It’s so Physical!

I consider myself an ‘Anti-Tools’ person.

I reckon i take to the extreme the first value of the agile manifesto: “People and their interactions over processes and tools“. I reckon it’s because always, at some point in my engagements, i have ended paying more attention to the tool and the metrics it provided me instead of focusing on what is really important: The Product and the Team ( Joserra would tell me not to separate them 😉 )

Some would say that whatever was truly important, for sure the tool would be capable of measuring and tracking it. Others will tell me that not using a Jira-like tool and requiring to mess some walls of our office with heaps of stickies and kilometers of tape to know the status of our projects is nonsense as well as anachronistic.

Well, whatever it may be, my advice is always to start visualizing the current process with the minimum possible cost and with the maximum transparency and that is where I proclaim myself an ‘ultraFan’ of Post-its, Sharpies, chalks and whiteboards. One of my agile mentors told me long time ago:

If you really want to promote an improvement culture in your organisation, take down all these useless portraits with fancy messages about the Vision and Mission of the company and take advantage of the walls to radiate to everyone the true relevant information.

Since then, that recommendation of making usable walls is one of my Must-Haves. Once you have shown on the walls your work process and your actual flow of value delivery (which i assure you, as silly as it may sound, it’s not trivial at all and you won’t be able to emerge it at first attemp) and after having worked on it, adjusted and tuned it, and achieved most of the required improvements in the process then Yes! but only earlier. If you still see it clear, you can convert or clone your process flow representation to an electronic tool.

It’s obvious that an electronic tool will greatly help certain teams, especially those working in a distributed approach, in order to keep all the information centralised and easily accessible for everyone. Also adding an electronic tool becomes an important asset when we are working in big organisations to make sure the information flows through all levels and areas properly, among other benefits… Even though no tool will replace the power of a Gemba walk or a Scrum of Scrums.

But when we are working in a co-located team, imhe there is no better device than a physical information radiator, preferably a big one (at least 2m high x 3m wide) placed, obviously, as close as possible to the team who updates it. And at the same time also near the Managers and Execs area since they are the ones who must work their arse off (sorry) to solve any impediment emerged my the team and… is there a better way than seeing a red card on the door of his office?

Of course, mate! Let’s chop thousands of trees and make colored pieces of paper to handwrite notes instead of sending an email copying the manager. What b*llsh^t! – some will say.

Well, i would say that both examples are kind of nonsense. Let me explain: If the team is blocked by an impediment then someone on the team, anyone, should take responsibility to make the problem explicit and make sure that whoever can solve it is properly informed and starts working on its resolution. So, if the manager is in their office there we go to implement a bit of face-to-face communication which, as far as i know, turns out to be pretty effective 😉

Imhe the important thing is not on the board that take up entire walls, either on the coloured sticky notes that decorate them, nor on the charts that tell us that we are progressing at a somewhat slower pace than expected. The real important point is that all these elements puts the information in front of us permanently, regardless it´s positive or not, even we don´t like to see it, because we foster transparency.

Impediments and bottlenecks are there, and will stay there, hurting our eyes and the soul of the team and the organization, waiting for someone to take action on the matter.

These devices, apart from information radiators, are generators of important conversations and accelerators of tough decisions.

We can also enrich, or decorate, our board with more data and metrics: WIP limits, lead times, expedite lanes, social contracts, team calendars, etc. but what is really important, as my mentor told me, is that: Money is in the DONE column!

The entire organisation should be focused on that goal. Reaching the DONE column. Because an ongoing task means 0% DONE. 98% of a user story is nothing. 0% DONE. We deliver value when we complete the 100% and it´s there where the team full of pride moves the task, the story, the piece of value, to DONE. $$$. Well DONE Team!

Good luck out there! And do not stop visualising where you are and talking about where you intend to arrive.

Credit: For those more experienced, specially if you are in Europe or LatAm, you will have noticed that the image I’ve used to head this post has been copied from the splendid blog of Xavier Quesada, a reference in the field of Visual Management. I found it was the best image to reinforce these lines visually.

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