Carlos Goes Agile

We played the GetKanban game today. Here’s our position at the end of Day 11. People who know the game dread this moment. They know: Carlos, the game’s most infamous character, is about to show up. Reading the event card, indeed: “Allison the CEO hires a new Director of Software Development named Carlos.” There we go again.

End of Day 11

But wait, let’s read the event card further. The game takes an unusual turn today.

Carlos starts an Agile transformation!

Ask the facilitator to remove all blue dice from the board as Carlos’ staff will spend tomorrow in team formation and chartering. The day after tomorrow, the blue dice will stay off the board, but you’ll get two points from each, six total, as Carlos’s teams will be storming. When the teams start performing, the facilitator will give you a new set of blue dice.

Carlos sees the Analysis-done column as his product backlog and says it makes no sense to limit it. Remove the WIP limit from the Analysis column, place a limit of 2 on Analysis-in-progress and infinity on Analysis-done.

CFO, please record a coaching expense of $100 per day for the next 6 days.

Here we are at the end of Day 12.

End of Day 12 - Carlos' Agile transformation in progress

Time to read another event card.

Carlos asks Allison to invest in an Agile tool to track his teams’ work. It happens that Glenn’s father — Glenn is the marketing intern — works as a salesman for a company making such tools. Glenn’s father demonstrates a feature called KanBan, which visualizes each team’s work on a visual board. Then he shows how Carlos can roll the data up from all the team boards. He creates a burndown chart with one click. Allison is impressed and gives Carlos the go-ahead to purchase the tool. Margaret the Marketing Director is impressed too, but agrees with Allison’s decision to limit the pilot implementation to Carlos’ teams.

CFO, please record a subscription expense of $100 per day for using the new tool.

End of Day 13 - grooming the growing backlogs

Carlos asks Allison to assign and train Product Owners to groom the growing backlogs. Allison is suspicious, but agrees to it after a long debate. Remove one red die from the board until further notice.

Meanwhile, Ken the Agile coach says Carlos’ teams are entering the hyperperforming phase. Ask the facilitator to return the blue dice to the board. Ken and Carlos expect all teams to achieve the maximum velocity of six points. The teams failing to deliver six points will have to attend a full-day retrospective with Ken.

End of Day 14 - time to fire Carlos?

Looks like Ken will be busy facilitating retrospectives.

Carlos notices the shortfall in teams’ performance and asks Allison to hire more Scrum Masters to improve team facilitation. Allison responds with two updates. First, the CFO has downgraded his revenue forecast for the next two billing cycles. Second, Margaret is complaining that she has less visibility into what’s going on after Carlos’ investment in the new tool. Carlos throws a tantrum, accuses Allison of being stuck in the Waterfall mindset, and complains that his efforts to transform his department are undermined by his peers who are also stuck in the past and don’t understand Agile values.

You’ve Seen This Movie Before

Allison fires Carlos on the spot.

For what it’s worth, here we are at the end of the game.

Position at the end of the game

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Carlos, You’re Fired!

Those who have played the GetKanban board game (one of Kanban training tools and a regular occurrence at Kanban community meetups) are likely to remember two dramatic moments.

On Day… — actually, let’s keep it a surprise for those who haven’t played the game yet — Carlos, the game’s most infamous character, enters the building. Carlos really shakes things up. First, he disallows any people outside his functional silo to do the silo’s work. Second, he forbids his direct reports from helping in other departments. Third, he eliminates one of the WIP limits and thus breaks the Kanban system into two. Finally, Carlos ignores the variation natural in the work he manages and insists his staff’s output must be 6 units per day even though they’re only set up to produce 3.5 on average (with some variation).

One of the reactions I get often from my training class participants: “Can we fire Carlos?”

Several days later — let’s keep it a secret how many exactly — there is this happy, cathartic moment: the CEO fires Carlos. The players rejoice. They gradually restore the broken flow of value as the game continues. Their organization recovers eventually and achieves some goal by the end of the game.

During the debrief after the game, some people talk about how they want to do better than Carlos in the real life. Some managers in the room realize they’re Carlos. Some realize they used to be Carlos, but changed their ways. They’re validated.

But if all we’ve talked about is, good riddance Carlos and how the software developers can now hug the testers, then that’s a relatively shallow learning outcome from the game.

Let’s Listen To Deeper Reflections

GetKanban game in progress - the logjam caused by Carlos

Product Owner

My job is to prioritize this backlog. And it only keeps growing! Now I understand why I feel so discouraged and why what I do seems so disconnected from our customers.

Senior Software Developer

I’ve worked in this industry for fifteen years. I’m used to getting called into these “why not six” closed-door conversations from time to time. Something is different in recent years though.

It used to be that the person questioning me, who had an office with a door, did the same job before their promotion. They understood me. Now, I find myself explaining myself to more people and none of them have written a line of code in their life.

Scrum Master

On my last job, I was constantly forced to make excuses why my team’s release burndown wasn’t trending at six points per sprint. It was humiliating. I felt, even if I could solve this problem somehow, it wouldn’t have mattered to our customers. I quit because I couldn’t take it anymore.

Agile Coach

On my last gig, I was responsible for coaching one of Carlos’ teams to hyper-performance. Six points per sprint is a crude way to put it, but I get that this is a game.

Executive

We’ve got a whole system that educates, promotes and rewards people like Carlos. We still have this system.

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Kanban Training in Canada

As a Kanban coach and trainer, I often get asked about Kanban training: availability, which class to take, why, what about certifications, and so on. With this post, I hope to outline the key answers to such questions, focusing on what’s available right here in Canada.

The Lean Kanban University roadmap for Kanban proficiency consists of three stages:

The LKU awards two certifications:

  • TKP for successfully completing the TKP class
  • KMP for successfully completing both KSD and KMP classes (total 4 days of training)

Historically, there has been more Kanban training in Western Europe than in North America. And a larger proportion of North American classes were offered privately on client premises. This resulted in limited choices for North Americans wanting to take open, public classes. The situation began to change in 2015 and continues to change in 2016. More trainers offer more public Kanban classes in Canada, USA and Mexico. This includes my firm, Lean A-to-Z, Inc., which holds an independent Lean Kanban franchise.

We will be running a week-long Kanban training program in Toronto on April 4-8. You can take any of the three classes or mix and match them. Here are the registration links:

We also plan similar events:

The Team Kanban Practitioner and Kanban System Design classes will also be offered in Kitchener-Waterloo in June.

Which class to take?

The Team Kanban Practitioner and Kanban System Design classes have no prerequisites. Choose by the benefit desired in your organization’s context. If you want training for your own career development, choose KSD.

The Kanban Management Professional class is more difficult and has two prerequisites: KSD and several months of experience practicing what you learned there. If in doubt, go for KSD only. However, some participants can cope with the difficulties and complete KSD and KMP back-to-back. Those are typically consultants and managers with diverse experiences.

For participants taking more than one class, TKP+KSD (3 days of training) and KSD+KMP (4 days) are the most sensible combinations. Some participants may find value in taking all five days.

Quality

The Lean Kanban curriculum was developed by a global network of trainers. It continues to evolve as dozens of trainers conduct hundreds of classes to numerous trainees around the world. We maintain frequent correspondence, meet face to face often at conferences and Kanban Leadership Retreats, and thus continue to refine the design of your learning experience.

The instructional design, material, games, exercises, powerful questions, case study choices are all informed by our observations of what people actually do differently in their workplaces and careers after the training. What you will do differently matters to us more than any expert’s notions about how to present a body of knowledge.

Region-specific Advice

My franchise’s training offerings are somewhat skewed towards Central Canada and our American neighbours in the Northeast and Great Lakes regions. Here are some recommendations for those outside these geographical areas.

Western Canada: come to the Lean Kanban University headquarters and training centre in Seattle. Classes of all levels are regularly run there – check their latest schedule. You can also reach out to Calgary-based Dave White, Canada’s first Accredited Kanban Trainer.

French Canadians: availability of Kanban training in French continues to be scarce. Nevertheless, Montreal is home to more KMP certification holders than any other Canadian city. (And Quebec more than any other province.) There is already a Montreal-based French Canadian trainer who is working on his Lean Kanban accreditation. He may soon be able to offer certified Kanban classes in French.

Atlantic Canada: there are currently no class listings in this region. Please reach out to me if you believe there’s a local group that can support a public class or if you’d like to request a private class.

Conclusion

This was a short summary of the current state of Kanban training in Canada. Please consider what Lean Kanban has to offer and our training schedule. I’ll be happy to take any questions.

More detailed discussions of each class will follow in the future posts. The same goes for Enterprise Services Planning – there’s technically a forth stage. (It’s largely for the executives, senior leaders and their improvement consultants. ESP training is offered as a five-day modular program and includes enterprise services, project forecasting and portfolio management.)

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Decisions Before Data

I’ve been giving some consultations and on metrics lately. People ask for advice and show desire to have data in their decisions. Data, as opposed to opinions or, worse, looking at the crystal ball or superstition. We talk concepts, we dive into specifics of their situation: organization, services, teams, products, and we spend a fair bit of time on people’s feelings and perceptions. Something interesting becomes clear.

You have to put decisions before data.

This sounds counter-intuitive. Shouldn’t we gather data before making a decision?

No, first you have to decide what kind of decisions you want to make. What will you decide about and how?

If you know what you’re deciding about, people can find the data to support your decision-making method. To help you decide. People will find the right amount data, what’s really necessary. They will find an easy way to get the data, not wasting time or overpaying for information that matters little in the decision.

In the words of a decision research expert Douglas Hubbard,

You most important decision is the decision-making method that you’re going to use.

(said in his LKNA13 keynote).

But if data come first, then it’s the opposite story. Too much data, too much time or effort to get them, not sure what to do with them, and people may be afraid of what decision will be made. Is the decision you’re thinking of making to fire or promote me or one of my peers? I might bring different “data” to help you make your decision!

A natural question arises here, wouldn’t it be better if we had a healthier organizational culture where people felt safe and could gather their process metrics without fear of repercussions?

Depending on how much margin your business has for wishful thinking, you can revisit this question in the future — or you can start now to increase the transparency of what you decide and how.

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Replenishment Canvas

I included a new simple tool in the previous blog post, Observing Replenishment. Now is the time to introduce it properly.

LINK TO DOWNLOAD REPLENISHMENT CANVAS

Replenishment Canvas Thumbnail

Replenishment is about making better decisions about what your business should be working on now versus deferring until later (and possibly not doing at all). The Replenishment Canvas is a simple tool to connect logically several ingredients of such decisions, such as people, timing, information, options, decisions, and procedure.

You can use the Replenishment Canvas in at lest two ways:

  1. Observing and taking notes during the current replenishment-related activities
  2. Supporting the design of improvements to the decision-making process

Enjoy! Feedback, improvement suggestions, stories are welcome.

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Observing Replenishment

Replenishment (or commitment) meeting is an activity concerning the decisions made at the so-called first commitment point of a Kanban system. It is one of the seven Kanban cadences, which are all part of the Kanban method. Cadenced events happen, as the notion of cadence suggests, predictably at deliberately chosen intervals. They connect information flows (predictably) and thus close the feedback loops. The healthy feedback loops enable evolutionary change.

What if you don’t have a Kanban system? You’re still running some business. This involves making regular decisions about what you should be working on now versus what you should defer until later. When you design a Kanban system to model the process (as it’s actually practiced) of delivering a product or a service that is part of your business model, the Kanban system’s first commitment point will mark the point in the workflow where you make such decisions.

Making commitment points explicit is likely to bring some transparency and clarity to your decision-making process and stimulate improvement. This is one of the many benefits of introducing a Kanban system. Implementing a replenishment meeting takes this benefit one step further.

What are we looking for in a replenishment meeting? Some coherence, logical connectedness of the following:

  • Participation: Who are the decision-makers? Were they in the room?
  • Information: What did the decision-makers bring to the meeting?
  • Options: Before the Decisions were made, what options were available? Was the Information relevant to the options?
  • Decisions: Which Options were chosen? How did the Information lead to choosing some Options over others?
  • Timing and Change: When was the previous replenishment meeting? How did the set of available Options and the Information change since then?
  • Procedure: how did the decision-makers actually decide? Were the appearances compatible with their method?
  • Duration: How long was the meeting? Was its duration commensurate with the multitude of choice?

Now let’s go and observe an actual meeting billed as Replenishment. All names and timings are changed to protect privacy.

A coach's notes from  the replenishment meeting. Various problems are highlighted. See the text below.

It’s quite clear that no act of commitment or replenishment took place here. The obvious clues to that are:

  • The set of decisions (features to start) matches the set of options exactly
  • The metrics presented by the Team Lead relate to a different, lower-level work item type. User story-level metrics could be useful for sequencing user stories. Feature-level metrics could be useful for scheduling features. The information presented doesn’t connect to the options or decisions in this case.

We just saw pseudo-replenishment. We also saw several things that let us reasonably infer a number of things about the system. There are at least two work item types. The two form a hierarchy and there is a two-level workflow. Each level has a first commitment point somewhere. And somewhere, sometime, two groups of decision-makers, people with different rank in the organization and different boundaries of autonomy, meet and use some decision-making process to make their respective decisions.

Shortly afterwards, a design meeting is called and it goes on for two hours. People with higher titles are absent, but a group of business analysts and a Senior Architect join. The discussion is largely about some design of the solution, acceptance criteria and such. However, there are several scattered moments totaling maybe 10 minutes, when: the Architect surfaces some technical risks, the Business Analysis Lead does the same for some requirement risks, and people come to the conclusion that several particular work items out of many others should be started before all others based on these risks.

Those ten minutes were the replenishment meeting. Implementing the replenishment meeting, one of the Kanban cadences, means making this decision process transparent, connecting its elements logically, with the intention to improve the decision-making. As the decisions in this example involved sequencing work within committed scope, it would be more appropriate to call this activity proto-replenishment. Read more about proto-replenishment here. Proto-replenishment is to proto-Kanban (e.g. Team Kanban) is what replenishment is to Kanban.

As for the Kanban system replenishment, it is not in the cards yet for this particular service. They are, for the time being, only able to pursue localized, team-level benefits. When they design a Kanban for their multi-team service, implementing the replenishment meeting will come into focus.

Summary

  • Replenishment meeting is not a new ceremony to introduce in your process
  • Somebody, in some time and place, already makes decisions. Replenishment meeting is about making the decision-making method transparent, so that people can improve it. Transparency may even save them time.
  • Implementing replenishment meeting involves both observing how people try to make decisions now as well as designing improvements to the process.
  • It’s very important (to your business) to understand the logical connectedness of decision-makers, information, options, timing, and decisions.
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Kanban Games

As someone with good knowledge of the Kanban method, people ask me from time to time about good games as learning tools to aid people in learning the method. Also, as an accredited trainer and coach, I must be using some interactive tools or games to help transfer my knowledge to the clients. So, which games do I use?

GetKanban is, of course, the first game I should mention. Russell Healy invented it six years ago and many people around the world have played it ever since. (Russell won the Brickell Key award, the highest honour in Kanban, in 2011 for inventing this game.)

GetKanban V5 Example

The full version of the game takes about three hours to play. A shortened variant takes 90-120 minutes, which makes the game accessible to after-work community groups and conference sessions where many people have actually played the game.

GetKanban has evolved since its invention and is now up to version 5. I use this version, with a few rule modifications in one of my training classes.

The 2-day Kanban System Design (KSD) class, classified as KMP I-level training in the Lean Kanban University curriculum, is where GetKanban game is the most appropriate. Here we teach people to apply Kanban at the service-delivery level, not the team level, to understand and use Kanban systems, and to design Kanban systems for services within their organizations using the systems thinking approach. Students learn many Kanban system elements such as work item types, classes of service, workflow activities, commitment points, replenishment, delivery planning, explicit policies, visualization of risk, cadences, transaction costs, coordination costs, and so on. They learn what to observe in their unique business environments and how to incorporate their understanding into their Kanban system design. The GetKanban game within the context of this class allows them to actually learn these things by experiencing them. Much better than listening to a lecture!

Note that the game itself doesn’t deliver training in Kanban system design. The 2-day KSD class works and is effective because it includes the game and many other activities and they all fit together. Nearly all people who have played GetKanban at some point and took the class later reported that their understanding of the method and skill in applying Kanban increased greatly after the class.

FeatureBan. This is a relatively new game, invented by Mike Burrows. It is simpler, more compact than GetKanban, and takes less time to play: 60-90 minutes. It is a great fit for introductory and team-level Kanban training. I use it in the 1-day Team Kanban Practitioner (TKP) class.

FeatureBan Example

Playing GetKanban in the TKP class would consume more time. But time is scarce and we are better off using it for more learning outcomes. (Not a speculation, we have tried this approach.) At the same time, GetKanban is very effective and a better fit to the 2-day KSD class and its service-orientation agenda. As with many things Kanban trainers and coaches do, appropriateness for the context and coherence of problems at hand and variations of approaches to them are always considered.

Kanban Boat Game invented by Klaus Leopold. In this game, the players form a line and make paper boats. This game is superficially similar to various other flow games, where players make things out of pieces of paper and, when they start controlling work-in-process (WIP), their flow gets better and productivity improves.

Kanban Boat Game Boats

Klaus’ Boat Game, however, is different, because it actually teaches a different and very important point: the limitations (and in some contexts, futility) of the team-level Kanban introduction. As one of the modules in Team Kanban Practitioner (TKP) training is about students’ understanding these limitations, learning there’s more to Kanban and how and when to move up to the service-oriented Kanban system design, the Boat Game is a very useful tool in this class. Late in the class, to be clear — not before the participants have played FeatureBan and achieved more foundational learning outcomes through FeatureBan and several interactive exercises.

As far as I know, there are no written instructions to the Boat Game yet. Klaus did post a video. I found the facilitation tricky. There were many important nuances for the trainer to pay attention to that could make a difference between achieving the deep learning outcomes this game is for and yet another paper-folding game. Klaus makes it look easy. The best way for others to learn this game is to have been at the Kanban Leadership Retreat in Mayrhofen where we played this game and came up with the TKP curriculum. This should not to deter professional Kanban trainers who should by all means practice and learn it. I intend to use this game every time I run a TKP class, late in the class, of course.

Other games. There are many simple flow games, such as the dot game, the coin game, the name game, etc. They will teach people how to see the flow of work and how controlling WIP can lead to better quality or productivity. These games are entirely appropriate for Kanban and Lean thinking enthusiasts to show the basic concepts of flow to beginner audiences. However, in Lean Kanban University-accredited training classes, which are all tailored to meet certain learning outcomes (changes in what people actually do after the class as far as managing work in their companies), accredited trainers use appropriately different games that have evolved and are uniquely adapted to those outcomes.

Summary

  • GetKanban game version 5 in the Kanban System Design (KMP I-level) class
  • FeatureBan and Kanban Boat Game in the Team Kanban Practitioner (TKP) class
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Billable Hours or Days?

Hi Alexei,

[Some reasonable proposal]

What’s your daily (or hourly) rate?

Regards,

All right, continuing the topic of consulting. That is, the art, science and business of influencing other with some sort of advice at their request. At some point, you need to measure your presence in time units and put a price on it. What units would you use?

A day is often billed as eight nominal hours anyway. Even though it is sometimes a bit shorter, very often longer and sometimes much longer. So, does it even matter, hours or days?

I contend that it matters a lot. First, to the client, and then somewhat to the consultant.

My firm, Lean A-to-Z, Inc. always bills its clients in days. Actually, even more to the point, if we’re talking say a three-day training class, we quote the price for the class, not some number to multiply by 3 or by 24. Oddly enough, a three-day class has exactly three days, so its price doesn’t depend on time! But it should probably depend on the number of participants! It is typically a flat amount that includes participants up to some number plus some amount for each additional participant. And that’s what we quote.

The only exceptions to this policy are when we partner with other firms and agree to use different units as a formality. We’re still in agreement on how we value time and presence.

So, why does this matter?

Let’s listen to the sound of 40 billable hours

Last week you sent us one of your consultants. He put in 40 hours of work. The consultant did [a long list of activities.]

Can you explain what value we received for the 40 units of work we were billed for?

And now, the sound of 5 billable days

We recently made one of our consultants available to your organization for a week.

  • What problem did you try to solve together?
  • What questions did you ask?
  • What questions did the consultant ask?
  • Which of those questions did you find the most insightful?
  • What advice did you receive?
  • What did you decide to do with the advice?
  • What was the result?

Does it sound different now?

Connecting to my previous post, what if the number of hours in the first soundbite was not 40, but 960?

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Is Agile Costing Too Much?

Hi Alexei,

I hope you’re doing well. I was thinking of you because we have a client in [location] and they have a 6-month opening for an Agile coach. Would you be available to start February 15?

Regards,
[Name withheld]

I have many similar messages in my email archive.

You may be a consultant or a contractor who receives such messages, a recruiter who sends them. You may know or work for or with someone who is. You may be a manager or executive in a company that decided to invest in Agile and engage an Agile consulting firm. This decision led to the creation of one or more such “openings.”

I want you to see the dollar signs in this message.

Most such six-month contracts involve on-site presence four or five days a week; sometimes three, but rarely. The typical batch size is between 90 and 120 billable days. Daily and hourly pay rates vary, but within a range. If you’ve ever received, sent or caused someone to send such a message you know what it is. The consulting firms’ markups can range from 20% to over 50%. Travel expense allowances are sometimes generous dollar amounts, sometimes not so generous, sometimes a percentage of fees and sometimes not offered at all.

What’s the total? Low six figures. Certainly over $100,000 and in some cases over $200,000. Some transfer of expertise (in this case, Agile) is taking place and this is the atomic unit of commitment and delivery to the client.

Let’s save for another day the incongruity of using six-month batches worth over $100,000 to teach people to deliver results to their own customers in small increments every two weeks. We should still ask questions, such as: is this the right price to pay for the benefits? Are client companies taking appropriate levels of risk? Is this delivery business model sustainable? Is there a better way?

David J Anderson, the Pioneer of the Kanban method, wrote earlier this week: Is Agile Costing You Too Much? I strongly recommend reading his article before returning to the rest of this post. (Spoiler: his answer is an emphatic “yes”, highlighting the key differences between Kanban and Agile, and illustrating the point with many real-world stories.)

I’m offering several such stories of my own in this post. I was involved in them directly. They support the same conclusions.

Story #1, a video software company, over 500 employees at the start, increasing by 20% in one year. Quality was a significant problem at the start. They expressed it anecdotally and it also showed up quantitatively in our demand analysis exercises early on. (Demand analysis is one of the Kanban techniques we teach in the foundational KMP I – Kanban System Design class, part of the Lean Kanban University curriculum.) Said the CEO one year later:

“Kanban didn’t solve our quality problems. It consistently led us to better decisions, which, in turn, led to improvements in quality.”

The Kanban initiative involved not only the software engineering department. The impact was company-wide. Finance, sales engineering, training, HR, marketing, you name it. Their director of training created the first organizational feedback loop with Kanban. When asked to name their the most impactful Kanban implementations during one of my visits, the executives started with the Accounting department. The total number of employees receiving some form of Lean Kanban training was about 100. It may seem like a small number (less than 20%), but Kanban training is not about imparting knowledge and teaching every team member various practices. It is management training for those making decisions in their business and it is designed to help them think and act in new, pragmatic ways.

Twenty-seven people (about 5% of the company) received training up to the Kanban Management Professional (KMP) credential level. This number included the CEO, the CFO, the VP of Engineering, the manager of every key department and several experienced technical specialists. I’ll save the KMP credential discussion for another day. It will suffice to say today, all Lean Kanban University credentials have a story and signify something. A short KMP story goes like this: if you are a leader of an organization of several hundred and two dozen KMPs work for you, you’ve got a great chance to run a modern, adaptive, resilient business.

How much did this cost? Four consultants were involved. Don Reinertsen and David Anderson paid one short visit each and the rest was done by me and Dave While in a series of short visits, totaling about 25 billable days. The per-hour cost to the client was certainly more than the number you’d hear or give a recruiter looking to fill an six-month Agile coaching contract. But what was the total? How did it compare to one or two Agile coaching “atoms”? It may have been approximately one and was certainly less than two. If the company decided instead to invest in one Agile Coaching Atom, the effects would have been most likely confined to a small number of engineering teams adopting Agile rituals.

Story #2 – the life sciences company where Evgenia Ovchinnikova was the Operations Directory until recently. I taught her to be the company’s internal Kanban champion and only made a few visits for training and consulting and several conference calls. The company’s CEO, CFO, VP of Sales, and the director of almost every department all received the Kanban System Design (KMP I) level training. Evgenia went on to “kanbanize” about 30 different services within the company, employing over 700 people. STATIK (the systems thinking approach to introducing Kanban), which is taught as part of each Kanban System Design class, was key to designing many context-fitted systems with consistent quality. The top-level Kanban system was a Portfolio Kanban of the company’s entire product pipeline. The newly introduced Kanban systems led to substantial behaviour changes within the management ranks. This is about all I can say about this company. Details of their Kanban implementation have become a closely guarded secret as they view it as a source of their competitive advantage. We’re very happy for them!

How much did this engagement cost? Well, the money would not be enough to buy even one Atom. If the company had somehow retained an Agile coach for fewer billable days, that would have bought them coaching of a few teams through formation, chartering, kick-off and the first couple of sprints at the most.

Story #3 – now on a somewhat smaller scale. Kazakhstan is not backward as Borat would make you believe. But it is a remote country, far from the centres of methodological thought in the USA, Western Europe or even the emerging ones in India and China. Good advice is not easy to get. Natalia Li came from this place to the Lean Kanban Russia 2015 conference to present her software company’s case study. She didn’t coach multiple teams on adoption of rituals. She didn’t try to fix the teams of workers scooping red beads in a broken system. She instead designed a Kanban system, negotiated its introduction with the stakeholders, and used it to reduce the wait times and blockages in a workflow spanning four corporate departments. These systemic improvements caused throughput to double and the lead time to reduce by 40%. The first iteration of her Kanban system was designed — you guessed it — one year earlier, in 2014, in the Kanban System Design class I taught together with Askhat Urazbaev.

The investment Natalia’s employer’s risked in 2014 to get these rewards was to send her on a week-long trip to Moscow to attend a Lean Kanban conference and take the post-conference training. The registration cost about $1,500; travel expenses, take a guess. At her company’s smaller scale, tens of employees rather than hundreds, sending one person turned out to be enough. Again, service-delivery Kanban is not about teaching or coaching every team member how to perform practices and rituals. Could the Agile Borat coach one team to its first sprint retrospective on this budget?

More stories to come. The six-month contract vehicle, which I started this post with, continues to be a fact of life. I’m seeing some progress however. In the last year, I have been able to negotiate down the batch sizes, dramatically in some cases and arrange schedules that allow me to visit and deliver consultations and training to multiple clients. This has already saved clients money and made my advice more effective. But it wouldn’t have happened without actions of key individuals responsible for designing these consulting engagements. I appreciate them for their courage to think and act differently.

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The New Year 2016 is upon us. Now may be the time to tally up 2015 results and make some new year resolutions.

The results don’t look very good! I neglected blogging for much of the year and published only two posts. This has to change in 2016. There is so much to write about: new stories, ideas, facts about how people work together, manage their work and their businesses as they try to deliver better products and services to their customers.

I also went through the blog archive and found several old posts that appear trivial and hardly useful to a visitor today. Some of them contained advice that I would not give today based on what I learned in the several years since. I deleted them! I also found several posts that touched upon important topics that were developed further since I wrote them. They deserve a proper follow-up and to be updated with the fresh facts and stories.

I also realized there is a scattering of comments and answers I posted on various media throughout the year. Somebody posted a question or a statement, I replied or commented, and somebody found that useful. Lessons from the past (LinkedIn Answers, StackOverflow and such) suggest that such content should eventually get a permanent home. And what better home for it than a personal blog.

Such are my blogging plans for the new year. Stay tuned!

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