Software Engineering Research in Product Development Flow


Good research is critical to building the body of knowledge of software engineering, and understanding the principles on which our industry is built. Even more, without the solid foundation of theory that comes from research, it is difficult to scale the practices we use in industry beyond a limited context. Lero, the Irish Software Engineering Research Centre, hosted an Industry Research Day today, to highlight and share some of the great software engineering research work that goes on at the Centre.

There are some great talks from partner companies including IBM, Intel, and St. James’s Hospital, Dublin. There are keynotes by Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, the current European European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science, and Seán Sherlock, the current Minister of State for Research and Innovation. It is great to see the richness and variety of software engineering research going on in Ireland, and the support available at both an EU and national government level.

My talk is a short summary of my ongoing PhD research work. I talk about learning and feedback cycles, learning to see impediments to flow, and some examples of how to see impediments in your team and organisation. I also talked about some preliminary research results, including how to tell who is really influencing flow and impediments in your organisation, what reaction time can tell us about threats and opportunities, and how to empower teams and engage management through an impediment removal process.

Slides from my talk are available here:

Portfolio Management and Organization Flow

I’ll be speaking at RallyON Europe this September on the topic of Portfolio Management and Organization Flow.

Complexity of product development increases as we move from a single team or product focus to a cross-organisation portfolio focus. Organisation Flow is about achieving the Lean concept of flow at an organisation level, not just at the level of a single product or product line.

This session will look at an approach to portfolio backlog management, and describe how to manage the flow of work through a portfolio of multiple products delivered by 50 teams in 6 locations across the US, Europe, India and China.

We will include examples of some core metrics that help understand throughput and flow in the organisation. These metrics tell a story about what is happening in the organisation. Lessons from these stories include understanding impediments to flow, and understanding who and what in the organisation is influencing flow.

I did an interview last week with Hannah Shain from Rally. The recording from the interview is here:

There’s a great lineup of content for the conference. If you’re in London I hope to see you there!

Update: Here is the slide deck I used at the conference:

Lean Startup: It’s Not Just Technology, Lives are at Stake (Keynote)

I am in Belgrade today, where I was invited to give the Keynote address at the first Serbian ICT conference on Technology and Entrepreneurship. Its nice to be back in Belgrade, and great to see the growing technology sector here. The degree of innovation and entrepreneurship is impressive, and I’ve had some great conversations with people.

Understanding Your Customer

I was invited to talk about Lean Startup, Agile Development and Lean Product Development.

One thing I did in preparation for this conference was try to understand the attendees better. Basically, I wanted to treat my talk as a product, and the conference participants as my customers. I saw Jason Little do something similar at LESS 2012 last week in Estonia, using Twitter, and thought the ideas was cool.

I wanted to know some things about them, so I could tailor my talk to match their background and interests. I created a short survey using Survey Monkey, and asked the conference organisers to distribute the survey URL to all registered participants. Then, the morning of the conference, before I left my hotel room, I took a snapshot of the survey data and made some changes to the slides in my talk. I’m glad I did it. It was an interesting experiment for me, and something I would like to tweak and try again at future conferences. I’ve been getting some great feedback on the talk, and I’m sure that’s at least partly related to taking the time to understand the participants better.

The full survey results are in the slide deck. This one in particular helped me choose the appropriate clothes to wear (a few more CEOs and Execs and I would have had to put on a tie 😉 ):

And this one told me a lot about where they are coming from:

About the title

I took inspiration for the title from the famous Bill Shankly quote when talking about football:

Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.

Those of us who are passionate about technology and creating great teams and organisations, can relate to this. The separation between work and life starts to become blurred, because, if we are successful, our work is an enjoyable, fun, an enriching experience. There’s too much at stake for it to be otherwise. Jurgen Appelo has been writing lately about a similar theme. One of the messages of my keynote is that life is too short, and time too precious, to waste on something that you don’t enjoy and that is not having some positive impact in the world. Hence the title.


I knew from my survey that I could spend less time focusing on the basics of Lean Startup, Agile and Lean. That left me free to explore some topics in more depth.

This is what the survey revealed about the participant’s areas of interest:

The main themes of my talk today were:

  • Startups
  • Overcoming challenges, and not blaming “macroeconomic conditions beyond our control”
  • Myths of Product Development
  • Lean Startup, Agile, Lean Product Development
  • The importance of an Agile Mindset; Being Agile
  • Minimum Viable Product
  • The Fastest Learner Wins
  • Customer Development
  • Business Model Canvas
  • Lean Canvas
  • Perspectives on organisations as you grow and scale
  • Technical Debt
  • Portfolio Thinking
  • Value Streams
  • Waste, Value, Quality, Flow
  • PDSA
  • Lean Thinking and A3
  • Creativity; Innovation; Fostering Innovation

That’s a lot of things to touch on in 75 minutes, plus there was a video and a couple of songs, but it seemed to go down well and feedback was positive. I’ve been working more and more on incorporating stories into my talks, and relying more on visual images and much less on bullet points.

I wanted to emphasise the roll of Lean and Agile, not as ends in themselves, but as means to a better end. A means to creating great products and services that touch people’s lives. And, of course, creating a Lean organisation or fostering an agile mindset is a challenge.

We invest our lives and our lifetimes in the companies and ventures we get involved with. Life is short and time is precious, so let’s make sure its worth it.


The slide deck is available from my Slideshare account here:

Side note about SlideShare: My original slides had a black gradient background (and looked pretty cool, if I do say so myself!). When I uploaded them, SlideShare replaced the background with a white one. I could not find a way to get around this (in the limited time I had to try) so I created a version with white background, and tweaked some of the text appropriately. I would be grateful to hear if you know of a way to fix this in SlideShare. On the plus side, now I have two versions for different lighting environments.


The Value Stream Manager (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 topic of this second talk was applying the Value Stream Manager concept to software product development organisations.

For context, this talk first describes some common perspectives of organisations: the hierarchy perspective, the social network perspective, and the information flow perspective. We then talked about Value Stream mapping and Value Network mapping. I prefer the metaphor of a network to that of a stream for several reasons. One reason is the linearity implicit in the metaphor of a stream. Value does not flow smoothly in one direction all the time. Another reason is that networks are a better metaphor for modern knowledge-work organisations.

We went on to talk about the responsibilities of a Value Stream Manager, as described in the Lean literature, and how this translates for software product organisations. I went on to describe how Stakeholder Mapping is a useful technique that helps in identifying and creating Value Streams or Networks.

The summary from the talk is this:

  • Empower people to be Value Stream Managers
  • Develop their skills as Problem Solvers
  • Help them navigate the organization
  • Develop them as enablers of change
  • Use Stakeholder Maps to show who is affected
  • Use Value Stream Maps to show the flow
  • Use CFDs, Cycle Time and Lead Time to show delays (waste) and opportunities for improvement
  • Use A3 Problem Solving and Proposal Writing to enable Lean thinking and to optimize your Value Streams

The slides are available here:

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:

LESS 2012 Conference on Agile-Lean Leadership and Management

The Lean Enterprise Software and Systems conference is a very special conference series that I have had the privilege to be involved with as both speaker and organizer since it began in 2010. LESS is the Lean and Agile conference with a specific focus on Leadership and Management. I am part of the organizing committee planning to bring the conference to Galway in 2013 – more on that later.Lean Systems Society Recognized Event

In the meantime, LESS 2012 is just around the corner, and will take place in Tallinn, Estonia from November 12th to November 14th. LESS 2012 is a Lean Systems Society Recognized Event.

Discount for Irish Community

If you are part of the Agile – Lean community in Ireland, contact me for a discount code that will get you a discount on conference registration. The final program will be announced in October. Already there are confirmed keynotes form Jurgen Appelo and Esko Kilpi. By registering now you will have the opportunity to shape the direction and content of the conference.

About LESS 2012

I am posting the following text at the request of the LESS organization group:

This year we have selected 5 main core topics for our learning journey:

  1. Lean/Agile product development: what are the latest developer in Lean/Agile? What have we, as a learning community experimented with in the last 12 months since we met in Stockholm for #LESS2011? This track will answer these questions and bring concrete examples of Lean/Agile product development from software and other industries.
  2. Lean Startup: an exciting new way to look at product and business development that brings together Lean and Agile approaches. How can Lean Startup revolutionize how we manage our businesses or develop our products?
  3. Beyond Budgeting: innovation comes in many forms. Beyond Budgeting started as a learning journey for management communities in Europe and is now a major active movement seeking a different approach to the management of organizations. In this track we will hear about the latest developments in the Beyond Budgeting community.
  4. Management Innovation: the world is changing fast, but management of organizations has been standing still. There are communities dedicated to changing how we view and understand the role of management. This track brings ideas from different communities with the focus on radical new ideas about managing organizations.
  5. Management Frameworks: often large changes start from specific problems that lead us to develop a specific tool or framework. In this track we intend to cover those practical steps in applying new ideas from several different communities.

The call of sessions is now open

We have also opened the preregistration for #LESS2012:

By preregistering you will get a chance to directly influence the format and content for the conference. Preregistering is your Real Option to have a say in how the conference is shaped. Preregister now and get a discount of 100eur in the final conference ticket. Preregistration ends on July 31st.

You can help spread the word about #LESS2012 by tweeting or posting on Facebook with the hash-tag #LESS2012 and linking to the conference web-site at

The #LESS organization group

Agile-Lean Event in Galway, September 2012

On Friday September 21st I will be hosting a session on Agile-Lean Software Development with Kieran Conboy from NUI, Galway. This is an open event for practitioners at all levels to share challenges, experiences and solutions to Agile and Lean adoption. We will provide an opportunity for you to get practical answers to real problems with Agile or Lean adoption within your organisation. Our intention is to create a regular sustainable forum for companies in the West of Ireland and beyond practicing Agile and Lean to come together and share experiences.

Why should I attend?

The growing popularity of Agile and Lean methods such as Scrum, eXtreme Programming, TDD and Kanban indicate a strong desire to improve how we work and how we create value for our customers. While there are many potential benefits to Agile and Lean adoption there is no recipe to follow that will guarantee success. We can, however, learn from one another’s experiences.

Where and when will the event take place?

Friday September 21st, 2012, 1st Floor, J. E. Cairnes Building, NUI Galway.

9:30 am – 10 am Registration, Complimentary Tea/Coffee and Networking
10 am – 1 pm Main event
1 pm – 2 pm Complimentary lunch, networking

How much does it cost and how can I register?

The event is free but with limited places. Please register your interest by emailing or contacting Lorraine at (091) 49 2662.

What is the format of the event?

We will use a combination of hands-on exercises and open format to foster communication and collaboration among participants. You will have the opportunity to discuss any topic of interest and relevance to you in your Agile and Lean adoption. By the end of the gathering, all issues will receive full discussion, to the extent desired. A report of issues and discussions will be made available to participants.

The main event will be followed by a complimentary lunch, where participants will have a chance to mingle and network, as well as hear about some leading-edge research in Agile and Lean methods conducted by Lero at NUI Galway.

Download or view the official announcement here: Lero @ NUIG Agile Lean Event September 2012

Lean Startup in Large Organizations

I gave a talk today at a Lean Startup event organized by Enterprise Ireland and ITAG.

The topic of my talk was Lean Startup in large organizations, and specifically talking about lessons learned from applying Lean Product Development and Lean Startup principles at Cisco.

The three specific lessons I talked about are:

  1. Learning to manage batch sizes and limit Work in Process (WIP)
  2. Customer Development
  3. Learning to see and manage waste

The slide deck is available via Slideshare:

Lean Systems Society

Lean Systems Society

As of May 2012, the Lean Software and Systems Society has officially re-branded as the Lean Systems Society. As part of the launch, a number of founding Fellows have been named. I am honored and delighted to have been invited to be a founding Fellow of the Lean Systems Society.


The purpose of the Lean Systems Society is:

to improve the world by improving its systems. The Society organization will be modeled on the United Kingdom’s Royal Society and its “Fellowship of the world’s most eminent scientists.” The Royal Society was created to actively encourage thought leadership in the sciences by honoring original thinkers as Fellows, and encouraging their collaboration and debate. It has succeeded in this mission for over 300 years, and is an ideal model to emulate.

The Lean Systems Society Credo

From the Lean Systems Society Web site:

The Lean Systems Society believes that excellence in managing complexity requires accepting that complexity and uncertainty are natural to social systems and knowledge work. Effective systems must produce both better economic and sociological outcomes. Their development requires a holistic approach that incorporates the human condition. The Society is committed to exploring valuable ideas from all disciplines, and fostering a community that derives solutions from a common set of values and principles, while embracing specific context and avoiding dogma.

Fellowship of the Lean Systems Society

You can see the full list of current LSS Fellows at the LSS site. As of May 2012, the founding fellows are:

David J. Anderson Jeff Anderson Markus Andrezak
Jim Benson Barry Boehm Bjarte Bognes
Bob Charette Alan Chedalawada Steve Denning
Israel Gat Hillel Glazer Siddharta Govindaraj
Russell Healy Chris Hefley Richard Hensley
Curtis Hibbs Kenji Hiranabe Greg Howell
David Joyce Michael Kennedy Liz Keogh
Corey Ladas Janice Linden-Reed Hal Macomber
Ryan Martens Peter Middleton Benjamin Mitchell
Frode Odegard Greg Parnell Ken Power ( me!! 🙂 )
Don Reinertsen Chet Richards Karl Scotland
Alan Shalloway Sarah Sheard Chris Shinkle
David Snowden James Sutton Jean Tabaka
Richard Turner Alisson Vale Yuval Yeret
Greg Yezersky Jason Yip

The Fellowship was officially launched at the LSSC 2012 conference in Boston.

Press Releases

The official Lean Systems Society press release can be found here. There are additional press releases on Yahoo News, InfoQ and others.

Looking to the Future

I’m looking forward to continuing to contribute in whatever way I can to the Lean community, and to helping the Lean Systems Society to grow and flourish. The Society’s purpose of “improving the world by improving its systems” is a stirring and timely call to action for all of us.

Enjoy a Lean Coffee

What is Lean Coffee?

Jim Benson and Jeremy Lightsmith founded the Lean Coffee movement in Seattle in 2009. Since then, Lean Coffee events have sprung up around the world. The basic idea is for a group of people to get together to discuss topics around which they share a common interest, specifically around agile, lean, kanban, lean startup, etc. There is also an OpenCoffee movement, founded by Saul Klein in 2007. The intent behind OpenCoffee is to provide an open forum for investors, entrepreneurs and developers to come together, meet, discuss ideas, and find opportunities to work together.

The Lean Coffee format is essentially an approach to facilitating learning and collaboration through group discussions. The ‘Lean’ part of the name has its roots in Lean Thinking, and related areas of Lean Production, Lean Software, Lean Startup, etc. The ‘Coffee’ part of the name obviously comes from that nice drink that some of us are partial to. Meetups typically take place in the morning, at a local coffee house, at the same time and place each week.

Lean Coffee events are increasingly becoming a fixture at many conferences, in a similar way that Open Space has. We had a great Lean Coffee event at LESS2011 in Stockholm last year.

How it works

The Lean Coffee format has a lot in common with Open Space, particularly in the sense that you are asking people to move away from an agenda-driven gathering to a more open, collaborative, dynamic, emergent type of gathering.

The protocol, borrowed and modified from the Sydney Lean Coffee group and Limited WIP Society, is as follows:

  1. Everyone offers topics they are interested in discussing by writing them on index cards (or sticky notes).
  2. Everyone presents his or her topic as an Elevator Pitch (max 1 minute per topic).
  3. Use dot voting to vote on each of the topics.  Each person gets two votes. You can only vote once per topic.
  4. Prepare three columns on a table or wall. Call them “Planned”, “In Progress” and “Done”. Add all topics to the “Planned” column, with those that received the highest votes at the top.
  5. Discuss each topic in turn. Move the index card for the topic into the “In Progress” column. Initially, ask the proposer to explain the topic, then go round the table to give an opportunity for everyone to provide an initial comment, then open discussion.
  6. When the topic is done, move on to the next one.  The topic proposer decides when the topic is done, and moves the index card to the “Done” column.  If someone disagrees, then s/he can raise a new topic.  Expect to discuss 3-4 topics over the space of an hour or so.
  7. Consider time boxing each topic to 15 minutes max.
  8. At the end of the overall Lean Coffee session, run a quick retrospective.  What did you like? What didn’t you like? What are ideas for improvement?

As a variation, particularly if you have a large group, consider splitting into sub-groups if people are particularly passionate about specific topics. Then get back together after the topic discussion to present highlights to, and get feedback from, the wider group.

Lean Coffee at work

The idea and format for Lean Coffee is very simple and effective. It can be used in work too. For example, consider hosting a Lean Coffee event every week in your office. It can be a great way to share experiences and challenges across teams and gather interested people who don’t normally get to discuss these topics together.

If you find your retrospectives are becoming routine, then this is a good way to break out of the rut. There is no leader or facilitator required. The team can self-organize a Lean Coffee style event without any preparation. The team decides which topics to discuss, and how long to spend on each topic.

The only prerequisites are a set of index cards or sticky notes, a set of Sharpies, and some interested and willing people.

Lean Coffee at Agile Lean Galway

We’re going to try running the next Agile Lean Galway meetup as a Lean Coffee event. All our meetups so far have been upstairs in the Dail Bar, Middle Street, Galway.

We’ll kick off at 7pm. Sign up if you are interested in coming along.

Come along if you

  • have heard about Agile and Lean and want to know more
  • are trying to implement Lean thinking at your organization and could use some advice and guidance
  • know a lot about agile and lean and would like to share your knowledge and find out what others are doing
  • like coffee and interesting conversation about agile, lean, etc.
  • don’t like coffee, and just want to join the conversation

If we like the format, and the idea, and there’s enough interest, then maybe we’ll spin off Lean Coffee Galway as a separate event. Maybe as an early morning coffee event?


Some sites for Lean Coffee Meetups around the world:

Writings about Lean Coffee

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.


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!

ALE Ireland First Meetup in Galway February 2012

Claudio Perrone and I have been talking for a while about trying to arrange an Agile / Lean meetup in Galway. Claudio is Italian, living and working in Dublin, with a fondness for Galway having married a Galway girl. We had a small meetup in Dublin last September, but didn’t put a lot of effort into advertising that. Our friend Mike Sutton is also in Galway at the moment. Seems like fate is presenting us with a great opportunity to get together and talk about Agile, Lean and maybe some other things too. Claudio and Mike are very experienced agile and lean practitioners, as well as great coaches (and generally just great guys to meet up and chat with!). They both work internationally with lots of companies. I have gotten to know Claudio and Mike through various conferences and events that we have all been speaking at or involved in organizing. On a parallel conversation, I have also been talking with Colm O’hEocha, Frederic Oehl, and Alan Spencer about arranging a series of meetups in Dublin. Colm (based in Galway) and Frederic (living and working in Dublin too) will also be at next Monday’s meetup.

This is the first of what we hope will be a series of meetups. We decided to keep this first meetup pretty informal, so a pub/restaurant will work just fine. We had discussed holding it in a local company, or booking a venue, but let’s see if there’s much of an appetite first. If more than a few people turn up, and we want to do this on a regular basis, we can talk about how people want it to work.

What’s the Agenda?

There is no agenda for the meetup. Anything that comes under the umbrella of agile and lean is fair game for discussion. It does not matter if you are a veteran practitioner, a complete novice, or somewhere in between. It does not matter what role you play or job title you have. Bring ideas, questions, challenges, problems, suggestions, experiences, or just bring yourself. You might learn something from the conversation, or you might help someone else. You might discover something totally unexpected.

Claudio and I will prepare 1-page “Cheat Sheets” on a couple of topics to jump start some conversations. We can use these if we need some inspiration to get started. Feel free to do the same if you want to.

ALE Ireland

We will have this meetup under the umbrella of the Agile Lean Europe network – a network for collaboration of Agile & Lean thinkers and practitioners who are based in Europe. Last September’s ALE2011 Conference in Berlin was a great success, and the philosophy of sharing ALE Logo - Smallknowledge and bringing people together is appropriate. We’re interested in meeting like-minded people who are enthusiastic about improving their workplaces and lives through agile and lean thinking, and maybe changing the world along the way. We would like to see a community emerging where we can learn from each other and share experiences.

How do we know who else is coming?

We decided to forgo any sort of formality, including a registration system, for this meet up. If you are thinking about coming along, or just want to chat or introduce yourself, please log a comment below, or Tweet using the hashtag #aleireland so we have some idea who might show up. If you want to just show up on Monday, that’s fine too.

We hope to see you there!

Who’s in charge of this?

You are! I’m just sending out the invite. Others are free to send out invites too. This is my personal Blog, not a community Blog. There is no centralized ownership. This meetup, and any future meetups, will go in whatever direction decided by the people who show up.

Date and Time

Monday February 6th 2012, at 7:00 pm.


We’ll meet at the Dail Bar on Middle Street in Galway City. Here are directions courtesy of Google Maps, for those not familiar with it:

Beyond Transition: Establishing An Agile Office

Agile transition takes time; it is not a discrete event. When transitioning to agility it is important to put in place structures that will ensure that agile survives long after the initial transition period. One way to create such a structure is to establish an Agile Office (and I’m not referring to furniture or desk layout). However, an Agile Office is not the same thing as an Agile PMO (more on that another time).

We established an Agile Office in our Business Unit in September 2010. Our Agile Office is responsible for the organization’s ongoing agile adoption and continuous improvement through agile practices and lean thinking. We accomplish this through direct engagement with the organization’s senior leadership, management, and product teams.

Agile Office at Agile 2011

I will be talking about the concept of an Agile Office, and our experiences, at this year’s Agile 2011 conference in Salt Lake City. My talk (Wednesday August 10th at 10:00 am) is part of the Insights Stage and describes the experiences of Cisco’s Unified Communications Business Unit in establishing an Agile Office. I’ll describe the history behind establishing the Agile Office, the governance model, where it fits in the organization structure, engagement model, primary activities, challenges faced, and the stakeholders with whom we operate.

There is an accompanying paper too, that will be published as part of the conference proceedings. I was very fortunate to have Johanna Rothman as my shepherd for the paper. Working with her, and benefitting from her guidance, was a fantastic experience for which I am extremely grateful.

If you’re in Salt Lake City, come along and say hello. I’d love to share experiences and discuss how other organizations are dealing with the challenges of sustaining agility and leanness after the initial transition period. What support structures are you putting in place?



International Conference on Lean Enterprise Software and Systems (LESS 2011)

Marketed as the only Agile and Lean Leadership conference in Europe, the International Conference on Lean Enterprise Software and Systems (LESS) began in Helsinki last year with the first conference in the series, LESS 2010. This year the journey continues in Stockholm with LESS 2011, from Sunday October 30th through to Wednesday November 2nd. The LESS conferences bring together diverse communities and influences, including Agile, Lean, Complexity, Systems Thinking, Organization Transformation and Beyond Budgeting. Last year’s conference in Helsinki was a great experience. The range of sessions and topics was amazing, as was the quality of the speakers and the general organization of the conference as a whole. They set a high bar. I’m very much looking forward to Stockholm this year.

Organization Transformation Track

I am this year’s Chair for the Organization Transformation track. This is a topic close to my heart (and my day job). We’re planning to put together an exciting full-day program that showcases some of the great work in industry and research. We’re interested in case studies, success stories, challenges, lessons learned, practices, models, techniques, and topics generally related to the theme of organization transformation. Cases where the desired transformation did not work out are also valuable and welcome. This track will be of real benefit to anyone undertaking agile and/or lean adoption in their own organizations, or to those guiding the transformation of other organizations.

Call for Papers

The Call for Papers is open until Monday August 15th. You can submit regular talks (50 minutes), workshop proposals (50 + 50), research reports (20 minutes) or scientific papers (20 minutes).

If there is a short topic you are particularly passionate about but is not long enough for a full talk, then consider submitting a 10-minute lightening talk proposal. Lightening talks are a great way to inform and inspire other people, and can be a great catalyst for hallway conversations or Open Space sessions.

You can submit talks here:

Tracks and Themes

There are four tracks at this year’s conference. From the conference Web site:

  • Lean and Agile Product Development – A growing community with active researchers and practitioners world-wide
  • Complexity and Systems Thinking – A variety of topics that bring a completely different perspective into the world of business and management. Cutting edge ideas that the community is starting to apply to daily work
  • Beyond Budgeting – A novel approach to company management and strategy. Because the world changes constantly, companies, not just projects, must adapt to the new conditions
  • Transforming Organizations – Agile and Lean adoption leads to changes in our organizations. How to support the needed organization transformation? What is the state of the art when it comes to supporting and encouraging transformation?


You can register to attend here and it is still early enough to avail of the very generous early bird discount. I hope to see lots of you there!

ALE Conference 2011 – Submit a Talk, Bring Your Family

The ALE Network, brainchild of Jurgen Appelo, is rapidly gaining momentum. What started as an idea has grown into a movement. Jurgen writes about The Birth of a Network over on his Blog.

The first ALE Conference will take place in Berlin from September 7th to 9th 2011. Olaf has written about how he got into ALE, and all about organizing the conference here and here.

The build-up is very exciting. Already there’s a great lineup of keynote speakers. The quality and content of the proposed talks promises to be very high, with a real diversity of input from across Europe. Plus, there’s an Open Space that Mike Sutton will facilitate – not to be missed!

Industry Sofa

I am part of the Industry Sofa (although Andrea Heck from Siemens is really the main Industry Sofa person, and does all the real work 🙂 ). See ‘Why Sofas?’ for more.

You can submit talks here until July 7th:

You can register to attend here:

Program for Spouse and Children

Just one of the many things that sets this conference apart is the inclusion of spouses and children in the program. There is a dedicated ‘Spouse and Kids’ organizing sofa, and there will be special activities organized to help them feel part of the conference. For those of us that go to a lot of conferences it’s great to have something that acknowledges the important contributions our families make. As far as I know this is the first conference to have such a theme.

Principles of Stakeholder Management, Agile, and Lean

Agile Software Development, Lean Thinking, Lean Software Development, and the Toyota Production System (TPS) all have a set of founding principles. These are understood and are receiving increasing attention in software development. Deming’s management principles have had enormous influence on the evolution of TPS and Lean. Stakeholder Management is an area of strategic management that so far has received less attention in software development, but equally has a set of founding principles that we can learn from and that compliment the other sets of principles.


Principles provide guidance, in the form of non-prescriptive rules, for making decisions in contexts that the authors of those principles can’t imagine. Systems such as Agile Software Development and Lean Thinking are bolstered by a set of guiding principles. The same is true for Lean Software Development and the Toyota Production System (TPS). All over the world, teams and organizations are benefitting from applying these principles to become more agile, more lean. The power of principles lie in the fact that these teams and organizations can successfully apply these same principles using different sets of practices that meet their particular needs.

Although often used almost interchangeably, there is a fundamental difference between Lean Thinking, Lean Software Development, and the Toyota Production System (TPS). Each has its own set of principles, and I present them separately below.

Stakeholder Management also has a set of guiding principles. Taken together, the principles of Stakeholder Management, Agile, Lean Thinking, TPS and Lean Software Development provide a powerful system for guiding organizations engaged in development of products and systems. For me, the principles of Stakeholder Management provide balance to the others and help to create a more complete picture of what an organization needs to consider.

As shown in the diagram, Stakeholder Management Principles form part of a ‘system of principles’ for organization design. This article provides a summary of the principles, not a deep analysis. As part of my research work I am working on a paper that provides that deeper level of analysis.


Organization Design Principles

Organization Design Principles

Stakeholder Management Principles

There are ten principles of Stakeholder Management. These are from R. E. Freeman’s ‘Managing for Stakeholders‘.

  1. Stakeholder interests need to go together over time.
  2. We need a philosophy of volunteerism – to engage stakeholders and manage relationships ourselves rather than leave it to government.
  3. We need to find solutions to issues that satisfy multiple stakeholders simultaneously.
  4. Everything that we do serves stakeholders. We never trade off the interests of one versus the other continuously over time.
  5. We act with purpose that fulfills our commitment to stakeholders. We act with aspiration towards fulfilling our dreams and theirs.
  6. We need intensive communication and dialogue with stakeholders – not just those who are friendly.
  7. Stakeholders consist of real people with names and faces and children. They are complex.
  8. We need to generalize the marketing approach.
  9. We engage with both primary and secondary stakeholders.
  10. We constantly monitor and redesign processes to make them better serve our stakeholders.

The application of Stakeholder Management to Agile and Lean product development organizations is the subject of my ongoing research work.

Agile Principles

There are twelve principles behind the Agile Manifesto:

  1. Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.
  2. Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.
  3. Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.
  4. Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.
  5. Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.
  6. The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.
  7. Working software is the primary measure of progress.
  8. Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
  9. Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.
  10. Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount of work not done–is essential.
  11. The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.
  12. At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.

Toyota Production System (TPS) Principles

There are fourteen principles behind the Toyota Production System. These are a summary of the TPS principles in Jeffrey Liker’s ‘The Toyota Way‘. Liker groups the fourteen principles into four sections.

Section I: Long-Term Philosophy
1. Base your management decisions on a long-term philosophy, even at the expense of short-term financial goals.
Section II: The Right Process Will Produce the Right Results
2. Create a continuous process flow to bring problems to the surface.
3. Use “pull” systems to avoid overproduction.
4. Level out the workload (heijunka). (Work like the tortoise, not the hare.)
5. Build a culture of stopping to fix problems, to get quality right the first time.
6. Standardized tasks and processes are the foundation for continuous improvement and employee empowerment.
7. Use visual control so no problems are hidden.
8. Use only reliable, thoroughly tested technology that serves your people and processes.
Section III: Add Value to the Organization by Developing Your People
9. Grow leaders who thoroughly understand the work, live the philosophy, and teach it to others.
10. Develop exceptional people and teams who follow your company’s philosophy.
11. Respect your extended network of partners and suppliers by challenging them and helping them improve.

Section IV: Continuously Solving Root Problems Drives Organizational Learning
12. Go and see for yourself to thoroughly understand the situation (genchigenbutsu).
13. Make decisions slowly by consensus, thoroughly considering all options; implement decisions rapidly (nemawashi).
14. Become a learning organization through relentless reflection (hansei) and continuous improvement (kaizen).

Principles of Lean Thinking

In ‘Lean Thinking: Banish Waste and Create Wealth in Your Corporation‘, James P. Womack and Daniel T. Jones describe five principles of Lean Thinking:

  1. Value (as defined by the consumer, and created by the producer).
  2. The Value Stream (the set of all specific actions required to bring a product from concept through producer to consumer)
  3. Flow (specifically, the flow of value creating activities, or how the work flows through our organizations)
  4. Pull (people in the value stream pull work when ready, rather than have it pushed on them)
  5. Perfection (the ongoing, continuous pursuit of improvement and of the elimination of waste)

Lean Software Principles

Mary and Tom Poppendieck have been working on applying Lean production to software development. Their first book in 2003, ‘Lean Software Development: An Agile Toolkit‘ describe seven principles of Lean Software Development. In their second book, ‘Implementing Lean Software Development‘, the Poppendiecks revise their seven principles of Lean Software Development. They also provide a roadmap in the form of a 21-step program for implementing the seven principles, using 3 steps per principle.
1. Optimize the whole
  • Implement lean across an entire value stream and the complete product
  • Restructure the measurements
  • Reduce the Cost of Crossing Boundaries
2. Respect people
  • Train team leaders / supervisors
  • Move responsibility and decision-making to the lowest possible level
  • Foster pride in workmanship
3. Deliver fast
  • Work in small batches at a steady cadence
  • Limit work to capacity
  • Focus on cycle time, not utilization
4. Defer Commitment
  • Abolish the notion that it is a good practice to start development with a complete specification
  • Break Dependencies
  • Maintain Options
5. Create knowledge
  • Create design-build teams
  • Maintain a culture of constant improvement
  • Teach problem solving methods
6. Build quality in
  • Synchronize
  • Automate
  • Refactor
7. Eliminate Waste
  • Provide market and technical leadership
  • Create nothing but value
  • Write less code

Deming’s 14 Points

If you want to understand the history of Lean development, then you need to read Deming. W.Edwards Deming define his principles as 14 points. For a deeper understanding and explanation of Deming’s points, see Deming’s own ‘Out of the Crisis’ or Mary Walton’s ‘The Deming Management Method’.

  1. Create constancy of purpose for improvement of product and service. Deming suggests a radical redefinition of a company’s role. Rather than focus just on making money, the role of the company is to stay in business and provide jobs through innovation, research, constant improvement, and maintenance.
  2. Adapt the new philosophy. Our organizations should not accept the production of poor quality products and services.
  3. Cease dependence on mass inspection. Deming argues that quality comes not from inspection of the product at the end of the cycle, but rather from improvement of the process.
  4. End the practice of awarding business on price tag alone. Build long-term relationships with suppliers.
  5. Improve constantly and forever the system of production and service. Improvement needs to be accepted as a continuous, with everyone seeking ways to reduce waste and improve quality.
  6. Institute training and retraining (in skills).
  7. Institute leadership. Leaders help people do a better job, and know how to focus on the individual needs to everyone they are responsible for.
  8. Drive out fear.
  9. Break down barriers between staff areas. Apart from the functional silos that pose a problem, different groups can have different, competing goals.
  10. Eliminate slogans, exhortations, and targets for the workforce.
  11. Eliminate numerical quotas. If you ask someone to meet a quota, they will meet it at any cost. They encourage local optimizations. The problem with quotas is they only consider numbers, not quality or methods, and usually lead to high costs and inefficiency.
  12. Remove barriers to pride of workmanship. People want to do a good job. Sometimes the system prevents them from doing so.
  13. Institute a vigorous program of education and retraining (in the process). Everyone in the organization (and even beyond) is a stakeholder in the process, and needs to be trained, and retrained as the process evolves and improves.
  14. Take action to accomplish the transformation. This point calls for an effective change management program, with a critical mass of people from all levels in the organization.


It’s interesting to examine the principles from these different value systems and to see how they compare. What’s interesting for me is how they work so well together. There are areas where they have a lot in common, and there are areas where they address different concerns yet compliment each other well. As the software industry embraces agile and lean methods it is important to build an understanding of founding principles so we understand where these methods have come from, and what it takes to be successful with them. Blindly copying a set of practices will have limited, if any, positive results for a team or an organization. Developing a deep understanding of the underlying principles, and then working out how to apply these principles to the benefit of your organization and stakeholders, will have a far more lasting and positive impact.

I am continuing to explore these principles, as well as related areas, to see how they work together in practice, and how we can evolve them.

I would love to hear your experiences, thoughts and opinions.

Refactoring the Organization Design – LESS2010

I was fortunate to be invited to speak at the First International Conference on Lean Enterprise Software and Systems, 2010, in Helsinki last week. I presented on the topic of organization change, as part of the Scaling Agile to Lead track. More specifically, on the type of change that is implied when an organization decides to adopt agile and/or lean.

The main theme of my talk was in support of applying concepts from Stakeholder Management to support agile and lean adoption. I used the concept of refactoring to talk about some of the changes that can be made to organizations, and showed some examples of how Martin Fowler’s classic Refactorings can be re-purposed to talk about organization design rather than software design.

The main topics of my talk were:

  • Using Dan Pink’s Motivation 3.0 Type-I toolkit for intrinsic motivation as a guide for what we should be refactoring towards
  • Refactoring applied to Organization Design
  • Agile transition journeys
  • Designing a process: core framework versus toolbox
  • Refactoring toolshed
  • Stakeholder Management
  • Stakeholder Mapping applied to Scrum teams
  • Stakeholder Management and the challenges of Product Ownership for large organizations
  • Stakeholder Management and the role of manager
  • Stakeholder engagement
  • The power of metaphors for organizational learning
  • Jazz improvisation as a metaphor for organizational learning and stakeholder engagement
  • Artful Making as a metaphor for software development and stakeholder engagement
  • Organization Patterns

Paper Abstract

The following is from the abstract of my paper that was published in the conference proceedings:

Every organization has a design. As an organization grows, that design evolves. A decision to embrace agile and lean methods can expose weaknesses in the design. The concept of refactoring as applied to software design helps to improve the overall structure of the product or system. Principles of refactoring can also be applied to organization design. As with software design, the design of our organization can benefit from deliberate improvement efforts, but those efforts must have a purpose, and must serve the broad community of stakeholders that affect, or are affected by, the organization. Refactoring to agile and lean organizations demands that we have a shared vision of what the refactoring needs to achieve, and that we optimize the organization around the people doing the work.

The full conference proceedings are available form Springer.

Presentation slides

My presentation slides are here:

Refactoring the Design of the Organization

Every organization has a design. As the organization evolves, the design may or may not evolve to support the needs of the organization’s stakeholders (including the agile teams, managers, executives, customers, etc.). Sometimes we may wish we had the opportunity to start again with our organization design, and may even have some solid ideas about what we would do differently. However, few of us have the luxury of actually starting again, unless perhaps we build a new company.


Organizations that decide to ‘go agile’ or adopt ‘lean development’ are often not prepared for the sort of organizational issues that are implied by such a decision. Even those organizations that, with the greatest of intentions, tell their teams to “go, be agile”, do not set their teams up for success unless they provide the right organization support structures that create the right environment for their teams to be successful. Sometimes, fundamental is required.

For established companies with an established design, if we want to change something, then we need to refactor the design of the organization.

Managers, executives and other leaders have a crucial role to play as designers of the organization.

Open Jam at Agile2010

I’ll be speaking in greater detail on this topic later this year at LESS2010.

This Open Jam session at Agile 2010 will explore a number of questions, e.g.:

  • What refactorings would you apply?
  • What are we refactoring towards?
  • What is our measure of success?
  • How do we make sure we don’t break the organization while refactoring?
  • Should we be refactoring towards yet another fixed structure, or should the new structure accomodate, expect, and support ongoing change?
  • What structures do we need so that we build teams that are truly whole, cross-functional, and empowered to build the right thing?
  • What tests can we apply to ensure the refactorings are successful?
  • How do principles of coupling and cohesion apply to organization design?
  • Who are the key stakeholders in the organization design?
  • How does the current organization design serve it’s stakeholders, and how will the new organization design change that?
  • Do we really need to change anything? Can’t we just patch the current organization design?
  • What about skill specializations? Can communities of practice within our organizations replace functional silos?
  • What about HR issues? Reward structures? Compensation?
  • How can we build more autonomy into the organization?
  • What’s the relationship between organization vision and organization structure?
  • What are the implications for decision making?
  • How can we apply the Type I Toolkit for Organizations, so that we create an environment where intrinsic motivation can thrive?
  • Anything you want to talk about…


Using whiteboard, flip chart paper, markers and stickies, we will work together to understand how we might go about refactoring an organization.

We can take an example of a typical, large matrix organization with functional silos and discuss what refactorings we would like to apply.

Where and when

Open Jam session at Agile 2010 on Thursday August 12th at 12:30 in the Genie Open Jam area.