DARE2013 conference, Day 1

June 15, 2013

Read time 7 min

I attended DARE2013 conference in Antwerp, Belgium, on June 14-15 2013. The conference was earlier called “Re:Think Kanban”, so it was about Kanban, Agile, Lean and Systems Thinking. Here are my notes from day 1. Sorry for a long blog post..

I arrived the venue late (10:30), so I missed the two first keynotes. These were by Jurgen Appelo and Jimmy Janlén. I did see last 15 mins of Jimmy’s presentation about Spotify and that was very interesting. If just my flight would have been 30 mins earlier!

Session 1 / Benjamin Mitchell: More than just moving cards on a board: Demand-driven Product Development with Kanban.

Benjamin gave a presentation about his experiences with Kanban. He started with a case where team “was doing OK” but Benjamin was frustrated. Turned out that organization was missing purpose, or their de facto purpose was not motivating (“Make rich people even richer”). Then Benjamin presented Purpose – Measures – Method framework. In another case he explained that mindset impacts what we see: this case the team was frustrated when they kept looking  at remaining work while Benjamin was happy when he was looking at Done column.

After this Benjamin walked through Theaory of Action (mindset -> behavior -> results), Double-loop learning and learning model from Argyris (learning requires valid information and freedom to make choice and constant monitoring of actions).

Towards the end of the presentation he showed control charts and told about A/B testing.

My key takeaway was: Lot of our thinking is assumptions and we have to pay attention to test those assumptions. Otherwise we are limited to make poor decisions.

While the presentation was energetic, fun and had lot of interesting stories from digital media world, the link to Kanban was relatively weak. Also “demand-driven”, as promised in the title, did not quite realize.

Session 2 Mattias Skarin / Visualization – whats my brain got to do with it

This was something completely different. Mattias told us about brain and how it works and how we see. More precisely, how we process information and what that means to visualization at the workplace. Mattias showed several funny videos and pictures where we could test our capability to observe and see.

The session pointed out three issues with brain: (1) Flicker paradigm, our brain has very limited capacity to store visual information and we really live in the present (i.e. can not remember what we saw just a second ago), (2) Change blindness, we only see what we think is important and (3) stress greatly reduces our ability to see.

Putting these together Mattias proposed few ideas for visualisation on Kanban board: Use images that trigger our pattern matching capability, make it interactive so that more sense are involved and make it persistent so that we more easily spot changes.

My key takeaway: We have to teach people to see. If we try to visualize things that have no meaning for the audience (e.g. flow or WIP), they will not see it.

Mattias session was really worth joining. Some of the topics had very weak link to reality and they were anecdotes and interesting details. But in general this brough a new perspective to visualization and reminded that seeing is very subjective experience.

Session 3: Richard Moir / Are we solving the right problem? What happens when you apply the Vanguard method to IT systems

Richard started by introducing concept of system and systems thinking: rather than focusing on parts separately, try to focus to the relations of the parts. This was by the way very close to my presentation at Scrum Gathering Las Vegas (see video). Richard then claims that everyone in the organization has the best intentions, so why thing fail. Reason is flawed thinking, “industrialized management thinking” as John Seddon says.

After the intro, Chris Preston from Aviva presented their case. When Vanguard came in, the IT was a mess. Studying the work showed that 90% of work was other than SW development (coordination, management, “trying to look good”). Average lead time for 100 lines of code was 340 working days, 2 years, and the delivered stuff was probably wrong. This was because system conditions: multitasking, standard deliver, specialized teams. And this was because Thinking: manage costs, standardize, inspect for quality, look busy and control.

“I thought it was a culture problem, but it was actually a thinking problem”.

After intervention, things went better. There was 300% increase in productivity (90 days for 100 lines of code in now upper limit, usually delivers in 3-4 days). Waste is down from 90% to 60%. This was achieved by creating a System of single-piece flow, problem centered team, Value flow and continuous improvement. These were created by new Thinking: Design against demand, manage flow, learning and build quality.

After the case, Richard summarized their work in Aviva: (i) Study and understand what happens in organization and (ii) Understand what assumptions we have in our organization design, why are we organized the way we are

The presentation was well-structure and Aviva-case brought life to it. While most of Vanguard was familiar to me already, it was still good to see what happen in practice and h0w important it is to manage work against demand.

Session 4 / Vasco Duarte: See the “whole” – how Kanban can help you see the system and fix it!

Vasco told his experience about using Kanban to visualize things and improve. He started by interesting research results: while 75% of Agile adoptions fail, still 60%-70% of people would not want to go back to old ways of working. And since we have gone through lot of adoptions during the past 10-15 years, seems that trying new things is favored by people. Vasco mentioned that we as coaches and change-makers are actually responsible for hope and well-being of people.

Next Vasco presented causal-loop diagram of a problem he had. Pressure to do extra work caused need to have more people, which eventually led to off-shoring and that caused extra work due to communication issues etc. He then showed interesting process diagram, which is the most common in R&D or IT

(here be dragons) <–> R&D <–> (here be dragons)

R&D and IT are stuffed between marketing/sales and markets. That is an uncontrollable environment, especially if the organization has tendency to do any work that comes from either direction.

In order to solve this, Vasco showed the evolution of their Kanban system. From visualization of demand to merging two teams together in order to reduce dependencies. Finally figuring out that live system causes different kind of demand to the team that was invisible before.

But did this help? Vasco ended his presentation with a pessimistic tone: politics destroyed the good intentions of the teams. Acting only on the system, without changing the politics, is not taking us very far.

At the very end Vasco invited us to tell stories: blog about experiences, talk in conferences, spread the word. This, he said, helps to draw the map of the world. Just like the first explorers did.

Afternoon keynote: Steve Tendon 

Day ended with a keynote by Steve Tendon. He started with promotion of his new book about hyper-productive teams.

After the commercial break, he presented a business case for improvement: how should organization decide between XP or BDD. He viewed it from accounting & engineering perspective and tried to calculate what option would be best. Finally he came to an interesting conclusion that accounting-type of calculation would give wrong results because system had a bottleneck. Even the numbers showed shorter lead-times, the overall performance would not improve.

Then he told a story of Herbie from Eli Goldratt’s “The Goal”(boy scouts marching, one guy falls behind, how to keep the group going). How the constraints in the system should be treated. He pointed out that bottlenecks have significant economical impact of the outcome.

So far the presentation had been floating between embarrassing, boring and useless.

But suddenly Steve got to the point. He quoted Reinertsen who said traditional organization revolve around metrics about money, so we need to learn to talk their language. Steve’s message was: if we want to create hyper-productive teams we need to have (i) Unity of purpose and (ii) community of trust. And how to build this? By having a common goal.

One way of creating a common goal is to align the purpose and this could be done through financial or economical measures. Instead of measuring gross-profit or sales commission or resource utilization rate, how about measuring flow: how much money we make per day. This aligns the organization. While some parts may perform “un-optimal” way, the whole is optimized.

My key takeaway: Purpose aligns organizations. If we want to align everyone in the organization, we have to speak their language. Language of management is numbers and excel and we have to find a meaningful way to present the purpose in their language.

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