I have recently come to realize that some of the most basic of my
thinking is not as evident and obvious to people around me as they are
for me. This was a real wakeup call for me and made me think long and
hard on what is important to me and how I do work. And consequently try
to lead others with this as guiding star.
My ideas is not new nor radical. The ideas I did meet is not bad, they
just strive to achieve other goals (I think) or maybe the same goals but
in a totally different manner. I have really tried my best not to
portrait my ideas as better, but rather just another way.
My agile and lean friends will quickly see that this is by not measure
unique or new thinking. But I’ve come to realize that for people that
haven’t seen this kind of reasoning before it is very backwards and
counterintuitive. This will not be complete in the sense that I will
give the theoretical back… (YAAAAWN)…ground to why I think this way.
Come and ask me.
That means that you can put “to me” in front of every paragraph below.
And you can disagree. Please tell me in that case so that I can
[UPDATE: Several of my friends that I hold high in regard in these
matters, have pointed out some flaws or … unclear reasoning in this
post. I have updated the post a number of times thanks to them. Anything
good in here is probably from them. Thank you.]
Why are we here?
To me this question forms the basis for everything we do. There might be
many reasons for me to be in a workplace but there’s only one main
reason that form the basis of our goals. I borrow a quote from the
Salvation Army founder, William Booth,
as a call-to-arms
for the early Salvation Army soliders:
I think we are here to produce value for someone. Let’s, just for fun,
call this person “the customer”. It’s a name as good as any, right?
In all honesty, if we think a little bit wider that customercould be
ourselves as well, or anyone around us.
Come to think about it the definition of value is a bit tricky to. It
sure does not only mean money, if you think so when you read the
rest. Money is easier to talk about since it so concrete, but it can be
any value. I just came back from hospital with one of my sons. My son
was the customer for the nurses and him getting treatment and ultimately
free from his disease was the value.
I strive to find a customer for everything I do, and I try to supply
that customer with value. I think it’s useful to try to reflect on what
value we produce for our customers and how we can improve on that.
For everything we do we can ask ourselves:
- Is this making my customer happier?
- How is this producing value for the customer?
- If the customer was in the room now, what would he suggest that we
- Do I need to help the customer understand how our suggestion could
be even better for her?
I like to sum this up in a short question that can be our guiding star
and true north. I picked up this “trick” from Dan North and he called it
the F1-question. Apparently the famous executive for the Williams
Frank Williams, had only a simple question he wanted
answer to when new ideas and suggestions was evaluated:
Does it make the car go faster?
For me that question has to have a reference to a customer. For the team I’m heading now we ask ourselves, for
everything we do:
Does it make our clinics and hospitals better
What is your question or guiding star? Why are you here? Why are you
working here together? Can you formulate that in an F1-question.
Small and fast
Furthermore I believe that we should delivering things as fast as
possible. And in small batches. Both these things has to do with
learning stuff; for everything we complete we will learn something. The
more we learn the better we will become in producing better, more,
faster to our customers.
Also, delivering small things often rather than big things seldom tends
to be favorable by most customers I’ve met. You build trust with your
customers by showing that you can keep your word and deliver things to
them. Finally, not to be underestimated in a world a lot of big
projects, delivering something means that you are moving. Compare that
to a big project where you hear nothing for several months.
Getting done. Fast
obsessed really into with completing stuff. Keeping the lead
time (from customer orders until it’s completed) as short as possible.
From the moment I start a task I try to find ways to finish it. As fast
as possible. But, since I have the customer in mind, I also keep the
quality in mind. Because
just going faster is not going to help much, since
that means that the quality goes down. Bad quality work will come back
Doing less stuff
In order to get stuff done fast I think we should strive to do fewer
things. At first this sounds quite strange, but it’s a
mathematical fact that the fewer things you do at
the same time the faster it goes. You can see this in action in a
simulation I did a couple of months ago:
pennies - Lean game simulation
Thanks to my friends I'm pushed towards better in smaller steps.
commented below about this Simulation lacking real world connection and
hence being silly. True - the game is not aimed to mimic any real world
process (although... at some place I've worked... Not far away). I often
call this "a simulation aimed to illustrate a single principle, namely
that Lower WIP -\> faster flow. That's all it does. But from this I've
often found a lot of eyes open, and AHA! experiences had. And if you
can see the principle manifested in your, much more complex context,
then it can teach us something.
Thank you Daniel.
### How we do it, is just best so far
Taking this reasoning further means that the way we work, the HOW, is
just best so far. I'm willing to challenge everything we do and the
structures we have now. All in the name of producing value for our
To me the distinction between efficiency and effectiveness is very
important. Since it's the same word (!?) in Swedish I have had a hard
time to distinguish between them. This is the easiest way I've heard;
- Efficiency is running as fast as you can
- Effectiveness is making sure that you are running towards the goal
Another, more classical way to say this is; effectiveness is the doing
the right thing. Efficiency is do thing the thing right. Thanks
Efficiency is totally uninteresting to try to optimize if we're not
effective. Who cares that we do stuff efficient if we're doing the wrong
things, hence not reaching our goal (not effective)?
A lot of organisations where I have consulted is quite the opposite. In
fact, in many of organisations, most of the employees doesn't even know
the goal. Or at least not what it means for them. I've met teams that
simply didn't know who the customer was, for the things they did. The
just did them. Efficient.
It's very sad, I think.
When you think about it, if you don't know the goal, you cannot really
say if you're doing a good job. Or if you're improving.
### We change, therefore we exists
This means that
we should change the way we work
. Yes, I said it. We
should change. The way. We work. And I think we should do it often. Even
when we think that the way we are working is good. Because it can always
be better, smoother and faster.
The goal is to produce value for our customer as fast as possible, and
as I said we should challenge everything we do today, that hinders us
from going faster.
- "But we need to supervise and control in this way!" - No, you don't.
You need control, but that can be achieved in other ways. By
implementing great transparency for example.
- "But my customer want estimates!
" - Yes, but
that's just because you haven't showed him the alternative. I've
never seen an end-customer call a company up and said thank you for
the awesome estimating in the latests project. But I have seen
end-customer thank people for the new feature in the product.
- "But this is how our organisational chart looks. It's all decided" -
Do you think there's something we can change in it that would make
the process go faster? That would produce value for our customer
faster? How do we need to change the organisation to reach
- "We need to make sure that we think this over properly before we
act" - Yes of course... but will our customer be happier by that? Or
can we find another way to make our decision less scary, smaller
maybe, so that we don't need to think about it as long, or as hard.
By now, many of you have face palmed yourself a couple of times and
probably called me names too. But this is just showing my reasoning
(although I've had all of the above mentioned discussions at least
once). The output of the system is what's important. Nothing is set. We
are never done improving. But if we want to improve we must know what
better means. What is the goal? "Does it make the car go faster?".
, even (if that helps any of you :)):
> "You will know them **by their fruits**. Grapes are not gathered from
> thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they?
> Matthew 7;16
It raises an interesting philosophical question that we might save for
another time to answer; if the organisation is in an awful state but
produce wonderful things to their customers... Is that bad or good?
### Two favorites
What can one do then? That's where the fun begins - you can do whatever
you see fit to change your system to produce better values for your
customer faster. With a guiding star you can always evaluate your
actions towards that goal. Did we get closer or further away?
Here's two things that occupies my thinking a lot right now.
#### Small frequent changes over radical big changes
I think that we should change often but small. So small that we easily
can go back if it didn't work out. For fun let's call those changes
"experiment", shall we. That's a nice psychological trick because in an
experiment there's no fail or succeed. There's just a result. Our
hypothesis was validated or not. Either way we learned and can take the
next little step.
I love this way of making improvements or changes. Also this approach is
know as the Scientific method
and is the way all science has
been discovered since about 4th century BCE through Aristotle, so its
well established. Tried and tested.
Also, all changes will take effort from your normal work, creating a dip
in productivity. Do you want that dip to be long and deep or short and
shallow? That's something that you can choose. I like the latter. The
former (long, deep dip in productivity) comes from radical big
Yes, I drew that curve myself. I used the awesome tools whiteboard and
pen. Has yet to fail me :)
#### Move authority to the information
Who knows best what and where to make the small changes I just talked
about? The direction level of the company or each person close to the
tool and production? The answer is obvious - the person close to the
information about the things we're making knows the most.
That leaves us with a choice;
- We can move the information to the decision makers in the top of the
hierarchy/organization so that they can make informed decisions.
This has proven pretty hard and expensive. Also the information
often travels too slow for the management level to act fast enough
- Move the authority to the information. That means, trust our
employees on all levels to make the improvements they see fit. This
is really scary, because that means that we loose the perceived
control on the top management level. The gain, however is immense;
everyone is involved in improvement, every persons creativity,
inspiration and intelligence. The loss of control can be managed by
using a transparent culture where all information is known to
I'm all for the second approach, since it's much faster and produced
more value faster for our customer (see the top of this article).
If you want to read more about this, get
Turn the Ship Around
. Or spend 10 minutes watching this inspirational video;
### Ehhh... there's people in there you know?
But wait here now just for a minute... so the goal for us is just to
slave away, producing money as fast as possible for someone else,
forgetting my own needs. I need to be happy to be able to do a good job.
this input and pointing out the holes in my reasoning.
And let me be the first to say that of course you are right; we need to
start with the people in the process. This is one of the pillars of
the Toyota production system
(where I get a lot of
inspiration); Respect for people. The other one being continuous
To me, and I might very well be wrong, this is the strategy. They HOW to
we plan to achieve our vision and goal. And I wholeheartedly buy into
the reasoning found today in lean and agile in the software movement
(and other places). If you don't give the teams and people autonomy,
help them develop their mastery and ultimately show them that they are
important, they have a purpose reaching a continuously improving process
/ organization will be very hard. If not impossible. I think.
You might think different. I have heard, both in Indonesia and Sweden by
the way, about other approaches to try to continuously evolve the
organizations. I heard and seen those fail. But I have not seen all the
approaches in the world...
From my experience
leading from the top with a strong focus on WHY
are here (the things I've talked about in the post) and then extending
the autonomy to the individual teams and employees to change
their environment and processes
to more effectively reach that goal
is much more ... effective. I've seen that succeed. A number of times.
And I've seen it fail too. Because it's hard, since it means letting go
of power and (perceived) control, something that most people are more
reluctant to let go than money, in my experience.
Again - thanks Emil and Tobbe for making me think harder and add this
section. I feel you made this post more complete.
We are here to bring value to some customer. Us just working without
producing value for someone is truly useless. Hence I think we should
change the way we work to become better and better in producing value
for our customer faster, with better quality and more frequently. Our
processes, organization, rules etc. just just "best so far".
I'm not saying that I'm right and you are wrong. I'm just saying that
this is the way that I reason, so that you can understand me if we end
up in a discussion. I want us to change to improve. I think improving is
improvements for our customer.