Value

Self-Organization & The Planning Board

Last summer I wrote about how I used some agile principles and practices to handle three problems we faced when living four families together in a small summer house. You can find that blog post here. When my vacation started, I spent some time thinking on improvements for this year’s stay (bringing together in total 19 persons). When everybody arrived I had prepared some new ”tools” for self-organization, with the Planning Board as the major new idea!

”The

These are the ”tools” we used

The Planning Board

The planning last year was compelled of a to-do list, and a schedule for the daily meals put up on the most central place in the house (i.e., the fridge :)). This set up worked well enough, but I wanted to improve it this year, and ended up with the Planning Board as shown in the picture above. It’s a matrix for each day in the week (that consisted of our stay in the summer house) with time slots (before lunch, lunch, afternoon, dinner and evening). To fit on the fridge the largest pager I could use was in A3 format, so I had to do my own stickies to be able to fit it all (cutting pieces of paper and using tape). As you may recall, ruler, scissors and tape are amongst my favorite agile tools! 🙂

”The

Above is a picture of the completed planning board, before any stickies were added. As you can see, I took the opportunity to make it colorful. Some additional information was also added to the board.

Below you can see the planning board, before the week started placed on the fridge (as said, the most central place in the house, where everybody passes several times a day).

”The

Initiatives

A sticky on the planning board represented an initiative. Maybe we could have used the word activity as well, but initiative felt better and more generic to fit our purpose. Each initiative had a driver (marked with ”D: <Name/s>”) on the sticky. The driver was the main responsible person for the initiative. Some initiatives regarded all persons, so they were marked with ”D: All”.

Some of the initiatives were given from previous years (like some shorter trips we like to do), so I added them before the week started to the planning board.

So could anyone just add an initiative? The answer here is both yes and no! Yes, because there were no rules for who could add a new initiative and no because some ”secret rules of self-organization” applied. I will explain them now. First, the driver needed sponsor(s) for the initiative. I.e. person/s that agreed and would ”join in”. Since most of the initiatives didn’t involve any major costs, finding sponsor(s) for the driver was pretty easy (”Shall we do this? Yes, that sounds like an good idea, let us add that to the planning board.”). A few initiatives involved cost, and they had to be funded, i.e. agreed upon with the owner of the summer house.

”The flyer”

To communicate about the initiative the driver in some cases used a flyer. Those didn’t fit on the fridge so we used a door for that. On the flyer the following information was stated:

  • Name of the initiative
  • Short description of the initiative
  • Name of the driver(s)
  • A motto
  • If participation was mandatory or not (the children put up a show every year, and attendance to that is always mandatory 🙂 )
  • Preferred time for the initiative (maybe if it was best suited as an evening activity)
  • An inspiring picture
  • Additional information.

The door

”The

Here you can see the door in the beginning of the week with five flyers added. The door also contained some feedback boards, that gave the opportunity for anyone that wanted, to give feedback (whether it was positive, negative or suggestions for improvements).

The planning meeting

After the dinner when all the participants had arrived, we held a planning meeting. At the meeting, this years new ”tools” were explained and we also did the first version of the planning (i.e., putting up all the stickies) on the planning board. Later some stickies changed back and forth during the week, mainly because some of them were weather sensitive. So the planning was like a guideline that we could follow, not rigid, and given the possibility to be flexible. This worked out really well during the week!

Self-Organization

With the ”tools” describe above the ecosystem was set enough to allow for self-organization! No-one was forced to do an initiative. Naturally the driver started and others would ”dig in”. This worked out really well during the week!

Hey, so you mean no problems at all occurred? Well yes, of course some problems occurred and needed to be sorted out. Mainly those discussions were handled by the four siblings (representing the four families). They came to an agreement in consensus, and in all cases I am aware of, everyone else aligned to that decision. Metaphorically, you can see this as the driver seeking sponsors to fund the initiative.

What happened?

Initiatives (a lot of them)

A lot of initiatives, with high commitment and value! It felt like more activity than previous year. New initiatives emerged during the week (I’m super happy with this, that showed that the ecosystem for self-organization really worked). Here is an example: One of the first evenings, an adult conducted a music quiz, following evenings many of the children held there own quizzes (with their music, almost impossible for the adults to guess :)).  Another example is building of a new porch for one of the smaller houses. This was an initiative that kept going ”in the background” during several days of the week (first to tear down the old porch, get rid of that, and then building the new).

Committed drivers (most of them)

In most cases, pin pointing a driver was really beneficial for the initiative, and the outcome was much better than leaving this with ”handled by whom it concern”. For one initiative I had higher hopes on the driver. In reflection maybe I should have taken a step back to get more involvement (I produced the flyer for this initiative, while not being the driver).

Alignment

Very little arguments or problems occurred during the week (less than previous year). All the people were aligned in terms of them knowing what was going on (a child knowing what day the Aqualand visit is planned, to an adult knowing who is responsible for making the dinner). The whole week was pretty much smooth sailing all the way!

Agile things we used

Open Space

If you are unfamiliar with Open Space, you can read more about it here. Basically I thought of the week like a long open space where initiatives (instead of topics) where put into time-slots.

Visualizations

The Planning board and the feedback boards are examples of visualizations.

Feedback door

Jurgen Appelo have come up with the idea of a feedback door. That inspired me to our door, as seen in the picture below (depicted after the week had ended).

”The

Planning meeting

Like the sprint planning meeting (in Scrum), we had a planning meeting with all participants to get understanding and alignment.

Self-Organization

I got some new inspiration regarding self-organization from reading the book ”Team of Teams”, which is may latest book review that you can find here.

Summary

Reading the feedback that was given about the week, it seems like a success (the only thing people complained about, was the weather – which wasn’t as good as it can be). I’m happy that everything I’ve set up worked out well, and that we improved from last year (kaizen – continuous improvements, remember?). It was also great to see the high commitment in the initiatives! Hopefully you now have some ”tools” to use when you want to bring structure to many people living together in a limited area during their vacation, or if you can use them in your daily work!

All the best,
 Tomas from TheAgileist

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Värdefokuserande teamarbetssätt / Value focused team working

I first got in contact with Joakim Holm and Jagannath Tammeleth (the authors of the book I’m about to review) at Agila Sverige (Agile Sweden). Actually, this year the conference was kickstarted by Joakim, dressed up as a punk rocker talking about ”Agile is not dead – It only smells a little”. Via Twitter I found out that the book with the Swedish title ”Värdefokuserande teamarbetssätt” was released. That roughly translates to ”Value focused team working”, the subtitle is ”A guide in eight steps for teams that wants to master the basics in agile system development”.

This is actually the second time I do a review on a book written in Swedish, my native language. I realize that many of you will never get a opportunity to read the book, but according to my blog statistics Sweden is in third place when it comes to visitors (after USA & UK). The book has 154 pages and was released in 2016.

”Value

“Agile is ordering tapas til you’re full ‒ not ordering a 10-course meal.”  ‒ Neil Killick

Content

The team ways of working selected for the book are (each covered in a chapter):

  1. Small batch sizes
  2. Maintaining a backlog
  3. Common planning
  4. Agreed guidelines
  5. Visual guidance
  6. Sync meeting
  7. Demonstrate the result
  8. Continous improvements

Does those ways of working make a good representation for a team? Yes, I think so. I can’t come up with anything that should have been added to the list. Each chapter has sections for: purpose, description (i.e., more details), learnings from the reality and references to further reading. All topped up with recommendations and tips!

Small batch sizes are fundamental in agile. And the ambition to go from large batch sizes (enormous waterfall projects that are doomed to fail) to small batches (handling customer deliveries in a continuous flow). Large batch sizes gives delays that in turn hid process problems that never will surface. On the other hand it’s not easy to shift to this way of working if you are coming from waterfall.

The backlog is something very familiar for an agile team. To produce a backlog is not a one time job (you do it and then you are finished). The backlog needs to be looked after all the time. A way for the team to understand what is important is to have a common planning.

It may not come as a big surprise that visual guidance is my absolute favorite thing about agile. It’s said that ”a picture says more than thousand words” and it’s really true. What you ”see”, you can do something about. What you don’t ”see”, well, there is nothing you can do then.

The sync meeting is usually the first ”aha moment” and most valuable thing, when starting with agile ways of working (being a team using Scrum and Kanban). Starting off the days by sorting out what is most important, who needs help, etc., has been done before but with agile it has really got high-lighted.

When first starting with agile ways of working (being a team using Scrum and Kanban) the first ”aha moment” and most valuable thing is the sync meeting. Starting off the days by sorting out what is most important, who needs help etc. has been done before, but with agile it has really got high-lighted.

The get feedback on your work, one good way is to demonstrate the result to others. I think the demo is a good thing, but sometimes it represents a too long feedback loop (to get input on your work when you are done, not when you are doing it).

Finally the fundament in lean, the continuous improvements (also known as kaizen). I’ve heard a story about an agile coach that was hired to ”implement agile” within a company. He started out with implementing just one practice, the retrospective meeting. With that in place he could steer continuous improvements to set the other principles and practices in place.

Recommendation

I really enjoyed reading this book! It is short, well structured, and to the point. The illustrations are awesome! I also really liked the fact that it took the standpoint from the team’s view, when describing good agile ways of working. If you can read Swedish and want to have value focused team working, you should definitely check it out!

All the best,
 Tomas from TheAgileist

Work with value

I have said it before, but to meet peers at Lean Coffee in Stockholm is always very inspiring! My last visit was no exception. The question I brought to the meeting was the following:

”Value vs. Cost – How can we focus more on customer value than on cost?”

Actually this will be my third blog post on the topic of value, you can find the other ones here and here. This one will basically be my extended notes from the Lean Coffee discussion. Let’s get started!

”Work

Don Reinertsen

A gentleman with beard and glasses started with referring to the work of Donald G. Reinertsen. His book ”The Principles of Product Development Flow” was mentioned to seek deeper knowledge. It was recommended to be read in short iterations for best enjoyment, apparently it is quite ”heavy”. You can also search for speeches with ”Don Reinertsen”  on YouTube. I did, and I found this one that I watched and liked.

Cost of Delay

Back to the question about value. How can you ”see”, i.e., quantify value? One thing that Don Reinertsen suggests is to use ”cost of delay”. What is that? I’ve found this short three minutes introduction, that has this good summary: ”Put simply, cost of delay is a way of communicating value and urgency”.

Test hypothesis

The gentleman continued to say that you should test hypotheses to seek value. Form the hypothesis and try it out in a small scale to see what value it brings. This is often call to make a MVP (Minimum Viable Product).

Data driven

To see what value something brings, you should have data. Preferably data that measure something before, and after you introduce the ”value adding thing”, for example in the form of a MVP. Now you can compare to see what happened, and also tweak the model you have for making hypothesis if that is needed.

Low hanging fruit

Some things are obvious that they bring value. For example by fixing bugs that customers have reported.

Big aha moment

I’ve saved the biggest aha moment (for me) to last. There are so many things you can do before you even start to write any software! Being a developer from the beginning ”write some code” is always the easiest option to go for. Please don’t do it! Instead you should try out the ”value adding thing” on your peers. Discuss with them, what they think. They don’t understand? Maybe you need to formulate yourself better by doing some written text, or some wireframes.

One question you can use to ”see” value is the following:

”If we had this function/feature today, what would that mean?”

That could give answers like: ”X % more users” or ”Y % better response times”. Get two to three of those answers for each feature you are discussing and you can start to compare and prioritize between them. The answers don’t have to be the same for all features, the human brain can see patterns anyhow, even if it’s not a quantitative comparison. 

Summary

Hopefully you now have some more ideas on how to work with value, at least I have! A huge thanks to the gentleman that kindly shared his knowledge. Do you have any other ways to work with value? Don’t be afraid to get in touch and share them!

All the best,
 Tomas from TheAgileist