Lean


This week…I am hiking in the woods without my laptop albeit I do have my copy of  Monotasking by Staffan Nöteberg. I am continuing to focus on using shortlists, which has been a fairly easy transition and also implementing both the panorama cues and panorama sessions. The panorama cues and sessions have been useful up to the point that my dairy becomes wall-to-wall meetings.  I am trying to devise an approach for using panorama sessions in this scenario.  Suggestions?  While I am out in the woods I have re-published the summary of one of the most popular Re-reads, The Goal.  We will be back to Monotasking by Staffan Nöteberg next week.

Re-Read Saturday: The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement Summary

Note: If you don’t have a copy of the book, buy one.  If you use the link below it will support the Software Process and Measurement blog and podcast. Dead Tree Version or Kindle Version

Chapters 1 through 3 actively present the reader with a burning platform. The plant and division are failing. Alex Rogo has actively pursued increased efficiency and automation to generate cost reductions, however performance is falling even further behind and fear has become central feature in the corporate culture.

Chapters 4 through 6 shift the focus from steps in the process to the process as a whole. Chapters 4 – 6 move us down the path of identifying the ultimate goal of the organization (in this book). The goal is making money and embracing the big picture of systems thinking. In this section, the authors point out that we are often caught up with pursuing interim goals, such as quality, efficiency or even employment, to the exclusion of the of the ultimate goal. We are reminded by the burning platform identified in the first few pages of the book, the impending closure of the plant and perhaps the division, which in the long run an organization must make progress towards their ultimate goal, or they won’t exist.

Chapters 7 through 9 show Alex’s commitment to change, seeks more precise advice from Johan, brings his closest reports into the discussion and begins a dialog with his wife (remember this is a novel). In this section of the book the concept “that you get what you measure” is addressed. In this section of the book, we see measures of efficiency being used at the level of part production, but not at the level of whole orders or even sales. We discover the corollary to the adage ‘you get what you measure’ is that if you measure the wrong thing …you get the wrong thing. We begin to see Alex’s urgency and commitment to make a change.

Chapters 10 through 12 mark a turning point in the book. Alex has embraced a more systems view of the plant and that the measures that have been used to date are more focused on optimizing parts of the process to the detriment to overall goal of the plant.  What has not fallen into place is how to take that new knowledge and change how the plant works. The introduction of the concepts of dependent events and statistical variation begin the shift the conceptual understanding of what measure towards how the management team can actually use that information.

Chapters 13 through 16 drive home the point that dependent events and statistical variation impact the performance of the overall system. In order for the overall process to be more effective you have to understand the capability and capacity of each step and then take a systems view. These chapters establish the concepts of bottlenecks and constraints without directly naming them and that focusing on local optimums causes more trouble than benefit.

Chapters 17 through 18 introduces the concept of bottlenecked resources. The affect of the combination dependent events and statistical variability through bottlenecked resources makes delivery unpredictable and substantially more costly. The variability in flow through the process exposes bottlenecks that limit our ability to catch up, making projects and products late or worse generating technical debt when corners are cut in order to make the date or budget.

Chapters 19 through 20 begins with Johan coaching Alex’s team to help them to identify a pallet of possible solutions. They discover that every time the capacity of a bottleneck is increased more product can be shipped.  Changing the capacity of a bottleneck includes reducing down time and the amount of waste the process generates. The impact of a bottleneck is not the cost of individual part, but the cost of the whole product that cannot be shipped. Instead of waiting to make all of the changes Alex and his team implement changes incrementally rather than waiting until they can deliver all of the changes.

Chapters 21 through 22are a short primer on change management. Just telling people to do something different does not generate support. Significant change requires transparency, communication and involvement. One of Deming’s 14 Principles is constancy of purpose. Alex and his team engage the workforce though a wide range of communication tools and while staying focused on implementing the changes needed to stay in business.

Chapters 23 through 24 introduce the idea of involving the people doing the work in defining the solutions to work problems and finding opportunities. In Agile we use retrospectives to involve and capture the team’s ideas on process and personnel improvements. We also find that fixing one problem without an overall understanding of the whole system can cause problems to pop up elsewhere.

Chapters 25 and 26 introduce several concepts. The first concept is that if non-bottleneck steps are run at full capacity, they create inventory and waste. At full capacity their output outstrips the overall process’ ability to create a final product. Secondly, keeping people and resources 100% busy does not always move you closer to the goal of delivering value to the end customer. Simply put: don’t do work that does not move you closer to the goal of the organization. The combination of these two concepts suggests that products (parts or computer programs) should only be worked on and completed until they are needed in the next step in the process (Kanban). A side effect to these revelations is that sometimes people and processes will not be 100% utilized.

Chapters 27 and 28 shows the results of focusing on the flow of work the bottleneck and only beginning work when it will be needed has improved the results at the plant,  Bill Peach pushes Alex for more using the threat of closing the plant as the stick to make the threat real.  Johan suggests cutting batch sizes in half as a way to improve performance and urges Alex to let the sales team know the plant can deliver quickly and quality.

Chapter 29 and 30 show that the plant has been able to deliver on the huge order from Bucky Burnside, the company’s largest customer, without impacting other orders or sacrificing quality. In order to meet the new demands on the plant, they reduced batch size again, which improved flexibility and efficiency. Burnside is so thrilled with the results and the staggered delivery schedule he flies to the plant to shake the hand of every production worker. Jons, the head of sales, confides to Alex that the success has led to the promise of even more business from Burnside. Despite all of the success, it is time for the plant review.

Chapters 31 and 32 deal with the plant review and the review’s immediate aftermath. Alex defends the changes he and his team have made to how work is done in the plant. The defense includes a summary of the theory of constraints. While Hilton Smyth is hostile, Alex’s performance has been noticed and Bill Peach tells him that he is to be promoted. Alex immediately reaches out to Johan who tells him that in the future he will need to trust his own judgement.

Chapters 33 and 34 reflect a shift in focus. With the plant saved, Alex is faced with a need to generalize the process that was used so that it can be used for different problems or scaled up to the next level based on his promotion. The problem is that finding a generalized process is hard and unless Alex and his team can find a way to generalize what they have done it will be difficult to replicate across the division.

Chapters 35 and 36.  Alex and his team struggle to generalize a process that Alex can use when he begins his new job based what the whole team has learned as they turned the plant around.  The process they find is:

  1. Find the bottleneck in the flow of work.
  2. Decide how to “exploit” the bottleneck (make sure you maximize the flow through the bottleneck).
  3. Subordinate every other step to the bottleneck (only do the work the bottleneck can accommodate).
  4. Elevate the bottleneck (increase the capacity of the bottleneck).
  5. If the bottleneck has been broken repeat the process (a bottleneck is broken when the step has excess capacity).

As chapter 36 concludes the team reflects that the word bottleneck should be replaced with the slightly broader concept of constraint.

Chapters 37 and 38. Alex and his team continue to struggle to answer Johan’s final question.  During their discussions Alex and his team find that the plant has 20% extra capacity.  With the understanding that the plant needs (and can) to increase production, Alex, Lou and Ralph meet with Johnny Jons to explore new sales opportunities. Jons has a pending order that the plant can accept and is above variable cost of production.

Chapters 39 and 40 wrap Alex’s journey up.  In these chapters Alex finally answers Johan’s question, “What are the techniques needed for management?” During a  struggle to apply the five focusing questions to help the entire division leads Alex to the conclusion that, to manage, a leader must have the techniques to answer these questions:

  1. What to change?
  2. What to change to?
  3. How to cause the change?

Alex realizes he has learned to think for himself which was the outcome Johan had hoped for when he stopped providing advice.

Book cover: Tame your Work Flow
Tame your Work Flow

We began our re-read of Tame your Work Flow by Steve Tendon and Daniel Doiron, on Saturday, May 23rd. The world has changed a lot as we worked our way through the book. However, there are important ideas in this book that are far less transitory than the changes we’ve seen in 2020 will be. One of those ideas is finding the constraint in complex, messy workflows. They even add an acronym for this scenario to our alphabet soup vocabulary – PEST. In the messy real-world Steve and Daniel describe how to identify the constraint and then track it as it moves around. This is the difference between understanding flow in theory and doing something about it in practice. I used this approach twice just this week.  Another great and useful idea is the concept of full-kitting. I gauge the value of this kind of book by whether I can use the material and whether it makes me think. I have been able to use these concepts and more in my consulting practice since my first read of the book. The second time through, this re-read, has only deepened my understanding and appreciation of the ideas in TameFlow.

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Book cover: Tame your Work Flow
Tame your Work Flow

Today we tackle the whole of Part 7 which is Chapter 21 and the Epilogue.  Next week we will complete our re-read of Tame Your Work Flow with concluding remarks.  On November 28th we will kick off our re-read of Great Big Agile.

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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. 

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Book cover: Tame your Work Flow
Tame your Work Flow

Cue the eerie sound effects from low budget science fiction movies that signal time travel. After publishing our re-read of Chapter 19 last week, Steve Tendon sent me a message, “where is chapter 18?” I nearly responded right after chapter 17 but a little voice told me to check. Low and behold, I had not addressed Full-Kitting as Ongoing Executive Activity, otherwise known as chapter 18. Today, we go back in time and review the first chapter in Part 6 of Tame your Work Flow by Daniel Doiron and Steve Tendon. 

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Book cover: Tame your Work Flow
Tame your Work Flow

This week we tackle Chapter 19 of Steve Tendon and Daniel Doiron’s  Tame your Work Flow.  Chapter 19 combines many of the moving parts from the previous chapters into a set of tools for monitoring the execution of work.  The authors pick up at the portfolio level developed in Chapter 18. Portfolio items, once committed and placed into flow, can contain many groups of work that Steve and Daniel term Minimal Outcome-Value Effort or MOVEs (see week 14). Once in flow (being worked on), a flow manager picks up managing the MOVEs. 

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Book cover: Tame your Work Flow
Tame your Work Flow

I am pretty sure that Steve and Daniel might disagree with me, but I find the concept of full-kitting one of the most important ideas in Tame your Work Flow.  Chapter 17 provides more explanation for the concept. My involvement in software development, enhancements, maintenance, package and hardware installation, and configuration has made it very clear to me that flow needs to be a paramount concern. Value only accrues by getting work into the hands of the people that will use it and then having it operate correctly (delivering stuff nobody wants or that does not work is not flow or done).  Joe Schofield in SPaMCAST 619 calls this DONE. If you accept that flow is critical to predictability and delivering value, then the idea of full-kitting makes a huge amount of sense.

Full-kitting’s goal is to ensure that once a piece of work starts to be worked on it is not interrupted until it is “completely finished and delivered.”  For example, I recently was discussing why a team had an “on hold” class of service on their Kanban board. The answer was, “our three stakeholders regularly have us change what we are working on and do something else.” Had this been the first time I heard a statement like this I would have been shocked; unfortunately I was not. Many times stakeholders don’t carefully consider their needs and then jump the queue when something predictable comes up. I once worked with a team that supports marketing communications when scientists the organization funds when they win Nobel Prizes. Even in the off years when none of scientists win there is a huge amount of business and systems preparation just in case.  Many times the requirements arrive at the last second as if the Nobel Prize timeline snuck up on someone. This is one of self-inflicted stop and go scenarios envisioned by the authors. Pre-empting this scenario and others is what full-kitting is all about. 

As with anything that smacks of overhead or pre-planning there is always a chorus of people suggesting that there is not time and coding needs to start now! If you harvest excess capacity in the process there is always time to make sure things go smoothly. Steve and Daniel argue throughout the book that changes or use of time that does not involve the constraint will not impact the impact throughput. In this chapter they identify four types of capacity. 

  1. Productive capacity is the capacity required to get the work done (this is total touch time).
  2. Protective capacity is the capacity needed to allow the system to absorb small bumps without affecting the system’s performance and keep the constraint busy.
  3. Excess capacity is the capacity that is not used either to produce or protect throughput.
  4. Idle capacity is the total of protective capacity and excess capacity.

Use the excess capacity to do the things needed to make sure a piece of work can be completed without stopping. This might include planning for the right people and resources to be available when needed or building an architectural runway slightly ahead of the team’s need. The authors warn against the cost accounting trap, the knee jerk reaction to cut idle or excess capacity, because it strips teams and programs of options which all but ensures excess wait times. Running at 100% capacity means that when anything out of the ordinary occurs it will be difficult to recover. Without full-kitting the natural bumps in the road become full scale speed bumps.

Full-kitting includes doing enough design work and cross-functional discovery work needed to minimize the risks of a complex engineering environment. Many agile practitioners instinctively realize that embracing both an emerging architecture and business environment does not mean we have to begin work blindly. Full-kitting provides a construct for being as prepared as possible so that we can minimize starting, stopping, and rework to maximize flow.  


Have you bought your copy of  Steve Tendon and Daniel Doiron’s  Tame your Work Flow?  Use the link to support the authors and blog!  

Week 1: Logistics and Front Matter – https://bit.ly/2LWJ3EY

Week 2: Prologue (The Story of Herbie) – https://bit.ly/3h4zmTi

Week 3: Explicit Mental Models – https://bit.ly/2UJUZyN 

Week 4: Flow Efficiency, Little’s Law and Economic Impact – https://bit.ly/2VrIhoL 

Week 5: Flawed Mental Models – https://bit.ly/3eqj70m  

Week 6: Where To Focus Improvement Efforts – https://bit.ly/2DTvOUN 

Week 7: Introduction to Throughput Accounting and Culture – https://bit.ly/2DbhfLT 

Week 8: Accounting F(r)iction and  Show Me the Money – https://bit.ly/2XmDuWu 

Week 9: Constraints in the Work Flow and in the Work Process – https://bit.ly/33Uukoz 

Week 10: Understanding PEST Environments and Finding the Constraint in PEST Environments – https://bit.ly/3ga3ew9 

Week 11: Drum-Buffer-Rope Scheduling – https://bit.ly/32l0Z3Q 

Week 12: Portfolio Prioritization and Selection in PEST Environments – https://bit.ly/31Ea4WC 

Week 13: Flow Efficiency, DBR, and TameFlow Kanban Boards – https://bit.ly/32rYUVf 

Week 14: Outcomes, Values, and Efforts in PEST Environments – https://bit.ly/3jd52qw

Week 15: Introduction to Execution Management Signalshttps://bit.ly/3mS9j4V

Book cover: Tame your Work Flow
Tame your Work Flow

This chapter spends time describing and using Critical-Chain Project Management (CCPM) as a tool generating signals that help organizations control the flow of work in real-time and with a forward bias. I was introduced to CCPM early in my career (along with a number of other scheduling and planning tools). While I have not used these techniques as wholes recently  I have found the ideas they are based on and pieces and parts useful every day. This is a long way of saying, don’t skip to the next chapter. Steve and Daniel state very early in the chapter that “in the Tameflow Approach we are not thinking about the execution of the plan, but more specifically about the execution of the work.” Focusing on the execution of the work requires an appropriate mechanism that can signal trouble coming that is information-based rather than gut-based. 

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Book cover: Tame your Work Flow

Tame your Work Flow

Those that control work entry, control the health of a team, and at a product level, the health of the organization. Messrs. Tendon and Doiron discuss portfolio and work entry in Chapter 13 of  Tame your Work Flow. Putting my biases on the table I believe that Reinertsen (Product Development Flow) and Leffingwell et al. (Scaled Agile Framework Enterprise) have advanced the discussion of portfolio prioritization immensely with the concept of the Cost of Delay. That said, Steve and Daniel, advance the ball even further. The sad part of the conversation is that most organizations that I have insight into leverage brute force politics to prioritize portfolios and are subject to suboptimization within silos. (more…)

Book cover: Tame your Work Flow

Tame your Work Flow

Today we transition to Part 4: Maximizing Business Value in Knowledge-Work in Steve Tendon and Daniel Doiron’s  Tame your Work Flow. We are currently 40% through the book according to the Kindle App on my laptop.  (Side note: I would like to talk with anyone in the audience that uses a Kindle to read non-fiction books that they will later use for reference; I am working on a buying decision).

Chapter 9, Constraints in the Work Flow and in the Work Process, makes the transition away from the manufacturing world—where lean and Kanban have been prevalent approaches—and slams us into the topsy turvy world of knowledge work.  Steve and Daniel invoke two acronyms to help characterize the world most of us find ourselves in.  The first is VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity) and the second is PEST. PEST stands for: (more…)

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