Team Yayasan week 3 - Understanding the problem and sloppy limits

· March 17, 2014

Every week (or in case of this week) we hold a short retrospective. It’s very informal and basically just us asking ourselves what worked and what did not. And then we change something. I think that is very important. We change something. In order to improve. Those changes don’t have to, and up to now most haven’t, been suggested and implemented at the retrospective meeting. But we try to improve in small steps. Often. Hmmm someone should write about that.

Going into this week we decided two things to improve:

  • Deep dive into why we don’t get reports in time
  • Lower our work in process limit from 14 to 12.

One of those were very successful and one was not…

Sloppy board management

I have coached more than 40 different agile teams using boards like ours (btw here’s the state on this morning). Many of them have not used a board before and there’s one recurring pattern I see with these teams. And with Team Yayasan as well, that I’m now a team member in. After about 2-5 weeks we start to get sloppy; we don’t put things we work on up on the board, we don’t follow the WIP limits, we stop seeking cooperation and generally are sloppy about keeping the board up to date and following the policies we had discussed.

I think this is why a team coach can be handy. Someone that stands a bit on the side and takes a little different perspective.

It’s now confession time;

I have only been a team member of 2-3, maybe 4 agile teams!

There. I’ve said it. Most of my work has been coaching teams. That is standing on the side of the team. Now that I’m in one I see how easy it is to get lost and forget things. This is also why visualization and clear, big policies are important. We want to “fall into the pit of success”. It should be easy to do right and hard to do wrong.

In our team, this sloppiness has manifested itself in these things:

  • Breaking the work in process limit for days, with no discussion (great coaching there, Marcus. Not!)
  • Adding items into the Doing column without checking if there’s something we can help complete
  • Not estimating tasks to Small, Medium, and Large
  • Not talking about a Definition of Done.

So we have now (on this short retrospective we had this morning) decided to try to be better. I will try to be a bit more active in my coaching around the board and we all will try to follow the few rules that we have set up.

It’s very important to remember that these rules were created by us, for us. No one has told us to set these up. If we break them… we’re letting ourselves down. This is one of the things I very often have to repeat to teams starting with Kanban.

We don’t get our reports in time

Now to something very much more interesting and fun. And rewarding too. We had a problem that we had to nag and remind our hospitals to get their reports to us in. This week we completed the finance reporting for last year. And right now, we are 76 days (yeah, nothing for this year) for the current finance reporting.

We decided to invest a couple (2 x 2) hours to try to understand more about this. I wanted to try something that I haven’t run before too, so we created two workshops with different purposes: first understand the problem and then come up with actions to try to alleviate the problem.

In the first session, we ran a root cause analysis, much like the one we had with one of the hospitals a few weeks back. You can read more about the format in that post, but here are a few of the things we talked about (click for larger):

Again I was impressed with how this exercise helps you understand the consequences of not fixing the problem. The Why-questions were also important and good things came out of that, but to really see the long-reaching (failing to reach vision/mission for example) consequences of not fixing this problem is the thing that sticks.

For the next session (the day after) we tried something new. I am a fan of the Switch book and have written many times about it. I’ve always thought that it would make a great workshop and now I got the time to try it.

I put together a slideshow based on the excellent one-page summary of the book. It’s free and requires a login to access and that you have read the book to understand. Here’s my presentation:

My idea was to go through all of the aspects of change Switch is mentioning and try to come up with ideas around each one of them. And that was what we did. But first, a short intro to the ideas in Switch, or the rest of this blog post will be silly.

What is Switch?

The authors talk about the human psyche being like a rider and an elephant going down a jungle path.

  • The rider is our conscious, logical reasoning. We know where we going and why. Let’s do it!
  • The elephant is our subconscious, emotional side. The one that is a bit oh I’m hungry, let’s get a cookie… Yeah, you know that side, right. The problem is that the elephant weighs 5 tons and the rider is directing him with two leather reins… The rider cannot win
  • The path they are traveling on is also part of how to make change happen. Is it full of distractions? Is it easy to follow? Is there a path or do they have to make one?

To maximize the possibility of change to happen you have to address the rider and the elephant and help to form the path. To me, the ideas in Switch are a thinking framework. Different aspects that you can think about how to tackle change. We can come up with only one idea and that might work. But if we make sure to address all the parts of the Switch framework we have a much higher chance to make change happen.

The book is awesome and full of inspirational stories about how people have directed the rider, motivated the elephant, and shaped the path.

Back to the workshop

I used that in my workshop by telling one of these stories before we dived in. It worked… not flawlessly but it worked. It’s, of course, a lot to take in.

We created a one-page whiteboard picture to gather our thoughts:

And then we dot voted to get a list of the things we would make the biggest difference. Here is our list, with two of the items being crossed over already;

Two of the things that we have started doing have actually made a difference already.

The first thing is that we’re talking about “WE” and never “THEM”, “YOU” or “US” in our reminder communication. I’m really proud of the team to come up with this. Here’s our summary, that we’ve posted above the board:

And here’s how a reminder email can look like, following that advice:

Our goal for the Kantor Yayasan is: “to help the hospitals and clinics to improve”. That’s why we keep pushing us and keep nagging about reports being late. Like this. I am NOT angry with any single one of you, I just want us to improve. Us. The Yayasan. And all the hospitals and clinics in it. And the Kantor Yayasan. Us.

Ok, right now we are waiting for the finance report. I learned this Monday that we have got all the reports from all hospitals up to 31/12 2013. That’s great! But that also means that we are 73 days that are not reported. See attached photo. Our goal is that it should be 1.

This renders a lot of extra work for Bp Deny and Bp Anton since they have to call several times a day (see attached photo) and remind us to get our reports in on time. And keeping the Kantor Pusat accounting up to date is considerably harder too, since the different books from the different hospitals are out of synchronization.

Let’s help them and get the report for February in. It’s the only thing that is still missing, so it’s not that much left now! We’re halfway there!

Thank you for helping us to be a better Yayasan!

The second thing was a board we created to show how much time we are spending on reminding people about the reports. Here’s the current status:

That is showing the number of calls we do each day as well as showing how many days behind (76) we are compared to the goal (1).

We will be continuing working with the other things we came up with as well.


Oh, man! This was a long post. I hope I didn’t bore you totally with that. We learn. We improve. That’s the summary of all of this.

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