in 2009:

The reason: mainstream mall appeal, affordable offerings, and especially good management – based heavily on the principles of “kaizen” or continuous improvement pioneered by Toyota and other Japanese manufacturers. P.F. Chang’s made it to $1 billion in sales by taking cues from successful Asian businesses. Now by focusing on process improvement rather than helter-skelter growth, it seems to be doing so again. Continuous improvement, the philosophy pioneered by Japanese companies such as Toyota in which managers and workers relentlessly seek out small modifications that add up to big profits, seems to be the recipe for success in 2009.

I don’t really know that the excerpt above has any relevance to software engineering. Gross, however, proposes a potential linkage at the end the article:

Low-end standardized service jobs make up more than 40 percent of all U.S. employment. Imagine if more restaurants and service companies started to act like P.F. Chang’s. Innovation and rising productivity are the underpinnings of higher wages, and happy and engaged employees the key to more continuous improvement.

Written by israelgat

May 19, 2009 at 10:51 pm

Posted in Lean, Macro-economic Crisis

Tagged with ,

More on Kanban from John Heintz

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Colleague John Heintz posted today on the Kanban board he and one of his customers implemented in a few days. John describes the economy of so doing in the following words:

Some of the tools that we use include sticky post-it notes and Stikky Clips. (Note: We found the Stikky Clips at a teacher supply store, not a big office supply store.)

I am impressed: John seems to hit the ground running immediately after the LK2009 conference.

Written by israelgat

May 19, 2009 at 12:18 pm

Posted in Kanban, Lean, The Agile Leader

Tagged with ,

John Heintz on the Lean & Kanban 2009 Conference

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Colleague John Heintz has kindly compiled the summary below for the benefit of readers of The Agile Executive. John is well known to Agile Austin folks as well as to out-of-town/state companies to which he consults through his company. You can get a glimpse of his Agile/Lean thinking by reading his blog.

Here is John’s summary of the conference:

The Lean Kanban conference last week in Miami was astounding. David Anderson did a fantastic job, and everyone who contributed had great presentations.

I am humbled and emboldened at the same time. I’ve been involved in Agile since 1999 and Lean since 2004, so I thought this was going to be familiar to me, old hat.

Here’s my confession: I’ve pretty much ignored Kanban, writing it off as just slightly different than what good XP or Scrum teams practice anyway.

Wow, those small differences make a huge impact. I am very glad I decided to go to the conference, some internal hunch finally winning.

Here’s what I thought Kanban was before last week:

  • A Big Visible Board
  • A Prioritized Backlog
  • Close communication, minimizing hand-offs
  • Rules about cards on the wall

No Iteration/Sprint boundaries (I’m thinking more efficient but maybe losing something important…)

That’s all well and good and true enough. Easy to justify writing it all off with “I already know enough to help teams make a big difference”. In fact, Kanban can be boiled down to one single rule:

  • Limit the number of things in work to a fixed number.

But, if that’s all there is too it, why then did I hear things like these:

  • Kanban is easier to introduce to teams than Agile/Scrum/XP
  • “People who never say anything were offering ideas” (I’m pretty sure I heard this three time the first day…)
  • The team felt comfortable dropping estimates/retrospectives/standup questions/…

Wait, you say, this was the first conference and obviously full early adopters! Of course people are going to succeed because they self-selected for success. Good point, but that’s not everything that’s here. For example, Chris Shinkle’s presentation was a case study of rolling out Kanban to many teams who hadn’t asked for Kanban.

So between furiously scratching down notes[1], listening and tweeting[2], I started to think to myself:

  • Why does this make such a difference?
  • Easier to create thinking and reflective teams! Isn’t that cultural change?

I had the pleasure of wrestling this “why” question out with several people, especially Alan Shalloway.

The first answers people gave me were entirely unsatisfying:

  • David Anderson’s reply tweet: “Kanban is easier than Scrum because you don’t change any roles or workflow and you don’t teach new practices.”
  • Alan Shalloway first response: “Kanban cuts out the noise and reduces thrashing.”

Sure, sure, but none of those (good) things seem likely to create: cultural change, engaged teams, or reflective individuals. Those answers are technical, details, and generally not the “emotionally” important things needed for change. Mind you, I’m not really well versed in cultural or emotional change, but being the stubborn person I am, I kept digging.

Here’s where Alan and I got, please add any insights[3]:

  • My hypothesis: Kanban has concrete reflective tools: like “should WIP be 4 or 5?”. Very reflective, but not very abstract or hand-wavy. People can’t often use abstract reflective tools like Retrospectives.
  • Paraphrasing Alan Shalloway: Kanban reduces the fear of committing to a per story estimate – a significant risk in some teams. Less fear can lead to cultural change.
  • (not sure who): Kanban changes the focus away from blaming an individual to examining why stuff is stuck on the board. (I hear Deming…)

—-
On to the actual trip report. Here is an abbreviated transcription of the proceedings of the conference. (Very abbreviated!)

  1. Alan Shalloway started the conference off with no small announcement: the formation of the Lean Software and Systems Consortium. He also mentions that this consortium will be creating a body of knowledge and promoting a distributed certification process. Certifications will be a very interesting topic, my initial reaction was negative. Now I’m just skeptical ;) I’ve got a hunch that TWI, a hidden influence of Lean, may hold some of the secrets for a successful certification method. We’ll see how this plays out.
  2. Dean Leffingwell gave a keynote on a Lean and Scalable Requirements Model for Agile Enterprises. Very clear from executives down to team activity: maps from Themes to Epics to Features to Stories. This immediately cleared up some questions I and a client were having.  My favorite quote: “If you don’t know hot to get the story out of the iteration – don’t let it in” referring to acceptance tests.
  3. Peter Middleton presented material from “Lean Software Strategies“, co-authored by James Sutton who presented next. Peter is a professor at Queen’s University in Belfast and was the first person to really talk about the people issues. Much of what Peter related was how various practices caused people problems: recruiting and training goals (10 per week) would require recruiters and trainers to push even unqualified people into the company. That led to poor service, high-turnover, and greater costs.
  4. James Sutton has a small personal goal: to save the middle class. His presentation did a good job ranging over various Lean and Systems thinking topics, connecting the dots to Agile. Key quote comparing Lean and Agile: “Getting Prepared” vs “Getting Started.
  5. Sterling Mortensen presented a case study of introducing Lean into the Hewlett Packard printer development division. He said HP was already the “best of breed” and still became much more efficient and effective. My favorite quote: “Stop Starting, Start Finishing“. Sterling also said the “One” metric was continuous Flow. I’m not sure I understand that all the way; I’d been working under the assumption the One metric was customer to customer cycle time (from concept to cash.)
  6. Amit Rathore gave a personal case study of Lean in a start-up, http://runa.com. Amit showed many examples and talked really honestly about his experience. My favorite quote: “not released equals not done”.
  7. Corey Ladas presented on his book Scrumban and his experience at Corbis (with David Anderson) and other projects. I bought a copy of his book out of his backpack and made him sign it.
  8. Jean Tabaka presented a thoughtful presentation on Lean, learning, ignorance, and people. Her narrative helped me further realize how Lean, and Kanban, play into the personal issues of learning and reflecting.
  9. Alina Hsu presented a case study of using Lean to organize the work of procuring a COTS (commercial off-the-shelf) software solution, not development. She had some great things to say about how delays cause major cost overruns. One thing that reduced the delays she mentioned was to change how agreement was reached. The team defined consensus as “I can live with it”, with the rules 1) I won’t go into the hall and try to subvert it, and 2) I won’t lose any sleep. These definitions help teams make decisions faster and reduced waste.
  10. Alan Shalloway presented on a model for understanding Lean and moving it beyond Toyota. He organized all the various concepts down into Lean Science, Lean Management, and Lean Education. Connecting this back to the Lean SSC announcement in the morning he said the consortium working to create value in those three areas.

And that was just the first day. Did anybody mention the conference day started before 8am and lasted till after 6pm? Oh, and everyone was glued into the room.

  1. David Anderson presented a keynote on the principles and evolution of Kanban. So much information! You’ll have to read his presentation and see the video on InfoQ, but just to provide a fragment from each I wrote down:
    • Principled recipe for success (including Balance Demand Against Throughput)
    • Metrics (like WIP is a leading indicator)
    • Agile Decision Filter questions
    • Lean Decision Filter questions
    • Kanban decouples input cadence, cycle time, release cadence
  2. Karl Scotland continued the detailed treatment of Kanban. Karl spoke about the Lean concept of Flow as expressed with Kanban – and even rename typical process steps to avoid any baggage with waterfall terminology. If you want to know more about how work actually gets done in a Kanban system, watch his presentation. His interesting names for for process steps are: Incubate, Illustrate, Instantiate, Demonstrate, Liquidate.
  3. Rob Hathaway presented a case study of his work building a game portal for a publishing business. He believed very strongly that teaching from principles (Value, Prioritization, WIP limits, Quality) led to success.
  4. Alisson Vale presented a tool… that enchanted everyone in the room. David Anderson himself said that Vale “has the highest maturity software team on the planet”. Now, tool support often isn’t the answer, and many teams get real value with a physical board – a tool isn’t a Silver Bullet. If a tool makes sense for you – this tool absolutely blew us away. I asked Alisson about buying or helping with the tool and he said they were considering open sourcing it! I offered my coding skills in extending it for my own clients to help reach that goal.
  5. Linda Cook presented a case study of using Kanban at the Motley Fool. Her presentation does a good job of showing how little is necessary to get a lot of value out of Kanban.
  6. Eric Landes gave a great case study about using Kanban in an IT development shop. His team went from struggling to turn requests around (41 days) to a rapid 9 day turn around. Again, his discussion of the team dynamics and reflection were interesting to how a tiny bit of Kanban can have a huge impact.
  7. Eric Willeke’s presentation was visually beautiful, but you’ll have to watch the InfoQ video to get the value out of it. It contained only two words in a quote bubble (from memory “Momma! Pirates!”) and was the backdrop for the story that he told. His story highlighted to me, again, that Agile doesn’t always stick but Kanban seems to.
  8. Chris Shinkle presented a multi-case study on rolling Kanban into a large software consultancy. Very interestingly, and contrary to much discussion before, Chris presented a practices first, principles later message. This again resonated strongly to me that Kanban practices are somehow special in encouraging people to reflect and reach for the principles.
  9. David Laribee presented an opinionated view on leadership and change using Lean. This quote stuck with me: “people support a world they help create”. His style of leading is to drive from “Values -> Practices -> Tools” and his presentation wove a story of Agile/Lean process change. Also, I really enjoyed his injecting reference to hardcore technologies: REST, Git and OSGi were fantastic to see in a Lean/Kanban presentation.

That was day two. I’d said we were all glued to the room before, now as I type this I realize our brains were coming a bit unglued at this point. Every presentation was top-notch, barely time for questions, breaks were cut short, and we came back for more as fast as we could. Oh, and apparently we collectively drank 2.5 times as much coffee as the hotel usually allocates for a group our size.

I’m not going to summarize the Open Space. Too many topics and changes in direction. You just had to be there :)

Cheers,
John Heintz

[1] I used the first 25 pages of a brand new notebook… for a 2.5 day conference… Every session had an overwhelming amount of information, and I’m glad InfoQ recorded video.
[2] My twitter account is http://twitter.com/jheintz, and you can follow everyone’s conference coverage at http://twitter.com/#search?q=%23lk2009.
[3] I’m going to keep following up on this topic in my personal blog: http://johnheintz.blogspot.com

Dean Leffingwell on the Lean & Kanban 2009 Conference

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As the recent podcast with Dean was held prior to the Lean & Kanban 2009 conference in Miami, I enquired through email about his major takeaways from the conference. Here is Dean’s answer:

I obviously think Lean Software will be big. It will be to the enterprise what Scrum is to teams.

I believe that Kanban (a subset of lean, being used as an agile team method now), will be more readily adopted in 3-5 years than Scrum.

Reasons:

  • Easier to adopt at the team level.
  • Far less overhead for planning and estimating, and fewer ceremonies (approaching zero in the edge case and with appropriate context).
  • Based on both solid science and people aspects: theory of constraints, continuous flow and pull. Kaizen mind.
  • Much easier to sell to PMO and VP level folks where agile=Dilbert=bad, and Lean=Toyota=good. Plus you can lean a PMO with value stream analysis and other tools. What do you do in a PMO with Scrum?
  • Support from industry stalwarts such as Lockheed Martin, who are applying proven lean manufacturing practices to software development for projects like the Joint Strike Fighter. i.e industries on the other side of the agile chasm are adopting Lean now and will provide creature comfort for enterprises considering the leap.
  • Plus agile already has a bad rap (perhaps undeserved) in many of those places; lean does not.
  • Lean and Lean SSC’s focus on the role of management in continuous improvement and problem solving, as opposed to agile, where management is either a “chicken” (you can attend our meetings, but you have no role in our process…)  or an “impediment” (If you attend an agile conference,  manager’s, CEOs etc are routinely denigrated; that does not help our industry).
  • Lean provides richer tools for improvement for the manager and practitioners – Kaizen meetings, five whys, root cause analysis, theory of constraints, flow and pull science and metrics,  cumulative flow diagrams, etc. rather than just  the single “retrospective.”
  • Question: does agile scale? In my opinion, yes, but it is arguable in the industry. Question: Does Lean scale – Yes, not remotely arguable. Lean started at scale.
  • Lean optimizes the whole enterprise and gives you tools to reason about the enterprise, from order to shipment, rather than just the team optimization. 
  • Potential for leadership from the Lean SSC as an open, science and knowledge-based consortium with an academic and industry approved certification process for managers and practitioners.
     
    I could go on and on, this is just the short list.

In addition to Dean’s insightful points, a guest post on the conference will soon be published in this blog by colleague John Heintz. If you look for stroke-by-stroke coverage of the conference, Mike Cottmeyer‘s posts on the subject in Leading Agile are very informative.

Written by israelgat

May 9, 2009 at 4:34 pm

Startups should be Built to Learn

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Eric Ries has published a few great posts (click here, here, and here) on his April 1st lean startup presentation at Web 2.0 Expo. The title of this post is actually borrowed from his response to a comment made by one of his readers. According to Eric:

[This] point is the one that seems to have had the biggest impact from the talk as a whole: that startups should be built to learn. That’s the essence of so many of the lean startup techniques I’ve evangelized: customer development, the Ideas/Code/Data feedback loop, and the adaptation of agile development to the startup experience.

As learning and learning through experimentation are central themes in Agile, I encourage readers of this blog to take a good look at what Eric writes.  I would also like to add a few quick reflections:

  1. It does not really matter whether you are part of a tiny startup or working for a $100B company. Eric’s heart seems to be in startups, but his insights are broadly applicable.
  2. Jean discusses the “goal of improving my notion of learning” in a recent blog post and accompanying dialog. Her thinking as well as many of the references she cites nicely complement Eric’s ideas.
  3. In The Living Company, author Arie de Geus strongly emphasizes institutional learning as a critical capability. Learning to de Geus is about sensitivity to the surrounding environment and willingness to change to be in harmony with it.

All these threads about learning indicate a company is more likely to survive for the long haul if it has the capacity to learn. The threads are linked in a fascinating manner to Jared Diamond’s book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. It seems that learning as a survival imperative applies equally well to the individual, the team, the corporation and society.

Written by israelgat

April 16, 2009 at 9:30 pm

Interesting Interview with Curt Hibbs

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Colleague Clark Ching posted an interview with Curt Hibbs. The interview focuses on the recently published book The Art of  Lean Software Development: A Practical and Incremental Approach by Hibbs, Jewett and Sullivan. In the course of the interview, Curt shares the following episode:

I was having a discussion with a colleague about Lean software development. She knew next to nothing about it and was asking a lot of questions. Finally, she asked “If I could only do one thing, what should that be?”

The answer I gave was “Automated Testing”, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the motivations for asking such a question in the first place. I finally realized that she really didn’t want to spend a lot of time learning and understanding Lean software development, she just wanted to be told what to do.

Curt explores the episode in the context of skill acquisition and explains how it led to his co-authoring The Art of  Lean Software Development. From what I gather from the interview, the book has been conceived with a very crisp definition of the needs of a specific class of readers - the novice Agilist. To quote Curt:

This book is aimed squarely at the the novice and doesn’t require the reader to make a bunch of decisions for which they don’t yet have the experience to handle… I think that this target audience was not previously being served (or at least poorly served).

I like this ultra-sharp focus very much. I have not read the book yet, but I soon will.

Written by israelgat

April 10, 2009 at 11:01 am

Posted in Lean, Starting Agile

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