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LKCE Day 1

October 23, 2012 Leave a comment

This week I am attending Lean-Kanban Central Europe conference in Vienna, Austria. I promised to blog about my experiences every day, so here is a quick recap of Day 1.

The conference has three parallel sessions at all times, expect keynotes are delivered in the main conference room for everyone.

Session 1: “Kanban: The next step on the Agile evolution” by Ketil Jensen was an introduction to Kanban. I wanted to see how this is delivered by another Kanban trainer. Ketil squeezed Kanban into 40 min slot. I think it caused the session to have varying quality: first 20 minutes was jumpy and confusing, with lot of terminology used without introducing them. Latter half was more structured and I liked how Ketil explained principles through own experience. My key takeaway from the session was: create a story to introduce Kanban principles and practices.

Session 2: “Lean Startup experience report” was a session about development of http://www.discuss2decide.com. The presenters were from the team that used Lean Startup (by Eric Ries) to build a novel service. The session presented quickly the ideas of Lean Startup and then focused on lessons learned. They presented three key mistakes and three related key learnings. They were

  1. Mistake: Data will tell us everything — Learning: There are no facts in your office, get out to your customers
  2. Mistake: We understand the problem and solution — Learning: Do not start work before you fully understand the problem
  3. Mistake: (something about experiments) — Learning: Make structured experiment, plan also end/failure criteria for experiment

My main takeaway from this session was the above and discussion about point #2. Someone in the audience commented that “fully understudying the problem sounds like waterfall”. The love of ambiguity in Agile community has lead to a situation where thorough studying is seen as BDUF. Well, it is not. It is desirable to spend time and gain understanding of issues.

Session 3: “Measuring improvement” from a company called Parship. This was unfortunately weak session. The presenter told their product development and how they measure their performance. He presented a few KPIs, but all of them seemed internal (i.e. measured against plan, not including customers).

After lunch a keynote by Stephen Parry (author of Sense and Respond) was “Purpose of Lean Kanban”. His message was that climate (i.e. culture) defines how organization works. Tools, processes or organization charts do not create change unless the underlying thinking does not change as well. So far so good. Then he introduced his model for measuring climate and tools that he uses to create sustainable change in organizations.

My key takeaways: “When organizations notice they need to change, there is very little time left“, “We move from economics of scale to economics of skill“. He also introduced a method to categorize organization’s metrics into 2×2 matrix (end-to-end/functional and matters to customer yes/no). He pointed out that many organizations have measures that have no value to customers AND they don’t give information about end to end performance. Hence, getting those metrics right is “waste pain“.

However, the keynote had many problems. Parry introduced a tool to give averages based on interviews about work climate. I don’t think a tool, especially interview tool and averages, gives any information. It does not tell how the work works. Another issue was respect for people -thinking, that I have ranted in my earlier post, Parry advocated the importance of people forgetting that “people issues” are caused by the system.

The next sessions were  Pecha Kucha talks: presenter shows 20 slides, each 20 seconds, totaling 6 minutes and 20 seconds. Kinda lightning talks.

First talk was about personal Kanban, done with flipchart and not powerpoint. The speech did not contain anything new for me, so the only thing was to enjoy nice drawings on paper.

Next one was about Laws of Nature. This was more interesting; the speaker first presented a gravitational law that applies to everything from sub-atomic level to galaxies. Then he presented several “laws” in organization design and SW development and proved they do not always apply (“good team size is 7“, “lead-time should be as short as possible“, “WIP should be smaller“). The point was: don’t take “laws” as granted, without understanding why the law would apply.

Third speaker gave beautifully illustrated talk about “Leadersheep”.It was a collection of leadership mantras, presented with nice cartoons about sheep. While the presentation was beautiful, there was very little new ideas. The only new quote I got was: “Purpose of leadership is not to create more followers but more leaders“.

Last, and the best, was Don Reinertsen. He talked about Making money by buying information. His message was clear: information content in data has to do with probability. Statement “snowstorm in Alaska in January” has less information than “snowstorm in Los Angeles in July“. He also mentioned that inventor of vacuum cleaner did over 3000 prototypes before succeeding and that was too much, too costly. Don’s point is that experiment (and failure) has a cost function, therefore both restricting failure (Six Sigma) and “celebrating failure” both are economically not optimal.

Last session before evening keynote was Mattias Skarin from Crisp with a experience report from an Lean/Kanban transition, “Tearing down the walls”. He told how one organization created end-to-end Kanban-driven system for service development. My key takeaways were: (i) Each user story contained info “How this will improve end users world” as well as KANO-model for prioritization and this information is transparent through the entire development cycle , (ii) organization needs data and time before they understand lead-times, (iii) there was no correlation between estimated effort and lead times (..but still they keep doing estimates). Mattias also reminded how important it is to solve problems with others, not for others.

Evening keynote was by Dave Snowden. He presented complexity thinking and tried to compare it with systems thinking. I hoped he used more time to really clarify the differences, but unfortunately that part was quite shallow. Dave presented interesting concept “exaptation” (new use for a generalized thing) in contrast to “adaptation” (creating new thing to match changed environment). He also said, that in Cynefin model it is important to move between domains: from Complex or Chaotic (innovation) to Complicated (deliver/standardize) by relaxing and increasing constraints.

Final part of session was about details of Comlex and Chaos domains. That was very deep stuff, intriguing but not very useful.

My key takeaway from the session was: it is important to understand why things work, we often think only “how” and “what”. The stuff was not bery useful (“What would I do woith this on Monday“) but definitely improved my knowledge and ability to understand systems.

Categories: Agile and Lean

Respect for people or improve the system?

October 2, 2012 2 comments

Last Sunday (Sep 30) my local newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat, published an article about well-being business. Specifically the article was about motivation and how the business of “motivational speakers” is increasing in Finland. Various celebrities travel around speaking about motivation, many companies organize funny or crazy get-togethers to improve well-being at work.

I felt confused after reading the article. As if motivation and well-being could be purchased and brought in by inviting a famous person to give a presentation.

No, you can’t buy happiness in a box.

As W. Edwards Deming said: “A bad system will beat a good person every time“. If the problems arise from system (as they almost always do), it does not help to bring in a motivational speakers, no matter if they are ice-hockey stars or certified circus clowns.

Some time ago I got a link to an interesting video (thanks @hemppah for the link). It is a panel discussion with extremely distinguished members, including John Seddon and Jeffrey Liker. I took an excerpt from the video, added Finnish subtitles and published in YouTube.

In the excerpt, John talks about interventions. He points out that solving “people issues” (for example motivation) can not be solved by intervening “people issues”. Reason is that “people issues”are caused by the surrounding system. Therefore more effective approach is to intervene the surrounding system and create environment where people can feel Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose (as Dan Pink describes in his book “Drive“).

(Full 50 min video of the panel discussion is available at http://vimeo.com/42297077)

Having said this, and having published Seddon’s video, there is some value in having motivational events or well-being days. I can think of three situations

1) Spending relaxed time together can give people experience of being together. Potentially this helps people also to work together, provided that system does not prevent collaboration

2) Highly competent speaker can bring new ideas or new perspective to work, provided that system allows experimenting with new thinking.

3) Seminar or a respected speaker is a way of rewarding. It can give a signal that company cares; company allows people spend some time away from burning work issues. Provided that the motivational events are arranged bona fide and without hidden agendas.

Note: I am working in consulting business. Part of my value is to motivate and inspire people and help them improve their work. By doing this work I see how impossible it is to improve work without changing the system. Respect for people is empty promise if it does not include understanding and improving the system.

Categories: Team work