Process Improvement

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In SPaMCAST 692 we discuss Process Improvement as a phrase or perhaps even a mantra. Uttering the phrase evokes all sorts of baggage and cognitive biases that affect behaviors, not always for the better. What are the listeners of the Software Process and Measurement Cast to do?  

We also have a visit from Tony TImbol who brings his “To Tell A Story” column to the Podcast. We dive headlong into the tangled world of user stories and agile requirements.  Tony also announces his new ebook on agile requirements.

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This week the Cast features our essay titled, “Collaboration – Disconnected.” The improvement imperative is driven by the need to stay competitive at a holistic level. One would expect that continuous process improvement or continuous improvement would be discussed earnestly at every staff meetings at every level of an organization, and at every meeting. It isn’t.

Jon M. Quigley returns with an installment of the Alpha and Omega of Product Development.  Jon and I completed an arc on product quality with a discussion of the cost of poor quality. 

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The improvement imperative is driven by the need to stay competitive at a holistic level. One would expect that continuous process improvement or continuous improvement would be discussed earnestly at every staff meeting at every level of an organization, and at every meeting.  However, interest in process improvement vacillates based on pressure on budgets. This observation suggests a disconnect, given that almost every framework specifically highlights the need for a continuous focus on improvement — it is even mentioned in the principles of the Agile Manifesto. 


I have not worked outside of my home office since mid-April. There are lots of benefits to this change. My commute is really short, I run a lot more, I get to hang out with my wife more, and I have lost 42 pounds. But not everything is unicorns and rainbows — time feels a bit wonky.  For example, Friday comes and it no longer the demarcation between the workweek and weekend it once was.  TGIF does not have quite the allure it once had. I also miss the stimulus of meeting new people and seeing new situations directly.  The missing stimuli has lead me to rediscover Pomodoro.  Pomodoro is a technique that is useful for attacking productivity killers: procrastination and multitasking and it is useful for more successful time slicing. The technique was developed by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s. It combines strategies of fixed blocks of time, cadence, and focus which limits work-in-progress to get work done. As a reminder the basic Pomodoro process is fairly simple and straightforward: (more…)

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The Software Process and Measurement Cast 604 features a presentation that I did on the need for organizations to lean into processes improvement as the COVID-19 disaster abates (at least for the time being). Continuous improvement can’t be just a slogan during an economic downturn. 

We also have a visit from Jon M Quigley with his Alpha and Omega of Product Development Column. Jon and I talked about the definition of quality and whether the concept of quality is a matter of perception. We don’t exactly agree . . . what are your thought? (more…)

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Is Process Improvement Off-leash?

Process Improvement is a phrase with baggage that evokes a number of cognitive biases that affect behaviors, not always for the better. To test this hypothesis I asked a few people (no attempt at a valid survey). Two responses reflect the wide variety of reactions that the phrase generates. Lisa Halberg of Relativity used terms like coercion and resistance whereas Chris Teter of West Monroe Partners used terms such as meetings, tweaking, and opportunities for automation. Both answers establish anchor biases that will color how the respondent will react to the phrase process improvement. When pressed the word “process” carried most of the negative baggage. Part of the overfocus on the word process is a reflection of a not uncommon misinterpretation of the first value in the Agile Manifesto, “…we have come to value: Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.” Some of the people that have embraced agile reject the idea that processes are required. While this does not reflect a consensus view, those that hold that belief are often the loudest voices in the crowd. On the other side of the coin are those who have adopted an equally dangerous obsession with the idea that discovery and knowledge work is as mechanistic as an assembly line and therefore can be described and proscribed down to the task level. Neither extreme makes sense except in very specific scenarios. Most of us live in the great gray area where some common process exists but nothing is perfectly deterministic. If we focus on the one core principle the greatest majority of knowledge workers can agree upon, the need to continuously learn and improve, we can find a neutral phase with a useful set of characteristics to help broaden our perspective.  (more…)

Perfect Tulips

Not everything is as perfect as tulips in the spring!

Process improvement is a critical 21st-century survival skill all organizations need to embrace.  In the late 20th-century process improvement was a code word for cost-cutting and outsourcing, in 2020 it is about reinvention and changing capabilities so that organizations and teams can seek a new short-term equilibrium. Change is initiated by defining scope and making decisions about what will be within the focus of a process improvement initiative, but that just gets the ball rolling.  The next step requires diagnosing a set of problems. IDEAL combines both identifying and qualifying opportunities. At the risk of messing with the acronym, I’m going to approach components separately beginning with identification.  (more…)

Dawn over Lake Erie

Focusing on process improvement is cyclic. During economic contractions, the need to become more efficient and effective at the same time becomes more important because process improvement can have an impact on jobs, budgets, and strategies. That said, process improvement is almost always focused on teams rather than value chains or organizations. In times of economic stress, that team-specific focus usually leave improvements on the table. The three common focuses for process improvement initiatives are: (more…)

Two Pollo Tacos

The Ideal Tacos

The world’s economy is suffering a tremendous shock. Every other email that pops into my email box screams crisis. Businesses are experiencing a crisis of cost containment driven by falling revenues coupled with a looming debt crisis. Gallup Research is sponsoring a webinar on May 7th to talk about the problems being caused by rising health care costs. The bottom line, every budget manager is going to be pushed very hard to manage their budget closely, spend as judiciously as possible, and deliver the most value possible. The noise level about cost issues in the computing media, suggests a strong need for integrating lean concepts into agile approaches. Many organizations falsely believe that they are less sensitive to cost considerations. The IDEAL model provides a useful framework for finding ways to generate more value and to prove it.  A quick definition of IDEAL: (more…)

I am spending a week with a large subset of my family, lots of running around, food and conversation — not very conducive to generating new content. I am reprinting (and re-editing) an essay published on 14 March 2017 after a trip to India.  The title is —

Four Attributes That Support Incremental Change Initiatives (more…)

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