Identifying and Managing Waste (LESS2012)

I gave two talks at this year’s Lean Enterprise Software and Systems (LESS 2012) conference in Tallinn, Estonia. The topic of the first was identifying and managing waste. (The second talk was about a related topic – applying the Value Stream Manager concept to software product development organisations.) Many Lean practitioners and researchers agree that the first step in creating a Lean organisation is learning to see waste.

I like to use a combination of serious games to identify wastes that are holding teams back. A combination of tools such as A3 Problem Solving, Kaizen Circles, and the Waste Matrix are great for managing these wastes.

Deming, among others, notes that 94% of the wastes (or loss) belong to the system, and are the responsibility of management. That leaves an amazing amount of opportunity for improvement if we can step back and see the system. In “The Lean Startup“, Eric Ries talks about the “criminal waste of human creativity and potential“, noting that “For all our vaunted efficiency in the making of things, our economy is still incredibly wasteful. This waste comes not from the inefficient organization of work but rather from working on the wrong things – and on an industrial scale. … It is hard to come by a solid estimate of just how wasteful modern work is.

My talk delved into some ways of categorising and quantifying the waste.

The summary from the talk is this:

  • There is waste in every system.
    • Learn to see it.
    • Eliminate it (or at least get it under control).
  • Develop people to be Problem Solvers.
  • You can have fun finding and eliminating waste by using serious games at work.
  • Use these techniques as part of your Continuous Improvement (Kaizen) efforts.
    • Release or Iteration Retrospectives are a great forum.
    • Dedicated Problem Solving Sessions
    • Continuous Improvement Circles
    • Strategy Sessions
    • Portfolio Management Sessions
    • Whenever you encounter a problem
  • Keep it Visible.

Here are the slides:

Kaizen Games: Identifying and Managing Waste in Agile Teams

Kaizen is a Japanese term that means ‘continuous improvement’. Creating a culture of continuous improvement is one of the cornerstones of becoming an agile, lean-thinking organization.

It is generally accepted that the first step towards creating a truly lean organization is to identify and manage waste. I prefer to say ‘manage’ rather than ‘eliminate’ because you may choose to live with some waste in your organization, because the cost of completely eliminating it would be prohibitive, at least right now. Discussion of waste can be an emotive topic, so we need techniques that allow for a positive and constructive discussion, while also unearthing some of the deep issues that prevent teams and organizations from reaching their potential.

We can use serious games to identify and manage waste in a constructive and positive way. Games also help to engage people as part of an overall continuous improvement effort.

Workshops for Playing Games

I run workshops based on these techniques. I ran a variation of these workshops at the Agile India 2012 conference in Bengaluru, India this weekend (February 2012). Feedback for the session was very positive, and people were very engaged in the session, so thanks again to all who came along. We had over 100 people in the workshop, which felt a bit daunting at first, but turned out great. There was a lot of energy in the room.

The slides from the Agile India 2012 workshop are here:

The workshop generally runs in three parts. In the first part, we talk about some basic concepts and why it is important to look at waste in teams and organizations. In this part, I talk about the eight wastes of product development, influenced largely by the work of the Poppendiecks, Liker, Womack & Jones, etc.

Depending on the number of workshop participants, we usually split into smaller groups of 6-8 people.

The second part is an exercise to identify waste. I like to use the Speedboat Game for this. Although traditionally used as a means of understanding what customers do not like about our products, I have found it to be a very effective tool over the years for understanding what is not working well within a team or an organization.

The third part is an exercise to manage waste. I present a number of tools, including Value Stream Mapping, Value Network Mapping, A3 Problem Solving Reports, and a Waste Matrix. Each has a different purpose and are presented as complimentary tools in a tool set, rather than mutually exclusive options. Participants then choose a tool, and we play a game to take one or more of the wastes from Part 1, and show how the tool can be used to manage the waste(s).

Post-Game analysis is an important part of the session, giving people a chance to reflect and learn from each other.

Summary

Agile development aims to make the process of software development more effective and efficient for teams. However, agile product teams operate within a broad and complex system, and the scope of what the team can control is often limited by constraints imposed by the system, hence adopting a systems perspective is useful. Waste can and does occur in agile teams. Sometimes that waste is within the control of the team to manage; sometimes the broader system of which the team is part causes the waste. Using serious games provides a productive and constructive way of dealing with what can otherwise be an emotive topic. Used alone or with more traditional lean tools such as Value Network Maps, 5 Whys and A3 Reports, the combination of multiple games can engage stakeholders and contribute to a Kaizen effort in the organization. Serious games can be just as effective in creating a continuous improvement culture, and creating a more lean thinking organization, as they have been in product marketing. The Speedboat game in particular is very useful for generating large amounts of practical data about the wastes that are holding back a team. It is critical to follow up on the wastes identified using Speedboat. Turning the creation of A3 reports and Waste Matrices into collaborative activities helps with that.

Try it out with your team. Have fun fighting waste!

What We Did at The ALE2011 Retrospective

Olaf and I were chatting on the first morning of the first ever ALE conference when he suggested I facilitate the retrospective at the end of the conference. Facilitating a session with 200+ very smart and very vocal people, many of whom are expert retrospective facilitators, and all of whom would have high expectations, was a pretty scary thought. But also a great opportunity to have some fun and do something that would be an experience I would not forget.

Preparation

In Open Space sessions, hallway discussions, the bar and other forums, I tried to talk with as many people as possible about how they felt about the ALE Network and what comes next. At least three of the Open Space sessions focused on improving the ALE Network. Ivana Gancheva hosted a session on improving the network, and making the conference better. Vasco Duarte and Eelco Rustenburg both had sessions related to getting managers more involved in the community, and in agile and lean generally. I had some discussions with all of them, and with Jurgen Appelo and Olaf Lewitz about their goals. We all agreed that the retrospective should focus on the ALE Network, not just the conference. We also wanted to come out of it with some concrete milestones and actions.

Exercises

Opening Activities

Rain Dance

I wanted to open with something that would be memorable, a little unusual and also fun. The Rain Dance is a game I learned many years ago at a Pattern Writing workshop, and have used it in a few workshops since. I had never used it in such a large group, but, if it worked out, I thought it could be a lot of fun. This game is used in many different settings. It is a traditional Native American game used to teach children (fortunately I was with a bunch of people who enjoy games!) about rhythms, art and culture. It has been applied to many different settings including workshops for improvisation, music, software patterns and other group settings.

The idea is to simulate the sound of a thunderstorm, creating the sounds of rain that build up to a thunderstorm, and then calms down again as the storm passes. The effect can be quite powerful.

To start, everyone stands in a large circle. With 200+ people the circle took up the entire circumference of the large conference room. One by one, everyone performs the following actions:

  1. Rub your hands together.
  2. Tap two fingers of your right hand against the palm of your left hand.
  3. Snap your fingers on both hands.
  4. Clap your thighs.
  5. Stamp your feet.

These actions are performed in a circle, starting with the facilitator (me!), and moving to the left, going around the circle one by one. The next action is introduced when everyone in the circle is performing the first. Participants keep the previous action going until the new one reaches them around the circle. You then repeat the 5 steps in reverse order. This gives the effect of the storm building gradually, reaching a thunderous climax, and then declining gradually.

The Rain Dance was recorded on video so if it turns out OK and we get permission, I’ll try to post it or link to it when it becomes available.

Project History

We wanted to focus the retrospective on the ALE Network itself, not just the ALE2011 conference. The conference is an important milestone – an intersection in the continuing story of the ALE Network. We thought it would be a good idea to bring everyone up to speed with the history and origins of ALE before looking at how to take it forward. Jurgen talked about the history of ALE, from early discussions and ideas, to discussions at Play4Agile, starting the LinkedIn group, the gathering at XP2011 in Madrid, and up to the present day.

Data Gathering Activities

I used two main exercises for data gathering: Speedboat and Starfish. I split the 200 or so participants into 8 groups. All groups got to take part in both exercises.

Participants at the ALE2011 Retrospective

Participants at the ALE2011 Retrospective

Participants at the ALE2011 Retrospective

Participants at the ALE2011 Retrospective

Speedboat

Speedboat is a game from Luke Hohmann‘s Innovation Games. It is a great way to understand what your customers don’t like about your product. I often use it in other settings too, e.g., at retrospectives to help teams or organizations understand what about the way they are working is holding them back.

Retrospective at ALE2011

Retrospective at ALE2011

Retrospective at ALE2011

Retrospective at ALE2011

The speedboat acts as a metaphor for your product or organization. In this case, the speedboat acted as a metaphor for the ALE Network. We wanted to understand what was holding us back from achieving some of the targets we had set ourselves earlier in the year, including in Madrid.

A Group Playing the Speedboat Game at the ALE2011 Retrospective

Speedboat Game

Starfish

The Starfish is a retrospective technique I learned from Nick Oostvogels and Pat Kua at XP2011. You can read Nick’s Blog post about it. It was great that Nick was at ALE2011 and participated in the retrospective. I’m always looking for new techniques that will help add a different dimension to retrospectives, or help teams break out of a rut of using the same techniques over and over again. I love the Starfish exercise, and have used it several times since XP2011. I have used it in Sprint and Release retrospectives with teams, and also in workshops with managers, Scrum Masters, Product Owners, and program managers.

For ALE2011 I wanted to use it get data about

  1. What we’re doing as a community that’s working well
  2. Things we need to do more of
  3. Things we need to do less of
  4. Things we should stop doing
  5. Things we should try
A Group Using the Starfish Exercise at the ALE2011 Retrospective

Starfish Exercise

Retrospective at ALE2011

Retrospective at ALE2011

Data Analysis

Each group had 30 seconds to present the output of their Speedboat exercise. 30 seconds might not sound like a lot, but it does force you to be concise. I asked that subsequent groups to not just repeat what previous groups had already contributed. We started with group 1 and went through to group 8.

Retrospective at ALE2011

Retrospective at ALE2011

After group 8 presented their Speedboat output, I asked them to present their Starfish output – focusing mainly on things to keep, things to do more of and things to try. We did the same with all of the other groups, ending back at group 1.

Reporting Back to the Wider Group at the ALE2011 Retrospective

Reporting Back

By now we had heard from each of the groups about some of the major obstacles holding us back as a community, some of the things that were working well, things we want to do more of, and some new things to try. It was time to turn this into something concrete we could act on.

Creating a Plan

Remember the Future

Remember the Future is a great technique for creating a vision of what you want to achieve. However, instead of thinking about it in terms of what you want to do or what you will do, you move your thinking forward to a point in time that comes after the time period you are considering, and look back at what you actually did. The difference in perspective is remarkable.

The time horizon we considered was the coming 12 months. What is it we want to have achieved when we look back after 12 months? So, we looked to a point in time 13 months out and talked about what we achieved.

We created the timeline on one wall of the conference room, with milestones at 3 months, 6 months, 9 months and 12 months. There are different ways to get the data  you want for this exercise. In the interests of time I asked everyone to act as one group, write their item on a Post It note, step forward and describe it to the group, and then place it at the appropriate milestone on the time line.

Remembering the Future at the ALE2011 Retrospective

Remember the Future

People were then asked to put their name or Twitter ID on a Post It if they wanted to contribute to achieving that goal. If you weren’t there, or you forgot to add your name, don’t worry. You’ll have an opportunity to sign up to lead or contribute in an area in the next week or so when the output gets published.

Roadmap for future ALE Conferences

We wanted to create a roadmap for the next three years of conference locations. However, the conference attendees are a subset of the ALE Network. We wanted to make sure that as many people as possible from the ALE community had a chance to provide input on the location. What we decided to try wast this: create a shortlist at the conference and then use the LinkedIn group to decide the final locations.

The only constraint on location, same as for ALE2011, is that it must be a reasonably central European location (which unfortunately rules out Galway) that is relatively easily accessible from a majority of ALE Network countries.

Creating a Shortlist for a Roadmap of Future Conferences at the ALE2011 Retrospective

Conference Roadmap Shortlist

I’ll publish the shortlist over on the LinkedIn group. Let’s see how the voting goes.

Closing Remarks

Jurgen closed the retrospective, and encouraged everyone there to sign the ALE Network book that he started in Madrid.

Thanks

First, a big thank you to Olaf Lewitz for encouraging me to facilitate the retrospective and for trusting me with the responsibility. Thanks to all of you who were there and who contributed so enthusiastically. And finally, thanks for the kind feedback on Twitter and elsewhere. It was an honor to facilitate the first ALE Unconference retrospective.

Next Steps

I need to transcribe all the wonderful data produced by the ALE2011 participants. I’ll publish that in a separate post, either here or on the ALE Network site.

Call for Help

I’ll be looking for some help with the transcription. I want to make sure I don’t become a bottleneck for getting the retrospective output published. There are about 20 photographs that capture the core output of the Starfish and Speedboat. Each photo captures lots of Post It notes. We need to transcribe the text in these photos. It would be cool if we could Crowdsource the transcription. If a few people take one photo each we’ll get it done pretty quickly. Let me know if you’re willing to help out and I’ll send you a JPEG.

Post-It Wars Day 2: Who Lives in a Pineapple Under the Sea?

Yesterday I wrote about how I discovered the fascinating world of Post-It Wars. Today I enlisted some willing and enthusiastic program managers and an engineer and we made this:

Post-It Wars - Spongebob - Inside

He looks like this from outside the building:

Post-It Wars - Spongebob - Outside

The owner of this office had left early for a long weekend break. He’ll be back on Tuesday 🙂

Post-It Wars - Pacman

We got the inspiration for these ones from this Web site. I think the next challenge is to start creating some new designs. This one in Paris, for example, sets a pretty high bar:

Assassins Creed in Post-It Notes

What does this have to do with software development?

It’s amazing what a group of intrinsically motivated people can do when they get together, find a sense of purpose and are given the opportunity to unleash their creativity and talent. Maybe there’s a lesson there for how we build products?

ALE2011, here we come!

There’s been a great uptake today of people interested and willing to play in Berlin next week at the ALE2011 Conference. It’s going to be fun!

Post-It Wars: Bring It On!

Today I entered the world of Post-It Wars. I have a feeling life is going to be somehow different from now on. In a good way.

Work Should be Fun!

We had come to the end of a long day of planning and product strategy. A very productive day, but exhausting for everyone. John, one of the development managers, said “Let’s try something fun for 10 minutes”. He showed us an online article in the Guardian about something very cool happening in France. Some office workers there have started to create window art with Post-It Notes. They look amazing. We had to try it.

We only had a few minutes, so we quickly settled on one to try out. Here it is, our very first entry into Post-It Wars. The start of something big, I suspect.

Agile Teams - Post It Wars - Darth Vader

Come to the Dark Side - We Have Colorful Post-Its!

I took some pictures form the outside on my way home:

Post-It Wars - View from the Outside

Post-It Wars - View from the Outside

I showed the photos to my kids when I got home. They loved it. They want to come in at the weekend and make one.

Anyone for Post-It Wars at ALE2011?

This would be a great activity for next week’s ALE Conference too. We’ve got a special program for spouses and children, so whole families could take part. We could have each country build one. We could have everyone build one huge one. Check out these amazing ones from France. I’m excited. Bring lots of Post-Its!

Take up the Challenge

The gauntlet is down. I’m going to try to start a competition between our agile teams at work. Let’s see who can come up with the best Post-It art. I see a lot of potential in this as an activity during retrospectives, project kick-offs, or generally just to have some fun. Try it out at work with your teams. I can’t wait to see your pictures.

The Marshmallow Challenge

The Marshmallow Challenge is a game for learning about innovation, creativity, teams, collaboration, as well as the value of early prototyping and incremental delivery. Part of the real power of the game is in helping people to identify the hidden assumptions that every project has, and to recognize the value in diversity of team membership.

I came across the Marshmallow Challenge last year, but I didn’t get a chance to play it until I attended the Play4Agile Conference in Germany earlier this year, where Michael Sahota facilitated a great session one night in the hotel bar (which was full of conference attendees, all taking part). Since then I’ve run the Marshmallow Challenge several times.

Running the Marshmallow Challenge Game

Materials

For each team, you need

  • 20 sticks of spaghetti
  • 1 meter of tape
  • 1 meter of string
  • 1 marshmallow
  • 1 large envelope (optional)

You will also need one measuring tape.

I use my iPod and speakers to provide a soundtrack while the game is in play.

Preparation

Just to add to the mystery I like to prepare in advance the envelopes containing the spaghetti sticks and string, and hand out the envelopes before explaining what the game is.

Playing the Game

  • Hand out the envelopes to each team. I ask them to wait until everyone has one before opening them.
  • Explain the objective of building a tower.
  • Explain the rules.
  • I often hold back the marshmallow until this point. Up until now they know they have to build a tower. Adding a light, fluffy marshmallow is no big deal, right?
  • Everybody starts building their towers at the same time.
  • I like to play music during the game play, something upbeat to add to the atmosphere. I have a few playlists created that are approximately 18 minutes long.
  • Repeat the rules out loud a few times during the session. People will ask for clarification anyway.
  • Draw attention to teams that are doing particularly well (or poorly) – create a little friendly competition.
  • The winner is the team that has the tallest free-standing structure at the end of the 18 minutes. So, if, for example, a team decides to stop building after 10 minutes, their tower must still be standing at the end of the game.

There are more detailed instructions over on the Marshmallow Challenge home page.

Review and Wrap up

The review is where the reflection happens. Think of it as a retrospective of sorts.

Where to use it

I’ve used this at project kick-offs, at the start of release planning sessions, in retrospectives. You can use it in just about any situation where you have a group of people who want to gain insights into working together.

In this picture, I am running a Marshmallow Challenge with 50+ people at the kick-off for a new project.

The Marshmallow Challenge with 50+ People

The winner that day was an impressive 34.5 inches.

The Winning Marshmallow Tower

Here is a TED Talk video by Tim Wujec describing the Marshmallow Challenge:

Bringing Your Work Home With You

I’ve played the Marshmallow Challenge at home too. My kids were with me when I was shopping for supplies, so of course they wanted to know that the marshmallows were for. When I told them they were for a game, they wanted to play too. We had a full house that night, as their cousins were visiting too, so we had enough for three teams, slightly bending the rules on numbers. They were quick to catch on to the value of early prototyping and working as a team. It was a lot of fun – one of the better ways to bring your work home with you.

References