Are we tabby cats trying to emulate cheetahs?

Credit: Dennis Church

Credit for the title of this post goes to Sam Murphy, Section Editor at Runners World UK. Those of you who have seen me recently we will probably know that as well as being an advocate of Lean and Agile, I also have a passion for running, and I subscribe to Runners World. Sam used this title for an article of hers in the September issue, which struck me as having lots of overlaps with how I go about coaching and consulting in businesses. The gist of it was that when training, rather than trying to copy what elite athletes do, we should find out what works for ourselves. Sound familiar?

Here’s some quotes:

Dr Andy Franklyn Miller … concluded that ‘a very unique and customised strategy is used by each swimmer to excel’. And if that’s the case, is looking at what the elites are doing and aiming to replicate it the best way to maximise our own sporting success? Or are we tabby cats trying to emulate cheetahs?

Is a very unique and customised strategy used by each successful organisation to excel? Is looking at what these organisations are doing and aiming to replicate it the best way to achieve success? Or are we tabby cats trying to emulate cheetahs?

Dr George Sheehan, runner and philosopher, said “We are all an experiment of one.’

and

Ultra runner Dean Karnazes … writes “I always encourage people to try new things and experiment to find what works best for them.’

It seems athletic training is not so dissimilar to building a successful organisation! Rather than just copying what we may have seen or read about working elsewhere, we should encourage organisations to try new things and be experiments of one. That’s what Strategy Deployment is all about!

Or (to close with the same quote Sam closed her article with) as Karnazes also said:

‘Listen to everyone, follow no-one.’

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Kanban Deployment with the X-Matrix

This is a continuation of my musings on Strategy Deployment, the X-Matrix and Kanban Thinking (including Strategy Deployment as Organisational Improv and How Do I Know If Agile Is Working). I’ve been thinking more about the overlap between Strategy Deployment and Kanban and come to the conclusion that the intersection of the two is what could be called “Kanban Deployment” [1].

Let me explain…

To begin with, the name Strategy Deployment describes how a centralised decision is made about strategy, which is deployed such that decentralised decisions can be made on defining and executing plans. The people who are engaged at the coal face are the people who are most likely to know what might (or might not) work. In other words its the strategy that is deployed, not a plan.

Similarly, Kanban Deployment can be used to describe how a centralised decision is made about kanban as an approach to change, which is deployed such that decentralised decisions can be made on defining and executing processes. Again, the people who are engaged at the coal face are again the people who are most likely to know what might (or might not) work. Its kanban that is deployed, not a process.

With this perspective, we can look at how the X-Matrix could be used to describe a Kanban Deployment in terms of Kanban Thinking. (For a brief explanation of the X-Matrix see a post on how we used the approach at Rally).

The Results describe the impact we want the kanban system to have, and the positive outcomes we are looking to achieve with regard to Flow, Value and Potential. Just like with ‘regular’ Strategy Deployment, an economic model as recommended by Don Reinertsen is likely to provide clues as to what good results would be, as will a good understanding of fitness for purpose.

For Strategies we can look to the Kanban Thinking interventions of Study, Share, Stabilise. Studying the system is a strategy for learning more about the current context. Sharing knowledge is a strategy for creating a common understanding of the work and the way the work is done. Stabilising the work is a strategy for introducing policies which will enable and catalyse evolutionary change.

The Indicators are equivalent to the Kanban Thinking intervention Sense. These measures of improvement, while proxies, should give quick and regular feedback about whether the kanban system is likely to lead to the results.

Lastly the Tactics are equivalent to the Kanban Thinking intervention Search. These are the specific practices, techniques and policies used as part of the experiment that are run. The Kanban Method core practices can also provide guidance as to what tactics can be used to design the kanban system.

While I’m not sure I would want to be overly rigid about defining the strategies, I find the X-Matrix a useful model for exploring, visualising and communicating the elements of a kanban system and how they correlate to each other. As with all tools like this (i.e. A3s) its not the template or the document that is important, its the conversations and thinking that happen that have the value.

[1] I did consider the name “Kanban Kanri” for the alliteration, but apart from preferring to minimise Japanese terminology, it’s probably meaningless nonsense in Japanese!

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Strategy Deployment as Organisational Improv

IMG_0159At Agile Cymru this week Neil Mullarkey gave a superb keynote, introducing his rules of improv (left). He suggested that businesses can apply these rules to be more creative and collaborative, and that there is a lot of synergy with Agile. Like all the best keynotes, it got me thinking and making connections, in particular about how Strategy Deployment could be thought of as form of Organisational Improv.

I’ve blogged about Strategy Deployment a couple of times, in relation to the X-Matrix and Kanban Thinking, and Is Agile Working. Essentially it is a way for leaders to communicate their intent, so that employees are able decide how to execute. This seems just like an improv scene having a title (the intent), allowing the performers to decide how to play out the scene (the execution).

The title, and rules of the improve game, provide enabling constraints (as opposed to governing constraints) that allow many different possible outcomes to emerge. For example, we tried a game where in small groups of 4-5 people, we told a story, each adding one word at a time. The title was “The Day We Went To The Airport”. That gave us a “True North”, and the rules allowed a very creative story to emerge. Certainly something that no one person could have come up with individually!

B_SEWU8XIAIXsC5However, given our inexperience with improv, the story was extremely incoherent. I’m not sure we actually made to the airport by the time we had been sidetracked by the stewardesses, penguins and surfing giraffes (don’t ask). It was definitely skimming the edge of chaos, and I can’t help thinking some slightly tighter constraints could have helped. As an aside, I saw these Coyote/Roadrunner Rules recently (right). Adam Yuret pointed out that they were enabling constraints and I wonder if something like this would have helped with coherence?

What’s this got to do with Strategy Deployment? It occurred to me that good strategies provide the enabling constraints with which organisations improvise in collaborating and co-creating tactics to meet their True North. Clarity of strategy leads to improvisation of tactics, and if we take Neil’s Rules of Improv we can tweak them such that an offer is an idea for a tactic, giving:

  • Listen actively for ideas for tactics
  • Accept ideas for tactics
  • Give ideas for tactics in return
  • Explore assumptions (your own and others’)
  • Re-incorporate previous ideas for tactics
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How Do I Know If Agile Is Working?

Moving the queen

Moving the queen, Gabriel Saldana, CC BY-SA

“How do I know if Agile is working?” This is a question I’ve been asked a lot recently in one form or another. If not Agile, its Scrum, or Kanban or SAFe or something similar. My usual response is something along the lines of “How do you know of anything is working?” And there generally isn’t a quick and easy answer to that!

I’ve come to the view that Lean and Agile practices and techniques are simply tactics. They are tactics chosen as part of a strategy to be more Lean and Agile. And becoming more Lean and Agile are seen as important to make necessary breakthroughs in performance in order to deliver desired results.

With that perspective, then the answer to “How do I know if Agile is working?” is that you achieve the desired results. That’s probably a long time to wait to find out, however, as it is a trailing measure. It is necessary, therefore, to identify some intermediate improvements which might indicate the results are achievable, and leading measures can be captured to give hat earlier feedback.

The lack of a quick and easy answer to “How do you know if anything is working?” is often because Lean and Agile have been introduced as a purely tactical initiative, without any thought to how they relates to strategy, what measurable improvements they might bring, and how any strategy and improvements will lead to desirable results. In fact very few people (if any) know exactly what those desirable results are!

I’m increasingly trying to work the other way – what the Lean community call Strategy Deployment. For any transformation to work, everybody in the organisation needs to know what results are being strived for, what the strategic goals are that will enable the necessary changes to get there, and what measurable improvements will indicate progress. Then the whole organisation can be engaged in designing and implementing tactical changes which might lead to improvement. Everything becomes a hypothesis and an experiment, which can be tested, the results shared and adjustments made.

In other words, Strategy Deployment leads to organisations becoming laboratories, where Lean and Agile can inform hypothesis on strategies, improvements and tactics. I think its the secret sauce to any transformation, which is why I’ll be talking about it more at various conferences over the rest of the year.

The first one is Agile Cymru in a couple of weeks. There’s a few tickets left, and considering the line-up of speakers, and the ticket cost, its incredible value. I highly recommend going, and I hope to see you there!

 

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Strategy Deployment, the X-Matrix and Kanban Thinking

Strategy Deployemnt

Kanban Systems are an enabler of evolutionary change. And so is Strategy Deployment. Strategy can be defined as how you will make a positive impact, and this implies change. As the saying goes, “hope is not a strategy”, and neither is doing nothing. Deploying that strategy, as opposed to defining and imposing a tactical plan, enables the evolution of the tactics by the people implementing them.

I have found that putting Strategy Deployment in place is my preferred approach to starting off any change initiative, and that as suggested above, there is a strong synergy with a kanban-based approach. (This is not surprising, given the roots of both in Toyota and Lean). In particular, I have been using a format known as the X-Matrix to setup Strategy Deployment.

The X-Matrix

The X-Matrix is a cornerstone of Strategy Deployment. It is an A3 format that provides a concise and portable shared understanding of how strategy is aligned to the deployed tactical initiatives, alongside leading indicators of progress and anticipated end results. I learned about the X-Matrix from the book “Hoshin Kanri for the Lean Enterprise” by Thomas L. Jackson, and I have previously blogged about how we used the approach at Rally.

CD Form 1-2_A3-X X-matrix

The X-Matrix has 5 primary sections, all of which are connected. At the bottom, below the X, are the results that we hope to achieve. To the left of the X are the key strategies that will get us to those results, and to the immediate right of the X are the measures of improvement that indicate how well we are doing. (Note that this is labelled process as it refers to process improvements). At the top, above the X, are the tactics that we will use to implement the strategy. Finally, on the far right are the teams that will be involved in the work. To link these together, the corners of the X-Matrix are used to show the strength of correlation or contribution between the different elements.

Thus it becomes easy to visualise and explore how a strategy, or a measure, correlates to achieving results. Similarly, it is easy to see and discuss how a tactic will correlate to achieving a strategy, or how it will contribute to moving the needle on a measure. And it is clear who is accountable or involved in each tactic. Having all this on a single page helps creating clarity and alignment on the why, how, what and who of the work.

Kanban Thinking

This works well because it wraps all the elements of Kanban Thinking nicely. The results are equivalent to Impacts, the process improvement measures are ways to Sense capability, the strategies can be derived from exploring various Interventions and the tactics are the experiments created to Search the landscape. (Note: While all the examples I have seen have financial results, focussing on value based impacts, there is no reason why flow and potential based impacts could not be forecast with alternative results).

What I really like about Strategy Deployment, and the way Jackson describes it in his book, is that it is a form of nested experimentation. From an organisations long-term vision, through its strategy, to tactics and day to day operations and action, each level is a hypothesis of increasing granularity. As each experiment is run, the feedback and learning is used by the outer levels to  steer and adjust direction. Thus a learning organisation is created as the learning is passed around the organisation in a process known as ‘catchball’, and within this context, Kanban Thinking (and the Kanban Method) provides a synergistic means to running experiments and creating learning.

Do you know what results your organisation are aiming for? Do you know the strategies being used and how they should lead to the results? Do you know what improvement measures should indicate progress towards the results? Do you know how your tactical work implements the strategy and which indicators it should improve? Are all these elements treated as hypothesis and experiments to create feedback and learning with which to steer and adjust?

If you’d like help answering these questions, using the X-Matrix, let me know!

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