Process Improvement


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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.

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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 (agilecxo.org). 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 http://agilecxo.org.

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…)

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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 (www.halfaker.com), 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 https://designinggreatorganizations.com.

Twitter: https://twitter.com/mikehking

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mikehking/D

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!  

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SPaMCAST 452 features our essay on personal process improvement.  We are responsible for our own path in life. Stepping back and reviewing where we are today and where we want to be tomorrow is a form of a retrospective.  Just like any other retrospective, the goal is to change the trajectory of the path you are on.   

Kim Pries, the Software Sensei, discusses ethics in software. Ethics guide (or they don’t) practitioners of all types.  Many certification organizations include ethics statements but rarely have the teeth to enforce those ethics.  Kim asks whether this approach makes sense.

Anchoring the cast is Jon Quigley with his Alpha and Omega of Product Development column.  Jon is beginning a three column theme on the impact of people and learning on product development. One of the places you can find Jon is at Value Transformation LLC.

Re-Read Saturday News

Today we continue re-reading The Science of Successful Organizational Change led by Steven Adams.  THis week we dive into Chapter One titled Failed Change:  The Greatest Preventable Cost to Business?  The frightening part of this chapter is how intimately it resonates based on personal observation. Remember to buy your copy.   

Previous installments:

Week 1: Game Plan

Week 2: Introduction   

Week 3: Failed Change

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The Software Process and Measurement Cast 434 features our essay on Change Implementations – To Big Bang or Not To Big Bang? The knee jerk reaction amongst transformation leaders is usually a loud NO! However, the answer is not nearly that cut and dry.  Big Bang approaches to change have a place in bag of tricks every transformation leader has at their fingertips.

The second column this week is from Steve Tendon. Steve Tendon brings another chapter in his Tame The Flow: Hyper-Productive Knowledge-Work Performance, The TameFlow Approach and Its Application to Scrum and Kanban, published by J Ross (buy a copy here) to the cast.  In this installment, we talk about Chapter 16, The (Super)-Human Side of Flow. In Chapter 16 Steve and Wolfram go into detail on in Kotter’s attributes of flow state.  A good discussion and a good read.

Our third column is from the Software Sensei, Kim Pries.  Kim discusses Fermi Problems. Fermi problems or questions are a tool to teach approximation and estimation.  These problems usually can be solved logically as a back-of-the-envelope calculation. The last time we talked about Fermi Problems was when we were re-reading How To Measure Anything (Hubbard).

Re-Read Saturday News

This week we tackle Chapter 7 of Carol Dweck’s Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (buy your copy and read along).  Chapter 7, titled “Parents, Teachers, Coaches: Where Do Mindsets Come From? explores the impact of some of the most intimate and earliest relationships on our mindsets. Understanding how parents, teachers, and coaches affect mindsets helps us learn to lead change.

We are quickly closing in on the end of our re-read of Mindset.  I anticipate two more weeks (Chapter 8 and a round up).  The next book in the series will be Holacracy (Buy a copy today). After my recent interview with Jeff Dalton on Software Process and Measurement Cast 433, I realized that I had only read extracts from Holacracy by Brian J. Robertson, therefore we will read (first time for me) the whole book together.

Every week we discuss a chapter then consider the implications of what we have “read” from the point of view of both someone pursuing an organizational transformation and using the material when coaching teams.   (more…)

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People involved with conceiving, directing and coaching change overwhelmingly favor incremental change methods.  The support for incrementalism always comes with caveats.  Those caveats can be consolidated into three requirements. Organizations with effective incremental change programs are pursuing a vision, have an appreciation for the need to increase tolerance to change, and embrace innovation. (more…)

A Thali is an incremental meal

Incrementalism–doing small changes in order to achieve a larger effect–comes in many styles and flavors.  The many variations of this approach have titles such experimentation, continuous process improvement, kaizen events, and plan-do-check-act cycles (PDCA).  To paraphrase 20th Century toothpaste commercials, 4 out of 5 process improvement professionals recommend incrementalism.  Agile and Lean are full of examples of branded incremental change models including the Toyota Production System, Scrum and Kanban (when applied to process improvement). We can see the impact of incrementalism on how these frameworks are constructed by observing the individual techniques such as sprints and time boxes, daily stand-ups both in scrum and XP, and retrospectives, to name a few.  Each technique reinforces taking small steps and seeking feedback for re-planning.  If you don’t want to consider frameworks or techniques remember that the agile mantra of inspect and adapt is a statement of incrementalism.   Incrementalism makes changes to how work is done by shifting the focus from the one big project or implementation to taking small steps, gathering feedback and then reacting. This approach to change is not new. Deming popularized the PDCA cycle early in the 20th Century.  Practitioners embrace incrementalism because making many small changes one after another provides feedback fast, which enhances organizational learning and mitigates many of the risks seen in Big Bang models. Four attributes support learning and risk reduction:

  1. Learning – PDCA type or inspect and adapt models all are built on the expectation that when a change is made, the impact will be reviewed and then the feedback will be used to improve how work is done.  Feedback is used as a learning device, where the faster feedback is generated the higher the possibility of learning.
  2. Risk mitigation – Steven Adams, agile consultant (SPaMCAST 412) stated, “Continuous process improvement is a less risky route.  But could be the slower.” Incremental changes typically will not imperil the organization in the way Big Bang or “bet the farm” type changes could.  For example which has more risk: a bank merger or adding hundreds of customers one at a time through a production interface? While this might not be a perfect analogy the larger change that gets feedback only when it’s completed will ALWAYS be riskier. Along with reducing the risk that size generates, smaller increments help ensure that that change programs don’t wander away from the vision that launched them.  Todd Field, senior project manager and Scrum master described it as, “I believe you need to have a Big Bang vision and an incremental improvements plan.“  Techniques like delivery cadence (e.g. Scrum’s sprint cycle) keep changes small and requiring product owner and stakeholder’s acceptance expose risks before they can become issues making incremental changes safer.
  3. Accumulation – Incremental changes building toward an overall goal are often compared to compound interest.  Small changes build on each other until the return is significantly higher than simply making each of the changes in isolation.  Dominique Bourget, the Process Philosopher described this concept as “It is like losing weight… you get more benefit by exercising one hour each day than to exercise 30 hours in a row on the last day of the month.”
  4. Adaptation to the pace of change in external environment – Software development environments are very dynamic.  New methods, techniques and tools are investigated, implemented and discarded as organizations try to get more done within corporate budgetary restraints. We all know the mantra faster, better, and cheaper.  Because of the rate of long term change in the development environment, change programs often lose focus or sponsorship.  Incremental changes are better at reacting to change and adjusting to the level of urgency within an organization.  Kristie Lawrence, IFPUG Past President, suggested that “continuous process improvement allows you to slowly and surely improve. The trick is to manage the scope of what is being improved – changing one thing changes the entire “system” and surface things that you never knew about.”  Implementing small changes provides a feedback loop to continually test the need for further changes.

Incremental changes provide organizations with a tool to minimize the risk of change.  Agile pundits, originally made the point in terms of software development.  The same ideas that make incremental change useful for software development are equally useful for improving the value of continuous improvement all across the business while reducing risk. As a result,  practitioners are predisposed to championing incremental change.

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