Thursday, October 23, 2014

Effective revisted

I'm talking a lot about effectiveness and how it difference from efficiency. This probably have to do with two things; first - the difference between these two concepts is at the heart of the lean mindset. The second fact is that I'm Swedish.

Swedish is a very poor language compared to, for example English, that is much richer. If I was to translate the first sentence of this blog post in Swedish you'll get what I mean:
Jag pratar ofta om effektivitet och hur det skiljer sig från effektivitet
Ah, the poverty! It's the same word. There's no difference... in Swedish. I've still to understand if that means that Swedes are focused on effectiveness of efficiency.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Vision statements - why not say what you REALLY mean?

I'm working with vision statements and strategic planning right now. Man - this an area that is really misunderstood and misused I think. Also, and that's what this post is about, I think it's deliberately this way in order to get some wiggle room. I don't understand that. We'll get there.


As always I've learned a great deal while diving into this area again and here are the definitions that we are using and that I think is clarifying:

  • Mission statement - Why are we here? What is our purpose? For example; Why do the Salvation Army exists in Indonesia? 
  • Vision - when we are doing the mission perfectly - what would that look like? This is a dream, a target and something to aspire to. 
  • Strategic plan - how will we get from where we are today to the vision? 
  • Business plan - what kind of actions and resources will our strategic plan require from us? When or in which order are we planning to do the actions? 

What is this good for?

Guidance. If you read this blog you know that I'm not specifically into detail planning. I don't think it's feasible. For one simple reason; the future is unknown. It's really the only thing that we know about it - it will not be exactly how we planned it. 

However - the list above is very handy anyway I think. Most of the points are not about planning but guidance, alignment and policies for how we act. In that regard this is greatly valuable. 
Hey, it's one of those days, I even think that the last point (that is planning) could be useable. This too will show us where we planning to go. From where we are now. With what we know. 

As long as we understand that these things will change, there's no problem. 

There's a problem here

However... I found that many organisations are VERY reluctant to change these lists. To be quite frank the first point (the mission) maybe shouldn't change. That would mean to change the whole reason for the organisations existence. That is basically destroying the organisation and rebuilding it into something completely different. 

But the vision... might change. If we need to do some drastic adaptations to a new reality for example. Just imagine how the Internet has changed business models. The vision for companies like N.Y. Times and CNN I imagine shifted radically with the new possibilities in a new media.  

From Kanban in Action
Strategic plans is very interesting, I think, and here we should be prepared to change much more than the previous ... levels. This has to do with a very important part that I've wrote in italics above: "where we are today". 

This is also one of the really powerful tenants of kanban: "start where you are - change in small steps". 

The Commissioner of the Salvation Army (CEO in business terms) in Indonesia told me an old English joke that is suitable here:
A man drove up to a woman on the sidewalk, in London, and asked: 
"How do I get to Piccadilly circus from here?" 
The woman responded:
"Oh... that's hard. I wouldn't start from here" 
This is funny (or well...) because it shows that we often don't take the reality into our plans. You know what - it's out there. There's no use lying to ourselves and plan from a place where we not are now. This is how it looks, this are our financial state, these are our customers etc. Now - let's improve towards the wonderful state our vision talked about.

The last part, business plans, is just an example, suggestion in my mind. Here one could benefit greatly from the thinking behind rolling wave planning; for things that is close in the future (next week) we have more details planned, for things that further in the future we leave details out.

Remember that you hold the dial for how much details you put in there. And hence your disappointments... 

You were speaking about a problem?

Oh, forgot about that... Well the problem I have seen a lot is that people and organisations in them are very reluctant to change. About anything. Especially vision statements. 

So we write very lofty statements, with big fluffy words like "holistic", "empower", "best within selected areas", "leading" and "famous".
Often when I don't understand or if I question if what we do really fits into the vision the answer is (had this experience with many clients):
Well, you could say that holistic means... 
Best really means that we are ...
The intention of leading was more like ...
This is playing the victim blame game a bit. If it was your intention - why not write that then? How am I supposed to understand what you mean when your vision said something that was so lofty that I didn't get it the first time around?

Either it was a mistake or, you didn't want to be clear and crisp on purpose. Most organisations spend a lot of money and time doing these statements, so the it's probably not lack of competence. So why are we unclear on purpose?

The answer that comes back again and again to me is; because it's hard to change those. In some organisations the vision statement is written into the constitution. I'm in one right now. Updating the vision means that we need to reregister legal documents etc. etc.

So what? To me it's much better to be clear and understandable with the vision that to avoid work. The vision is intended to guide us and show us what to do. Please make those directions clear.


Good indicators and guides are hard to write. It's hard to get it right. But once created can prove invaluable to help and guide people in your organisation. 

What is your approach to the problem that they are hard to write? 
Do you think really, really hard and then carve it in stone write it once so that you never never have to change this again? 
Or do you change your process here so that you think hard for a short while and then make it easier to change and communicate - so that you have a living dialog about your vision and strategy. 
You choose. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

cc all the things

We are working a lot with trust and transparency in my current team. Specifically on the transparency item one "trick" we have been using is to cc the entire team in as many conversations as possible.

I picked this practice up from the Stripe company and specifically this article, which is a great read if you haven't seen it before.

Yes, they cc the whole company on everything. And I've seen this practice in action at Spotify to certain extent as well.

By now some of you need oxygen; MY GOD! My inbox will be flooded. And how could anyone be expected to read all of that?! Do these people do any real work?

There's three comments that needs to be made here, that I have repeated a lot when trying to implement this in all kinds of teams;

First; you are not expected to read or act on this. CC stands for Carbon (moahahaha!) Copy and simply means that you get a copy. I'd suggest you train the rest of your organisation in how to properly us this and DO not answer to emails that you are CC on, only to the ones sent TO you.

Secondly (related to the first); get good at using the email tool and help others to become better too. I have a very simple rule that takes everything that I am cc-ed on and just put it in a separate folder; "Inbox - CC". I read that when I have time over.

Thirdly (and most important): there's a symbolic value in sharing the information with everyone. We trust each other to let everyone in on all the things. We trust each other to act wisely with that information. We believe that more minds are better than fewer and strive to become more and more transparent with our information.


The main idea here is not that everyone knows everything all the time, but you already have that information at your finger tips. You can just find it in your email. It's already there!

We don't expect you to act on everything - but you are encourage to take part and offer your opinion in matters that are important and interesting to you.

This is where we trying to go.
CC all the things!

You already have that information.
We share everything

Some thoughts about waste and waste reduction

Every Lean practitioner goes through a phase of "waste elimination frenzy". At least the ones I've met. Ah, well.... I did at least.
This usually happen in the beginning of your Lean journey when you realise that if you can remove waste the flow would be improved and value will be created faster and more effective.

Now we go out on a hunt to find that pesky waste. Kill it! Off with it head! We search for it high and low. "This is wasteful - let's stop it!", "This report is that really adding value... I think it's waste", "Why should have this meeting/function/role/process? WASTE!"

I think this is where many Lean initiatives goes wrong. We're so focused on removing things instead of adding value. It's savings, reduction and removals where it should be improvements, values and focus on people.

From time to time I see people myself try to define waste. So we easily know what we can remove and what stays. I'm not saying that this is not fruitful, it's just ... hold on I'll get there.
Yesterday I saw a really fun and good way of having you think about what is waste and not, by Jon Terry:

I shared what I learned from David J Andersson as a good way to identify what is waste or not. It was quite the wake-up call for me, but it's a very sharp tool. David said that standup-meetings was waste, in the true Lean-sense. The agileist in me rebuked of course and then David said:
Well... if it's not wasteful it's adding value. So why don't you do more of it? Let's do it all day long? 
And I forcefully answered: "Oh yeah?! But a......aeeee..... yeah, you are correct. Sir."

What's a little waste really?

Because it's true. Standup is not directly adding value. 
Just as raising the hammer to hit the nail is not driving the nail into the board. It's just preparing to do that. But maybe, just maybe, there's a better, more effective way to drive nails into the board. Like a nail gun. Or do we need nails altogether? The value comes from the finished product, not the individual nailed boards. Maybe we should glue them together? 

Let's bring it back to standup. Most people I've met find these short meetings valuable. But they are, in the true lean-sense, waste. How can this be? 

I learned a little phrase (also from David J Andersson, if I'm not mistaken) that helped me to get this clear:
Value trumps flow, flow trumps waste elimination 
What this means is that we're first of all focusing on getting value - being effective, reaching our goal. After that to have a good flow in our system and then on waste elimination. Or in other words: if there are a way to get more value out of our system without flow (?!) we take that route. And if we can get flow with waste still present we don't need to eliminate the waste - we have flow.

Many Lean initiatives goes the other way; eliminate the waste to get better flow to get value.

What is waste elimination good for then?

I think it's important to understand that waste elimination is just a tool to make our process more efficient. But it's not a goal in itself to eliminate waste. The goal is to increase the value that the system is producing. 

Meaning that the hunt for waste should be treated as you smell the diapers of a baby (to borrow from Kent Beck and his code smells analogy):
If smell something bad you should at least investigate. It doesn't have to mean problems, but it's worth a quick check just to make sure...
Or closer to the topic at hand:
Waste in the system should at least be investigated. Maybe there's problems that are hindering us, maybe not. Better check it out. 
So the next time someone says; "I heard that Marcus said that estimating/standup meetings/[your favorite long held practice here]" you can reason with that stubborn consultant.

  • Yes, but we get better flow from this (as the case of standup, due to information sharing)
  • Yes, but our system is producing value faster (as might be the case of estimates... who knows)
  • Ok, let's see if there's another way to write our code with less errors faster than to do TDD. I'm open to find out, if you can show me the increase in flow or value. 

Waste reduction is about becoming more efficient.... but that's not as important as becoming more effective.

Todo: Add tests ...

I added this line in a README file for one application I'm writing now. Like I have done before many times. However, for the longest time I have written my tests first, maybe not TDD or even unit tests, but I write the test first. Most of the times.

But not this time. Because I was in a hurry and I didn't think that this application would be something we'd use.

And of course we ended up using it. And creates a financial record and prints a receipt. It's kinda of important that it's correct.

It just struck me:

  • how much harder it is to write the tests afterwards
  • how much I change in my production code, that wasn't in place, when I go through it and test it
  • how much more boring it is to write the tests afterward
  • how easy and tempting it is to "cheat" and not test the hard stuff
  • how hard the feeling "this is not done/safe/correct/complete" hits me in the face
  • how little satisfaction I get from completing a test. It's just like paying off an overdue bill. "Yes, I should have done this before. Now it's done". 
I'm not saying that You have to write your tests first. I'm just saying that to me it's: easier, safer, less boring, gives me better discipline and more rewarding. You do as you want. 

I will never write "TODO: Add tests..." again without remember these feelings. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The only easy day was yesterday - this is a message of hope

At my current "client" we have been employing a lot of activities to increase the number of customer we serve per day. I've blogged about this before.
Now it turns out that we have succeeded. The customers are pouring in. And the staff finds themselves with much more work than they have experienced in about 5 years. Yesterday was our best day so far and it was amazing to see the difference from a normal day;
  • Everyone was moving fast - compared to sitting around waiting
  • Everyone was focused - compared to not really knowing what to do
  • Everyone was excited - compared to disillusioned and bored
  • Everyone was tired after the day - compared to feeling tired of boredom
From Wikipedia
In the daily morning meeting the day after (today) we saw that people was tired and thought it was very stressful yesterday. I was reminded about the Navy Seals motto:
The only easy day was yesterday
In this post I wanted to describe why this is true for everyone embarking on continuous improvements and why this not is a problem, but rather a message of hope.
Under one condition...

Thursday, October 02, 2014

My second book is out ... kinda

To many of my colleagues and friends writing a book is at the top of the dream list or life goals. I have been very fortunate to have done that, but quite honestly I never even dreamt that I would do it. Or that someone thought that what I had to say was interesting enough to read it.
Maybe should have realised that after 500.000 views on this blog but still...

Ok, something really strange have now happened. I have been published again. The book is called Architect book which is even more strange, since I don't consider myself an architect. At least not on the levels that this book is about.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Ugly clothing, symbols and values

Here in Indonesia most companies and organisations have some kind of uniform or at least very strict dress code. For example where I work, the Salvation Army, we have Salvation Army uniform on Mondays and Tuesdays, a set batik shirt on Wedenesdays, "pick your own batik" on Thursdays and training clothes on Fridays.

Here's a collage for you to feast your eyes on be scared by, showing some of those shirts:

I must say... most of these shirts I've found really silly and ugly. The don't sit right on me. I feel awkward.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

How to make a empty diagram in Excel

If I don't write this down I will forget it before the end of the day. That right there was the reason I started my blog, ca 900 posts ago.

A couple of days ago I was, again, creating a big diagram on a whiteboard. This particular one was pretty high and a lot of data points had to go into it. It turned out to be hard and messy to both update and read.
I have done this so many times that I've lost count. I never found a great solution.
I don't want to use a small A3 report because I want everyone to see it. And I don't want to print a big A1 sheet every day, because it's to expensive.
And I don't want to use a projector because this needs to be physical and tangible. And in front of everyone everyday.

Someone suggested to print an empty diagram in a big size and then laminate it with plastic to be able to enter the data on top of the basic diagram.
"Brilliant idea - let's try it. I'll create an empty diagram in Excel and then we print it!"
I heard myself say. And after ca 2 hours I felt the need to write this blog post

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

...and then it moved - the greatest feeling in the world!

By Ben Currington used under
Creative Commons
Have you ever try to lift a piano?

If you have I bet you have the same experience as me; you go up to the piano and take a good hold and ... nothing. It's like it's bolted to the floor, or something (oddly enough my exact words the first time I tried to lift a piano).

This is impossible. We will never make it.
But you get one more guy and then you make another try. Maybe if someone could just slid a mat underneath ...
And you try again. 1...2...3... and ... IT MOVED!

Right there!

That split second is my favorite feeling in the whole world.
Trying really hard, and get the first little sign of that your efforts are in the right direction. When IT MOVED!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Why so sad? Can we point to improvements without making people feel bad?

"Fry complaining" by Umberto Salvagnin,
under Creatives Common
- As agile and lean practitioners, why do we always focus on the negative? "It's managements fault", "This needs to go faster", "The quality is substandard", "You don't use TDD" ... tell me when to stop...
- Because that where we have "unrealised improvement opportunities", dummy!

- But it's not very attractive and makes our "sell" much harder.
- Yeah, but it sucks! So it needs to be improved

- Is there maybe another way to say that so that the receivers doesn't feel that they suck?
- Maybe... but it's very much up to them. They still suck, are they ready to hear it or not? Also, I'm not actually telling them that they suck, of course. I just tell them that "we're looking for better".

- But that means that we're never satisfied.
- No exactly! I'm never satisfied.
- Sucks to be there... No highs... never content with where you are...
- Yeah! That's what makes me great.

I don't know. I just don't know.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

If you build it - things will improve; turning visualisations to knowledge

My good friend and cowrite Joakim Sundén has taught a great deal about agile and lean... and a whole bunch of other things too. One thing that he said, early in my journey, that I didn't fully believe was:
It's always interesting to see the spontaneous discussions that appear around a kanban board (or other visualisation)... after the meeting
(Not the exact quote, because that would be much more well put and eloquent but still...).

So Joakim says that just by having a visualisation in place discussions arises. For example, after the daily standup around the board, people linger and discuss about the state of the board, about improvements or other work related things.

Have you experienced that?
I have. Often. Very often in fact. But not always. In this post I'll outline a few things that in my experience makes these conversations happen more frequently and some words on how to harvest this nugget of information making.

(The reference in the title is of course from Field of Dream with Kevin Costner)

Friday, September 12, 2014

Ask a simpler question: real data speaks louder

David J Andersson (the father of kanban in the software community) has taught me a lot, and that's probably an understatement too. Because I've learned immensely from him. One of the best hands-on tricks that he taught me was really just one sentence. And I'm not sure he meant to say it at that point, but it's proven invaluable for me:
"Ask a simpler question!"
The longer version is something like: "If you find that you don't get the answers you want try to ask a simpler question". I think this is a general great tip that can be applied in all kinds of situations and contexts, but in this post I wanted to tell you about how I just did that in order to get an entire company to understand their situation and starting to move towards something better (whatever that means, I'll talk about that too).

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Accountability, authority, trust, and all those things

How's that for a little topic to clear out in a blog post? I promise this will be just a short thought... even though the title promise more of a book.

Well, after the last couple of weeks at my work I just wanted to write down a thought that I keep coming back too. I'm very proud to be part of the Salvation Army and right now we have a world wide leader (aka The General) that I think talks about a lot of good things.
Here's video with his latests message:

I like this message for a number of reasons, but the part that stands out for me is "We know we are not perfect. We want to become better. We start Now!" I like that kind of transparency and humbleness.

The keyword in the message is Accountability. I have a bit of a hard time with that word as I think it sends a pretty harsh tone, but it really comes back to where you start.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Luck has nothing to do with it

Have you noticed that people and organisations that are great have a lot of luck? And the opposite is also true: a poorly managed companies are unluckier. In my experience.

Now, I don't think luck has anything to do with it (no - this is not a post about my Christian faith, please contact me for that :)). Which is good news; because that means that we can control it, do something about it.

I'll share a few stories and then some thoughts in this post.

Monday, August 04, 2014

What I've should done - my Jerk-store moment

Have you ever had a conversation and then a couple of hours later you come up with a much better way of stating your matter or a better phrasing?

This feeling is shown to great effect in "The comeback" episode of Seinfeld.

I almost always have those kinds of revolutions after coaching gigs. Sometimes during the gig which is helpful because I then can change into something better. Sadly sometimes after the gig which just frustrates me since there's not much to do at that point.

The story I'm about to tell you is of such an episode. It's from my, by far, biggest agile (brrrr...) roll-out task. To me it all ended in a big meeeh, but I know that some people there was happier when i left and I supposed that meant something.


Below when I write "I" we actually were a complete team. If I got these aha-moments earlier I could have helped us all to act differently and hence get a better output. But I didn't. It came now. No shadow should fall on my co-workers. If shadows are to fall :)

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Some thoughts I got after talking with Woody Zuil

Yesterday I had the good fortune to have a chat with Woody Zuill over Skype. I was a really nice hour that just flew by, where we exchanged stories, ideas and had a few laughs.

Let me, as a side note, just say that I love that; just exchanging stories with people. I **always** learn new stuff and quite often stories from my own experience pop back into my memory.
This is the best part of conferences - meeting, interacting with others. That's what I miss the most, being a little sidestepped here in Indonesia. Praise the Lord for Skype and Twitter... ah well for the Internet too (although I'm not entirely sure He had any hands-on action on either of those inventions).

I just thought I summarise some of the things that I took away with me from our conversation.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Coaching exercise - building Lego

From Amazon
I've just concluded a vacation during which I had time to build a lot of Lego (tm) with my sons. That's really a lot of fun and very developing for the kids I notice. With my oldest, Albert, we have much fun following description and building the house to the left.
My other sons more like to build something that just comes up with the pieces they have in hand.

After sitting with Albert a couple of hours I started to recognise the personality the Lego building brought forth in me; this was coaching-Marcus talking.

I think this is a really good exercise and in this short post I'll show you a couple things that I noticed and that was very eye-opening for me.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

KoaJs: Making the make file test, push and all that

The last couple of days I have enjoyed the speed and easy-going-flow that Node, KoaJs and Herkou gives me. It's truly blows me away and I have been tweeting stuff like:
But... In one regard I have lied. I told Woody Zuill (friend and role model) that I could push to production with a single command. While that was true the command (git push heroku master) did just that. Push to Heroku. But I wanted it to test my code, version it, push to GitHub and then push to Heroku. You know - all the continuous delivery stuff.

I had to look into the "scary" domain of Makefiles. Untravelled territory for me. I thought it was scary but it was just a bit weird and I actually got something nice to work.

This post described what I did - and how I redeemed my statement to Woody so that deploying to production is in fact one command (about 25 seconds).

Simple = Good. Complex = Bad. But what does it mean?

I’m a programmer. But I, for some strange reason, often find myself doing management consulting on different levels. Since my basic schooling is in programming I sometimes often find myself using principles that works well for programming in management.

One such principle was something I picked up about 10 years ago and I’m still reaching for that everyday. Here’s my current desktop background, showing that principle to me everyday:


This is a so called truism that nobody says again, but I fail to reach just about all the time. I find it very useful as a guiding north star both in organizations and programming. But what does it really mean?