Book cover: Tame your Work Flow
Tame your Work Flow

A few logistical comments before we dive into chapter 20.  After this week we have three weeks left in this re-read including our customary debrief. When we decided on Tame your Work Flow we decided on the next two books in the series due to the intense competition, so in four weeks, we will begin Jeff Dalton’s Great Big Agile.  We will only read the part of the book that addresses the Agile Performance Holarchy. This is not a slight to the rest of the book which includes a wide range of tools and techniques that are consumable (I keep a copy close at hand) and do not need further analysis. 

Chapter 20 – Operational Governance in PEST Environments

There are two threads in this chapter I want to highlight. The first is Steve and Daniel’s discussion on the need for different perspectives to identify the constraint in complicated environments (PEST). I have three yellow sticky notes on my desk to remind me to consider:

  • Constraints in the work flow. The authors point out that the type and amount of work coming at us (or a step in the process) is often shaped by special cause variance. Deming described special cause issues as unusual and observed earlier – variation that is difficult to predict. For example, I recently talked to an internationally distributed team that had to push a number of components forward in the process which could not easily absorb the work when redirected to handle a production problem.
  • Constraints in the work process. Steve and Daniel describe this perspective as “how we do things around here.” Deming calls variation caused by the process, common cause variation. Several years ago when working with a team that triaged and addressed operational issues (desktop and connectivity issues) we observed a curious pattern on our cumulative flow diagram. Every Friday afternoon the closure rate of desktop hardware issues slowed to a crawl in the afternoon. On investigation, the dev teams we supported all had outings on Friday afternoon and they were not available to accept and test our fixes – it was explained to me that “this is the way we roll.”
  • Constraints in the Work Execution. Every time I consider this perspective, I mentally picture Tom Hanks as Forrest Gump as he runs across the US (and back) with the t-shirt “Sh** Happens.” Things happen or evolve that change the system’s capacity to deliver at a particular moment. Constraints in the work flow and work execution have a similar feel but on consideration offer different perspectives. A work execution focus makes you consider the step in the flow that is causing the issue versus the step that will be affected.

The three different perspectives are useful because they provide a framework for challenging commonly held mental models. A few years ago, someone (I WISH I COULD REMEMBER WHO) advised me to challenge your most closely and blindly held beliefs because that is when we make great leaps forward. Shifting perspective is a powerful tool to challenge closely held beliefs. In Tame your Work Flow, this framework helps us to find the real constraint in the process rather than reacting to every temporary bottleneck.

The second major component in this chapter is discussing an approach for governance. Two visualization approaches are the buffer fever chart showing burn rate and the bubble buffer fever chart. If you don’t remember Steve and Daniel’s treatment of buffers and buffer consumption refer to chapter 16 ( I have been through this book a few times; the concept of buffer consumption is an idea that sneaks up on you. Tracking buffer consumption is a powerful tool to empower teams to self manage and self organize. I often have impassioned discussions about how to empower teams, these two simple charts with their green, yellow, and red banding provide real-time feedback so a team can decide when to act or when to get help (the charts are described in detail beginning on page 302).

Chapter 20 provides teams and organizations with a set of governance tools that, while simple, are powerful. Coupling the visualization component with transparency will reduce the fixed oversight burden many agile and planned based techniques build in. The buffer fever charts, if shared and used in a transparent manner, can help shift from standing oversight approaches to more exception-driven approaches reducing standing meetings which are flow dampeners even if short.

Chapters 18, 19, and 20 pull many of the threads in Tame your Work Flow together into both a team level and organizational level governance model that actually empowers teams and executives.

Catch up on previous entries beginning with:

Week 1: Logistics and Front Matter