To close my participation at LAST Conference, I’ve presented a follow up of the talk I’ve done at LESS 2011, talking about why I believe most organisations are not set up for learning.

In the presentation I’ve explained my thoughts on why I believe change programs are often unfair to employees, asking them to embrace change, but only the one that management is putting forward.

I’ve also talked about learning within organisations, product teams, and how management teams should step back and understand their new role as leaders instead of controllers of the company.

If it sounds interesting to you, there is more info here.


Last week I’ve presented with Herry at LAST Conference about our experience of helping forming a new distributed team in Melbourne and Xi’an while transferring the knowledge of an existing product.

It was an interesting challenge since what we had a not so simple task to do, which was to

  • finish a major release of an existing product
  • ramp down the existing team in Sydney
  • create a new team distributed between Melbourne and Xi’an
  • transfer the knowledge as smoothly as possible, so the new team could start delivering new functionalities as soon as possible

It was great to talk about our experience for the first time, and the amount of questions that came from the audience showed us that it is a interesting (and controversial) topic for other people as well.

The slides are available here, unfortunately it’s hard to get all the content just based on them, but just get in touch with us if you have any.

Last Friday I’ve participated in the Lean, Agile & Systems Thinking conference, which was a one day event organised by Craig and Ed  with the intention to be a day with content “from practitioners” and “to practitioners”.

I have told both of them and a bunch of other people, but it won’t hurt to say again that I believe Australia was in need of an event like this, organised by the community and with focus in providing useful content more than anything. Its success was definitely proven by the attendance and also the twittersphere on the day, so if you haven’t congratulated them yet, don’t wait any longer!

I’m going to try to share what Ive heard around the event here, but there are definitely more places to look for, and videos of some sessions should be available soon.

Storytelling by Shawn Callahan

I’ve started the day by going to the double session from Shawn from Anecdote on business storytelling. I’ve been reading on the subject for a while and the session was very interesting.

After proving in a story telling exercise that everyone has a story to tell (and that we start telling them after we hear other people doing it!), shawn spoke about the storytelling spectrum and how we should keep the business stories on what he called the small ‘s’ version, avoiding the risk of telling something so epic that it makes us lose the engagement of our colleagues.

He also spoke about anecdote circles, where people gather to tell stories about the environment they are in, and gave a few examples and tips on how to create questions that will spark stories from people:

  • Never ask why questions
  • Use when and where
  • Make open questions
  • Ask for an example if answer is too narrow
  • Include emotions, as in “when did you feel like … ?”

Some examples of questions:

  • What have you seen lately that has surprised you?
  • When was the last time that something small made a big difference?

He finished the session talking about a story narrative and how you can construct a story, showing video examples of great story tellers and how they used the elements he was talking about.

Overall a great session, definitely recommended if you have the opportunity!

Cynefin Model by Kim Ballestrin

Kim gave an overview of what the Cynefin model is and how she is using that in her current work.

Having had a brief understanding of the model beforehand, it was really useful to see someone talking about it in action, and what it could be used for.

She gave an example of how the model can be used in classifying types of work, and then using the classification to execute them differently. She used three categories for that:

  • Complex Work (with uncertain outcome) – Create experiment and test it the cheapest way possible, to verify if it’s worth being done
  • Complicated Work (where analysis is required)  – Analyze
  • Simple Work (where outcome is certain)  -Build

She spoke about what an experiment actually is in that context and how it could be just a conversation, giving the example of a kids’ party, where parents are constantly assessing risk and acting on weak signals.

Live Below the Line by Claire Pitchford

Claire spoke about her experience as a business analyst in the Live Below the Line project, where they had to deliver a campaign website in six weeks.

She talked in some detail about the inception process that was performed with the client and the whole team during one week, helping everyone get to a shared understanding of the project, and how different tools as personas, storyboards, stories and estimation where used in the process.

It was a very practical talk about what was done, and also quite impressive that she was happy to talk about everything that went wrong, things she tried and didn’t work but also what she learned during it.

As I mentioned before, it was a great day above all. I also have presented on two sessions during the day, and will write about it in separate posts.

I’ve been to quite a few conferences in the past few years and one thing that is always a contention point is how to gather feedback from presentations. Solutions that I’ve seen go from feedback forms and putting votes in a ballot to high tech iPhone apps where you can register your impressions.

At LESS 2011, the organizers ditched the standard forms and went with simple post-its for feedback.

Instead of answering multiple questions, all you had to do is to grab a post it (available in all chairs) and stick it on the right place on the door when leaving (picture below). If you had anything more to say, you could write it in the actual post it, which were then delivered as they were written to the presenters.

   That’s it! Simple and effective.

A couple of months ago I did a graphical facilitation training with fellow Thoughtworkers in Sydney. The training itself was excellent and gave us a much better understanding on how to use graphics to facilitate a meeting/workshop. Unfortunately I haven’t been in many situations that would allow me to use those skills lately, but wanting to somehow exercise them, I’ve decided to use graphical recording on my notebook to try to follow the presentations I attended at LESS 2011.

Here are some examples of the results. I’m sure I could get better at it but the fact that I’m able to look a t it 2 months later and still remember what was presented says to me I’m on the right track.

Apart from that, the act of recording and try to create an explanation of what is being said makes me pay much more attention on the content. And it also helps me perceive when Im actually not understanding what is being said (or it is actually too hard to understand..), which happened a couple of times during the conference, as you can see from this example.

One of the things that attracted my interest to LESS 2011 was the Beyond Budgeting track. Having read the book a couple of years ago, it is definitely a topic that catches my interest. And it was even better that the first keynote was presented by Bjarte Bogsnes, talking about how beyond budgeting is used at StatOil

As any presentation write-up, this is just my understanding about what was presented, so please don’t hold the presenter on to what I’m writing here :)

Why ?

The first question Bjarte addressed was why the need for something different. And I believe this sentence explains it all

January-December is artificial for business and just works for accounting. But this is not accounting

He followed by explaining that StatOil is always trying to get the best performance they can (who isn’t!), and coupling everything they do to an accounting mechanism (the budget) doesn’t make sense for them. He illustrated it with a comparison between the use of traffic lights and roundabouts. While the first is easier to use and provides more control, the latter actually provides better results because it relies more in the current situation than on statistical analysis.

We need to find more self regulating ways to manage a business, and beyond budgeting is one of them.

Bjarte used Douglas McGregor’s Theories X and Y to explain how we traditional management doesn’t usually trust people and relies on a stable environment to succeed, but in a dynamic environment in which most companies are inserted today, we need to start trusting our employees much more, and that is where beyond budgeting stands.

He had a nice example to show the lack of trust some companies impose, about a friend who is a SAS pilot, and even when he is trusted to fly planes full of people around, if he wants to change his shirt more often than it’s stated in the company’s policy, he needs a written authorization for it.

How does it work ?

According to Bjartes, the problem with budget is that it’s a single tool used for three separate purposes: Setting targets, creating forecats and allocating resources. Since these results are usually different from each other (targets are what we want, forecasts are what we expect to get), we won’t get an optimal result from using it.

In StatOil they have developed an alternative format of planning called Ambition to Action. These are a few principles that are used when cdefining it:

  • Good performance is being better than those we compare ourselves with
    • It could be external companies or even ourselves, which means we are learning.
  • Do the right thing
    • Every new joiner receives a StatOil book (a thin one!) with some of the principles that guide the company, so they can all use their business judgement and make decisions when needed.
  • Resources are made available and allocated on a case by case basis
    • Bjartes compared having an yearly budget to having a bank that opens for only a month throughout the year. How can anyone make timely decisions with that ?
  • Business is forward looking and action oriented
  • Performance measurement is holistic, and composed by 50% results and 50% behaviour

These principles are used to define what to do in the company, in a process that goes like this:

1. Strategic Objectives -> 2. KPI’s -> 3. Action & Forecast -> 4.Individual goals

So the company is going to set strategic objectives which are then converted in KPI’s. These are used to define the things that need to be done (Ambition to action), which reflect on how performance is measured for everyone in the company.

Some interesting thoughts he shared when explaining the process were:

  • The perfect KPI doesn’t exist, since not everything that counts can be counted.
  • StatOil creates around 1100 Ambition to action plans, and these are not a reporting tool, but more a guidance on how you as an employee should manage him/herself. Apart from that, everything is open, so everyone can see everyone’s else goals.
  • Performance measurement is usually based on teams and, as said before, divided between results and behaviour. Assuming that the environment very often changes, how someone behaved in that occasion is as important as the results he/she delivered.

The last point that was made during the presentation is how StatOil is moving from a calendar-driven model to a business-driven one. There are no more annual versions of Ambition to Action being created, and they can be changed at any time. The performance review is still happening annually, but Bjartes mentioned they are currently revisiting it now.

Overall it was a great introduction to Beyond Budgeting and how it is applied at StatOil. If you are interested, there is more information here and here.

Bjartes is speaking in the Thoughtworks Live Australia event. If you have a chance to go, don’t miss it.

Everytime me and Danilo presented the Lean Lego Game, the common phrase we heard from the participants was

 We want to make this process better!

so for some time we had thought it creating a similar game focused only in continuous improvement, which would allow attendees to learn about improvement principles and practices while having some fun with Lego bricks : )


This idea has turned into reality in the format of the Kaizen Lego Game, which was presented for the first time at Agile 2011 in SaltLake City, earlier this year. Unfortunately Danilo couldn’t make it, but I was lucky enough to have Pat Kua as the substitute, helping me a lot with all the work involved in it.


Keeping the same format as the original one, the idea behind this workshop was to create an immersive environment where we could introduce continuous improvement principles and practices while improving a small Lego production line. Amongst the topics we focused during the workshop were:

  •  Kaizen
  • Value Stream Mapping
  • Inventory
  • Waste
  • Standards & Improvement
  • Cycle Time
  • 5 Whys
  • Cumulative Flow Diagram (CFD)

I was quite pleased with the result for the first time we presented it. The attendance was very good and we had great positive feedback (and also suggestions for improvements, which were great!).

Want to run it yourself ?

As with the Lean Lego Game, all the material to run the workshop is available through a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial license. If you are interested, feel free to run and adapt it, as long as we get given the appropriate credit and that you don’t use it for commercial purposes. We also would appreciate receiving some feedback on how it worked out for you.

We have created a package containing all you need to try it out in your environment, including:

  •  Facilitator’s Guide: instructions on how to run the workshop
  • Print material: instructions for participants and worksheets using during the activity
  • Slides

Just get in touch via email to request it!

Kaizen Lego Game by Francisco Trindade & Danilo Sato is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial 3.0 Unported License.