Integrate, Unify, Create Choices, Decide

July 5, 2016 — Posted by Al Shalloway

I am currently writing a series of blogs on Lean-Thinking and how to use it to improve Scrum and Kanban.  In the process, I’ll be talking about our proven approach that integrates the best of these into a whole we call “Leanban.” 

The need to integrate these is a lesson from long experience with both. Yet I’ve had a concern that doing so may come across as “just one more Agile method being promoted.”  It is actually just the opposite. As someone who has both passionately endorsed most every Agile framework or method at one time or another, while also being passionately against force-fitting any of them where they don’t belong,  let me explain.

People justifiably want answers, not theories.  Not surprisingly, consultants have created approaches that espouse to do just that.  Scrum is usually presented as a flexible framework that enables tailoring. However, since the core components of Scrum (cross-functional teams and iterations) can’t be abandoned or you’re not doing Scrum, it essentially becomes a one-size fits all.

Kanban takes the opposite approach – always start exactly where you are and then improve.  Both approaches have their place.  But neither is a panacea nor a universal solution. Not surprisingly, the advocates of each approach present theirs as the clear choice – ignoring the possibility of one being better than the other in different situations.

However, we want to explore another possibility.  That is, what is possible if we integrate the two approaches, taking the best of each when appropriate.  In doing so we could create a general (universal) approach that we could tailor as need be to fit the situation at hand. Each has inflexibilities that keep it from attending to things the other is designed to address.  The world is not so black and white (or in our case perhaps I should say 0s or 1s).  Both Scrum and Kanban could learn a lot from each other.

Part of the reason the two camps have kept them separate is that the mindset behind each approach – the filters and belief systems on which it is based - are at odds with each other.  Unfortunately, these mindsets are rarely mentioned and almost never objectively challenged.  As a result, while each has much to offer, both are incomplete and imperfect.  By looking at the strengths of each, and not being stuck in each’s mindset, we can be part of the evolution into a more effective overall approach for each of them.

We at Net Objectives are continually working to do combine the strengths from these and other approaches into a more customizable framework. This framework aims to be:

  • Relatively straight forward to understand
  • Built on a complete view that makes under-performance of certain practices understandable when that occurs, then provides guidance for choosing more-effective alternatives
  • Grounded in the scientific approach
  • Adapted to the environment in which it will be used

Instead of creating “yet another Agile process,” we are integrating the great advances made by each of them. This is systematic and targeted, not a “let’s all accept each other’s approaches” hodge-podge.  It takes advantage of the inherent complementarity of the major Agile approaches, whose individual strengths tend to address different organizational situations. Any real-world organization will have a mix of such situations. Combining the strongest elements is a finessed approach to crafting a custom solution, both efficiently and systematically. For well over a decade it has provided deep insights that have helped our clients and our own internal work.

I refer to this process as one of “Integrate, Unify, Create Choices and Decide.”

  • Integrate across all available methods to take advantage of what works in each situation
  • Unify into a consistent approach that greatly facilitates your understanding of and control over outcomes
  • Create choices (options) for selecting among approaches, any of which may work in your context, but that may differ in practicality for your culture, available resources, and needs to interact with other organizations
  • Decide what works best for you – enabling you to free yourself from dogmatic thinking.

As you read the following blogs on Lean-Thinking, Scrum and Kanban, my invitation to you is to reflect on the approach you are taking and to question where parts of it work well and other parts may be a forced fit or even causing unwanted, unintended consequences. .  Taking any approach as a starting point is fine – but remember that is all any of them is – a starting point.  

Al Shalloway
CEO, Net Objectives

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About the author | Al Shalloway

Al Shalloway is the founder and CEO of Net Objectives. With 45 years of experience, Al is an industry thought leader in Lean, Kanban, product portfolio management, Scrum and agile design. He helps companies transition to Lean and Agile methods enterprise-wide as well teaches courses in these areas.


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