Businesses and Silver Bullets

I’ve been teaching Lean Process Improvement or Six Sigma for about 6 years now. I’m getting into learning Agile in a pretty deep way through reading a ton of books, seeing it in action, and working with Agile teams. I’m currently learning Business Architecture/Enterprise Architecture as well. All of these methodologies are similar but different in some dramatic ways. Lean itself isn’t a project management solution, it has some features of it, but the goal is to take action put something in place and measure the results. Inherently, you’re supposed to be done as soon as possible. Six Sigma has some pretty strong Project management capabilities built into it, but it’s not to be used to install software or some other type of function, it’s design to solve a complex problem, prevent it from happening again and moving on. Agile is totally about managing projects while with as little overhead as possible, while maximizing visibility. This is done through frequent light weight touches and less frequent demos. Finally business architecture is about defining the structure of the business then identifying root causes. I’m the least impressed with Business Architecture at this point because it seems to have the objective of keeping the people at the top in charge while minimizing the amount of empowerment throughout the organization. That’s just my first brush with it though and I could be wrong. The other methodologies are all about empowering the team and the people doing the work so they can be as effective as possible. With Lean and Six Sigma the goal is to eliminate your own job if you’re an instructor or internal consultant, it doesn’t seem the be the case with Business Architecture.

Regardless, all of these methodologies indicate that our businesses are extremely sick. It’s becoming pretty clear to me that the vast majority of current state business practices are flawed and leading to under performing businesses. Lean Six Sigma, makes it clear that there are out dated and poor performing processes. Agile makes it clear that traditional software development doesn’t work and is much too expensive. Business Architecture indicates that no one knows what people are doing, why they are doing it, or where other parts of the organization are doing the same type of work.

In many cases some of the problems looking to be solved by Business Architecture are eliminated in a true Lean organization, but not always. I believe that is why Lean Startup methodology is becoming so popular in both new and old businesses. It’s a novel way to force change in an existing company, while in a Startup it helps keep the company healthy much longer. Furthermore, it forces the company to build effective organization structures early and continually test them.

With the majority of businesses being unhealthy due to out dated processes or aging systems, it’s no wonder why organizations are always looking for a silver bullet. They need a quick fix because nothing is working correctly. The goal to continually drive more and more profits prevents leaders from taking a hard look at what they are doing. Forcing investment in doing the right thing the first time or to do the right thing for the organization even if it takes more time and potentially money.

With my current process improvement classes and engagements I’m seeing a continually struggle between the way you should do Lean, focus on changing what you can, and the reality that most of the work is being done through systems. Even if I wanted to improve processes around the system there’s a limit to what I can do, because I cannot effect change on the underlying system. Changing those systems either IT or organizational can be impossible to do without a strong organizational will and clear strategy. Without either of those, any improvement or agile effort is doomed to fail.

Methodology, managers, and projects

When working on a project there are a few different ways to manage those projects. One is the traditional waterfall approach, which is your top down project where you have to use Gantt charts to figure out how long you think it’s going to take up front, where you’re given a set date that can’t change without a lot of effort to do a certain amount of poorly defined requirements, and a set amount of money to do the project. This approach has been how Windows and many video games have been produced in the past. It’s not really extremely effective and really no one really likes working a project conducted using Waterfall methodologies. There are risks, projects get cancelled and the project management can seem to be capricious and opaque. This leads to lack of trust and belief that management has the best interest in mind for both the project and the employees on the project.

To address these concerns a group of people created the Agile project management methodology. The goal was to value working software over documentation. Which means that each bit of software is broken down into the minimum viable feature, or the smallest piece of working software that could be packaged and used by a customer. The goal is to manage the project through adjusting how many of these features are going to be finished by the go live date. Effectively you build small bits of work instead of finishing one giant massive piece of software.

This approach is effective for other types of technology that have a modular architecture. There’s some minimum viable product, where you need a minimum set of features for the product to actually work. For example a cell phone needs to have a combination of features to function properly. Things like bendable screens would not be in the minimum viable product, but an excellent touch screen would be. These minimum viable features can be modulated based on the Kano model – which is useful for determining if a specific feature is basic, a pleaser, or a delighter. If the feature falls into basic, you must include that feature if you’d like it to be a success. However, those minimum features don’t guarantee a successful product, you’ll need to include pleasers as well as delighters. Those are the pieces of scope that you will be able to eliminate to make sure you actually launch the product on time.

Issues with these projects come whenever there is a mixture of methodologies. When management believes projects must be managed through waterfall through a central project results office while the development team believes the project is being managed through the agile methodology. This creates serious issues whenever there is miscommunication, lack of information, or lack of understanding the real status of the agile team’s approach. This is exacerbated by the required openness in the agile approach (where you are supposed to continually learn from your mistakes and have a conversation about all the problems you’ve had – to fix them) while in waterfall it is better for people to hide and place blame elsewhere whenever things are not going well. Not because people are bad, but the incentives are in place to behave this way. With a single option of go/no go, it’s better to minimize the known risks as if things are misunderstood as going poorly it will drive management to take action. While in an Agile team, discussing the true status of the project is vital through self policing and partnering with other agile teams to address the problem. The greater the likelihood of success of the projects.

This conflict and a switch from governance in the agile methodology can and will destroy the trust the various agile teams have developed. An organization needs to fully commit to a single project management methodology or it will struggle to complete any project within scope and budget and will demoralize the leaders of projects being worked in agile, as waterfall would likely be the methodology that management selects. Leaders of Agile projects should leave organizations that undercut the agile teams, as it will not stop and will have dramatic impacts on their careers in the long run.

Words, what are they good for?

At work, I’ve recently been given the task of redesigning all my training documentation and plans for Lean process improvement to something else. Apparently, despite successes, some of my leadership team doesn’t believe in Lean. However, they fully expect improvements such as reduced turn around times, quality improvements, and reduced non-value add activities to just happen. That it’s simply expected to occur without any top down pressure or support. Without clear direction or proper tools to measure improvement or even productivity, how can anyone expect to drive improvement in their organization?

Lean is a tool to do that, but since some leaders don’t believe that’s the proper way to drive improvement, we’re having to monkey with the idea of what it means to be an efficient organization. Therefore, I’m going to be rebranding everything to Process Innovation because Innovation. This does an interesting thing, it forces us to change the language we use for continuous improvement. We can’t use words like Gemba (the place where work is done), Kaizen (continuous change), Jidoka (automation with a human touch), Poka-Yoke (idiot proofing). or Muda/Muri/Mura (waste, overburden, unevenness). Using these words isn’t just to try to force people to learn some Japanese. It forces people to slow down and think differently.

Regardless of your thoughts on Malcolm Gladwell, he raises some really valid points about language in his book Blink, where he discusses the example of Korea Air and the usage of English as a language in the flightdeck because it changes the way the first officer and captain think about each other. Lean emulates this idea by forcing English speakers to use Japanese words. It forces people to stop and think about what they are doing. Yes, it’s a foreign word, but the meaning drives a change in behavior simply because it forces the people listening to slow down and think. According to Daniel Kahnman, system 2, deep and introspective thinking, is lazy and lets system 1, Blink thinking, do most of the work. A change of language and specific words triggers system 2 to actually pay attention and not just accept what is said as fact.

Now with Process innovation, I’m going to have to invent my own language and rules to try to force a similar behavior. I’ll have to lean heavily on Lean, Six Sigma, and other improvement methodologies rather than just Lean. However, this might confuse Lean folks.

It’s amazing the impact of a few phrases on changing the way people behave and it’s amazing how they can cause people to react in a negative way. Figuring out how to work around other people’s language hang ups is key for a successful work life, unfortunately.

Powerful Microsoft investor wants MS to focus on Enterprise

According to the Washington Post¬†an influential investor is pushing for a new direction at Microsoft. His goal is to get Microsoft to ditch the consumer market and focus solely on enterprise. He wants the X-Box gone (likely sold to someone), Surface gone (either sold or killed), and their other non-enterprise solutions eliminated as well. I think that from a Financial person’s perspective these are something of an obvious option. X-box isn’t killing it in the market, they are expensive and take a while to recoup the cost of development and all that. The Surface hasn’t had great sales – although it’s hard to separate weak sales of the Surface from the abomination of Windows 8 that sold with the bulk of them initially (I’d bet they’d be solid devices with Android on them).

I think it’s important to remember why Microsoft is Microsoft. It’s not entirely because of Enterprise. It’s because Operating systems are difficult to learn and people don’t want to learn more than one if they can avoid it. Only recently have the bulk of people been fluently on two different operating system – Windows/Mac/(few on linux) & iOS/Android/Windows Mobile/Blackberry. The most common interaction would have to be Windows & iOS and/or Android and Mac & iOS.

The reason for strong enterprise Windows sales is because of the massive consumer base that Microsoft has managed to hold on to despite it’s best efforts. If most people had to learn multiple different operating systems between home and work it would increase their stress levels at work. The skills they learned at home wouldn’t transfer well. I think this is also the reason why enterprise is conservative in upgrading their Windows OS – essentially skipping every other one. XP/Seven because those are the products that seem to build a strong enough user base on the consumer side. Most techies don’t like Win 8, so that hurts sales to Mom and Dad or their friends. They’ll tell them to avoid a product or get them to go back to Win 7 over 8 if possible.

The battle for the next OS is going to be fought on tablets and phones, before it’s fought on laptops and desktops. I know there are some tech experts out there calling for the death of the tablet, however, I think it’s far more likely that there will be a convergence between laptops and tablets. Where a tablet can meet our core needs of our laptop.

The more powerful of the two Surface products (Pro) was just that type of product. It was able to do a lot of WINDOWS laptop stuff, but in the form factor of the tablet. Should have sold well, except it cost a ton for a tablet or under powered laptop. I think that this really is the consumer space people will work from. We really don’t need more space unless we’re gaming and then people will build a desk top or buy a console.

Consoles – the X-box isn’t just a console, it’s supposed to be a full multimedia PC replacing the need of a desktop. You pair the Surface Pro with an X-Box and you’ve got everything you need for your house. This is what Microsoft is envisioning. Everyone is still using Office on their Surface, Skyping on both X-Box and Surface, and everything is based on the familiar (sort of) Windows OS. Keeping it front and center.

Let’s say MS ditches the console and Surface. They’d have to license out Windows to run on tablets and wouldn’t have the ability to help shape those conversations. They are competing with 2 Rabid fan bases in mobile OSes, one that many companies are able to use for free (with some licensing fees to MS), Google is pushing to replace MS in netbooks and likely other environments – Chromebook and ChromeBox. All of these could threaten their dominance as the work station in enterprise. For the bulk of the work I do, I could probably do it on a tablet as long as I have a compatible office suite.

Furthermore, MS isn’t the only option in many of the enterprise spaces. They aren’t the only OS, Office Suite, or Enterprise service company (Dell, IBM, Accenture, SAP, etc…) it’s not a guarantee this process would work. Furthermore, people are already talking about an Android server for some activities. These are all threats to MS core business OS and Office Suits. Leaving the consumer space only opens them up to more threats as people will want to stay in a similar environment.

This is another example of the Innovator’s Dilemma and MS should look to use Lean to help solve their cash and process challenges. Both the Surface and X-Box are good products. They just need to figure out how to find the right market for the Surface.