Sunday, January 26, 2014

Busy Products - Idle Workers

Once you start investigating workflows from the point of view of the work-items instead of from the workers perspective interesting things start to show. One tool to do this is the "value stream analysis" – one of the tools in the lean approach.

One of the fascinating things that came up again when Tom did that in a simulation at the Agile BI-Conference in December '13 was this same fact, that is often the root-cause of a certain kind of workplace unhappiness: the difference between the idle-time of the person doing the job (nearly no idle time at all) and the idle-time of the ‘item under construction’ – or product – which might easily approach or even exceed 80%.

If we take one requirement as the work item and map out its way through two weeks of development in a simple two-state graph we see that there are only small peaks of work while the work-item itself is idle most of the time.

The workers on the other hand – who try to fit as many requirements as possible in their time-box – are always in a busy state!

So, if it takes forty days to deliver a net worth of one workday it is no wonder that perceptions of workload might differ 'a bit' depending on your vantage point.

After all: however busy I may feel, as soon as I try to do five things in parallel, this also means that whenever I work on one of them, four of them must lie around idling. Totaling an average of 80% idle-time per Item. When I think about this it makes me want to introduce more measures to limit my work in progress every time!

So, have a good time mapping out the value-streams of the work-items that are most important to you – you never know what you might find out.


Sunday, January 12, 2014

Not all simulations scale

I really like simulations as a way to introduce engineering practices. According to the old proverb I hear and I forget; I see and I remember; I do and I understand, there is hardly a better way to teach the concepts and mechanics of an approach than by actually living through it.

But some parts of simulations can be extremely misleading. Some things scale down very nicely other not at all. Even in physics it's not possible to really scale down everything - that's why wind-tunnels can't always be operated with normal air but need special measures to achieve a realistic environment.

But back to simulations in the field of knowledge-work...
I ran the getkanban simulation (v2) a couple of times now and found that it does a very good job of scaling down the mechanics and at the same time illustrating some of the concepts in a ver tangible manner. Except for the retrospectives or operations reviews.
With the Kanban Pizza Game the effect was even stronger. When we ran it at the Limited WIP Society Cologne(German site) we really liked the way it emphasized the tremendous effect that can come from limiting the work in progress and other aspects of the Kanban Method - except for the retrospectives.
With 5 Minutes for a retrospectives and given the fact that speedinguptheconversationdoesntreallywork (speeding up the conversation doesn't really work) it is hard to hear everyones voice in a retrospective. And of course – as Tom DeMarco points out in "The Deadline" – people also can't really speed up their thinking. It takes a certain amount of time to process information.
What's more: Scaling down retrospectives or operation reviews this much gives people who never experienced a real retrospective a wrong impression – and totally contradicts the concept of Nemawashi!

And this is true for most of the aspects that involve human interaction – root cause analysis, value stream mapping, A3-reporting, designing Kanban systems (as opposed to using them) etc. This is one of the reasons Tom and I designed the Hands-on Agile and Lean Practices workshop as a series of simulations alternating with real-time interjections of the real thing (e.g. a 30 minute value-stream mapping inside a 20 minute simulation, so that people really can experience the thought-process and necessary discussions).

Nowadays I try to balance my simulations in such a way that the systemic part of an aspect is displayed and emphasized through the simulation while the human aspects are given enough space to be a realistic version of the real thing.

What do you think?