Following an Improvement Path

My pal Keith Ray sent this Project Management tip into Hal Macomber:

007: Create A Habit of Self-Directed Improvement

Keith Ray reminds us that an intention and routine of improvement matters more than any specific improvement methods. Too often a bureaucratic intent to adopt a standard approach runs head-on into individuals’ and teams’ intentions to improve.

This may seem contrary to what we’ve read about either the Japanese firms’ programmatic approaches or western firms’ lean/six sigma black belts. While training and methodology can contribute to results, getting in a habit of improving seems to make more of a difference.

There are three aspects to creating the improving habit:

Establish and re-establish clear connections to the purpose of getting on and staying on an improving path.

Provide coherent actions from supervision and company leaders that value and expect the improving habit.

Engage with others who share the same intention for learning and support.

Still, this may not be enough. The leading impediment to adopting this or any other change is a conflicting intention. (More on this later.) For now, set a good example by getting yourself on an improving path and invite others to join you.

Submitted by C. Keith Ray while reading the book Lean Software Development by Mary and Tom Poppendieck.

I agree with the premise that setting a path for improvement can be more effective than “programmatic” or bureaucratic approaches. I’ve seen the results that come when teams consistently perform retrospectives.

Sometimes the results are visible — explicitly adding unit testing as a development task or creating a bug report template. Sometimes the results are more subtle: team members gain a better understanding of how their work fits in the big picture — which leads fewer blind-sides from uncommunicated decisions or changes with in the team, more generosity in interpreting others behavior and more support within the team.

I was struck by the phrase “Provide coherent actions from supervision and company leaders that value and expect the improving habit.”

I recently spoke with a manager, Sharon, who was charged (by top management) with supporting learning within a large project driven organization. A lofty goal. Top management is talking the talk.

In Sharon’s organization, every sanctioned activity has a project number, and employees are expected to charge nearly 100% of their time. The requirement for an explicit charge number may make the organization look efficient and focused on paper. Charge numbers may prevent rogue projects (possibly), and lollygagging (probably not). (There is no project number -yet- for “organizational learning” or “starting on an improvement path.” )

One coherent management actions is providing for time and space for project teams to consider the current state and what they could to do make it better. Near 100% chargeable time may look good on paper, but it robs the organization of the ability to improve.