Lean and Kanban Europe 2010 – Part 2 – Mary Poppendieck

Mary Poppendieck: What’s this thing called “Pull”;

Mary Poppendieck had the second talk of the first day of the conference. She talked about “The power of pull”;.

She started the presentation with a story on her introduction to pull at the video tape factory where she worked when video tape was still current. I didn’t make too many notes here, since this story is very well documented in her books (which I can thoroughly recommend: Implementing Lean Software Development and Leading Lean Software Development).

The emphasis she put on participation in this story was relevant, though. She described very nicely how the main reason that thenew ‘Pull’ system that she and her colleagues introduced was so succesful was that it was designed by the people who actually implement and use the system.

Next, Mary went on to something I hadn’t heard before. Referring to Andy Grove’s Only The Paranoid Survive, she explained the concept of the ‘Strategic Inflection Point";. She claimed that the move from push to pull will create a strategic inflection point.

When describing the strategic inflection point for software development in general, characterising the left side of the chart as “1.0 - Contract Focus, ‘Waterfall’ (-2005)”;, the middle “2.0 - Development Focus - ‘Agile’ (2005-2010)”;, while the right, upward climbing, line is “3.0 - Customer Focus (2010-)”;.

The elements of this customer focus are given as:

One thing that came back a number of times during the conference was references to Kent Beck, who has been giving a lot of though on the ‘Building the right thing, not just building it right"; side of things. Mary referred to a keynote he gave at the ‘Startup Lessons Learned"; conference. And since that got me curious, here’s a link to the video, sheets and some earlier discussion. Good stuff!

She could link that to Ethnography and Ideation, ideas that are part of their ‘Leading’ book, where really understanding the job at hand (i.e. “the thing you’re going to be automating in this project”;) is so very important. Understanding that the purpose of your software is to make a job easier, faster, better, etc. And understanding the job well enough that you can appreciate the value gained doing the job in a new way.

Next came a bit that links closely to what seems to be becoming a recurring speech from me, about how quality and discipline in development are crucial to make an Agile (and Lean :-) implementation work.

Meaning, of course, that by taking much of the delays and queues out of a value stream, there is less room for the extensive rework and fixing cycles that you may be used to from a waterfall environment. And of course, if you’re used to it, you’ll probably also depend on it. The only way to make Agile and Lean really work is by concentrating on quality and discipline in the technical side of the work.

She then explained John Boyd’s OODA (Observe->Orient->Decide->Act) loop, which includes the conclusion that the faster you can go through this loop, the higher your chances of winning. Which in Boyd’s case meant not being shot out of the sky. So better listen to the man’s thoughts on this!

And you prepare to be able to do that loop quickly by learning to be fast with good quality.

Dan Pink’s ‘Drive’ got mentioned. Another recurring theme during the conference, btw. Mastery, Autonomy and Purpose, and in particular this video:

Dan Pink on motivation (try http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6XAPnuFjJc if the above link doesn’t work)

Continuing on that theme, Mary ended with an overview from Steve Weber’s book on ‘The Success of Open Source’. The way that open source project work be definition needs the contributors to be motivated to contribute. The ‘tragedy of the commons’ would seem to indicate that this can’t happen, but apparently it is possible. The reason it is possible is that people will willingly share their expertise (and work) if they are intrinsically motivated to do so.

So if open source projects routinely manage to do this, maybe we should look at the processes involved to find out how to motivate the people working in our companies.

Some of the ideas I found interesting from that are “Treat workers as volunteers”; (so management is a marketing job!), The above quote of selling the roadmap to the team, and the idea that in a modern market, variety is the thing that will safeguard a company’s survival, not efficiency.

Next time, John Seddon’s closing keynote from day one, which really blew me away both in contents and presentation.