If you set deadlines for other people, you better have very good and thought through reasons for doing so. You will not get many chances to blow this until it starts to backfire and you get caught in a vicious circle where you’ll have to set your deadlines farther and farther into the future and they’ll get less and less respect.

If you hand me a task with a deadline I will assume that this is important to you and prioritize the task. But if you don’t start using the result of my work until a week after the deadline, then we have a problem. I can see three reasons for this happening and none of them makes me any happier.

1. You didn’t trust me to get the work done on time and you built in some slack. Well, from now on I don’t trust you to trust me so I will be using this slack whether it’s there or not.

2. You just put an arbitrary deadline on the task in order to get it off your desk. This would mean that you value your own time much higher than mine. I’m sorry but I’ll have to disagree with you on this one, I find my own time quite valuable and I won’t be spending it on your arbitrary deadlines in the future.

3. Your priorities changed since you gave me the task and you didn’t tell me about it. Well, if you hand me low prioritized tasks I’m sure not going to give your items high priority in the future. As with #2 this is a problem of you not valuing my time.

You see how this behaviour drives me to not meet your deadlines in the future and how my behaviour will drive you to set even higher priority and more arbitrary deadlines far off into the future on even the most mundane tasks in order to get my attention. So don’t be afraid to hand me work with deadlines as long as I see you working on my output the minute after I’ve handed it to you. If you intend to shove my output at the bottom of your own TODO-pile, then you SHOULD be afraid. Be VERY afraid, because the Reinforcing Loop is out to bite you in the stern.

Can you deliver it?

April 22, 2010

– According to your specifications? Absolutely!
– The way you need it? That question should not be directed to me.

The first question is usually irrelevant. I could probably build you the Great Wall of China given the time and resources, but if your reason for building the wall is to keep your budgie in place, then I can’t help you until you’re willing to cooperate around the specifications.

The second question is one that you mainly need to ask yourself. Are you willing to jump into the unknown? Are you prepared to express your innermost needs? Do you really know what problem it is that you want to dissolve and are you prepared to handle the consequences of dissolving it? Unless your answer to these questions is Yes, then I won’t be able to help you with what you need.

To dissolve a problem, you first need to acknowledge the root cause of your problem. This often means confessing to have implemented a less than optimal solution before, a confession that hurts. You were wrong the first time around when you tried to guess a solution so we can pretty much assume that you’ll be at least a little bit off this time as well. This means that we’ll have to explore new ways. To try new and uncomfortable solutions that haven’t yet crossed your mind. Are you willing to do that?

Dissolving one problem will usually put the spotlight on another one. If you can guess where your new itch arises, are you prepared to show it to the world?

So you want a software tool for your employees to punch data into. Sure, I can build that.

But don’t build a software that’s supposed to support your employees if your true reason for building it is to control your employees. Build a software that controls your employees instead.

But whatever you do, don’t build a software to control your employees if your true reason is to get quality and predictability in your business. Build a system in which your employees can deliver with quality and predictability instead. (BTW, I’m pretty sure that this system has nothing to do with software at all.)

So if we design a system in which your employees can deliver with quality and predictability, where do you think the spotlight will land next? Are you prepared to stand in the limelight for the next improvement effort? Yes? Well, in that case I just might be able to help you with what you actually need.

Intentional communication

April 19, 2010

Lately I’ve seen several discussions about the senders responsibility to transmit information correctly. The responsibilities range from a correct choice of words to being explicit and not assuming that the implicit will be seen or heard. What you say and how you say it are definitely corner stones of succesful communication. However, I would also argue that the receiver of the information has the same obligations; to raise the abstraction level when interpreting the information in order to put everything into context and also to not try to read additional information where there is none.

Transferring of information needs to be built on a contract between sender and receiver, a contract stating that both parties will try to make the transfer as correct as possible. If we don’t have the intention of understanding each other correctly, there will always be misunderstandings. I’ve seen countless discussions where the parties refuse to look at the subject from the other side and thus intentionally misread what is being said or written. If the conversation lacks intention of understanding, there is no use in proceeding since there will always be ways to misunderstand by straw man arguments, cherry picking etc.

A good intention is not enough to guarantee a correct transfer though. We must always reflect on the information being sent and its intended purpose. Are we transferring some undisputable facts? Asking a simple question? Arguing a case? Covering our own backs? Do we want someone else to actually receive the information or do we just want them to know that we have sent it? If there’s no ambiguity in the purpose, then there will be less reason to extrapolate the information outside what has actually been sent.

So if both the sender and the receiver have the intention of making the transfer successful and we have an explicit intention with our communication, then we actually might get the result that we intended.

… Unless you’re broadcasting or otherwise pushing unsolicited information (like I’m doing with this blog), in those cases the responsibility lies entirely on the sender. So feel free to misinterpret my posts.

But in order to improve OUR communication, I hereby set up an open contract where I promise to do my best to learn from any comments posted here. I will try to see things from your perspective and if anything feels funky, I will ask for clarification or give you the benefit of the rule of six.

Okay, this has been said so many times by so many people before me but I still have to get it off my chest so please bear with me.

You HAVE to be consistent between what you say and what you do. What you do matters. It does. It’s okay to think otherwise but then you’re wrong.

If you tell your spouse that he/she looks good and shake your head from side to side while saying it, you’re not sending the correct signals.

If you tell your kids to only cross the road when they have a green light but you jaywalk yourself because you don’t see any cars, you’re not sending the correct signals.

If you tell people to work toghether to achieve the best possible result and you still post top 10 lists of individual results, then Mr. T will most certainly pity you.

If you want people to cooperate and work as a team, you can not measure and reward individual performance. Don’t look at me, I didn’t make this up, it’s the freakin’ law.

10 Minute Kanban Pizza

April 14, 2010

It never ceases to amaze me how poorly organized the work is in many restaurants and bars. Many lunch restaurants only get one seating per day because they haven’t planned their work properly. Bars often have a long line of customers waving their money and waiting for service instead of sitting at a table sipping their drinks. Even though I’m a software guy at heart, I’m seriously considering starting a lean consulting business aimed at restaurants (probably more on this in future posts).

However, there is one type of institution that often impresses me; the pizza place. These guys seem to run a Kanban-based manufacturing process, knowingly or not, with very good results. One of the more common process designs I’ve seen is where there’s one person running the cash register and answering the phone. He takes the orders and writes them on a note which he puts at the end of a que. The next person in the value stream is actually making the pizzas. He pulls the next work order from the que, flattens the dough and puts on the toppings according to specification. And finally one person is responsible for putting the pizzas into the oven and then taking them out again and putting them in the boxes. The WIP limits aren’t written anywhere but instead they seem to be self regulating. Whenever there are too many pizzas ready to go and there’s a line of customers, the first guy stops answering the phone and concentrates fully on payments and getting the inventory down. The guy baking pizzas has a table that can only fit two pizzas so his WIP limit is quite obvius. The oven can only hold a certain number of pizzas so once again we have a forced WIP limit.

The result of this design is that these guys can deliver their product with very high precision. Whenever you order a pizza the guy always says that it’ll be ready in ten minutes. And lo and behold, ten minutes later your standing there with a warm pizza box in your hands. Most product owners would probably die for this kind of predictability in their processes. Wouldn’t it be awesome to work with a development team that answered each new request that was prioritized to the top of the backlog with: “It’ll be ready in ten minutes.”?

Homework for tomorrow is to look at how the pizza place follow the 5S’s of Lean workplace organization. Knowingly or not, a lot of them do.

A couple of days ago I went to donate blood. I consider it an easy and cheap way to assuage my conscience. It’s also my only way of enacting my life as it might have been in the 50’s.
NL = Nice lady at blood bank aka my 50’s wife

NL – Do you want something to eat before we begin?
Me – Thanks but I’ve already had lunch.
NL – Can I get you something to drink?
Me – Thank you I’m fine.
NL – Are you comfortable like this?
Me – Definitely.
NL – Are you sure I can’t get you something to drink?
Me – No, I’m fine thank you.(A whisky wouldn’t hurt but I could only see pitchers with juice in them)
NL – Ok, this is just going to hurt a little. (I’m not sure where this last comment fits into my 50’s fantasy though)

Anyway. When I walked into the clinic there was a whiteboard by the entrance. I’m not sure if it was new or if I only noticed it now since I’m reading Deming’s “Out of the crisis”. The board looked somewhat like my poor drawing below.

Curiously I asked the nice lady, while she stabbed me with the needle, about the goal figures on the board.

Me – Where do you get your goals from? How do you set them?
NL – Uhm … goals? Hmm. Don’t know really. I guess that’s how much blood we need. … But we need more so it’s probably not that.
Me – Ok, so you don’t know why you’re supposed to get that many donors each day?
NL – No.

Problema número dos: (The first problem being the actual existence of the board)
Someone has set a goal for someone else without even letting the person know why. Where does the goal come from? Why is it important to reach?

Me – So how do you make sure that you reach your goals?
NL – Well we have commercials and we have booths at fairs and such.
Me – But that’s done on a central level right?
NL – Yes.
Me – So how do YOU make sure that you reach your goals? Can YOU affect how many people walk through that door in any way?
NL – Well, no. But we have commercials etc etc.

Problema número tres:
Someone has set a goal for someone else that the person has no way to affect the outcome of in any positive way.

NL – Maybe the board is there for you as a customer?
Me –
But I’m not interested in those numbers in any way. I would like to know how long I’m likely to have to wait though.But I don’t see any numbers for that.

Problema número cuatro:
The person who’s work results are exposed does not know why her result is being exposed on a big sign.

NL – Oh, and we also text our clients when we really need their blood type.
Me – From this clinic?
NL – Yes.
Me – Do you control that decision in any way or is it done automatically when your stocks reach a certain level?
NL – It’s done automatically.

Problem number five:
The worker only has an illusion of being able to affect the outcome of she’s being measured on.

Me – Does it ever happen that people walk out of here before they’ve donated their blood because the line is too long?
NL – Oh yes. That happens almost every time we put out a commercial or text people for their blood.
Me – That’s about the worst that can happen to you isn’t it? That a sure customer leaves before the deal is closed because you don’t have the time for him?
NL – Yes that’s a real pain. But we can’t do anything about that.

Problem number 4711:
One thing that really needs improvement and can be improved isn’t measured and the worker does not feel she can affect the outcome of it.

NL – Here’s a band aid. Thank you very much!
Me – No, thank you!

Not only did the nice lady act like my 50’s wife but this whiteboard made the whole organization look lika a factory from the 50’s where workers have production quotas posted on the walls. I don’t know. Maybe I misread the entire situation and interpreted way too much into our short conversation, but would you want your production results posted on the wall for everyone to see? Especially if you didn’t feel that you could affect the outcome in a positive way?

My 8th Waste of Lean

April 8, 2010

There have been several claims for the 8th waste in Lean so I probably shouldn’t make another one, especially since this is not really a waste but more of a cause for waste. However, it was the least sucky header that came to mind at the moment.

When I write “teaching” and “learning” below, I don’t primarily mean it in a school sense, but what we get from our daily interactions with each other. The teaching and learning that occurs in our conversations.

“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”
– Mark Twain

“What you know for sure that just ain’t so” – This is the mother of many a f-up. I love Mark Twain’s way to put it but I’ll refer to it as “bad knowledge” from now on. The reasons for bad knowledge vary; it can be from bad teaching, bad learning or just knowledge based on bad/old information. The problem is that we have learned something once and keep holding the knowledge for true.

  • Bad knowledge causes bad decisions.
  • Bad knowledge causes unnecessary arguments.
  • Bad knowledge causes need for unlearning.
  • Bad knowledge causes bad teaching which causes bad knowledge.

What can be done to prevent these extra costs imposed by bad knowledge?
A couple of suggestions:
Don’t guess – When teaching something make sure it’s correct. Don’t spread bad knowledge based on gossip, guesses and hearsay.
Admit mistakes – If you’ve spread bad knowledge; swallow your pride and admit to being wrong. Try to correct any mistakes.
Collate – As a teacher and/or student; collate learning, understanding and teaching. Make sure that the understanding is not distorted from what has been taught.
Expiration date – Be aware that most knowledge has an expiration date. Put an expiration date of your own on what you learn or teach.

And finally:
Listen – Have an open mind to new knowledge. Everything that you know has a probability attached to it and this probability is never 100%. So when someone presents you with an option, hear them out before resorting to what you already know … that just might not be so.

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