Pragmatic Lean

October 6, 2009 — Posted by Al Shalloway

I am writing this blog to create a better context for my current blog series on Lean. As CEO of a company that helps other companies transition to becoming more effective in their software development efforts I am mostly interested in helping companies achieve enterprise agility. Enterprise agility is the ability to be agile at the enterprise level.  That is, when a quick response is needed, the organization is up to - either because of outside influences or do to inside realizations.

Therefore, I am interested in explaining things that will result in actionable, positive outcomes.  When transitioning a company to lean-agile methods, I always sub-divide actions into the following areas:

  • actions that will result in immediate benefit with little or no additional effort
  • actions that will result in very quick benefit that require some additional effort
  • actions that will result in significant benefit but after a period of time
  • everything else (which I typically don't recommend)

In other words, one way I help companies manage a transition is by managing their energies available for the transition. 

There are a number of actions that result in immediate benefit with little or no additional effort.  At the team level this include moving acceptance testing up front.  Attending to work in process levels is also usually helpful. At the product portfolio management level it is ensuring features are truly prioritized.  Focusing on minimum marketable features also helps cut down the size of projects which can help teams considerably.

Actions that result in quick benefit with some additional effort are often process oriented.  Adopting Kanban, Scrum or Scrumban as well as starting automated acceptance testing are included here.  Many other things come to mind but are not universally applicable.

Actions that result in significant benefit after a period of time are often technically based - e.g., understanding and use of design patterns and test-driven development.

The point is, that there are many things that I would consider part of being a lean organization, but they are not necessarily the place to start. For example, culture is very important, but it's not a place to start.  I blogged on this over 2 years ago - Why Not to Focus on a Company's Culture. It's not that culture isn't important, it's just that you won't get effective, actionable items by focusing on it.

So, as you read this series of blogs on Lean, remember that, at any one time, I am only describing one aspect of Lean. I am trying to do this in the order that allows it to be most easily absorbed and used.  I will be putting together all of these blogs in a better format - eventually leading to an introductory overview of Lean. Until then, I hope you will find this information useful.

Alan Shalloway
CEO, Net Objectives
Achieving Enterprise and Team Agility

 

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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.


Comments

When facilitating a Kaizen event, specifically when we brainstorm improvement ideas, I put the ideas into three columns. These correspond pretty well to your areas.

Quick Hits: Ideas the team can implement without coordinating with other areas or spending money. The team is always surprised at how much they can achieve.

Rapid Improvements or Projects: Ideas that require some money or coordination with other areas and can be achieved in 30 - 100 days. With a bit of discussion, some of these can be Quick Hits and get 80% of the benefit.

Initiatives: Ideas that require a lot of effort and coordination. These are more risky. To pursue them requires thinking through the A3 improvement process.

Your forth area, everything else: If the improvement idea does not address one of the opportunity areas on the value stream map, or business capability model, we do not pursue it. Although it may surface at a later time.

We prioritize the Quick Hits and Rapid Improvements. We work on the list of quick hits daily. Next, we also look into a very limited number of Rapid Improvement Projects. Early in the Lean transformation, these areas provide ample opportunity for significant improvement. As the process matures and quick hits are harder to find, we can address Initiatives. More simply, we attack these in order or effort. Is this your approach?

I find teams learn a lot and feel empowered. These benefits can be as important as the improved performance.

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