I was recently approached about the relationship between Systems Thinking, Lean And Agile. Without going into too much depth and using too much terminology I have tried to summarise it in the following diagram.
Agile is an iterative and incremental approach for developing product and services through collaboration between self-organising, cross-functional teams. It promotes adaptive planning, evolutionary development, early and continuous delivery, continuous improvement, and encourages rapid and flexible response to change.
Lean is a management mindset and a set of tools to create customer value, using the least amount of human effort, capital, inventories, time and capital investment in the process. Lean focuses on continuously improving work processes, increasing throughput and flow and removing waste.
A system is defined as two or more parts that work together to accomplish a shared aim. An organisation viewed as a system consists of not only its departments but also all of its interactions (both internal and external) including customers and suppliers. The success of all workers within the system is dependent on management’s ability to optimise the entire system.
Systems thinking is about:
- looking at the whole instead of focusing on components
- understanding components within their context, not in isolation
- paying attention to the interactions between components
- seeing cycles instead of linear cause and effect
By thinking of their organisation as a system, managers can begin to understand and address the problems facing them, their staff and their customers. W. Edwards Deming, an American statistician and management theorist, found the majority of possibilities for improvement are in the system (95%) and the remainder are with the worker (5%). He learned that if you want to change behaviour, then change the system.
Like most of us, one of your goals for the new year may include growing as an Agile coach, making a difference in your life & career. 2015 presents an opportunity with Agile Coach Camp Melbourne. Agile Coach Camp is a practitioner-run unconference for peer-to-peer learning and exploration.
Do you have a technique or practice worth sharing with your peers? Or an idea you’d like to test out with some leaders in the community? Are you facing challenges and want to get some perspective from other practitioners, or hear how they do things? If you feel you would benefit from connecting with 50 like-minded peers to talk, draw, discuss and explore ideas, then this unconference is for you.
Bernd Schiffer and I are in the final stages of organising Agile Coach Camp for Melbourne 2015. We have locked in a location, thanks to our venue Sponsor Nintex. On March 21 you are invited to join some of the most engaged learners and practitioners who, like you, are passionate about their work, active in the field and willing to share what they’ve learned.
You don’t have to be an expert to propose a topic or ask a question at Agile Coach Camp. You are simply inviting people into a conversation with you – other people who are also passionate about your topic or question. These conversations can build knowledge, and often lead to future collaborations. Open Space is great for networking!
Tickets go on sale on Tuesday 10 March 9am at acc2015mel.eventbrite.com.au
For more information visit www.agilecoachcampaustralia.org
In the last issue of AgileTODAY, I was interviewed by SlatteryIT to find out more about myself as one of the Agile Australia chairs. For Agile Australia 2104 I was one of the chairs for the ‘Approaches’ stream and in 2015 I will be chairing the ‘Build Measure Learn’ stream.
Here’s the transcript of that interview on page 10:
[AT] How many Agile Australia conferences have you been to? What has been your favourite moment from a past conference?
[CC] I have attended all of them and each year it gets bigger and better. I have enjoyed many of the keynotes at the conferences including Fiona Wood’s inspirational passion to “learn something from every day so that tomorrow is better”. Another was Jeff Smith’s keynote about providing executive sponsorship for “Living Agile” as a way of increasing business value through simplicity. However, my favourite moment was last year when a few of us gave the Aussie rite of passage for a few overseas attendees with the ‘Tim Tam Slam’.
[AT] Tell us about your Agile ‘A-ha’ moment.
[CC] I was a technical lead for a project and my life was ruled by crunching numbers and trying to work out an impossible project plan, knowing in my heart that it would be out of date the very next day. Ultimately, this planning turned out to be making lots of assumptions that didn’t take into account the realities of the world.
As the delivery got underway, we used iterative and Agile approaches. We discovered new things that we couldn’t predict in the beginning. Through the real progress of working software it was soon clear that the original plan was false. The amount of work required didn’t fit expectations.
We interacted with the customer regularly to understand what they really needed and developed in short cycles. Our customer said it was a great level of communication and collaboration, however, the new discoveries and real progress didn’t win favours with management. We were faced with a project that had a 9 month window but was 2+ years in the Gantt chart. I realised that the people doing the work will figure out the best way to get from point A to Z. I didn’t need to predict everything upfront and it was liberating to experience empirical processes and Agile.
[AT] Attendance at Agile Australia has tripled since the first conference. What changes have you seen in the community, in Agile approaches, in your work, over the years?
[CC] Ten years ago we had to justify Agile approaches and prove that it works. When I first came across Agile it was mainly XP, Scrum or FDD. Now Agile encompasses a whole range of ways of working including Lean Startup, Design Thinking, Lean and Kanban, Complexity Theory, Systems Thinking, Servant Leadership, Beyond Budgeting and Scaled Agile Framework to name a few. I am no longer spending time justifying Agile and instead helping teams with their Agile transformation and scaling Agile.
Seven years ago there weren’t any Agile meetups in Melbourne, and now we have a vibrant Agile community. Whilst many people have been on their Agile journey for a few years, it’s also great to see many new faces at the local meetups who are learning about Agile for the first time.
Over time we sometimes forget about the Agile Manifesto and just do the practices. I think we we need to continually reinforce the values because that is what makes it work.
[AT] On your blog you mention you care about ‘humanising the workplace’ – what do you mean by that?
[CC] Organisations and machines don’t build great products and services, people do. It is the collaboration and the human spirit that are at the heart and mind of great work. We need to stop viewing people as ‘resources’; treating them as robots or commodities who are easily interchangeable. We need to enable performance rather than manage performance. The importance of people is reflected at this year’s conference with a whole stream dedicated to building people oriented-organisations through Individuals and Interactions.
Humanising the workplace is about making a work environment that puts a greater emphasis on knowledge, passion, inspiring people to collaborate towards common goals, and fostering teamwork where creativity can flourish. We need to adapt the models, processes and restrictions of work to fit humans better. It may seem obvious when I say this, but as an Agile Coach I have spoken to many people about how alienating the workplace can get. I think we have improved a lot in this area over the years, but we need to be very careful we don’t turn Agile processes into Waterfall 2.0.
[AT] What is the strangest situation you’ve applied an Agile principle to?
[CC] I use Agile in range of situations including creating Kanbans for moving house, big visible charts for our kids’ reward system, acceptance criteria for household chores and a Santa backlog! To some this might seem strange but for me its a way life. I have even got my wife limiting her WIP and using Kanban!
You can get more information about the publication including past issues at the AgileTODAY website.
Towards the end of last year I was interviewed by Shane Hastie from InfoQ about Agile Coach Camp. The interview was published in the article An Update on Agile Coach Camps Internationally.
Coach camps are volunteer organised events which typically happen over a weekend and are designed to be cost neutral, sharing the venue and catering costs across the attendees without a profit motive. Coach Camps run using an Open Space format.
Bernd Schiffer and I are bringing Agile Coach Camp to Melbourne in March 2015. We have been busy finding a suitable venue and we are very close to finalising one soon.
For more information and how to get tickets (once they go on sale) for the Agile Coach Camp in Melbourne, please visit www.agilecoachcampaustralia.org
Here’s the transcript of my interview on InfoQ:
I was one of the few people from Melbourne who traveled up to Sydney for Australia’s first Agile Coach camp in 2013. I didn’t know what to expect from the event other than wanting to network and meet other people who were passionate about helping others deliver customer and business outcomes through agile ways of working. In the end I caught up with a great bunch of like-minded people and walked away with some new ideas and hopefully provided some inspiration for others.
I want to increase my competency as an Agile Coach and help others by forming a community of practicing Agile Coaches. Through this desire I formed the Agile Coaching Circles Meetup (www.meetup.com/agile-coaching-melbourne) in Melbourne to provide support for the role of the Agile Coach. Naturally Agile Coach Camp is another outlet to learn and become more effective in the role of an Agile Coach and anyone else involved in coaching, training, mentoring and leading Agile organisations, teams and individuals through a community of practicing coaches. It is a practitioner-run event and the sessions are planned collaboratively on the day with the participants. I find the peer-to-peer Open Space discussions to be diverse, cooperative, stimulating and interactive.
I am looking forward to the coach camp in Sydney and I am excited about collaborating with Bernd Schiffer in hosting Melbourne’s inaugural coach camp in early 2015 and making this a regular event in every coach’s calendar. We want to run the Melbourne coach camp as a grassroots event that is cost neutral with little or no sponsorship other than a sponsor who can denote a venue for us to use. We want to encourage everyone to bring their best ideas or problem they want help with, unleash their enthusiasm and together we can discover how we can be even better coaches.
I hope to see you in March at the Melbourne Agile Coach Camp.
It was great co-chairing a stream at the Agile Australia 2014 Conference with Renee Troughton and Kim Ballestrin. At the conference the friendly folks from The Agile Revolution, Craig Smith and Renee Troughton, grabbed me for a quick chat for their podcast, Episode 77: Agile Australia 2014 Vox Pop #2.
You can hear my interview starting at the 9 min 20 second mark.
Recently I was posed the question “how can we shape organisations to be successful in an environment of digital disruption?”
The convergence of technologies, such as cloud, social, mobile and information (the Nexus of Forces) …. are driving the Digital Industrial Revolution (Gartner). The convergence of these technologies has formed what Fred Wilson has described as the Golden Triangle:
“The three current big megatrends in the web/tech sector are mobile, social, and real-time.”
However, technology is just one part of the digital disruption equation. You can forget about digital disruption if you don’t disrupt your existing (traditional) business models.
Over the years oragnisations have updated their technology roadmaps and invested in new technologies to support their business strategies. Yet organisations have retained their legacy processes and policies and have not adapted new ways of working to compete effectively. Most organisations are built to sustain their existing business models which are not geared towards creating digital experiences for customers. Existing governance structures are often too slow, too siloed, stifles innovation, adds bureaucracy and all too inconsistent.
Increasingly organisations are embracing new paradigms and principles in the way they work in the era of digital. Many of these incidentally come from Agile and its related areas such Lean, Kanban, Design Thinking, Systems Thinking, and Lean Startup. Take for example the U.S. Digital Services Playbook:
- Understand what people need
- Address the whole experience, from start to finish
- Make it simple and intuitive
- Build the service using agile and iterative practices
- Structure budgets and contracts to support delivery
- Assign one leader and hold that person accountable
- Bring in experienced teams
- Choose a modern technology stack
- Deploy in a flexible hosting environment
- Automate testing and deployments
- Manage security and privacy through reusable processes
- Use data to drive decisions
- Default to open
and the UK Government Digital Services Design Principles:
- Start with (user) needs
- Do less
- Design with data
- Do the hard work to make it simple
- Iterate. Then iterate again.
- Build for inclusion
- Understand context
- Build digital services, not websites
- Be consistent, not uniform
- Make things open: it makes things better
Adoption of an Agile models, Lean Principles, a lean way to create a business model and a way to continuously innovate is vital if you want to compete effectively. These (modern) delivery models and principles no longer play a supporting role, but are center stage – it is becoming essential to the success of businesses in the age of digital disruption.
None of the principles and policies by the U.S. Digital Services and UK Government Digital Services is about technology. They are more about how work and business is to be done. The companies that will be successful in the disruptive digital era will be those who look beyond technology solutions but also disrupt their traditional organisation and governance structures and invest in new business models.
The digital disruption is forcing businesses to change how business is done. This requires a business transformation that uses technology to create digital experiences for customers AND equally adapt or introduces new processes and systems to successfully compete. Through evolution of work design, organisations need to adapt and change processes and policies (and we are not just talking changes in IT only). This will be BIG – it means changing one way of being to another. A butterfly is nothing like a caterpillar.
 W. Edward Deming defines a system as a network of interdependent components that work together to try to accomplish the aim of the system. In this case the system is not an IT system, but the organisation as a system.
“One of the big success factors at Spotify is the Agile Engineering Culture.” – Henrik Kniberg
Spotify started as a Scrum company in 2008 but the standard Scrum practices were getting in the way as they grew, so they made them optional. Here’s an awesome video how Spotify scaled their Agile Engineering Culture. They decided that:
- Agile matters more than Scrum
- Agile Principles matters more than any specific Practices
- Agile Coach is needed rather than ScrumMaster (Servant Leaders more than Process Masters)
In today’s era, organisations especially large enterprises are often challenged with shrinking revenues from existing products and services. Furthermore technological breakthroughs and incremental product development no longer necessarily provide the competitive differentiators to grow their business. Management need to investigate how to reinvent ways to sustain innovation and to stay in front of their competitors.
The process of innovation is often seen as being very linear, with business models created from market research results, leading to large development efforts creating products that fail to meet customer’s need.
The goal of a new product development is to figure out the right thing to build—the thing customers want and will pay for—as quickly as possible. But why do new products fail so badly everywhere we look? The first problem is the allure of a good plan, a solid strategy, and thorough market research. In earlier eras, these things were indicators of likely success. So what has changed? In today’s era this approach does not work as organisations operate under extreme uncertainty.
We must learn what customers really want, not what they say they want or what we think they should want. We need to go beyond asking hypothetical questions, and observe real customer behaviour.
The following model combines ingredients from 4 different disciplines to help with this innovation dilemma:
- Design Thinking
- Lean Startup
- Business Model Canvas
Each part is fit for purpose in the cycle of innovation.
Download PDF version.
1. Design Thinking – develop customer empathy to generate insights and create ideas
Design plays a significant part of innovative business models and it is important in creating value for users.
Through working with a product development team in a large enterprise I have observed how well Design Thinking complements Lean Startup. Lean Startup is taking the world by storm, however, the build-measure-learn cycle does not address the design and ideation cycle – how do organisations and teams identify ideas, customer insights and leap-of-faith assumptions that need to be validated?
Thinking like a designer certainly will help transform the way you develop products, services, processes and even strategy [Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO] through contextual inquiry and observing customer behaviours. Immersing yourself in the context and observing customer behaviours helps you unearth details and intricacies of the problem space. Accurate observations will help you generate insights, create ideas and develop initial product designs for a customer segment. These ideas, designs and leap-of-faith assumptions can then be further validated using Lean Startup.
2. Lean Startup – scientific experimentation and validated learning
Lean Startup supports the launching of businesses and products. It relies on validated learning, scientific experimentation, and iterative product releases to shorten product development cycles, measure progress, and gain valuable customer feedback. In this way, organisations can design their products or services to meet the demands of their customer base without requiring large amounts of initial funding or expensive product launches.
Lean Startup is a learning framework for “disruptive innovation” defined as unknown problem, customer & market, solution & the search for “the right thing to build”. The primary output being a validated business model through, rapid iteration, empiricism & non-vanity metrics to measure progress.
The design thinking process provides a vehicle to generate tested ideas quickly. The Lean Startup approach can then be used to validate the ideas, customer insights and leap-of-faith assumptions using experiments.
Both Design Thinking and Lean Startup take a very similar iterative and customer driven development design approach. The combined approach of Design Thinking and Lean Startup provides a systematic approach for organisations to create disruptive innovation.
3. Business Model Canvas – Rapidly create a business model
The Business Model Canvas is one of the most used business model frameworks. The Business Model Canvas allows you to rapidly create and capture the rationale of how an organisation creates, delivers, and captures value. Design Thinking informs the Business Model of opportunities (eg who our customers are and what they value). The Business Model can be systematically validated/invalidated through Lean Startup experiments. Lean Startup is the framework to rapidly iterate over the business model.
Ultimately, this allows us to test the business viability, and to change and adapt our business model to take advantage of the opportunities. Any part of the business model that is validated can be quickly delivered to customers through small releases (minimal viable products) using iterative and incremental approach of agile development.
4. Agile – Implement and continuously deliver product features to the customer
Lean and Agile values, principles and practices provides the means for organisations to amplify the leap-of-faith assumptions by continuously delivering value to users through iterative and incremental development.
Mixing it all together
In the race to create new innovative product and services, organisations will need to move away from the linear approach to innovation using assumptions based on market research. The combination design thinking, lean startup, business model canvas and agile is a holistic approach that has a push towards customer centricity that really helps provide a framework to create and sustain an innovation pipeline. Ultimately these 4 parts provides a model to build an innovative culture and delight customers with the right product that has the right solution and market fit.
To create a sustaining innovation pipeline organisations may circle back through design thinking, Lean Startup, and Agile for implementation more than once as the product team refines its ideas and explores new directions.
- You may also like to read a very nice article by David Bland describing the need to combine Lean Startup + Business Model Innovation + Continuous Delivery and why each by itself is not enough. I have adapted David’s venn diagram to explicitly include where I think Design Thinking fits.
- A previous post I wrote, Enlightened trial and error succeeds over the planning of the lone genius illustrates Design Thinking in action by IDEO.
- The Lean Startup, Eric Ries
Kaizen Camp was held in Melbourne this week, 20-21 May 2013. Kaizen Camp is an unconference held in the style of Lean Coffee with 8 sessions, 60 attendees and over 50 topics discussed. It was the first Kaizen Camp in Australia.
The great part of Kaizen Camp is the networking, learning and knowledge sharing using real world, practical experiences. The discussions were stimulating, interactive and there was a high level of collaboration among all participants. It was great to see many of the usual suspects in the local agile community as well as many new faces.
I didn’t take many notes as I was too busy engaged in many of the conversations. Lynne Cazaly created a few fantastic visual notes which I have included below.
The twitter feed was #kaizencamp
Thanks for Jim Benson (@ourfounder), Simon Bennett (@cgosimon) and Safron Bennett (@saffy1) for facilitating and hosting the event.
And a special thanks to everyone for sharing your ideas, insights and experiences!
I look forward to seeing you at the next Kaizen Camp!
Melbourne Lean Coffee
I host Lean Coffee Meetups with Jason Yip (@jchyip) and Kim Ballestrin (@kb2bkb). If you want more discussions beyond the Kaizen Camp event, join us for Melbourne Lean Coffee which are held regularly. More information can be found on the meetup site.
Yesterday I passed the PMI – Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP) exam with Proficient results. Woo Hoo!!
I took a very very light weight approach to my preparation. I am currently very time poor which has led me to do minimal and just enough study.
I did not read any of the prescribed reference books for the exam (I have no time) – there’s 11 of them (ouch)!!! But I have read parts of some of the books at some stage in the past. The only book I read once 4 months ago was “The PMI-ACP Exam: How To Pass On Your First Try” by Andy Crowe. In hind sight after completing the exam, I didn’t find this book very useful in that I didn’t learn anything that would prepare me for the exam.
A few days prior to the exam, I used http://www.agileexams.com as a guide to what to study. Whenever I got an answer wrong I would do a short study spike by researching the topic. Most of the time the questions I got wrong on the practice exam were ‘off-the-road’ agile concepts or ensuring I got the ‘text-book’ agile theory right. As most would know, there are various approaches and adaptations in agile that would work, but for the exam you are tested for the theoretical correct approach. I would recommend using agileexams (I found it useful) as a study/prep tool as a way to hone in on study gaps.
I am an agile practitioner and have been coaching agile for a number of years now so the above light weight, minimal marketable reading approach worked for me. I suspect if you have agile experience, then passing the exam would not be too difficult without having to read all the books too.
For the actual exam I took 3 iterations, 2 hours in total (you have 3 hours to complete the exam):
- Iteration 1 – Went through all the questions and selected the best answer. Marked about 20 questions to review (60mins).
- Iteration 2 – Reviewed all the marked questions (15mins).
- Iteration 3 – Went through all the questions again to double check my answers (45 mins).
In most cases, 2 answers can be easily ruled out (i.e. obviously incorrect). There were a few instances where in practice several answers would be plausible, but there was only one theoretical and ‘correct’ answer for the exam.
Good luck if you are planning to take the exam!
Now that I am PMI-ACP certified, what now?