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SPaMCAST 493 features our essay titled Thoughts on Kaizen The punchline is that the goal of continuous improvement is to help teams to eliminate waste (Muda, Muri, Mura), while improving an organization’s capability to deliver value.

Our second column features Jeremy Berriault.  In this installment of the QA Corner (https://qacorner.blog/).  Jeremy and I talked about his upcoming appearance at QAI Quest. Jeremy is talking about TDD test cases and participating in the Managers Solutions Workshop.  

Anchoring the cast is  Wolfram Müller. Wolfram co-authored Hyper-Productive Knowledge Work Performance, The TameFlow Approach with Steve Tendon.  We talk about Chapter 22 titled In Practice with Scrum.  Wolfram can be found on LinkedIn at https://bit.ly/2qXvgnw

Re-Read Saturday News

In week eight of the re-read of L. David Marquet’s Turn the Ship Around! we discuss chapters 10 and 11, titled Under Way on Nuclear Power and  I Intend To . . .”.

Current Installment:

Week 8: Under Way on Nuclear Power and ”I Intend To . . .” – https://bit.ly/2rnvkgx (more…)

A Beer, A Dessert or Both!

Kaizen covers a wide range of activities. Anchoring the two ends of the range are the two core types of kaizen: flow and process kaizen. The Gemba Academy calls these two types of kaizen, point and system kaizen. For the sake of simplicity, because the word process is used more broadly in process improvement we will use the terms point and system. System kaizen relates to studying and changing how materials or information move through an organization. Refining or rearranging the flow of a system can require the reorganizing of a whole organization. System kaizen delivers more wide-ranging value, but is rarer than point kaizen. Point kaizen focuses on changing the specific day-to-day activities performed by people or machines. In manufacturing terms, point kaizen changes work stands or workstations. Point kaizen, often shortened simply to kaizen, refers to small-scale continuous changes that are an important part of continuous process improvement programs. Both types of changes are typically required to generate sustainable discontinuous changes within an organization needed to address a dynamic world. The characteristics of the two extremes of the kaizen continuum help to illuminate their individual and joint usage.

 

Point or Process Kaizen Flow or System Kaizen
Process Focus System Focus
Workcell Impact Organizational Impact
Incremental Change Discontinuous Change
Discrete from Other Kaizen Events Group of Interrelated Events
Reactive Proactive

Focusing on a specific process, task or activity is both a strength and a weakness for point kaizen. The rigorous focus of point kaizen is very similar to use of timeboxes in agile. The use of a specifically focused event is useful to break through analysis paralysis.  The short focused nature of kaizen events remind the participants that they must deliver value quickly. The downside is that incrementalism can lead to local optimization (optimizing a step at the expense of the overall system). A retrospective is a close cousin to a very short point kaizen event.

System kaizen requires taking a system thinking point of view. Practitioners of system kaizen will need to develop a vision of the future state vision for the whole organization, leveraging concepts like value stream maps. Systems kaizen identifies areas to use process kaizen (but rarely the other way around). Executing system level kaizen requires long-term coordination of multiple interrelated kaizen events.

Regardless of which type of approach, the goal of any kaizen is to identify changes that make the organization better. One metric of successful change is the impact on the bottom line. Regardless of initial success and celebration, change must be sustainable to be truly successful. You must consider the impact on the value stream and business value when evaluating the effectiveness of a kaizen event. The impact of change events, especially those not connected to an overall vision can often be fleeting. Fleeting equates to rapid incremental change followed by equally fast memory loss when the next new idea for change is identified. Point kaizen coordinated by system kaizen delivers more coordinated value than incremental change alone.

Fire Alarm

 

Kaizen is a Japanese word meaning good change. Change in a dynamic business environment has become an accepted norm. Organizations must adapt or lose relevancy. The concept of kaizen has been adopted within the information technology industry as part of core management practices. In business terms, kaizen has been defined as continuous incremental change. You need energy to make change occur, in many cases, a sense of urgency is the mechanism used to generate the energy to drive continuous change. (more…)

Bottlenecks constrain flow!

Bottlenecks constrain flow!

 

We are revisiting one of more popular essays from 2013 and will return to Re-read Saturday next week with Chapter 4 “Creating A Guiding Coalition.”  

Kanban implementation is a powerful tool to focus the continuous improvement efforts of teams and organizations on delivering more value.  Kanban, through the visualization of work in progress, helps to identify constraints (this is an implementation of the Theory of Constraints).  Add to visualization the core principles discussed in the Daily Process Thoughts, Kanban: An Overview and Introduction which include feedback loops and transparency to regulate the process and an impetus to improve as a team and evolve using models and the scientific method and we have a process improvement engine.

Kanban describes units of work that are blocked or stalled as bottlenecks.  Finding and removing bottlenecks increases the flow of work through the process, therefore increasing the delivery of value.

A perfect example of a bottleneck exists in the highway system in Cleveland, Ohio (the closest major city to my home).  A highway (three lanes in each direction) sweeps into town along the shore of Lake Erie.  When it reaches the edge of downtown the highway makes a nearly 90 degree left hand turn.  The turn is known as Dead Man’s Curve.   Instantly cars and trucks must slow down.  Even when there is no accident the traffic can backup for miles during rush hour.  The turn is a constraint that creates a bottleneck.   If the city wanted to improve the flow of traffic, removing the Dean Man’s Curve bottleneck would help substantially.

Here’s an IT example to see how a bottleneck is identified and how a team could attack the bottleneck. We will use a simple Kanban board.   In this example, the team has a backlog similarly sized units of work.  Each step of the process has a WIP limit.  One of the core practices in Kanban is that WIP limits are not to be systematically violated.

Each step can have different WIP limits.

Each step can have different WIP limits.

As work is drawn through the process, there will be a bottleneck as soon as the analysis for the first wave of work is completed because development only has the capacity to start work on four items. In our example of an application of Kanban, when a unit of work completes the analysis step it will be pulled into the development step only if capacity exists.  In this case one unit of work is immediately blocked and becomes inventory (shown below as the item marked with the letter “B”.

Unbalanced process flows cause bottlenecks

Unbalanced process flows cause bottlenecks

The team has three basic options.  The first is to continue to pull more items into the analysis step and continue to build inventory until the backlog is empty.  This option creates a backlog of work that is waiting for the feedback, increasing the potential rework as defects are found and new decisions are made.  The second possibility is that team members swarm to the blocked unit and add capacity to a step until the blocked unit is freed.  This solution makes a sense if the reason for the blockage is temporary, like a developer that is out sick.  The third (and preferred) option is to change the process to create a balanced flow of work.  In this example, the goal would be to rearrange people and tools to create a balanced WIP limits.

Process improvement maximizes throughput.

Process improvement maximizes throughput.

 Visually tracking work is a powerful tool for identifying bottlenecks.  Kanban’s core practices dissuade practitioners from violating WIP because it limits the stress in the process, which leads to technical debt, defects and rework. Other core practices provide a focus on continuous process improvement so that when a bottleneck is identified, the team works to remove it.  Continually improving the flow work through the development process increases an organization’s ability to deliver value to customers.

 

Fire Alarm

Kaizen is a Japanese word meaning good change. Change in a dynamic business environment has become an accepted norm. Organizations must adapt or lose relevancy. The concept of kaizen has been adopted within the information technology industry as part of core management practices. In business terms, kaizen has been defined as continuous incremental change. You need energy to make change occur, in many cases, a sense of urgency is the mechanism used to generate the energy to drive continuous change.

John Kotter, author of Leading Change and the eight-step model of change, suggests that without a sense of urgency people don’t give the needed push of hard work to make change happen. Urgency begins by providing a focus that helps people to first become aware of the need for change and then pay attention to the need and the factors causing the need by piercing through the noise. (See the awareness, attention, action model). The energy a sense of urgency injects into the process is needed make the step from paying attention to taking to break through complacency and disrupt the status quo.

The need for urgency in the equation for change can lead to problems. The first is the potential for confusing importance with urgency. In a perfect world, we would only want to react to what is both important and urgent. The second problem area is that of manufactured/false urgency. Both problematic scenarios lead to the sapping of the organization’s energy in the long term, which makes it more difficult to recognize and react when real change is needed. If further there is an over reliance on a manufactured or a false sense of urgency the focus becomes short-term rather than strategic.

My first job out of university was as a statistical analyst/sales forecaster for a woman’s garment manufacturer. We had six “seasons” or product line offerings every year. Quotas were set for the sales force (incrementally bigger than last year). The sales management team for regional sales managers to the national sales manager provided constant “motivation” to the sales force. Motivation always included the dire consequences of missing the quota. There was always a sense of urgency, which drove action, including account prospecting (good behavior) and order padding (bad behavior). The manufactured urgency generated both good and bad change, and when things were going well it was pretty easy to sort those out. However, the business cycle has never been repealed and when an economic downturn occurred it was difficult to differentiate the real urgency. Therefore the organization did not make strategic changes quickly enough. A 80 year old firm with 750 million dollars in sales failed nearly overnight.

Urgency can become a narcotic that makes the need real change harder to recognize and harder to generate. Signs of an over reliance on urgency can include:

  • People that are “too busy” to do the right thing,
  • Generating highly crafted PowerPoint pitches for even small changes,
  • Continually chasing a new silver bullet before the last has been evaluated.

The goal of kaizen is to continually improve the whole organization. The whole organization includes empowering everyone from development and operational personnel to all layers of management to recognize and make change. Motivation is needed to evoke good change, however we need to be careful that motivation does not translate to a need to generate a false sense of urgency.

Bottlenecks constrain flow!

Bottlenecks constrain flow!

Kanban implementation is a powerful tool to focus the continuous improvement efforts of teams and organizations on delivering more value.  Kanban, through the visualization of work in progress, helps to identify constraints (this is an implementation of the Theory of Constraints).  Add to visualization the core principles discussed in the Daily Process Thoughts, Kanban: An Overview and Introduction which include feedback loops and transparency to regulate the process and an impetus to improve as a team and evolve using models and the scientific method and we have a process improvement engine.

Kanban describes units of work that are blocked or stalled as bottlenecks.  Finding and removing bottlenecks increases the flow of work through the process, therefore increasing the delivery of value.

A perfect example of a bottleneck exists in the highway system in Cleveland, Ohio (the closest major city to my home).  A highway (three lanes in each direction) sweeps into town along the shore of Lake Erie.  When it reaches the edge of downtown the highway makes a nearly 90 degree left hand turn.  The turn is known as Dead Man’s Curve.   Instantly cars and trucks must slow down.  Even when there is no accident the traffic can backup for miles during rush hour.  The turn is a constraint that creates a bottleneck.   If the city wanted to improve the flow of traffic, removing the Dean Man’s Curve bottleneck would help substantially.

Here’s an IT example to see how a bottleneck is identified and how a team could attack the bottleneck. We will use a simple Kanban board.   In this example, the team has a backlog similarly sized units of work.  Each step of the process has a WIP limit.  One of the core practices in Kanban is that WIP limits are not to be systematically violated.

Each step can have different WIP limits.

Each step can have different WIP limits.

As work is drawn through the process, there will be a bottleneck as soon as the analysis for the first wave of work is completed because development only has the capacity to start work on four items. In our example of an application of Kanban, when a unit of work completes the analysis step it will be pulled into the development step only if capacity exists.  In this case one unit of work is immediately blocked and becomes inventory (shown below as the item marked with the letter “B”.

Unbalanced process flows cause bottlenecks

Unbalanced process flows cause bottlenecks

The team has three basic options.  The first is to continue to pull more items into the analysis step and continue to build inventory until the backlog is empty.  This option creates a backlog of work that is waiting for the feedback, increasing the potential rework as defects are found and new decisions are made.  The second possibility is that team members swarm to the blocked unit and add capacity to a step until the blocked unit is freed.  This solution makes a sense if the reason for the blockage is temporary, like a developer that is out sick.  The third (and preferred) option is to change the process to create a balanced flow of work.  In this example, the goal would be to rearrange people and tools to create a balanced WIP limits.

Process improvement maximizes throughput.

Process improvement maximizes throughput.

 Visually tracking work is a powerful tool for identifying bottlenecks.  Kanban’s core practices dissuade practitioners from violating WIP because it limits the stress in the process, which leads to technical debt, defects and rework. Other core practices provide a focus on continuous process improvement so that when a bottleneck is identified, the team works to remove it.  Continually improving the flow work through the development process increases an organization’s ability to deliver value to customers.