Addressing the needs of people and business

Process improvement has been doomed to be a waste function by many organizations. From my background, many who work in process improvement are treated as compliance workers instead of being contributors to the bottom-line. For me process improvement is the business. Every day we take decisions to get certain benefits.

Managing the delivery of programs should follow evolutionary ongoing continuous improvement approach instead of being Plan driven.

1. Developing the Value Stream enables having common understanding of the system under focus. Unless we see it, we can not understand the system. Most of managers I spoke with complain of lack of understanding what is happening? why is it happening? how we deliver? where the request in the system?….. The list of questions can be long.

2. Limiting WIP allows knowing our capacity limitation based on numbers and productivity figures. Business always wants to do more with less. Business wants to make safe commitments which generate revenue and serve the growth of the organization. But commitments are safe if they were based on capacity understanding.

3. Reducing escape rate is critical to business. Mistake-proofing (Poka-Yoke) implementation consists of  the Quality Policies implemented by the team and visually agreed on. The cost of implementing such  policies forms the Cost-of-Quality (CoQ) which is far less the Cost-of-Poor-Quality (CoPQ) happening by allowing defects to escape.

4. Decoupling Cadences means business can release when it needs and by considering the economics of the release transaction. Planning for what the team may accept can be done at a different cadence to respond to varied demand.

5. Lead-Time is a business critical metric. Business makes commitment based on “when” it will deliver customer requests. These commitments should be based on data, otherwise business risk its reputation. The Cost-per-Feature metric is another metric for understanding the economics of the delivery system.

6. Prioritization using Cost of Delay (CoD) while weight with Cost of Implementation (CoI) drives business decisions using data. Business will understand the lost revenue from not addressing request. It will justify which request to work on to out-weight what we ignored based on CoD and CoI.

7. Class of Service (CoS)  association with each request allows the business to understand extra cost involved in delivering the request with visibility on how we treat it.

8. Managing Flow allows to make decisions based on concrete data scientifically. Increasing Throughput has always been a main business objective. Flow Management is aimed to identify and remove bottle necks from the way of the Flow in-order to increase Throughput.

9. Establishing Service Level Agreement (SLA) is what the business dreams of to have commitment from the delivery team for various Class of Service.

The previous 9 steps are not necessarily sequential. Some teams will like to start from how we prioritize.

I tried to emphasize how each of the above steps impacts the business and therefore should not be treated as sideline activity.

I repeated the previous 9 steps again below but giving the people impact of each.

1. This common understanding of the system is developed by the knowledge workers (team members). The knowledge workers have nothing to hide. There is no gap between what the team does internally and what it declares to the outside world.

2. WIP limits avoids negotiations on how much the team can handle. The negotiation process is a sign of lack of trust.

3. Visual Quality Policies not only reduce defect escapes but serves to have shared responsibility of both the team and management on quality. The quality of our delivery is limited by the policies. There can be trade-off on how much of the quality policies we can implement and their expected ROI.

4. Decoupling of cadences provides the team with a degree of freedom to become self-directed. The team may decide what to pull to serve business mandates for releasing software while responding differently to the drivers for demand prioritization and planning.

5. Metrics must not be used to evaluate people, instead they are characteristics of the delivery system. Focusing on system issues, allows people to trust the system by working safely to improve it without fear.

6. Understanding Cost of Delay motivates  the team to help the business to achieve its objectives by improving the economics of the delivery system to reduce the Cost of Implementation.

7. CoS provides visibility on how the request is handled based on the work-type. What people specifically do becomes visible which allows the system to trust the people. Bought-in to the system, business will help the people when setting customer expectations.

8. Team members identify waste, they have stepped-up to act pro-actively eliminating waste. Introducing practices as TDD not only serve the growth of individuals it has a proven impact in having effective on-time testing instead of after the fact non-value add testing.

9. Service Level Agreements are established by the team based on what it can deliver within the constraints of the system they work in. SLA reduces the emotional impact on people which is associated with unrealistic deadlines.

The above steps operate within a continuous improvement culture, instead of being treated as isolated effort with localized optimization for one group.


a. “The Deming management method” by Mary Walton, W. Edwards Deming (Foreword by)

b. “Kanban Successfull evolutionary change for your technology and business” by David J. Anderson

c. “Priming Kanban” by Jesper Boeg– Free downloadable book from infoQ

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