London lean kanban days 2017

Last week, I had the immense privilege of participating in London Lean Kanban Days 2017, including a mind-blowing day of workshops with the speakers. Infinite thank you for this amazing opportunity. Here are a few highlights and my retrospection on the event.

Highlights and insights

Andy Charmichael's session deconstructed some common business practices, highlighting how deadlines create turbulence in flow and result in less forecastability and how some financial policies, such as capitalisation of work in progress and no recognition of cost of delay, inhibit business agility. His advice is to "manage to real changes in cost of delay, not iteration boundaries". He introduced the "first rule of Kanban Club" ;-) making the case for undercover change.

A deep concern for humanity and the evolution of our organisations was, not surprisingly, a constant throughout the event. Mike Borrow dreams of a world where people can work consistently at their best. Eben Halford points out that as humans we are conditioned from early years, namely through school, to expect success to be rewarded and failure to be punished. Gitte Klitgaard questions if (@NativeWired) being professional and being yourself are mutually exclusive. The common idea is that we need to make it safe to fail.

Along the same lines, Marc Brugauer makes the case for the Eupsychian Manager towards a good mind and soul. In his session, Jon Terry's advises on granting autonomy with respect, creating an environment where humble people hungry for learning, not smart jerks, are able to experiment and fail.

Several sessions built their ideas on solid, old teachings. Drucker, Maslov, Deming are the foundation for a great deal of collective achievements still on the horizon. At some point, someone from the audience provokes "are these still relevant 60 years on?". Marc Brugauer's polite response asserted that we're only now scratching the surface.

Patrick Steyaert presented a great session on the importance of managing upstream flow. He constantly stressed that upstream is a funnel, not a pipeline. In order to prevent batches and starvation downstream, you need to regulate flow upstream, not via limiting WIP, rather by limiting effort and applying incremental commitment down the funnel. His practical suggestions include using real options, triaging techniques and "stock like" order points.

Some other sessions were focused on practical tools, namely actionable agile metrics. Diving into scatter plots as a narrative of flow and learning about the cycle time aging chart with Dan Vacanti was both fun and enlightening. Discovering the cumulative flow-efficiency-diagram was a powerful insight as well.

Playing the NoEstimates board game, was exciting and entertaining. Having two people that I've previously worked with in my team, was serendipitous and, probably, the reason why we won the game. But winning was not the point. The game is extremely effective in demonstrating the benefits of WIP limits in minimising the cost of delay. It illustrates the effectiveness of pull systems and the practice of flocking right to get things over the line first.

A final word about this session by Helen Meek and Richard Arpino on the many forms of feedback loops. They gifted a creative tool to evaluate our feedback loops, a feedback feedback loop if you will :-D. My take-away: everything is feedback.

A community of needs, not solutions

As far as I understand, the core group behind this conference goes way back. To them, gathering yearly in London and Scotland has become a bit like coming back home, a family reunion. It was rather explicit in some of the talks and interventions that the group is, in the spirit of Lean/Agile, undergoing a retrospective process, trying to reinvent themselves and their contribution to the world.

There are some sounding concerns about the state of Lean and Agile. Some will go as far as stating that "someone shot agile in the back of the head and agile is in a coma". The blame is on the somewhat predatory and mercenary practices, out there milking the cow, selling solutions, packages of process and tools and solace coaching.

The core proposition seems to be that this is a community grounded in science, multidisciplinary research, and human values. A community focused on discovering, exploring, and understanding human and social needs, as opposed to prescribing solutions, tools and frameworks.

The diversity of backgrounds among speakers and attendants is admirable: academics, coaches, mathematicians, linguists, psychologists, and so on. Trains of thought going in every direction. And still, there's a calling to have even more science involved.

My question: when will the community recognise that poets, artists, philosophers are needed as well?

My retrospective

I'm kind of late to this party. Having spent the last 10 years in scrum-la-la-land, I was totally missing out on what was happening just around corner.

Had previously met a few coaches with more Lean than Agile in them. I had read quite a bit, even experimented with a few concepts, but ... my brain just wasn't ready to take on 3 days of first hand, unfiltered, high energy and low impedance access to this hivemind and its combined knowledge and experience.

A week later, my brain is finally cooling down, the confusion is dissipating and a good feeling is settling in: my values are reinforced, new trains of thought are developing. I have discovered new principles, practices and tools.

I look forward to experiment. I'm hungry to learn and to keep evolving.