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Agile Is a Lean Work Cell

A common concept discussed with lean is setting up work in a value stream and not functional silos.  This means getting people from cross functional areas to sit and work together in a work cell.  An example would be someone from customer service, credit check and order writing all sitting together to make the work of order taking flow.

This allows for the handoffs to occur immediately and increased communication between the functions resulting in reduced lead time and better quality of work.

Agile is a great example of putting the work cell concept into action.

An agile software development team brings the business partner, software developers, data managers and quality assurance together in one room.  This allows for quick turnaround discussions when someone is stuck getting to a resolution quicker and moving the development along.

There are many other aspects to agile but the work cell is a instrumental component to allowing many of the other concepts and tools to work so well for an agile team.

Work cells are not just for the manufacturing floor.  They are applicable anywhere you need to bring cross functional teams together in order to drive a quicker more efficient process.

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When in Doubt…Go and See

On a recent project, some senior leaders were asking for an update on the development of an app the team was building.  The team is using the Agile methodology, so there is progress and changes every day or two to the app.

Instead of trying to explain the progress, the team invited the senior leaders to the work space for a demo.

The demo went incredibly.  As soon as they saw the app, there was great understanding of how it worked.  Everyone was able to see not only the customer interaction, but also the aesthetics of the app.

The senior leaders asked some really great questions about the customer experience and how the app worked.  Because the team is using the Agile methodology, they were able to quickly add the changes to the app for a better customer experience.

If you want to understand something, go and see it.  It seems so simple.  Yet, that is not the first instinct of most.

By the team asking the senior leaders to come and see, they are setting an example of this behavior.  Hopefully, the senior leaders left with a sense that it was great they saw the app and the work environment and next time they have questions they just go and see.  Then it starts to carryover to other projects.  Slowly, the behavior starts to change because the benefits are seen.

Next time someone asks you for an update, take them to the work and show them.  Help change the behavior.

Agile Brings Flexibility to Software Development

Lean thinking is about creating flexibility in the manufacturing process in order to deliver the value that customer wants at that time.

In agile, this is also true.   The beauty of using agile to develop software is the work can be prioritized on a daily or even more frequent basis.  As the development team completes a requirement and it moves to the “complete” pile, the product owner can determine which of the remaining requirements is the most important to complete next.  The product owner is closely linked with the customer of the software so they are the voice speaking directly for the customer.

If new requirements come up during development, no problem.  Add that requirement to the back log on the kanban board.  The next time it is time to pull a new requirement the product owner can prioritize the new story at the top or not.

This creates a lot of flexibility in the development process that a waterfall process does not.  Usually, with a waterfall development process all the requirements have to be determined up front and then frozen because adding any after that can cause issues.  Then the customer doesn’t see anything until the development is completely done.  The agile process allows to release pieces of functionality as it is ready.

This increased flexibility allows the team to deliver more value sooner to the customer, creating a happy customer.    Which is what lean is about.  Customer first.

Agile Retrospectives = Reflection

In an earlier post I mentioned the similarities in agile and lean from a problem solving perspective.  Lean and agile are also the same when it comes to the learning cycle.

One of the principles of lean that I have learned is Create a Learning Organization through Learn-Apply-Reflect.  This principle helps drive home the importance of reflection.  Many people and organizations do a great job of learning something new and then trying to apply it.  Where most people and organizations fail is forgetting to reflect.  The reflection step is where all the learning and applying comes together to understand how what was learned can best be applied in the organization.  What worked?  What didn’t work?  What should be kept?  What should be changed?

A sign an organization is doing this well, is the reflection is planned and not a reaction because something went wrong.  The reflection is part of the project plan and will is scheduled upfront with no agenda but to learn and improve.

Agile has a methodology and a term it uses for this reflection and learning.  It is retrospectives.

Agile uses planned retrospectives, usually once a week, to take a time out and gather the team to understand what is working and they should continue doing.  As well as what is not working and should be changed or thrown out.  It takes a monumental act to cancel a retrospective.  These retrospectives are ingrained in the methodology and help the agile teams continue to improve on their process and work.

This is a great of example of Lean-Apply-Reflect.  The agile team takes the learnings from the week, apply them and then have a planned reflection time a week later.  The agile methodology does a great job of fostering the principle of creating a learning organization.

Do you have any examples of planned reflection in your organization?

How Problem Solving and Agile Both Drill Issues Down

I have been learning about agile as of late.  I know how agile has gotten its roots from lean thinking as it is applied to software development.  It has been very interesting and fascinating to learn.

One common thread problem solving and agile have is making it important to break down the issue.

Good problem solving breaks down a large problem into smaller and very manageable problems to solve.

Agile does the same.  It is important to break an epic story (or very large story) down into manageable stories that can be built and tested in 2-3 days.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

This is just one similarity between lean and agile I saw as I was in my class.  Seems simple but it really takes team to master to bet able to break stories and problems down to the appropriate sizes.

2012 Lean Reading Conclusion

Earlier this year, I posted a blog about not reading any lean or business books this year.  Choosing to spend the year putting into practice more of what I have read already and trying to understand how it pertains to my work.  In June, I published what I had read to date to give people a flavor of what I have been reading.  I have accomplished my goal and read one non-work related book per month for the entire year.  I have listed all the books from the first half of the year below also along with the books from the second half of the year.

I found I really enjoyed reading these other books.  There was almost always a leadership lesson to be gained from these books.  My interests grew as the year went on and I was amazed as to what there was to learn from fiction books as well biographies.  With the new year upon us, I must now learn how to balance reading books for work along with fun fictional and biography books.

Enjoy!

JanuaryLone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell – This is the autobiography and recount of the lone survivor of a S.E.A.L. team member that got caught in a fire fight deep in Taliban territory.  It is an amazing story.

February It’s So Easy by Duff McKagan – The autobiography of Guns-N-Roses bassist Duff McKagan.  GNR is my favorite band of all time.  Duff now writes for ESPN’s Page Two website.  He is a really good writer and the book is a great recount of his life and view of the GNR rise and fall.

March11/22/63 by Stephan King – This a fiction story about a guy who has a chance to go back in time and stop Lee Harvey Oswald from assassinating President Kennedy.  Long book, but very enjoyable.  A fun read.

AprilAmerican Sniper by Chris Kyle – Chris Kyle is a S.E.A.L. sniper that at the time of the writing was credited with the most confirmed kills in American military history.  This is his recount of his time in the S.E.A.L.s.

MayFifth Avenue by Christopher Smith – A thriller novel about two of the most wealthy mean in New York City and the extremes their grudge will go to.  Good book.

JuneLife by Keith Richards – This is the autobiography of Keith Richards the guitar player for the Rolling Stones.  I love the Rolling Stones and I was traveling the the UK for work…seemed like a good fit to read at the time.

JulyAbraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith – Interesting book following the true path of Abraham Lincoln’s life ans encounters but with a fictional vampire twist to Abraham’s reason for making the choices in life that he did.

AugustThe Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown – What is the Holy Grail? I had seen the movie when it came out several years ago and decided to give the book a try.  It was excellent.

September In Cold Blood by Truman Capote – This is a nonfiction novel.  It is the story of a brutal murder of a family of four in western Kansas in 1959.  Truman Capote does a great job of getting inside the heads of the killers.  It follows the family and killers from the day before the murders until the execution of the killers.  The book was written in the 1960s.  Living in Kansas now this true story captured my attention.

OctoberGone Girl by Gillian Flynn – A twisted revenge novel.  This novel tells of a marriage gone wrong and the lengths a woman will go to to make it clear who is in control.

NovemberDark Places by Gillian FlynnGone Girl was so good that I tried the book Gillian wrote before it.  Dark Places is a great who dunnit book.  It keeps you guessing until the end.

DecemberThe Redbreast by Jo Nesbo – This novel is the first of the Harry Hole detective series.  Actually, it is the 3rd novel in teh series.  Jo is a Norwegian author.  The first two books have not been translated.  The 3rd through the 8th (just released in the U.S. this fall) have been translated.  Harry Hole is a police detective in Oslo, Norway.  He has taken to drinking but still gets the job done.  Very enjoyable detective novel.

What did you read this year?

2012 Lean Reading Update

Earlier this year, I posted a blog about not reading any lean or business books this year.  Choosing to spend the year putting into practice more of what I have read already and trying to understand how it pertains to my work.  I have been pretty successful so far although I have read three ebooks (1 was a group study at work and 2 I was asked to review).  I still have read one book per month that has not pertained to lean or business.  I thought I would share them with you at my half way point reflection.

JanuaryLone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell – This is the autobiography and recount of the lone survivor of a S.E.A.L. team member that got caught in a fire fight deep in Taliban territory.  It is an amazing story.

February It’s So Easy by Duff McKagan – The autobiography of Guns-N-Roses bassist Duff McKagan.  GNR is my favorite band of all time.  Duff now writes for ESPN’s Page Two website.  He is a really good writer and the book is a great recount of his life and view of the GNR rise and fall.

March11/22/63 by Stephan King – This a fiction story about a guy who has a chance to go back in time and stop Lee Harvey Oswald from assassinating President Kennedy.  Long book, but very enjoyable.  A fun read.

AprilAmerican Sniper by Chris Kyle – Chris Kyle is a S.E.A.L. sniper that at the time of the writing was credited with the most confirmed kills in American military history.  This is his recount of his time in the S.E.A.L.s.

MayFifth Avenue by Christopher Smith – A thriller novel about two of the most wealthy mean in New York City and the extremes their grudge will go to.  Good book.

JuneLife by Keith Richards – This is the autobiography of Keith Richards the guitar player for the Rolling Stones.  I love the Rolling Stones and I was traveling the the UK for work…seemed like a good fit to read at the time.

I think the list gives a little flavor of my interests.

Here are the three ebooks I have read for work during this time:

What have you been reading this year?

Book Review: Agile Kids

This is my first book review on the website.  I was contacted and asked to review the ebook.  It is a good book and a quick read with great visuals.

Name of the Book:  Agile Kids

Authors: Shirly Ronen-Harel &  Danko Kovatch

Publication Date:  May 2012

Book description: what’s the key message?

Shirly and Danko have spent several years working in hi-tech industry learning and implementing lean and Agile concepts.  They saw a practical use for these concepts at home with their kids.  Through their experiences, Shirly and Danko learned ways to implement these concepts with their kids in order to clearly define the work that needs to be done and show progress made towards completing the work.

Shirly and Danko discuss how to use visual task boards and daily update meetings as well as practical advice on how to get everyone involved.  They covers everything to make the process work; the tool, the roles and responsibilities of the parents and children, how conduct a daily meeting as well as a reflection (retrospective).  Shirly and Danko cover all three P’s (product, process, people) in describing the concept usage at home.

Shirly and Danko state they are not child psychologists.  This is a way they have found to positively engage their children in the work that needs to be done around the house.  They have found it to be fun, interactive and it drives responsibility among their children showing how lean and Agile can be used at home.

What are the highlights? What works?

Shirly and Danko do a great job of bridging lean and Agile concepts from the workplace to the home.  Even with no lean or Agile experience, the concepts can be understood.  The book gives great step-by-step instructions in how to go about implementing the task board, the roles and responsibilities of the parents and children as well as the daily meetings and reflections.

The pictures that are included as examples area a great help as she steps through the process.  Shirly and Danko give a true sense of what the outcome can look like and how it would work.  The reader can follow the process and implement the ideas they have outlined.

What are the weaknesses?  What’s missing?

Sometimes the book teeters between being for someone with a lean and Agile background and being for anyone.  A few times technical terminology is used.  Later Shirly and Danko give the reader typical everyday terminology for the same thing.  One example is using the term “backlog”, which is common computer and data terminology, to describe the list of “to-do’s” or “tasks to complete” that is easier for everyone to understand.

It would be helpful to have a Table of Contents to enable readers to find content in the book quickly.  There is good reference material but the reader will be flipping page-by-page through the book to find something specific.

This is an ebook.  I have a copy in .pdf format.  I transferred the file to my Kindle 2 in order to read easily at home.  It was very difficult to read on my Kindle.  The font was extremely small, the great summaries were not readable and the pictures are harder.  After three chapters, I had to read the file on my computer which was great.  The pictures and graphics were vibrant and easy to see and the font was very readable.  I know .pdf is not the normal format for a Kindle file, but Kindles are made to read .pdfs and this is the first time I had this trouble.  It may work very well on a Kindle Fire that has color.  I have not tried.

How should I read this to get the most out of it?

If the reader is someone who has lots of lean and Agile experience, the concepts are basic and easy to understand.  It shows how the concepts can work at home and is easy to translate to work at the office.

If the readers do not have any lean or Agile experience, the concepts are laid out simply so anyone can understand and try to use them.  It can help a parent at home or be used to understand how to implement the concepts at work.