Stand inside a circle.
During skills training last month, I viewed a series of videos from the Gemba Academy on the seven wastes in business and processes. The material introduced the chalk circle teaching method of Taiichi Ohno. Draw a circle near an area to observe and stand in the circle for a pre-assigned time period. Record observations of the flow of work through the department. A key emphasis is placed on finding areas of waste. (Optional step, listen to “Stand by R.E.M.”- jk)
My mind started working a puzzle to define what this looks like in an office environment for Information Technology workers. The challenge is much of the work performed by IT uses inputs to-and-from a computer. Information and flow isn’t always physically visible. Combine this with employees that are not co-located and the observation circle for IT looks impossible.
But maybe I could create a virtual circle.
What’s at stake? A way to find inefficient processes that produce waste and processes that don’t meet customer demand. A way to identify areas to reduce the time between customer request and solution delivery. This is important stuff!
Now I have an action item to go draw a few virtual circles and stand in them. The first two areas I want to target are the software development process and service ticket flow.
- Virtual Circle #1 – Software features on a Kanban board. We use swimlanes to map the status of software features and bugs. The board can show information on the movement of features through the process which may reveal wastes in the areas of overproduction, defects, and waiting.
- Virtual Circle #2 – Ticket status in the HelpDesk system – Group requests according to status, entry date, or type to look for patterns and weaknesses. As with software development, this could show wastes in the areas of waiting, overproduction, or unnecessary movement.
I have no doubt that I’ll find areas of waste. The aim of using a virtual circle is to turn the observations into actionable tasks for removing wastes.
If you have ideas for methods for finding wastes in an office environment let me know. This is a puzzle worth working.
Onward and upward!
We need more people. We don’t have enough resources.
Every week I hear about the conflict between the number of employees in the organization and the amount of work to do. The underlying presumption is the organization can accomplish more by adding more people. The problem with this rationale is it takes the focus of solution delivery off the processes used to deliver solutions. Adding more people to a team is complicated:
- It adds more strain on inter-team communication. Whatever inefficiencies exist in the current team environment will become more apparent with more people.
- It creates the need to train and develop new people in the culture, business, and process flows of your company.
- It moves the process bottleneck to another departmental team. For example, if you add more developers then you need more business analysts for requirements documentation.
- It values urgent things over important things.
The right process will give the right results.
There are times when staff should be expanded. But it can’t be arbitrary and because the existing staff feels stressed about the existing workload. A better approach is to first examine the current environment for ways to work smarter and more focused. Process focused leaders look for ways to work smarter knowing that in the long run it will deliver greater capacity and more value added results. I don’t consider this doing more with less. I like to think of these actions as doing more with what you already have. Consider these approaches:
- Write less code – If our first solution to solving a problem is writing code, then we’ve missed the opportunity to solve the problem by simplifying the process. The ultimate solution may require less code. Keep it simple!
- Align value streams to your mission. – The activities we do that should be more important to us are the ones that align to our mission. The mission is a guide-post when deciding between what’s urgent and what’s important.
- Develop existing employees before adding more. – The existing staff can provide more capacity if they work on the right things with more efficient processes. To do more with less we have to believe that getting existing people to understand the power of process efficiency, focus, and alignment adds more capacity. Get employees to work harder, but not before you help them work smarter.
Onward and upward!
Photo Credit: Jim1102 via creative commons.
Part 3 of 3 – The Truth is…. I’ll share some truths about developers, managers, and processes in IT.
Writing about processes in business and technology has a gravitational-like pull.
I’ve written more on the topic of technology processes than any other topic since I began blogging in 2008. Some of my favorites include posts on process improvement, hiding behind processes, simplifying processes, and the purpose of processes. Process management is a topic that we’ll always have because it creates the model and basis for the underlying flow of business transactions. Unfortunately it’s at the forefront as an underlying contributor to some of the dysfunction between IT groups and their partner business functions as well.
I have always aimed to create environments that use processes with the goal to allow employees flexibility to make decisions that help the customer. That statement sounds so obvious that you could say it’s a given. But I don’t think it’s a given because many processes I’ve been a part of in the past seem to be centered on the process itself rather than the customer. My career has been influenced by what I considered overly burdensome processes and watching employees make decisions for the sake of checking-off a process step instead of getting done what needs to happen. Jim Collins in his book “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t” states that “Bureaucratic cultures arise to compensate for incompetence and lack of discipline, which arise from having the wrong people on the bus. A culture of discipline involves a duality. On the one hand, it requires people who adhere to a consistent system; yet, on the other hand, it gives people freedom and responsibility within the framework of the system.”
Finding the right mix.
The duality that Collins speaks of is goal I set when I define a process within a group of IT professionals. That’s not easy in an IT group because programmers think in 1s and 0s or black and white. Something is or it isn’t. Here are a few examples:
- Define a process that sets the criteria for when a work request is treated as a help desk ticket and when it requires review from a steering committee.
- Define a process that set the criteria for when it is necessary to run a full regression test on a software product.
- Define a performance management process for how to evaluate desktop/voice services personnel that use a job ticketing system for work management.
Some truths about IT processes.
- Your opinion about processes from the IT group is highly dependent upon your role in the process. Those that have to follow a process to receive a service tend to try to find ways to take shortcuts. Those that have to follow the process to provide a service tend to like the process because it protects their time commitment and is correlated to their performance ratings.
- IT processes are influenced by multiple sources. Standards organizations, litigation, process and frameworks are the most common sources. But sometimes processes are created to counteract bad behavior from IT employees and business customers. Processes that continue to add steps to offset bad behavior will lose sight of servicing the customer.
- Every standards organization believes their process is the best. There are variations to software development lifecycles and spirited debates about what works best. The reality is that business environments and cultures vary. The best processes are the ones that fit and mold to the culture in which they exist and that stay focused on the customer.
- Most people don’t avoid a process because they don’t believe it will help them. They avoid the process because they think it will take too long to get what they want. It’s the same concept as a driver that intentionally chooses to not get in a traffic line (stop light or interstate backup) and move forward only to cut-in-line later.
- IT processes, like every other type of business process, exist to create standardized work, efficiency, and quality. They should never be considered complete but only in a state of production that includes measurement to see if adjustments are required.
Onward and upward!