Inspection

“If we keep doing what we’re doing, we’re going to keep getting what we’re getting.”

– Stephen Covey

The idea of inspection is something that has occupied my thoughts lately. In business, I have recently held a product development leader level retrospective to identify those items that we see as continued pain points, those items of which we are especially proud of their success and want to continue to invest in and those items for which the experiment has not gone as planned and we may need to abandon.

In my personal life, I have been reflecting a great deal lately on my own path and asking myself am I truly guiding my own ship (my personal and professional career) in the direction I want it to be heading. I had been asked recently by a trusted colleague and friend what my goals were. Although I felt I had them in my head, I realized that I had not really set them down to achieve and decomposed into what I needed to do to get there.

Inspection is one of the core components towards a thoughtful and, in my opinion, successful agile transformation. Without the ability to reflect on your current state you may find you often limit your growth overall by just continuing to ignore nagging patterns of dysfunction or merely not pushing yourself to improve even further. Also, you can find yourself trying to course correct something that may not be working at all (due to the present constraints or maybe just being a bad idea) and wasting effort focusing on things that need more attention or need seeding for growth.

As the idea of agility is centered around empirical processes, it has wired into its very concept that making observations regularly leads to a continually corrective path. At a team level, I think many of the frameworks cover this through the prescribed rituals they have within them. I wanted to examine a few of these briefly.

scrum

Scrum maintains several rituals and processes that support in a structured way inspection on the work being done.

  1. Daily scrum – A time boxed meeting that allows the assessment of state and risk (yes, this is risk management on a daily basis). This process allows a team to a) get insight into the work completed, the work outstanding and to provide visibility into current impediments so that they can offload the problem for assistance or solve it as a team.
  2. Sprint review – Another time boxed meeting that allows for rapid feedback at the conclusion of the sprint cycle to determine if the work has met the acceptance criteria of the stories undertaken in the sprint and the team defintion of done. This also allows an opportunity to respond to current product progress to determine if the business should pivot the product or persevere in the direction the product is headed.
  3. Sprint Retrospective – An opportunity for the team to inspect the team and their teamwork as a whole. It is often reflected in the prior sprint to get insight into how they might continually improve and create actionable items that can be undertaken in the next sprint as well as reflect on the improvement of the team itself.
  4. Backlog prioritization meetings – This GASP (generally accepted scrum principle) allows intervals of inspection into the product backlog to reflect on the current priorities and complexity. Doing this allows the development of an idea of dependencies and how things might be group in a productive way for future presentation to teams for sprint cycles.

These are definitely not all of the ways in which scrum teams inspect the work but a few that stand out.

kanban

kanban demonstrates inspection through the core components of designing the kanban system to model: 1) visualize the workflow 2) control the “work in progress” and 3) seek continuous improvement .

  1. Pull system – The very nature of kanban as a pull system approach allows continuous inspection of its backlog and reprioritization of the items needed to be worked.
  2. Visualizing the workflow – Often a key component in the design of a kanban approach, the inspection of the process to be modeled for the purpose of visualization is key to understanding how the work flows within the process.
  3. Controlling the “Work in Progress” (WIP) – kanban establishes controlling the work in progress as one of the key components to the overall process and philosophy. Controlling the WIP in itself is a type of inspection that allows inspection of the various state queues of the workflow to determine bottlenecks or overload. This continued inspection allows us to adjust the work to optimize the flow.
  4. Continuous Improvement – The underlying principle that a kanban system should seek to eliminate “muda” or waste is a core principle as well. Therefore it is critical that we inspect the approach and seek ways to improve the flow of the work.

Why Inspection is important

Albert Einstein defined insanity as “continuing to do the same thing with an expectation of a different result”. Inspection helps us rise above this vicious cycle by determining the state of the outcome or process and making a conscious decision to pivot or persevere moving forward. Without inspection of what we are undertaking, we are most likely doomed to repeat the same patterns and reach the minimal optimum of progress. If we just take a conscious moment to inspect what we do and ensure that we are truly continuing to receive the outcome we seek or optimize our approach, we are more likely to be responsive as the winds of change blow across us. It also allows us to reject those items that are not working and seek to adapt a better course of action. We often find ourselves so busy in the “doing” that it becomes easy to lose sight of the overall goal.

So, take a moment and reflect on some of your important courses of action. Are they where you want them to be? Are they minimally impactful or are you achieving the goals you seek? Even if they are impactful, do you know why they are working and how you can take them to the next level or create prolonged sustainability.

I end this post with some solid words with a solid quote on the value of practicing reflection of our efforts:

“Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action.” – Peter Drucker

 

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Tribes

“Human beings can’t help it: We need to belong. One of the most powerful of our survival mechanisms is to be part of a tribe, to contribute to (and take from) a group of like-minded people.”  from the book Tribes by Seth Godin

I have been doing a good deal of what I call “skim reading” lately. It’s a process that I use that allows me to get some overview of a book I am interested in before I invest my total attention to the book itself. What has interested me the most within the past few months is the idea of “tribes” inside an organization.

The reason I even started exploring this idea was simple and two fold. As a leader, I have a strong belief in 3 core principles surrounding this idea:

  1. I believe that ability to make decisions that affect the work should be made at the lowest reasonable level.
  2. If I did my due diligence and hired well, then I have to have trust those whom I have hired.
  3. I ask everyone that I lead to apply (at a level outside of their personal satisfaction) the measurement of reasonableness and responsibility. Are we doing something that makes sense for the organization and is it responsible to ourselves, our team members and our organization? If we can meet this litmus test, I am willing to back an experiment to learn.

The other rationale for my exploration of this idea is selfish. I saw a good deal of items “in queue” for myself and my team leaders without much movement and more and more ideas coming on the horizon. We were stuck. I realized that if my organization expected me to care about everything with the same passion that the person originating the idea had, I might always be the bottleneck as the horizon is far too vast.

So after spending some time skimming materials and thinking of what might be holding back, I decided to try an experiment and see how it stuck. This is how the use of tribes began to be something I cared about. An idea came to me that I could better serve my organization by harnessing the power of other people’s passions and creativity to move items as opposed to trying to be the launching pad for new ideas.

What is a tribe?

My definition of a tribe is a loose voluntary collection of individuals that self-organize around a defined cause and work to implement action from their group to address the need. I know some may think this sounds like a committee but there is one critical distinction, the tribe is voluntarily created from those individuals passionate about the idea or willing to invest their own time and energy and not people assigned to carry something forward to an action.

Also, I think another key distinction is that these tribes do not have to exist in perpetuity, the form, change and dissolve via guidance of the tribe itself. How many “planning committees” have you found yourself on that lived on well after the usefulness of the meeting to develop a plan had been met?

How many of these committees such as these have you found yourself appointed to in which you had little to offer, were appointed based on role or just basically did not care about the outcome? My thought is that if we harness the passion of people who are truly interested in an idea and allow them to apply their own creativity, we stand the potential to gain amazing results. Three examples from my current environment are:

  • A tribe that determined how to organize birthday celebrations for people in our group. This tribe really likes the idea of personalizing this and worked diligently not only to produce a list of people’s birthdays but surrounding information around team members so that the celebrations could hold higher personalization.
  • A tribe that helped craft our final core team values and took ownership to work with me for input and ensure that unit presentation and buy-in occurred.
  • A tribe that has surrounded the idea and organization of our first Shipit event including branding through logo creation, planning, support and organization.

These are just three current examples of how we used this concept and the outcomes from a group of passionate people surrounding an idea.

 How does this work?

I wanted to keep the idea as simple as possible so that we did not find ourselves bogged down in process over trying to get something done.

Process

  1. If you have an idea for which you want to garner tribal support, send out a “call to action” for volunteers. Currently this is an email out to our group. I’d like to think about a more visible way to do this as my hope is to spread the idea across the division (maybe a tribe for that?)
  2. Tribes ideas are discussed in the leadership meeting (the tribal council) bi-weekly to ensure that we are doing things that are in line with missions and goals. This is not a rigorous test but just for visibility primarily.

Guidance

  1. Tribes are voluntary. If no one steps up to join your tribe, then this might be a solitary passion or not the right time to generate action on this idea. Do not take it personally.
  2. The owner of the idea for which the tribe is sought is the chief and default point person for that tribe. It is their responsibility to make the idea and action visible, get backing or resources needed (or reach out for tribal support) and implement.
  3. It is unnecessary for lead members to be on any or every tribe. In our organization, everyone has a voice in how we work and tribes should reflect this. Leaders might be seen as guides for which ideas can be discussed, clarification given, information obtained, etc. I believe that this helps people feel connected to each other and to the organization as a whole by knowing that their voice is heard.
  4. Tribes will band and disband as dictated by value and the group. If improvement of a prior tribal idea is sought, a new tribe can be created in the future (supports continual improvement) or the former tribe may re-group.

Tribal Responsibilities

  1. Once formed, the tribal members determine how and when they meet.
  2. Once an actionable plan is formed (and any supporting needs met) the tribe should make visible their intent to implement this action.
  3. The tribe is responsible for gathering feedback if needed and adjust as appropriate.
  4. The tribe stays connected until they determine the action is in place and disbands if necessary.
  5. If I tribal action fails, we learn from it and move on. we don’t dwell on it. We “improve or move on”.

Benefits of Tribes

I think the core value to using this concept is that we support a cultural idea that anyone can drive change in their world. This gives them a mechanism to do this.

Secondly, to be an effective leader, we cannot give our attention and care to every idea that comes up. This allows us to utilize the creativity and drive of people who have a passion for an idea to drive change. I am a firm believer that if someone is passionate about an idea, they will work harder to make a better concept if given the space to do.

Third, it supports self-organization and self-management principles within your organization. It allows groups to guide how they work together in the best way possible to the group. By leaving the guidance out of the organizational structure, it allows the tribal members to shape how they interact and how they manage the idea to action.

Last, it supports trust within our organization. If as a leader, we do a good job of communicating base level expectations of how we approach things as an organization and we hire for the best people who fit culturally and skill-wise into our organization, then we are doing a true disservice to our team not to trust them and allow input, daily work decisions and drive for change not the lowest possible level.

I wanted to share this idea and how I implemented it in my organization.  This is not a new concept by any means; and used in tribal leadership management styles, holacracy and a lot of other team focused management approaches, but this is how we do it.

So, I ask you … Is there a nagging need in your organization that has been hanging around with no traction to action? Do you think there are others who are impassioned to see this succeed? Maybe try forming a tribe, even if informally as an experiment. You might be impressed to see that idea move towards action.

I came across a quote regarding tribes and found it meaningful while thinking about this post that I will close with …

“You are truly home only when you find your tribe”
– Srividya Srinivasan