Archive for the ‘TOC’ Category

Lean Camp New England: Boston, May 13

Tuesday, April 24th, 2012

OK, OK, so it’s Mothers’ Day in the US… but we all miss out on family matters all the time for things far less awesome than this.

Lean Camp New England is a one day open space event led by Jim Benson, author of Personal Kanban. It is an opportunity to share and learn about Lean and Kanban in software development, IT operations and services, and other knowledge work fields.

Lean Camp New England is an all day event at the World Trade Center Boston, on May 13th (Sunday).
Registration is open now at a cost of $300 – catering is included.
Register at

Boston is the center of gravity for lean thinking in the US. However, much of that thinking has been in fields outside of IT and Software and Systems Engineering/Development.

If you live in New England, or people you know live in New England, and are interested in getting up-to-speed among the leading thinkers and practitioners in Lean in IT and Software and Systems Engineering/Development, I highly encourage you and them to register for Lean Camp New England.

This is a rare opportunity to enjoy a regional 1-day open space / unconference in conjunction with a large international conference, Lean Software & Systems 2012 – as a result a significant number of international experts will be present and participating.

Where else can you get direct coaching from the experts for only $300?

Short-Cut to CMMI: Lean First

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

Want fast, easy CMMI ratings?  Even high maturity?

First, implement lean, Goldratt’s TOC, Deming’s ideas, Kanban, and other related concepts, then get busy with CMMI.

What you may not know is that lean is easier, faster, and generates better performance results sooner than CMMI.

Lean improves delivery issues sooner than process improvement alone.  Improved deliveries improves revenues, stabilizes cash flow, increases margin, makes customers happier and results in more sales.

In other words, lean means better flow and better flow means better business.

CMMI is great, but is often attempted as a first line of offense to issues it’s not meant to deal with.  CMMI is meant to improve flow, not define it, and, lean helps define flow.
(Yes, I know I said "theory of constraints" twice.)

Assuming there are unfulfilled orders in the sales pipeline, lack of revenue is due to lack of flow.  Typically, this is due more to what’s in the flow, how much is in it, and the clarity and cleanliness of how the operation’s flow is aligned.  Using CMMI to "fix" issues with flow is like using the Brownian motion of steeping tea to power a random-number generator.  It’s just too much too soon.  Process issues are themselves symptoms of flow issues.

Deal with the symptoms first.  Then, tackle the processes.

Two events to put on your radar:

Lean Software and Systems Conference: Boston, 13-18 May (Lean Camp & Lean Action Kitchen, Sunday, Conference Monday-Wednesday, and Tutorials Thursday & Friday).  I’m helping to organize and speaking at the conference, and running a tutorial on this topic on Thursday.

Kanban Change Agent Masterclass: Miami, 23-25 May.  I’ll be participating as a special guest to demonstrate how Kanban helps achieve CMMI ratings, including High Maturity.

The Cart Before the Horse

Tuesday, February 21st, 2012

For more than the last 10 years I’ve been thinking a lot about CMMI.  Many of these thoughts have been ruminating on the ideas of how to incorporate CMMI in ways that add value, demonstrate effectiveness, and don’t disrupt the operation.  I’ve even opined much in this blog (in too many ways) on the need to know what your processes are before you can use CMMI to improve them, and that for many operations, CMMI isn’t even appropriate.

A few recent discussions and experiences put a particularly fine point on the extent to which CMMI is really the ‘cart before the horse’ when applied within an operation that has yet to clearly discern its process, and here’s why:

Most operations I’ve encountered are not ready to use CMMI because they are unclear on exactly how they make money.

Obviously, I’m not talking about the accounting process of billing out invoices and depositing checks.  And, I’m not even talking about the voodoo around figuring out how to ensure that internal costs (salaries, equipment, etc.) are less than what they charge clients for the work they do.

So, I must be talking about something more subtle.  I wish I were.  And, this is what’s both frightening and sad.  I’m merely talking about the relationship between capacity and demand.  For that matter, I’m not even worried much about demand, which is another matter.  I’m mostly talking about capacity.

What is capacity?

According to some, capacity is a measure of volume of work.  Throughput, for instance.  According to others, it’s the wherewithal to do the work.  Either way, too many operations don’t know what their capacity is. 

What does it actually take to get work done?  And, along with that, can it be reasonably expected of the operation to reliably and predictably continue to run how it runs (not knowing exactly how it runs) and to have any right to greater-than-zero confidence that they will continue to run as it does?

For one thing, many operations run outside of reasonable tolerances. In particular, people put in many many hours of unpaid over-time [in the US this is common for salaried employees].  This is an "out-of-tolerance" condition.  It is unreasonable to expect an operation’s greatest source of working knowledge to continue to work nights and weekends.  Furthermore, it is risky to do so.  One client said he couldn’t be away from the office for 5 minutes before product would stop shipping.  Eventually he will get married or his wife will have a child, or, heaven-forbid, he may take vacation! 

What’s worse is the extra time he and his team put in is entirely unaccounted-for.  His employer merely estimates, contracts, and bills enough to cover his and the team’s salaries, not what it actually takes to get work done.

Another reason true capacity is obscured is because more work going into the operation than there’s product (or services) coming out.  The most common cause of this is the misperception that work started = work completed, but this is an incomplete equation.  But a better equation to work with is work worked-on = work completed.  The key mistakes is the assumption that started = in-work.  That’s true for maybe 50% of the actual started work (often less).

This next reason for the lack of insight into true capacity (or capability, really) is that so many operations don’t account (either in their estimates — which sort-of makes sense — or in their capture of time-spent — which is unforgivable) for the time to correct defects, time to perform rework, time for paying-down technical debt, or time and effort to tracking-down the causes of defects and rework to avoid defects, rework, and technical debt in the first place!

I’ll end with one of the toughest, most sensitive observations of the last few months.  Some of my best clients (from the perspective of having their act together) have strong confidence in functional competence and, admittedly, weaker confidence in their programmatic credibility.  And, to put it plainly, by "programmatic" I mean their ability to have the same confidence in the rationale for their estimates and plans as they have in their ability to produce what their clients want. 

In these operations, I’ve found fundamental disconnects between how work is estimated and why clients should trust the technical competence of the operation.  In other words, they build trust with their prospects and clients on their ability to do the work and build the products, but in order to get the work in the first place they have to use a lot of hand-waving and breath-holding when it comes to their estimates.

A more-or-less summary way to describe all of this is as follows:

Most operations have Built a way of working that they’ve managed to Capitalize.  Over time, they’ve found that their Build*Capitalize approach is tough to Sustain.  Try that they might, whether it’s CMMI or something else, they’re looking to "fix" the equation on the "Sustain" side.  The problem is that CMMI *does* operate on the Sustain side, but the problems with the operation aren’t in the "Sustain", it’s that their approach to Capitalizing on what they Built is no longer Sustainable.  What needs to change is on the Build side.  Occasionally, there’s a need to revisit the Capitalize component, but most often it’s the Build that needs refactoring.

Hence, applying CMMI to an operation whose "build" is broken is putting the cart before the horse.  While it’s possible to build CMMI practices into the operation’s way of working, this is an activity of the "build" side of the equation, the sort I noted above contrasting from applying CMMI to the sustain side.  If CMMI is to be truly about improving the processes of the operation in a "sustaining" sort of way, and not defining them, the operation must understand what’s going on, and that means it must know its capacity.  Because unless it knows its capacity, it doesn’t really know what’s going on.