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