What to consider when attempting to improve your methods

February 18, 2016 — Posted by Al Shalloway

As a consultant I get to see dozens ­of Lean-Agile transitions a year.  Unfortunately, I notice that the implications of systems-thinking is not only lost on most companies, but on most consultants as well.   Local optimization efforts such as a focus on Agile teams while ignoring portfolio management or assuming a bottom up team-to-team approach can work are fairly ineffective.  The resulting frustration often leads companies to try to throw money at the solution – either hiring more people or coaches.   However, without a systems-thinking approach, things typically get worse and more difficult to correct.

Systems thinking tells us that:

  • Most challenges are due to the system
  • Local optimizations not guided by a global view usually cause problems elsewhere
  • Holistic does not imply command and control from the top
  • Managers’ jobs are to improve the systemVisibility of both work and the way it is being done is essential and also does not imply a command and control environment

Systems thinking can guide us how to invest more wisely:

Work on improving your systems.

  • Don’t hire more people to get more productivity in a bad system unless they are clearly constraints (it will just make it harder to improve)*
  • Don’t overly focus on teams if the real challenge is on how your teams work together (note: hiring team coaches may be a bad idea)
  • Do start with an overall view of improvement from load balancing, to eco-system structure to better workflow
  • Do invest in better development environments if they are slowing down your teams

One must use one’s budget wisely when undergoing a Lean-Agile transformation.  When looking at bringing in coaches or consultants, ask yourself, “are they changing the system or just aspects of the system?” If the work they are guiding you with is not end-to-end, it’s the later, and possibly counter-productive.

Bottom line, look to see if your intended actions are a local-optimization bottom up approach or take an holistic approach.  Unclogging part of a clogged pipe still leaves you with a clogged pipe.

Al Shalloway
CEO, SPCT

* I once told a client the biggest concern that I had was that they had money and that they were going to use it to hire people, making a bad system worse by making it bigger.

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About the author | Al Shalloway

Al Shalloway is the founder and CEO of Net Objectives. With over 40 years of experience, Alan is an industry thought leader in Lean, Kanban, product portfolio management, SAFe, Scrum and agile design.



        

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