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Lean, Agile, Joy

by Richard Sheridan
June 26, 2015

Lean, Agile, Joy

by Richard Sheridan
June 26, 2015 | Comments (8)

Lean community… we need to talk. Seriously, let’s have your people contact my people. We really do need to talk.

Perhaps, the unfortunate consequence of Womack, Jones and Roos’ book, The Machine That Changed the World, is that some might conclude from the title that the change is done. (The Machine that is Changing the World might be a good next edition, Jim).

Since it’s original writing in 1990, the world of work itself has changed. And the most significant change might be summed up in a single word: software. Think about it: how many of us remember film? Newspapers? Travel agents? Land lines? The Readers Guide to Periodical Literature? Video stores? Maps? TripTiks from AAA?

What will be on this list in another 25 years? Letter carriers, credit cards, wallets, driving your own car?

There is no longer a company in existence that can survive without software. And most companies aren’t good at it. As recently demonstrated, Starbucks can’t even sell coffee without software. Their April 2015 point of sale system outage forced them to give away coffee on a Friday afternoon for 3 hours costing them millions in lost revenue.

This software thing is a problem, and a big one. Every major corporation is trapped by the software dilemma. Damned if you do, out of business if you don’t. Pick up a copy of The Wall Street Journal (all right, there are still real newspapers) and see if you can even get past page 1 before you learn of another software catastrophe within a major corporation, or the government. I used to have to over explain this point until Healthcare.gov came along and even the current administration was caught in the chaos of the software game. The President had to talk to the nation about bugs and glitches, missed deadlines, horrible project management, gaping security holes, and outlandishly poor performance. I never thought I’d see it, but we were having a national conversation about improving process design!

The last place my industry reaches for help is the stodgy, rusting, old manufacturing sector. I mean, we are the future, the software industry! We don’t need no stinkin’ manufacturing types to teach us a thing or two about systems thinking, operational excellence, quality, capacity planning, lightweight process, human energy, teamwork, trust, collaboration, and continuous improvement! (Do we?)

Yes we do. Some of the problems we can discuss are familiar to the lean community:

  • Towers of knowledge that become bottlenecks of productivity and prevent scaling.
  • Lack of tangible capacity planning capability which results in death march cultures, employee burnout, and the quality problems that are a natural consequence.
  • Ineffective practices that operate without rigor and discipline leaving our companies vulnerable to all forms of software chaos.
  • Ineffective conversations across divisions within companies: Finance, Marketing, Sales, Production, and R&D don’t see each other as partners but adversaries.
  • And so much of the effort needed is not about process or tools, but first about culture and attitude. It’s about building trust, collaboration and safety.

That’s the thing. Learning from manufacturing might be one of the smartest things we can do. Our industry is still a fledgling industry. We are still in our youth. We are Detroit, circa 1950: proud, wealthy, solid, undefeated, on top of the world. No one can beat us at our game. We are the best and always will be.

There are some crazies in our industry who believe we need to improve things. We call ourselves the agile community. We talk about new methods, new process, new approaches. And big industry still largely thinks we are cute. Probably the way Detroit thought about quality guru W. Edwards Deming in 1950.

Wherever you place yourself, the software community needs to up its game. We need an order of magnitude improvement. The future of human civilization may depend on it. I know that sounds like hyperbole, but I’m not sure anyone can know just how important software quality and security can be until something really bad happens.

As for me, I also want to move this big conversation towards joy. The joy of creating software that delights users, that works without error, that is secure and scalable. And the joy of collaboration because improving software design, systems, and processes to consistently create real value will be a ton of hard work, the kind of work that the lean community knows how to do, and that the agile community is geared and motivated to do.

This is the real reason we need to talk: we simply need each other. The direction industry is headed is that very few manufactured products don’t include software. Imagine a car without software, an airplane, a medical device, a phone, or a kitchen appliance. And the software community needs lean know-how.

So let’s talk. My people will call your people. We are on the verge of an exciting new frontier. Let’s get going.

The views expressed in this post do not necessarily represent the views or policies of The Lean Enterprise Institute.
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Daniel Jones June 26, 2015
4 People AGREE with this comment

Incedentally Jim and I hated the title suggested by our publisher - but it sold! The French translation got it right - The System that will change the World! But that is history.

I could not agree more with the chellenge to the agile and lean movements to learn from eachother instead of ignoring eachother - software is no longer struggling against SAP and software is integral to all lean products and processes. But software is not just the preserve of the IT department and needs to be integrated with eveery actiovity.

We have begun this learning process in the French LeanIT Summits each October in Paris - so this is another place we can talk to eachother. Thank you Richard for your inspiring example and for this challenge to talk to eachother.

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Richard Sheridan June 26, 2015
2 People AGREE with this reply

Thanks Daniel. I'm looking forward to the conversation! The leadership in the agile community has known for a long time that lean has much to offer, and so many have applied the broad principles very well. I will be speaking at Lean Agile Scotland (www.leanagilescotland.com ) in early October, so the trend is well established. It's time to turn up the dial!

I also appreciate the curiousity of the lean community and how they study and visit the agile community to gain ideas and thoughts. The learning, obviously, can go in both directions. I'm particularly fascinated when lean and agile must come together because the manufactured products themselves require it. Some of the most interesting projects at Menlo have been those that combine custom hardware with custom software. I'm guessing this trend is one of the bigger ones we will all be following in the years to come.

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Michael Balle June 26, 2015
1 Person AGREES with this reply

Thanks Richard for this call to action. Could we say Product, Lean, Agile, Joy?

Working at full company lean (with the CEO), one discovers that the largest issues are at product level, which, increasingly blends both hardware and software - as well as software to create an environment for products.

Products help users gain more autonomy on whatever they're doing, whether inspecting pharmaceutical tablets or building industrial cranes, a key area for progress is tracking the park of installed equipment at clients and learning to talk to each machine - they're full of chips, have things to say about how to improve the next generation products, but no one listens.

My experience, sadly is that software engineers and mechanical engineers still find it hard to find common space - agile vs. lean, to some extent reflects these professional cultural differences.

I feel strongly that to respond to Toyota's challenge and fully realize the promise of lean we must refocus on products as connected, smart objects and related service, both in their hardware, electronics and soft components and figure out how to use lean techniques to better fit-to-use according to customer lifetsyle and reduce the waste occasioned by manufacturing.

Indeed, let's talk!

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Richard Sheridan June 26, 2015
1 Person AGREES with this reply

Michael -

Now only can we say "product", we should and we are! This is actually the key theme of the LPPDE conference in September!



Durward Sobek June 30, 2015
1 Person AGREES with this comment

Software is the backbone of today's companies.  We cannot ignore it when we strive for ops excellence or continual process improvement.  Likewise, as Michael points out, software is increasingly the heart of new products.  We cannot ignore it when we apply lean to new product-process development.  So this is an important dialog.  We have a ton to learn, and a ton of work yet to do.

One thing I'm really interested in continuing our dialog about is the human element of building a culture of trust, and of collaboration towards build something better than we can do on our own.  Practically speaking, at a nuts-and-bolts level, how do we do that?  And how do we do that when we are not the CEO?

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Richard Sheridan July 02, 2015

Durward -

Building a culture of trust must start with the leaders, even if those leaders are not the CEO. That said, it is very easy to imagine how difficult building a cuture of trust could be if the CEO uses fear as a tool of motivation.


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Charles T. Betz July 03, 2015

Richard, I agree for the most part with your comments. But one always needs to "go to gemba," right? One of the most important documents of the software industry is Fred Brooks' seminal essay "No Silver Bullet: Essence and Accidents of Software Engineering," in which he specifically addresses the difficulty (or impossibility) of "order of magnitude" improvements in software. While he has had his critics, this discussion remains an important starting point for any serious inquiries along such lines. 

That said, I remain an advocate of using Lean techniques to understand IT delivery, and continue to write about this at www.lean4it.com. 

Charles T. Betz

@CharlesTBetz on twitter.

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Richard Sheridan July 06, 2015
1 Person AGREES with this reply

Charles -

I appreciate your thoughtful feedback. I've often thought of inviting Fred to Menlo to have him witness some of the ways we've torn everything down and rebuilt from scratch the entire approach to software design and development to specifically address the concerns he has stated over the years. I think he would enjoy the visit and I would love to hear his thoughts.

I couldn't agree more that there is never a time when solving complex issues, that a "silver bullet" tool, process or approach could yield anything close to an order of magnitude difference. Much of what comprises that degree of improvement is hard fought, incremental and sustainable only if there is long term commitment to significant change. And EVEN when the change is palpable, like it was at NUMMI, you are hard-pressed to express it to others in a way that is consumable to those that look at the world through old lenses.

Both your comments and Durwards about building trust have given me good ideas for future posts! Thank you both!

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