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Living the life of an early stage startup has its challenges. One of the main ones has to be how to evolve and grow a product without much money.

Here at YourGrocer, we have had a great year with 30% growth month on month, so we are quite happy with our results.

A few months ago we had the opportunity to present our story to a group of product managers here in Melbourne. It was a great evening which gave us the opportunity to reflect on the product challenges we faced to this point. We looked back on our achievements & failures and found 4 areas that we believe helped define us.

Pragmatism

“Companies deliver nice products, a startup delivers a solution”

I read the sentence above on Twitter and it summarizes what we think about early stage companies. It’s so easy to get hung up on how perfect your…

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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.

I’ve been thinking about and researching the topic of organisational learning for some time now. Last year, I presented on the topic at LESS 2011, but realized it was time to take some time and write about it. So this is the first post of a series to explore the topic, which I’m also hoping will help me clarify my view on the subject.

Organisational learning. Should anyone care ?

My hope is that this goes without saying, but I guess that the first question to be asked is why should anyone care about learning? Some businesses make money staying still, while the world keeps moving. Full stop.

While this could be true for established business in the past, it’s something that is not so clear anymore. Gary Hamel makes a good point in his “Reinventing the Technology of Human Accomplishment” presentation: Change is changing, and it’s much faster now than it has ever been.

The world is changing, and faster than ever, so (every) company has to adapt, not only once but constantly.

Why is it so hard ?

A company has to learn. If this was an easy task, it wouldn’t be so rare, but creating a learning organisation is one of those things that gets harder the more you try and control it. If you want to form a learning organisation, a few questions you might think of are:

  • What does my company need to learn ?
  • If I had to setup the body of knowledge necessary to run my organisation, what would it be ?

While these could have been easy questions to answer 50 years ago, nowadays, in this ever changing (specially IT) world, whatever you write as being essential today might not be useful at all in one year’s time.

And the big issue is that most companies are not setup to deal with this problem. Instead of an evolving structure, modern organisations still have a very hierarchical structure based on top down control, with the vision of a CEO (put any other senior role here) that drives the strategy while most of the company just follows.

They have Project Management Offices that dictate how to deal with projects, architecture teams that say what can and cannot be done and common policies that dictate behaviour for everyone. Bjarte Bogsnes  has a good tale about how companie’s policies try to establish control over the employees:

“A friend of mine works at SAS. Even if he is trusted to fly planes around the world, if he wants to change his shirt more often than what the policy states, he needs a written authorization”

So the common alternative to evolution in this kind of structure are the well known “Change Programs”. They try to implement a top-down approach to change, that can be explained in two simple steps:

  1. Senior people decide how to move forward
  2. They teach the rest of the company how to do it

While step 1 is always a success, step 2 is usually more troublesome that people would like to think. And it’s not hard to understand why, since the whole idea of a change program is quite an unfair proposition to the affected employees, which could be described like this:

“You have to embrace change, but only the change we want”

As expected, people resist. Peter Senge has a quote that explains this situation quite well – “People don’t resist change, they resist being changed” – It’s natural that most employees will doubt and resist something that they haven’t been asked about. I would, and I’m quite confident that most people would too.

And as a result, money is spent, time and most importantly people are consumed through the process, and not much is learned in the end.

So is there an alternative to this situation ? Do you agree with this view ? Let me know what you think

If you have heard about Lean and Kanban software development, one thing you might be doing is measuring the cycle time for the cards in our project, meaning the time between when a card is started until it’s finally done.

I’ve been doing it for a while, and have tried a couple of ways to actually get the data so far, going from having a spreadsheet where I would keep all the dates when cards transitioned (very detailed and very complex to maintain) to the usual noting down those dates in the card itself (less complicated but still troublesome, since people would forget to write on the card when they moved it).

Since I’ve started my last project, Herry introduced me to a new way, which as most good ideas, is so simple and good that I wonder how I had never thought about it.

The way we have been doing now is using stickers to keep the count of the number of days a card has been on the board. Whenever it starts to get played, we apply one _put your favourite colours here_ sticker to it for every day it is in play until it’s done. We currently just have two states in our board (doing and accepting) so we have two different colours to track the days in each specific stage.

The reason I find it much simpler is because you don’t have the problem of getting dates wrong anymore, or have to remember to note things on cards when they move. The only action needed is to apply a sticker to every card being played after the standup.

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.

 

Last week I’ve presented the Lean Lego Game with Fabio Pereira at Agile Australia 2011. It was the first time it was run in a conference here in Australia, and I’m pretty happy that it was very successful. There were no spots left for the workshop with one day in advance, and we had quite a few people there to observe it.

If you were one of the participants, thanks a lot for coming!

It was also the first time we’ve tried a new format for the game, giving the possibility to each team to come up with their own process in the third round. It was quite interesting to see different ways that people approached the problem and I definitely think it was an improvement from the old way we did it.

As a last point if you don’t know yet, the game is distributed under the Creative Commons Licence. Get in touch with me or Danilo if you are interested in running it.

This week I will be participating for the first time at Agile Australia. Have heard lots of good things about it, so I am quite interested in presenting and also looking around what’s being presented. Besides meeting lots of interesting people, which is a given in conferences : )

We will be presenting the Lean Lego Game, which introduces Lean concepts using a fun and entertaining activity. This game was already presented at Agile US and XP Europe, but it’s the first time we are doing it in Australia.

Since Danilo couldn’t come (Australia is still far away from everything…), this time I will be presenting with Fabio Pereira, who has kindly agreed to help me. Everything is quite exciting since we made some changes to it based on feedback we’ve got, so we’re quite keen to see how it goes!

If you are around, please come join us on Thursday morning, and hopefully you will get something out of it. If you do, don’t forget to let us know your opinions.

And in case you don’t know it already, the game is distributed under the Creative Commons license. In case you want to run it in your company or some other group, we have all the material ready to help you, and are happy to distribute it.