Effective Efficiency

Efficiency is not a good goal, effectiveness is a better goal.

What do we mean by being efficient? In simple terms it means doing a good job, a job that has the intended outcome with the minimal amount of effort. At an organisational level this is usually interpreted as saving costs and that can lead to what I would call some ‘cheap and nasty’ outcomes.

So we have started to rebel against the cost-cutting aspects of efficiency and are now very focused on effective outcomes…almost to the point that using the word ‘efficient’ is not really acceptable.

We can be both effective and efficient, and we should be. It’s a good idea to monitor for opportunities to reduce waste, while being selective about which types of waste make sense to keep or reduce.

The one place that it makes sense to be less efficient is when we are tackling complexity. This requires a probing, exploratory approach which can actually be more effective when it is not super-efficient…because we are looking for things which we are uncertain about.

The thing that holds the thing that the Stakeholders were holding

So we all know about stakeholders…those people that care about what we are doing and should have a say in what happens.

Are there also people that care about the thing that the stakeholders care about that we would not call stakeholders?

What does the ‘stake’ mean when we refer to the stakeholder? According to Wikipedia, the term originally referred to the person who temporarily held the stakes from a wager until the outcome was determined. Business has since co-opted the term to mean people interested or impacted by the outcome of a project.

Tobbe and I were having burgers for lunch today…they were so tall that they had skewers in them to keep them together. So the chef held the skewer (stake) and we held the skewer when we ate the lunch, but the person serving us never touched the skewer…just the plate that supported the burger with the skewer in it.

That got us thinking about what supports the interests of the stakeholders, and yet, is not a stakeholder of a project or outcome?

It may be what we call governance. The scaffolding in an organisation that ensures that business interests are looked after…ensuring that our burgers arrive safely and without toppling over onto the floor.

ITSM and Cynefin – Lightning Blog

I attended the itSMF 20th Anniversary Conference in Melbourne this week and it was great to see the emphasis from many speakers about automation and using DevOps principles.

The Cynefin Framework is subjective and I was thinking about where many of us see the service management framework and ITIL on it. It is easy to imagine incident management in the chaotic domain and standard change management processes in the obvious domain (highly repeatable and therefore great candidates for automation).

So it was interesting to see the keynote from Lindsay Holmwood titled ‘Mixing Oil and Water: DevOps in an ITSM World’ where Lindsay busted the myth that DevOps and ITSM don’t mix. ITIL and the service management framework are great tools to identify the candidates for automation and for where to ‘build in’ governance to our continuous deployment pipelines.

If we want to get into the market with safe and small changes that take into account operability, security, regulatory requirements, and resilience, we really need to partner with our service management colleagues.

Assumption Pillows – Lightning Blog

Expanding the thoughts behind a recent tweet of mine.

‘Pondering….less obvious reasons…generate ‘pillows’ of assumptions…and are ineffective cushions against the sharp rocks of risk below’

Assumptions are like pillows – they are very comfortable and we are not aware of them for much of the time. The trouble is that our assumptions and the assumptions of other people that we are working with are likely to be different. When we don’t inspect our assumptions, we can overlook risks – so that is why our assumptions are like pillows.

It can feel like a waste of effort to inspect our assumptions – there are ways of working them into a workshop facilitation plan – that’s the easiest one to address.

Another way is to be aware of the feeling that something is not quite right in a conversation. Once I was negotiating a contract and almost starting to argue with the other party about a particular point – both of us thought that the other one was being a bit unreasonable. After a short break, we took a moment to clarify what we were discussing and it turned out that we both agreed the point, but had been discussing quite different things before the short break.

The main risk that assumptions cause in projects is delay. If we find ways to highlight assumptions earlier we can save wasted effort in circular discussions, rework or duplication.

It’s better to see the sharp rocks of risk than to cover them with assumption pillows.

Agile Australia 2017

Melissa Perri at Agile Australia 2017

It’s been two weeks since the Agile Australia 2017 conference in Sydney, it was great to see so many people there and the quality of speakers was very high. Here are a few snippets from the conference.

Melissa Perri spoke about ‘The Build Trap’ and how it is easy to get very good at writing specifications and stories, which is the ‘build trap’. There is more value in understanding the true needs of the Customers and building to those needs. Melissa also had a great way to explain the difference between Product Manager and Product Owner ‘Product Owner is a role you play on a Scrum team. Product Manager is the job’

Sami Honkonen showed us how the Cynefin Framework is one of the building blocks of a Responsive Organisation – it helps us understand why Agile works in a complex adaptive system. Sami also talked about how structure drives behaviour and that it’s not the individuals, but the structure that they are in. I have also found the concept from Sami about designing very small experiments (ones that can be done in minutes) very useful.

Chris Chan at Agile Australia Lightning Talks – ‘Pirate Metrics’

The lightning talks were little nuggets of knowledge and very well attended. The picture above is from the ‘Pirate Metrics’ talk by Chris Chan – his way of explaining AARRR using examples of Pirates going into a bar is engaging. For example – Referrals – one Pirate saying to another ‘Arrr – you should try out this bar, it’s good’

The Deep Dive sessions with the keynote speakers were a bonus – Agile Australia has started doing this in the last couple of years. These give us the opportunity to learn more from the speakers, especially when they cover such interesting and useful items in their keynotes, that leaves us wanting more details.

Complex in Hindsight

When we reflect on a complex event, it often looks predictable in hindsight and this makes it harder to deal with complexity in the future. This post is about complexity in the Cynefin sense – where it is not possible to see linkages between events beforehand – but it is possible to see those linkages afterwards.

The two Cynefin domains that have high certainty are called Complicated and Obvious. The complex events that happened in the past – look like they belong in these domains – when facilitating sessions with people and asking if the past events were predictable, they will often say that they were. It is a good idea to double-check that this is the case – ‘are you saying they were predictable with your benefit of hindsight? Or if we went back in time, is it really an unpredictable set of linkages?’

It is useful to take examples of past events and create a Cynefin Framework from them in order to create a shared understanding among a group of people. The Cognitive Edge Method to do this is called 4-points or 4-tables contextualisation. Once the Cynefin Framework has been created, the labels on the groupings of events become very useful in the future. The group can then say that an upcoming event is like one in the framework, and if it is in the Complex Domain, use an exploratory approach rather than a project management method more suited to the Complicated Domain.

The main ‘gotcha’ with using historical events is this one – that the complex ones do not appear complex in hindsight – so be careful when facilitating that this is not a factor – otherwise, the Cynefin Framework created will have more examples of high-certainty events than actually exist in the environment.

Comfort and Privacy

How could something as simple as a stand-up be a potential invasion of privacy?

What if someone feels a bit unwell on the day and standing up in the same place for 15 minutes or more is very hard for them to do? What are their options?

They could stay silent – after all, we want to be seen as part of the team and not a ‘party pooper’ by asking to sit down.

They could make an excuse – ‘apologies – I need to dash to another meeting’ – or something like that.

They could tell people what is wrong (which could range from a mild illness to something more severe).

We need to consider this when we lead teams. We should not expect people to share private information – there is no need for us to know some of these things, and in a normal workplace, it’s not a problem.

Many Agile ways of working and workshop facilitation methods, fail to fully consider  diversity and inclusion. When we do consider diversity, we will offer ways for people to opt out of activities in ways that allow everyone to ‘save face’ and maintain their private information.

My ask of the Lean and Agile communities is to take a moment, pause and consider the above – let’s ensure that our ways of working are fully inclusive and not causing discomfort to anyone.

The Productivity of Inactivity

Inactive – that message we get when we look at profiles on Slack, Skype and other apps – ‘so and so has been inactive for x hours/days’. In most cases it’s a bit misleading – our friends have most likely been very active in other ways, and perhaps on other apps.

Are any of us really inactive? Even when we are asleep, our blood is circulating and our cells repairing – just like the fact that there are no true closed systems, there is also no true inactivity.

Let’s define inactivity. For the purpose of this post, inactivity is that quiet time – when we sit and contemplate – or go for a walk to ‘think’. These times are often productive – we can pull together a few thoughts that have been floating around in our minds, and create new ideas. Knowledge work requires this kind of effort – for both analysis and synthesis – for example identifying possible root causes of issues or finding a new use for an old tool respectively. Yet, how many of us make the time to do inactivity? Do we put a blank card on our Kanban walls? Do we sneak it in while we are digesting our lunch?

More likely that we check our emails, feeds, or messages on the aforementioned apps, filling up our inactivity with busyness. With our minds so full, it is very tricky to find new connections. We need to start making more time for inactivity – put up a blank card on the Kanban wall (time-box it). Put a blank post-it note into the Lean Coffee set – a few minutes of silence for everyone to contemplate, muse and relax. Block out some time in your calendar – let’s see if making time for inactivity can make us more productive.

When in Rome…

romeThere was an article about the ‘Tube Chat’ badges that caused controversy in London recently. The article explained that the cultural ‘norm’ on the London Tube is to not speak with strangers. In fact, that speaking with strangers on any train until well outside London is not normal.

So I probably should not have started that long conversation with an American until we had left London and were well on our way to Edinburgh last month – oh well, lesson learned.

How do we discover the cultural ‘norms’ when we join a new group? These ‘norms’ are not something that can easily be explained – except for the extreme ones like dress codes. So we need to observe and deduce what the ‘norms’ might be. Do people have lunch at their desk? Do they go out of the office for coffee? …and so on.

Some are better at observation than others. Is there a way we can compensate for this diversity in observational skills? And why is this topic important?

It is important because the cultural ‘norms’ are what makes relationships easier – they remove friction and provide a level of certainty about how people will behave in various circumstances. If we want to shift behaviour to support improved ways of working, then we need to understand the current cultural ‘norms’. Then we need to work through how these cultural ‘norms’ are enabling or restricting good outcomes.

When we find a ‘norm’ that is restricting, it is tempting to call it out and just tell everyone to do something different.

I tried this a couple of weeks ago on my morning commute. There was a person sitting opposite me watching a soccer game on his phone without headphones. The sound was turned down, but I could clearly hear the ‘….and he scores blah blah blah…..the crowd goes wild….’ whistles blowing etc. It was really annoying. I assumed that he had blue-tooth earphones under his hood and that they might be faulty – he wouldn’t know – so I had better let him know. Because the cultural ‘norm’ on our trains is to keep your sound to yourself. I got his attention and said that I thought his earphones might be faulty because I could hear the sound. He barely looked at me and shook his head and then went on watching the game – he did turn the sound down a little.

I was a bit upset because he ignored me and did not seem to understand that others think it’s impolite not to use earphones.

A young lady then got on the train and sat in the seat next to him – doing her make-up in the selfie camera of her phone.

Years ago, etiquette guides were published to let people know what was socially acceptable. It was also common for people to let others know when they ‘crossed the line’ outside of the cultural ‘norm’ – but recently that is not acceptable. So the cultural ‘norm’ is to not say anything which means that we no longer have a consistent cultural ‘norm’ in society.

If this is true, then shifting behaviours in the workplace by direct methods is going to be almost impossible. Perhaps it is better to focus on more concrete things like processes and policies. These things are acceptable to make explicit and the cultural ‘norms’ will adapt around them. We should still monitor the cultural ‘norms’ in case they are leading to bad outcomes in our processes – but we should not try to change them directly.

Management – Insulation and Shade

It’s interesting that on a hot day we can go and stand under a shady tree and feel cooler. But on a cold day, there is no equivalent in nature.

Sketch7013522Perhaps it is because heat is an addition of energy and cold is the absence of energy. When we stand in the shade, the light/heat from the sun is reduced – but without a heat source – out in the cold – we need to find one (often it is our own bodies and some thermal insulation to keep the heat trapped).

We can use this as an analogy about management in the workplace.

When we are trying out new ideas, we often refer to our managers and senior stakeholders as ‘providing cover’ for us. Meaning that they will deflect disruptive questions or even take the ‘heat’ if someone gets upset about what we are doing.

It’s easy to see the managers in this example as similar to trees providing shade – but what might the source of heat be? Perhaps it is the amount of attention we are drawing from others – or the amount of interactions we need to have in order to take our ideas forward.

So where a lot of collaboration is needed, it is like a hot environment and we are likely to need a source of cover (shade) to help us do a good job.

What might be the equivalent of a cold environment? Sometimes we can tinker away at an idea pretty much alone. The problem with this is that not many people will see us doing it – and we risk being overlooked for our good efforts. In this case, we can provide our own ‘warmth’ – ‘blow our own trumpet’ about our work. Perhaps our managers and senior stakeholders can act like insulation – amplifying the warmth that we generate – and telling the good news about our work to others. If we don’t generate enough warmth ourselves, then one risk with insulation is that it could also prevent any news about our work being shared.

So what type of managers/stakeholders do you need? And what type do you have?

  • Flying cover – or not?
  • Amplifying your good work – or acting as a barrier to communications about our work?

It would be easy for a manager to start out by providing cover – which is great if there is a lot of ‘heat’ and collaboration needed. But if our work focus suddenly changes to individual achievements, this mode of management could easily become suffocating.

In summary – make deliberate choices about management providing cover and check the situation regularly to determine if a change of mode is needed.