About Author: Derek Huether

I'm an Enterprise Agile Coach at LeadingAgile. I have a goal to take the hand waving out of Agile, Kanban, & Scrum. I’m a strange combination of a little OCD, a little ADHD, a lot of grit, and a lot of drive. I come from a traditional PM background but I don't give points for stuff done behind the scenes. The only thing that counts is what you get done and delivered. Author of Zombie Project Management (available on Amazon)

Posts by Derek Huether


Lean Business Report Presented by LeanKit

Lean Business Report
You’ve heard of the State of Agile survey?

Welcome to the Lean Business Report Survey!

I would describe myself as a whole lot of things, including a Lean Practitioner.  I was forwarded this survey and thought I would give it a go.  It only took me about 10 minutes and it felt great that I was able to contribute.

Why not help out?  Get started here >> Lean Business Report Survey

In the survey, you’ll be asked to share your experiences in learning, adopting or practicing Lean. LeanKit will compile and share the results in early 2016. Together, we’ll gain a deeper understanding of how Lean works for business.

If you provide your email address, you’ll receive an early copy of the Lean Business Report and also be entered to win one of five $500 Amazon gift cards.
Here are some quick facts to know before you begin:

  • The survey will take approximately 11 minutes.

  • Only questions marked with an asterisk (*) are required.

  • Your responses are completely anonymous.
Thank you again for your input!

Don’t Stand in Line for Mediocrity

Drink CoffeeI had 5 minutes to spare, so I walked into popular coffeehouse to grab a quick cup of joe.  I didn’t want a mocha-latte-hooya-watcha-ma-call-it. I wanted a good cup of black coffee. I saw a line 5 people deep. I stood there for about 30 seconds and then turned around and walked out.  The image the coffeehouse wants to project is that they are this hip place where the popular and successful are seen.  This image is greater than the taste of their coffee.  The reality is every person and their grandmother walk through the door buying into the lie.  More importantly, the coffee isn’t that good. It’s actually pretty mediocre.  I’m glad I walked out the door.

Life is too short to stand in line for mediocrity.


How to Use an A3 Report

What is an A3

An A3 is more than an 11 x 17 inch piece of paper that is structured into several sections and not all A3’s are created equal. An A3 is a structured problem solving and continuous improvement approach, first employed at Toyota and typically used by Lean manufacturing practitioners. What your A3 looks like depends upon the situation. The example below consists of the following pattern, as part of an Agile Transformation:

  1. Current Situation & Problem
  2. Root Cause Analysis / Conclusion
  3. Goal
  4. Corrective Action

After we agree on the four steps, we’re going to implement the correction action and then verify the results. The content of an A3 follows the logic of the Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) cycle.  What I want you to take away from this blog post is not so much TQM, PDSA, and A3’s, as much as how you could benefit from them when doing an Agile transformation or any kind of process improvement.

A3 Report Example

When doing an Agile Transformation, I’m going to always cycle back to 3 core goals.

  1. Form complete cross functional teams
  2. Build backlogs
  3. Deliver working tested software

Anything that gets in the way of doing these is an impediment that has to be removed.  The example I have above describes how a team is under-committing each sprint.  We’re using a story point completion ratio to know if the team is delivering working tested software. We’re going to use this single page to have a shared understanding with our client and agree on a course of action.  Now, I’m not saying you have to use this template. If you can remove an impediment informally, by all means, do it!  But, to make sure my client agrees there is a problem that needs to be prioritized and addressed, this is an effective tool and it’s pretty lightweight.  You may also notice I don’t call this an A3 on the actual example.  I’m going to call it an Action Report so my client feels comfortable with common language and I don’t need to distract them by introducing Lean terminology.  When I say “A3”, there are certain expectations.  Let’s not get hung up on that and just call it an Action Report going forward.

Flow of the Action Report

You’ll notice that I structured my Action Report so that your eyes will be drawn to sections. I want to compare 1 and 3 (Current Conditions and Goals) and 2 and 4 (Root Cause Analysis/Conclusion and Corrective Action).  This allows a transformation consultant to note impediments and identify root causes independently but then be prepared to collaborate with the client on goals and corrective actions.  I’m going to stress this again.  We’re only going to go through this process if the consultant can’t resolve the issue informally.  If not, he or she will need to collaborate with the client to confirm the goal and agree on an appropriate action. The consultant doesn’t do all of this in a vacuum.  When looking at action (or A3) reports used by others, I’ve seen them identify the goal prior to looking for root cause. From my experience, if I’m required to identify the goal before moving forward, this may create an unnecessary delay.  If I don’t think something is right, I’m going to start investigating right away and then circle back with the client to validate their goal. But, I’m not going to stop and wait to be told what their goal is before beginning to look for root cause. I don’t want to stop until my personal curiosity is satisfied. Also, I’m not saying to not collaborate with the customer. I’m saying keep moving forward on multiple fronts and to circle back at the first logical opportunity.

Current Conditions

We have several opportunities during the transformation to get this information.  It could be, we just completed a formal assessment of the team or organization.  Maybe we just reviewed metrics of the team or organization.  Maybe I just walked out of a really long and unproductive meeting. Whatever we did, I’m looking for some kind of objective criteria or indicator to describe the condition.

Root Cause Analysis / Conclusion

In order to propose appropriate corrective actions, we need to identify the root cause of the condition. Avoid using logical fallacies like anecdotal, appeal to emotion, or false cause. I like to use Socratic method or ask the 5 whys to help reach the root cause.


The goal listed above in the illustration focuses on getting a team’s story point completion ratio to 100% +/- 10%. This goal is pointing back to building backlogs and delivering working tested software.  By getting the teams to keep their commitments of delivering working tested software regularly, we allow the business to make better commitments to their customers. If we can build that trust and safety within our organizations, we’ll start to build balanced systems.

Corrective Actions

Identify corrective actions that is both short term and easy to implement. If the actions are neither, I keep a higher level corrective action around and then break it down so I can incrementally work toward the goal.  Personally, I keep my daily activities on a Kanban board. For an overall transformation, I keep the actions and activities in a rolling 90-day plan.  This keeps the client informed on what value I’ve delivered and what value I plan to deliver in the coming weeks/months.

Plan Do Study Act in an Agile Transformation

When doing an Agile Transformation, PDSA is just one pattern to map the approach.  Not mentioned in this blog post are the original inputs into the initial coaching plan and 90-day plan. (both of which are collaboratively defined and continuously evolved with the client). But, how do I fit it all together in a high level “plan do study act” process, more emblematic of the original A3 process? I use the following:

  1. Coaching Plan (Plan)
  2. Rolling 90-Day Plan (Do)
  3. Adoption Assessment (Study)
  4. Metrics (Study)
  5. Action Report (Act)

Inputs and Outputs of an A3 Report


I hope this provides some insights into how you can take some of the hand waving out of your next (or current) Agile transformation.  There are a lot of moving parts and you need the process and tools to keep an eye on your goals and manage progress, without adding so much overhead that you stifle the forward momentum.  Let me know if you have questions!

Download a free copy of the A3 Report Template


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Why the Divergence Between Talks and Lean Coffee?

Lean Coffee Agile2015

It’s been a few weeks now since Agile2015 wrapped up.  So, what’s next?

I made a plan this year that I was going to spend a lot more time outside of the planned sessions of the annual Agile Alliance conference, of which this was my fourth.  When I attended back in 2012, I went to sessions by the “who’s who” in the Agile space.  To get as much value as possible, I attended as many scheduled sessions as possible.  The only exception to that schedule was I wanted to attend some Lean Coffees.

Each year, I have returned to the Gaylords for the annual Agile Alliance conference. Texas, Tennessee, Florida, Washington DC…  In that short time, something changed.  Those things that I believe, as they relate to Lean, Agile, and Transformations in the Enterprise have evolved. Those people who I saw speak back in 2012 are saying the same things.  Honestly, what they are saying just isn’t as compelling as it once was.

The Problem of BDUF

Agilists talk about how bad it is to have a Big Design Up Front (BDUF).

“Critics (notably those who practice agile software development) argue that BDUF is poorly adaptable to changing requirements and that BDUF assumes that designers are able to foresee problem areas without extensive prototyping and at least some investment into implementation… ~Wikipedia”

Each year, a bunch of super smart people go through a few thousand submissions for the coming event, in the hope of shaping a conference that people will attend and enjoy.  The decisions are made months in advance on exactly what talks/workshops will happen.  A lot of work goes into this effort (I know because I was a reviewer one year).  This is all done in a vacuum.  Honestly, those who are reviewing the sessions don’t know what the attendees will perceive as valuable. So, they can’t vet the most valuable sessions.  This year, I found the conference was heavy on Agile fundamentals (this was a conversation at one of the lean coffees at the conference).  Now, this may not be a bad thing. Maybe the Agile Alliance has a target market of those with less than three years working in the domain.  But what about those with more experience in the Agile space? Where will we find our valuable sessions at the conference?

Solving the problem with Emergent Design

I know you can’t please everyone, but each year I have found fewer topics so compelling that I want to sit there for an hour and listen to someone.  I have learned to get up and walk out as quickly as possible, when I discover the session is not going to provide me the value I had hoped.  Fortunately this year, I found that Lean Coffee, Open Jam, and the Stalwarts sessions gave me almost an entire conference-week of very valuable and satisfying conversations and learning.  Did I find a few compelling sessions this year?  Yes.  Is the value of the planned session diminishing year over year for me? Yes. Will I spend even more time in the Lean Coffee and Open Jam space next year? Yes, absolutely!

The Divergence

I am certainly not poo-pooing the Agile Alliance or the people who put on the conference. I’m sure there are people out there who think I am. That’s not what I’m doing.  Those people do a hell of a good job, year after year. I look forward to going to the conference in Atlanta next year.  But, there is a split that I’m seeing.  I didn’t like the big planning upfront this year or at other local conferences. So, I stood up my own conference: Agile Baltimore Unconference. Now, this post isn’t about self-promoting my event.  It’s about the divergence I’m seeing.  I found it interesting to discover that if you have an Open Space (an unconference method) event, the sponsor request will take a different path within the Agile Alliance (who are now a sponsor of the Agile Baltimore Unconference). I found it interesting the attendees of the Agile2015 Lean Coffees and Open Jam agreed that if you wanted more advanced topics, you weren’t going to find many in the planned sessions.

Agile Baltimore or Agile2015+ Unconference

So, what if the Agile Alliance had an Unconference?  Imagine a whole day of conversations, like the ones you had between sessions, at coffee, lunch, or over drinks.  Wouldn’t that be awesome?  Do you think that is the direction we’re going?  As a community, is the big plan up front more valuable than the conversations or the information we’re trying to distribute?

Again, I’d like to thank the Agile Alliance for sponsoring the upcoming Agile Baltimore Unconference.

What: Agile Baltimore Unconference
When: Monday, October 12, 2015 7:30 AM – 7:00 PM (Eastern Time)
Where: ETC Incubator, 101 N Haven St, Baltimore, Maryland 21224
How:  To learn more or to register, go to http://www.agilebaltimore.org


Agile 2015 Twitter Feed

Looking for the play by play from Agile 2015? Check out the feed below