Process Improvement


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 that meeting new people and seeing new situations directly.  I miss the variety of stimuli that 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 that combines strategies of fixed blocks of time, cadence, and focus which limit 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…)

Off leash area ahead sign for dogs

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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SPaMCAST 529 features our essay titled Habit and Commitment.  We are still early enough in the year to be pursuing new beginnings and the New Year resolutions you made a few weeks ago.  Commitment and habits can be positively interrelated. Commitment is being dedicated to a cause or activity. Habits reflect a more or less fixed routine.

We also have a visit from the Software Sensei, Kim Pries.  Kim discusses nonlinear and analog thinking. Kim’s essay is a perfect counterpoint to Habit and Commitment

Re-Read Saturday News
I decided to complete the content portion of the re-read of Bad Blood this week.   From a team-level perspective, I believe we can all recognize some if not all of the behaviors seen in Bad Blood, albeit on a far less sociopathic scale. If this were a business novel, it would be easy to assume that the behavior shown in the book is hyperbole used to make a grand point.  In Theranos’s case, the supporting reading I have done suggests the book is somewhat understated. Why do people take the abuse? Why is money the only thing that matters to some? Why do some people say yes to doing work they know is ethically wrong? I am not sure this book answers those questions nor do I think my analysis can shed light on the psychological rationale of individuals; however, next week we will wrap up our re-read by reflecting on the impact of Theranos like behavior at the team level.  Remember that we will re-read The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell next (get a copy soon).

Current Entry:
Week 12 : Chapters 19 through Epilogue – https://bit.ly/2RoSYZ3 (more…)

Book Cover

 

This week we conclude our re-read of The Checklist Manifesto with a few final thoughts and notes and a restatement of a checklist for a checklist that Stephen Adams contributed in the comments for Chapter 9 – they deserve more exposure.  A few of the key takeaways are: (more…)

Book Cover

 

This week we tackle Chapter 9 of The Checklist Manifesto .  The Save is the final chapter in the book.  Next week we will discuss our final thoughts and decide on the next book.  In chapter 9 Atul Gawande expresses his experiences with the surgical checklist he helped to create.  A combination of emotion and evidence.

The Save is the shortest chapter in The Checklist Manifesto weighing in at only 5 pages.  Perhaps I should have considered the chapter when we talked about The Fix (chapter 8) but I even though the chapter is short the message is important.  The two major points in this chapter are:

  1. Don’t be a hypocrite.  Change agents must eat their own dog food. In this instance, Gawande talked about how he used the checklist in his own practice.  When you are helping to shape change, using your own advice provides a number of benefits. Those benefits include generating feedback based on first-hand observation and taking and holding the moral high ground.
  2. Checklists are effective at improving outcomes.  In the chapter, the author references several examples, including one that saved a patients life, of how checklists are effective to help improve outcomes and generate the conversations between team members.

Given the title of the book, wrapping the up the book with a statement about the effectiveness of checklists is not a shock.  The example of a patient that nearly died that is the backbone of the chapter is important as a final statement because it reiterates that we have to think and talk about what we are doing even if we have performed the action a hundred times before.  Gawande’s message is not dissimilar to the message that L. David Marquet delivered when he described deliberate actions. Our actions regardless of the outcome will have an impact on the world around us, therefore, try to make the impact as positive as possible. Our review of chapter 8 (last week) ended with the admonition “try a checklist,”  After chapter 9 I would add, “because our actions matter.”

We need your input to choose the next book.  I will cut off the poll on October 3rd. Make sure your voice is heard!

Remember to buy a copy of The Checklist Manifesto and READ along!

Previous Installments:

Week 9 – The Hero In The Age of Checklistshttps://bit.ly/2PWu2TC

Week 8 – The Fix – https://bit.ly/2NeKyBE

Week 7 – The Checklist Factoryhttps://bit.ly/2wV3yu3

Week 6 – The First Tryhttps://bit.ly/2Q0PhVt

Week 5 – The Ideahttps://bit.ly/2PCs0Zz

Week 4 – The End Of The Master Builderhttps://bit.ly/2BmIGBc

Week 3 – The Checklisthttps://bit.ly/2KMhVFR

Week 2 – The Problem With Extreme Complexityhttps://bit.ly/2AGZQZX

Week 1 – Approach and Introductionhttps://bit.ly/2LYi9Lv

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