Process Improvement Archive

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My Lesson in Process Improvement

stable velocity sustainable pace

Regardless of your organization and goals, everyone is trying to do things better.  I commonly hear about management asking its people to do more faster, often with less.

One major mistake I see time and time again are organizations trying to do things faster before really understanding their own processes.  If you don’t stop and really ask yourself if you’ve optimized the whole of your processes, before trying to go faster, any successes will be short lived.  I can assure you that speed without optimization is not sustainable.

Recently, I got back into running.  I haven’t ran consistently for a few years and honestly, I always hated it.  The goal was never to run a half or full marathon.  The goal was always to stay under 28 minutes for 3 miles.  That was the minimum speed requirement on a Marine Corps PFT back in the late 80’s, when I was enlisted.  Without fail, my feet and knees always hurt.  So, I did what any novice runner would do. I bought really cushioned running shoes.  I was able to run a couple miles at a time, at the pace I wanted, but I had to stop due to sharp pain in my knee and lower back.

A few weeks ago, I had lunch with a friend who is also a former Marine but he does a lot of distance running.  His goals include running half and full marathons.  I told him of my pains and he said I needed to read the book Born to Run and consider barefoot running.  Now, barefoot running includes both running barefoot or wearing minimal footwear.  Remember, the modern running shoe wasn’t invented until the 1970’s.  By getting rid of my cushy shoes and changing how my feet strike the ground, suddenly the pain is gone.  It was that simple.  A few days ago, I ran five miles and I could have kept going.  Suddenly, three miles in 28 minutes is no longer the goal.  Because I have a stable velocity with no pain, I now have a sustainable pace.  I know I can now go the distance.

Think about your organization again.  Do you meet your commitments, but it’s painful?  Do you sometimes not meet your commitments, because your pace is not predictable or it’s just too fast?  Stop and think about what you’re doing.  Really take a fresh look at how you’re doing things and consider making some changes.  Don’t use the excuse of “this is just how we’ve done it in the past”.  Once you find and address the root causes of your pains, you can refocus on what you’re trying to accomplish and reaching both those short and long term goals.

The picture above is of me in a LeadingAgile running shirt.  Thank you Mike Cottmeyer for the slogan (and the shirt).  This blog post was originally posted on the LeadingAgile blog

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Measuring Team Emotion

Team EmotionToo many times, companies focus too much attention on metrics like Team Performance and Team Efficiency, while ignoring metrics like Team Emotion or Happiness.  This last week,  I worked with a company and team which did not make this mistake. At the  conclusion of the iteration, they held a retrospective.

As noted on a previous blog post,

a retrospective meeting is held at the end of a scheduled event or time interval. With the aid of a facilitator, a team discusses what went well and what could be improved during the next interval or prior to the next scheduled event.  The meeting is time-boxed to help ensure it doesn’t just turn into an out-of-control complaining session.  When properly facilitated, you come out of the meeting with an actionable list for improvement candidates.

At the conclusion of the team retrospective, it was time for the final task of the (2-week) iteration.  It was time to know how the team felt.

As you can see from this Cacoo drawing, the team was happy during iteration planning and the first week of the two-week iteration.  Things didn’t go so well during the  second week or the Iteration Review. I was there during that meeting and not surprised they voted as they did.  What is telling from this diagram was their feelings of the actual Retrospective meeting.  They were very happy.

During the Retrospective,  the team discussed how they could make the next iteration (and Review) better.  It was a really healthy and productive conversation.  There was no blaming.  It was all about “how can we as a team do better?”

In closing, find out how your team feels.  You may be surprised how team performance and efficiency improve when the team is happier.  If you want true process or team improvement (Kaizen), track your feelings as well.

 

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PDCA and Emergency Preparedness

PDCASome of you may have heard there was an earthquake and a hurricane that hit the Mid Atlantic this last week.  I see both events as perfect learning opportunities.  No, these are not learning opportunities on emergency preparedness.  Rather, let’s learn about the PDCA cycle by Dr. W. Edwards Deming.

Several years ago, my wife and I thought it would be prudent to put together an emergency preparedness kit.  We didn’t want 6 months of TVP or anything like that.  We just wanted something for events that may never happen.  So, we planned for the unexpected.  We created a kit and packed it away.  And there it sat for several years.  So, after the earthquake, my wife and I checked our preparedness “kit”.  It’s interesting to see what you put into these things when you haven’t had a recent emergency.  It’s like opening a time capsule to a naive past.

After we did our inventory, we created an actionable list of  refinements. I swear, it doesn’t matter if you’re preparing for a zombie apocalypse, an earthquake, or a hurricane.   If you try to plan too much for one particular event, you’ll find yourself with a lot of stuff you’ll never need or use.  Low and behold, a few days later, here came hurricane Irene.  Fortunately, the hurricane spared us.  And with that, tonight we had a retrospective.  You may have guessed.  We missed something.  What’s scary is you don’t get many chances to do retrospectives like this.  So, we’re hoping the new additions will not lead to wasteful spending on something we’ll never use.

If you want to get something right, you plan, you do, you check, and you act.  Then, you do it again and again.  You never stop.