Dec 7, 2010

A case of Lean-Agile Kanban adoption with value innovation

I did Lean-Agile Kanban adoption with Value Innovation at a 90-people organization back in mid September. Around 60 people where at the headquarters and the other 30 at a neighboring city just a 1.5 hour drive away. The training was given at the headquarters with the away team receiving instruction remotely taking advantage of the remote-training infrastructure they themselves developed. I myself didn't feel very comfortable with the remote training because my training technique includes doing games and, believe me, conducting team games for training purposes remotely is not for the faint of heart. Even more so when you also have a group to teach in person.

Coaching followed the training. The local group was difficult to train and coach because they allowed themselves to be distracted and continuously left the room to attend work related matters, even against my strong recommendation to focus entirely on the training by pretending they were doing this out in San Francisco instead of at their offices farther south. To make matters worse, the coaching wasn't done at their work area but at a training room with mixed teams. As result the employees and leaders treated the coaching as if it wasn't part of their every-day activities and the results weren't carried to their actual work. And then, there was lots of politics going on such that the leaders were more focused on how to position themselves to get a higher position in the coming elections than on getting the job done.

The remote group, on the other hand, was less preoccupied with political capital and more concerned with operations. When I got to their offices to do the coaching I was concerned with how effective it could be given how limited the success of the remote training was. The group was somewhat disfunctional. It became clear to me that they were segregated. Teams did not communicate or collaborate well. Leaders and individual contributors did not communicate well. It was a typical command-and-control environment. They continuously struggled to get projects finished and had a long list of pending projects.

Instead of going straight to the Kanban face-to-face training I started by conducting exercises to remove the communication and collaboration impediments. Fist, I conducted some NLP exercises to get them to mix and talk to each other at same level (no hierarchies or roles). Then I got them to create a snapshot of the organization using innovation games. By then they were already communicating much better. Next activity was to crate a value-stream map of their core process and by the time they were done the director told me this was the first time in the history of the organization that everybody knew the entire process in detail, him included. I proceeded to solidify lean-agile thnking some more. The following day we talked about Value Innovation and then worked on learning Kanban.

I followed up via email with the teams. The teams at headquarters didn't carry on any activities but the other group did put effort on the adoption, not without struggle, but keeping in close communicaton with me they managed to get Kanban implemented. I visited them last week and was no less than astonished by the amazing implementations they have made. They started with one Kanban board to get all in synch and then implemented custom team Kanban boards that were in agreement with the common board to communicate efficiently. One team actually had two team boards and each team member had his own board in perfect synchronicity without any extra effort. The team they interacted with had its own two boards also in agreement with the other team's main board. It was a mastery of coordination. They asked me some fine tuning questions.

There was one team whose manager deviated from Kanban, not on purpose, in an effort to be original and creative. Nor surprising, this team was struggling to get things done smoothly. I gave my opinions and recommendations to the team, and then talked to the manager in private to help him realize the creativity has to go towards adding value rather than over thinking a Kanban design and letting the Kanban board evolve naturally. We spent the rest of the day digging into the activities around the Kanban board: the meeting, analysis, discussion, decision-making, and execution.

A director from headquarters had joined me on this visit upon instructions from the CEO, who had considered making a dedicated effort to bring Kanban to the most progressive team at headquarters after I reported to him the progress at the remote location. The director was so impressed that on the way back to headquarters discussed with me a strategy to make the adoption at the entire headquarters instead of just one team. :-)


  1. Great story here. Thanks for sharing. Glad things worked out! Enterprise adoption of Agile techniques can be daunting, especially with distributed teams like the one you worked with... even though they were 1.5 hours away...

  2. This is a really important point - keep teams away from office politics and other distractions to keep them as focused and productive as possible!

    I am going to turn my office into a team room so the local team can cordon themselves off from the usual office stuff and focus on building new value.

    Thanks for posting this!

  3. Thank you for the info. It sounds pretty user friendly. I guess I’ll pick one up for fun. thank u

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