Looking for Lean in Inefficient Processes

first-class forever stamp

first-class forever stampThis morning, I wrote a physical check and placed it into a physical envelope. I hand-wrote the addresses on the envelope and even put a physical stamp on it.  I will mail it, when I take my semiweekly trip to the mailbox.  This is the first time I can remember doing this in a few years.  The party recieving my payment is forcing me to follow this inefficient business process of mailing a physical payment to them.  All I can think is how this used to be the norm and now how ridiculously inefficient it appears.

When objectively judging the efficiency of this process, I started by first measuring two things, the Work-in-Process (WIP) and the Average Completion Rate (ACR).

Little’s Law

This law provides an equation for relating Lead Time, Work-in-Process (WIP) and Average Completion Rate (ACR) to any process. The law states: Lead Time = WIP (units) / ACR (units per time period).  The idea is to have the lowest lead time as possible.  Lower lead times means less waste.

Am I the only geek out there who does this?  Where do you see inefficient processes that could benefit from a more lean approach?



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Write the same but different words


It’s all in how you say it. Or, in the case of this video, how you write it. In less than 2 minutes, this video will send a powerful message. It’s about writing from perspective.

After watching it, I immediately thought of how a user story can communicate a message differently, compared to a standard “shall statement” requirement.

Here are as few formats for you to compare. Which would you use?

As a <role>, I want <goal>

As a <role>, I want <goal> so <reason>

Given <dependency/constraint>, as a <role>, I want <goal> so <reason>

Do you have a preferred user story format that you use?  Please include it as a comment and have a beautiful day.

The Gemba Walk


As part of a recent engagement I went to assess and coach a group of Agile teams out in Iowa.  Each morning, we would arrive before the daily stand-ups.  Each morning we walked around, listened in on conversations and got updates from the teams.  We quietly studied their large team boards and then how they interacted with the boards and one another. I would describe this daily stroll as our Gemba Walk.  Gemba is a Japanese term meaning “the real place.” In business, it refers to the place where value is created; in our case the gemba was the west side of the building on the 5th floor where the teams were located.

Gemba Walk

In lean manufacturing, the idea of gemba is that the problems are visible, and the best improvement ideas will come from going to the gemba. The gemba walk, much like Management By Walking Around (MBWA), is an activity that takes management to those doing the actual value delivery, to look for waste and opportunities to practice gemba kaizen, or practical shopfloor improvement.  If you are in management and you want to make a real difference, get out of your office and go on a gemba walk.

If you are on a project team, do your managers go on a daily gemba walk?

HT: Wikipedia


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When a Standard is a Distraction

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I stopped off to get some gas and found myself spending way too much time analyzing the user interface, trying to figure out how to pump my gas.  I don’t want to sound so negative but gas pumps rank right up there with Adobe products, when it comes to non-intuitive UI.  At first glance, the UI was comprised of two areas.  One, there was a monochrome screen with four button on either side.  I’ve seen this layout at other gas pumps so I was ready for visual queues to come from that.  The other area was a 16 button keypad.  Fortunately, there was a slot for me to insert my credit card, otherwise, I think I would have just driven to another gas station.  The problem started 10 seconds after I inserted my credit card.  It actually took roughly 10 seconds for each action to be registered on the screen, leaving me feeling frustrated throughout the process.

The first text to appear on the screen was In Payment Card. I complied and 10 seconds later the text Debit Card or Credit Card? appeared. I expected the choices to align to one of the 8 white buttons flanking the screen. I then looked at the keypad. Nope, no Debit or Credit keys, which I’ve seen on other gas pumps.  Just before cancelling the purchase, I noticed two unassuming grey buttons to the right of the receipt dispenser. They were labeled Outside Debit and Outside Credit. I grumbled to myself and selected the Outside Credit button. Ten seconds later (I’m not kidding) Enter Zip Code appeared on the screen.  I typed in my zip code via the keypad.  I waited a solid 10 seconds before Press Enter If OK or Clear appeared. I located and press an Enter OK button on the keypad. The text Authorizing then displayed for an additional 10 seconds. Just as I thought it would tell me to select my grade of gas, Would you like to print a receipt? appeared.  I located and selected the Yes Receipt button on the key pad.  The screen then took an additional 10 seconds to state please see cashier inside for receipt. I stood there dumbfounded (for an additional 10 seconds) when the screen then changed, stating Select your Grade.

Here comes the comparison.  Simple processes like buying your gas should not be this painful.  The same goes for your business processes.  Don’t put so much emphasis on things that you’re not going to need.  They become wasteful distractions.  In the case of the gas pump, the most important steps of the process were hard to locate and navigate.  I wasted a lot of time just trying to figure out how to do the next step, when I already knew what I needed to do.  On the gas pump, the two unassuming buttons were critical to move forward in the process but weren’t even in my line of sight.  You need to think about this when customizing your business processes.  Standards (and processes) are good, as long as they provide value, either by increasing quality or lowering risk.


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Jazz Hands at the Daily Standup


While doing an Agile assessment in Des Moines, Iowa, we noticed a team would periodically do “jazz hands”.  When we asked the ScrumMaster (Iteration Manager) what was going on, she said others within earshot of the daily standup complained about the team being too loud. In the past, whenever there was good news, the team would cheer and clap.  As a result, in order to continue to show their excitement, the team members now all do “jazz hands”.

Team “Seniom Sed” (Des Moines backwards), it has been a pleasure watching you all work for the last few days. Actually, it’s been a pleasure working with each of the teams. I get one more day to enjoy your addictive enthusiasm.

Keep up the great work!

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AgileScout Discount Code

Agile Scout PMI-ACP Discount Code

Agile Scout PMI-ACP Discount CodeAs I’m ramping up my training offerings through LitheSpeed, I realized I would face the same marketing challenges that plagued my start-up back in the 90’s.  What’s the difference between now and then?  This time, we have tools like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and of course blogs. As many of you know, even if you have the greatest idea since sliced bread, if you can’t get the word out, you will fail.  With that, I am distributing unique discount codes to different social circles.  I am also sharing unique discount codes with friends and colleagues, like Peter Saddington over at AgileScout.

Thank you, Peter!
Read more over at that AgileScout blog.

Sign up for the September 26-28 PMI-ACP workshop.



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