Process Improvement


You have to measure to improve!

The nine most commonly cited reasons for an agile transformation range from coldly tangible to ethereal.  As we have noted, each of the reasons can berestated as a question(s) that can be answered quantitatively.  How the question(s) is stated provides clarity to the organization’s goal.  This is no different than the way acceptance criteria and test cases define the nuances and provide clarity to user stories.  Today, I’m presenting an example of how data can be used as a feedback loop to highlight misinterpretation of intent and provide an impetus for behavior change. (more…)

Quote from Mark Twain - too much whiskey is barely enough

Can you prove it?

Organizations and team embrace a framework or technique for a purpose. That purpose is generally to address a real or perceived problem.  When you get very specific, each change is done a different reason.  When teams or organizations are asked whether they attained their goals, solved the problems they intended or realized the promised benefits, very few have gathered more than a handful of success stories before losing focus and moving to the next big thing. Unless you can answer whether the framework or technique delivered tangible value,  leaders will be reluctant to spend money on changes.  Best practices are a point in case.  Best practices are, by definition, practices that some have found useful (or at least that someone has professed are useful).  Every process improvement and/or best practice adoption that is not legally mandated needs to follow the following high-level feedback loop.

  1. Decide why you are making the change and what the outcome of the change will be in tangible terms. Developing a solid reason for why you are making a change may sound like a trivial step, however, the rationale will often directly impact the passion for making the change. People pursue survival changes with a lot more vigor than incremental quality of life improvements.
  2. Develop a hypothesis of why the change you are making will satisfy the rationale for the change.  Changes that actually work rarely are the outcome of magical thinking or dumb luck. If there is no logical reason the change you are proposing will have an impact you are very likely wasting time and money.  Use the scientific method!
  3. Set SMART goals that will be used to track and evaluate the change.  As a reminder, SMART stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.  The goals should cover the journey and outcome based on the hypothesis crafted in step 2.
  4. Benchmark the process you are changing.  Consider collecting data specific to the change and data to evaluate the impact on the overall system.
  5. Make the change.  You still have to make and support the change.  Your journey measures will be helpful to make sure that the change is being implemented well.
  6. Collect the data to show the impact (compared to the benchmark developed in step 4) for several cycles after the change has been implemented.
  7. Use the data you collect to tune the process. Pick a feedback loop and tune the process.  Rarely are major changes perfect right out of the box.  Using feedback to tune the process helps to ingrain the change and to make sure it is delivering value.
  8. Report your findings.  Share the impact with everyone involved.  Positive data will help to reinforce the change and will help sell the next round of changes.  In scenarios where the change doesn’t deliver value reporting reinforces the principle of transparency.  If a change doesn’t deliver, don’t double down on a failure; revert back and try something else.

People make changes to how they work on a daily basis.  Some changes are minor and, in some cases, are not worth developing a full-scale proof of impact. For example, deciding on whether to order grilled tofu or pizza for the team lunch doesn’t require a proof of impact.  Some large-scale changes like adopting Scrum, Kanban or DevOps require a great deal of time, focus, and money. It makes sense to be able to answer the question of whether you got what we thought you would get with something more substantive than a shrug.

Next an example

How to decide?

Consensus decision making requires a number of prerequisites to be effective.  The prerequisites include a common goal, trust, commitment, participation, facilitation and a decision-making process.  There are numerous documented processes for making consensus decisions, each tailored to a specific set of circumstances.

Clear Process

A clear process makes consensus decision making easier because the process ensures that all viewpoints have time to be examined.  Following a defined process tends to be most impactful when the team is new, membership is dynamic or the group is large.  In all of these cases, a process helps to control potential chaos. The following process flow is a synthesis of a number of methods for team level consensus decision-making. (more…)

The Science of Successful Organizational Change

The Science of Successful Organizational Change

This week Steven completes the re-read of Paul Gibbons’ book The Science of Successful Organizational Change. If you are involved in change (and everyone is) this book is a must read and a must re-read.  Next week we will feature a review of the graphic novel version of The Goal.  Steven’s final thoughts—

Final thoughts about Paul Gibbons “The Science of Successful Organizational Change”

A Great Reference

I found the quote on the cover to hold true.  “Place it on the bookshelf next to the Halo Effect, Switch, and The Fifth Discipline – in easy reach for rereading.”  Rolf Häsänen

You can use this book to get started with your own new initiatives.

Change Management (so much of the book covers this), but if you want to formulate a strategy to counter the resistance to change, turn to page 226 and re-read table 8.1 – A Holistic Model of Resistance to Change – to classify why people are resisting the change.

A word about Habitual change resistance – remember “Mind the Gap” – the gap between people wanting to change versus the difficulty in actually making the change (e.g., diets!) (more…)

No Mowing Sign

The Environment is Complex

Having been involved in the world of buying, building, maintaining, and testing software for many years, one of the longest running conversations between everyone involved with delivering value is the impact of complexity on cost, effort, quality and even on the ultimate solution to business problems.  The concept of complexity and the impact of complexity is unfortunately – complex.   The importance of developing an understanding of complexity is complicated by a lack of a crisp definition and a confusion of the topic with the concept of complicated.  The difference between complicated and complex is not a mere nuance; the distinction will affect the options we perceive are available to solve any specific problem.



Listen Now
Subscribe on iTunes
Check out the podcast on Google Play Music

SPaMCAST 457 features our essay on cognitive biases and their impact on decision making.  If you doubt the impact of biases on decision making, read chapter five of The Science of Successful Organizational Change (current Re-read Saturday Book) and listen to this week’s podcast!

Our second column this week is from Jon M Quigley (The Alpha and Omega of Product Development), Jon continues his theme of learning organizations with penetrating insight on how a learning organization evolves.

Kim Pries (The Software Sensei) anchors the cast this week with a strong argument that if you want to improve the software you are delivering begin by hiring the right people!

We also have a promo for 2017 Agile Leadership Summit:

Mark your calendar for an entirely new class of business conference. More “business theater” than a conference, the 2017 Agile Leadership Summit (September 22nd in Washington, DC) is sponsored by AgileCxO ( It features an integrated mix of six vignettes on Agile leadership, two fantastic industry keynotes, and onstage jazz musicians who are demonstrating agility, iteration, and excellence throughout. Learn more at

Re-Read Saturday News

This week Steven dives into Chapter 6 of Paul Gibbons’ book The Science of Successful Organizational Change.   There are a lot of techniques that I see used on a daily basis that are based on pop psychology. Confronting the true believers is often a lot like jousting at windmills. Remember to use the link in the essay to buy a copy of the book to support the author, the podcast, and the blog!   

This week and previous installments: (more…)


Listen Now
Subscribe on iTunes
Check out the podcast on Google Play Music

SPaMCAST 455 features our interview with Michael King.  We talked about Michael’s approach to Agile, process improvement and the CMMI at Halfaker and Associates.  Michael provides a glimpse into making a change in the real world.  Mr. King delivers more than just theory.  One word describes the interview – insightful.

Michael’s Bio:

Michael King serves as Chief Technology Officer at Halfaker and Associates (, leading customer solution architecture, internal IT operations, business process architecture, and quality management activities.  Michael has 14 years of systems engineering, project management, and process design experience within the Federal contracting industry.  He has previously served as Halfaker’s Chief Operating Officer.  Prior to Halfaker, Michael worked within Lockheed Martin’s Critical Infrastructure Protection group, providing system engineering support related to identity management, physical security, and cyber security.  Michael holds a Bachelors in Computer Engineering from the University of Virginia, a Masters in Information Systems and Technology from Johns Hopkins, and several professional certifications (PMP, PMI-ACP, SAFe SA).  Michael King writes about organization design, Agile, and process management at



Re-Read Saturday News

This week Steven dives into Chapter 3 of Paul Gibbons’ book The Science of Successful Organizational Change.  This chapter has provided me several sleepless nights considering the difference between complicated and complex systems.  Understanding the difference is important making change happen, work, and stick!  Remember to use the link in the essay to buy a copy of the book to support the author, the podcast, and the blog!  

This week and previous installments: (more…)


Next Page »