Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Train-Wreck Management

“On October 5, 1841, two Western Railroad passenger trains collided somewhere between Worchester, Massachusetts and Albany, New York, killing a conductor and a passenger and injuring seventeen passengers. That disaster marked the beginning of a new management era." [1] These words open Peter Scholtes classic book on leadership. He goes on to explain how the term "management" was unknown in the days of cottage industries. As business grew and became geographically disperse in the 1800's, a way to run these businesses had to be found. But there were no models outside the church and the military, so investigators into the train-wreck disaster looked to the Prussian army for a model. And there they found the classic organization chart - the one we know so well today. Scholtes calls it the "train-wreck" chart. It was revolutionary at the time.

The purpose of what became today's organization chart was clear: The assignment of responsibility would enable "prompt detection of derelictions of duty... and point out the delinquent." Scholtes says: "A fundamental premise of the 'train-wreck' approach to management is that the primary cause of problems is 'dereliction of duty'. The purpose of the organizational chart is to sufficiently specify those duties so that management can quickly assign blame, should another accident occur."[1].

Note the thinking here: Problems are caused by people who don't do their job well, so finding someone to blame is the first step to correcting problems. Scholtes notes: "The era of management that began in the mid-1800's can be characterized as "management by results.".... Since managers could no longer do the work themselves or direct others in the doing of the work, managers exercised their authority by holding people accountable for results.... In the 1950's, management by results reached its epitome in MBO (Management By Objectives) and performance appraisals, the Harvardization of train-wreck management."[1] He goes on to say that at the time, this theory of management was the best available, and it succeeded in creating order out of chaos. "People like Whistler, McCallum, Frederick Taylor or Henry Ford in the United States or Darby, the Stephensons, or Brunel in England were pioneers.... they did their best and, by and large, what they did was very good."

"Meanwhile, in Japan...." is the title of the next section Scholtes' book. He chronicles how a better approach to management emerged in Japan in the 1950's assisted by W. Edwards Deming. Deming taught that most of the problems we encounter (perhaps 90%) are the result of multiple influences, they generally cannot be attributed to a single cause. Assigning blame for a problem to the last person involved is worse than counterproductive, it will probably make the bad situation worse. Exhorting people to "be careful," "try harder," and "work smarter" is not useful if individuals have little effect on results. Rewarding or punishing people for outcomes that are not under their control can only result in discouragement - or in gaming the system. Instead, chronic problems must be fixed by finding their underlying causes and addressing these effectively. As Deming points out, this usually involves changing the system - the way things are done. And according to Deming, it is management's job to change the system.

Process or People?
Agile software development places a strong emphasis on putting change into the hands of front-line people on self-directed teams - isn't this contrary to Deming's philosophy? Writing in 1995, Scholtes lists what he calls "fads" for addressing systemic problems: "empower people, put them into self-directed teams, motivate them, offer incentives, reengineer and reinvent them." And then he says: "All of the empowered, motivated, teamed-up, self-directed, incentivized, accountable, reengineered, and reinvented people you can muster cannot compensate for a dysfunctional system.... A well-run organization with well-functioning systems allows people from top to bottom do work of which they can be proud."[1] So where does this leave us? Which is more important - process or people?

It helps if we trade in the overloaded word "process" and use "system."

In the article "Managing a Living System, not a Ledger"[2] H. Thomas Johnson says "Managers at Toyota believe that improving the system is the surest way to improve long term financial results." He points out that Toyota takes lots and lots of measurements, but they do not use these as performance measurements. Johnson writes: "...Toyota makes virtually no use of management accounting targets (or 'levers') to control or motivate operations... Toyota focuses its operations on continuous system improvement through endless rapid problem solving. And they emphasize genchi genbutsu, or 'going to the place,' to see where a problem occurs, firsthand. They don't rely on second-hand reports or tables and charts of data to achieve a true understanding of root cause. Instead they go to the place (gemba) where you can watch, observe, and 'ask why five times.' This attitude shows a deep appreciation that results (and problems) ultimately emanate from, and are explained by, complex processes and concrete relationships, not by abstract, quantitative relationships that describe results in simple, linear, additive terms." Winding up the article, Johnson says: "Financial quantities cannot reveal if a system is improving or not... No company that talks about improving performance can know what it is doing if its primary window on results is financial information and not system principles.... Companies that intend to perform like Toyota should recognize that... they will never get there by trying to motivate and direct 'lean' initiatives with 'lean accounting' and management accounting 'levers of control.'"

Taiichi Ohno on Standard Work
Let's go back to the source of the Toyota Production System, Taiichi Ohno, and see what he had to say about process - how it is established and how it is changed.[3]

There is something called standard work, but standards should be changed constantly. Instead, if you think of the standard as the best you can do, it's all over. The standard work is only a baseline for doing further kaizen. It is kai-aku [change for the worse] if things get worse than now, and it is kaizen [change for the better] if things get better than now. Standards are set arbitrarily by humans, so how can they not change?

When creating Standard Work, it will be difficult to establish a standard if you are trying to achieve 'the best way.' This is a big mistake. Document exactly what you are doing now. If you make it better than it is now, it is kaizen. If not, and you establish the best possible way, the motivation for kaizen will be gone. That is why one way of motivating people to do kaizen is to create a poor standard. But don't make it too bad. Without some standard, you can't say 'We made it better' because there is nothing to compare it to, so you must create a standard for comparison.

Take that standard, and if the work is not easy to perform, give many suggestions and do kaizen.

We need to use the words 'you made' as in 'follow the decisions you made.' When we say 'they were made' people feel like it was forced upon them. When a decision is made, we need to ask who made the decision. Since you also have the authority to decide, if you decide, you must at least follow your decision, and then this will not be forced upon you at all.

But in the beginning, you must perform the Standard Work, and as you do, you should find things you don't like, and you will think of one kaizen idea after another. Then you should implement these ideas right away, and make this the new standard.

Years ago, I made them hang the standard work documents on the shop floor. After a year I said to a team leader, 'The color of the paper has changed, which means you have been doing it the same way, so you have been a salary thief for the last year.' I said 'What do you come to work to do each day? If you are observing every day you ought to be finding things you don't like, and rewriting the standard immediately. Even if the document hanging there is from last month, this is wrong.' At Toyota in the beginning we had the team leaders write down the dates on the standard work sheets when they hung them. This gave me a good reason to scold the team leaders, saying 'Have you been goofing off all month?'

If it takes one or two months to create these documents, this is nonsense. You should not create these away from the job. See what is happening on the gemba and write it down.

Process AND People
Ohno believed that the primary job of team leaders (first line supervisors) is the constant improvement of the way work gets done. Work standards should be written and posted, but this had better not take very long because the standards should change all the time - at least once a month. Standards are not about how work should be done, but how work is being done. You don't want the standard to be too perfect, because that leaves no incentive for workers to improve their standards. If workers are annoyed by a standard, they are expected to change it. They do not drop a suggestion in a suggestion box, they do kaizen. That is, workers - led by their team leader - do many rapid experiments, find a better way, agree on the improvement, quickly document the new way, and use it. When a standard is improved, the decision for the change must be made by the people doing the work, so they won't feel it is being forced upon them.

People like to use effective processes, and they also like to have control over their own environment. The Toyota Production System provides for both. Ohno made it clear that people must be at the center of improving their own processes. Process improvement may be done only "at the gemba" and it is up to the workers to decide whether or not a proposed improvement should be implemented. Workers are expected to keep changing the way they do their job; in fact, it is bad leadership to have a process so perfect that workers have little incentive to improve it!

Assessment and Certification
Scholtes takes process improvement assessment programs such as ISO 9000 to task because even though they seem good on the surface, they have some problems:[1]
  1. The pursuit of quality must be guided by a larger context than certification - it requires a holistic, integrated, long term commitment.
  2. Certification is not equal to satisfied customers - you can do the wrong thing as long as you do it consistently.
  3. Assessment has a tone of paternalism and mistrust - it replaces internal motivation with external motivation.
  4. Assessment assumes that inspectors are all the same - but inspections are not standardized.
  5. A certified process is difficult to change - Ohno would be appalled.

When Deming said "change the system", he was talking about changing the complex, interrelated processes used to get work done. Deming believed that changing the system is management's primary job, and in order to do this, managers need competency in four areas:
  1. Appreciation for the overall system in which work is done
  2. An understanding of variation - and the true relationship between cause and effect
  3. Constant pursuit of learning (improvement) through designed experiments
  4. An understanding of the psychology of people
When all of these areas are balanced and working together, great things can happen.

[1] The Leader's Handbook, by Peter R. Scholtes, McGraw-Hill, 1998.

[2] "Managing a Living System, Not a Ledger,", by H. Thomas Johnson, Lean Manufacturing 2007, Supplement to Manufacturing Engineering, SME, August 2007. Johnson also coauthored Profit Beyond Measure: Extraordinary Results through Attention to Work and People, Free Press, November, 2000.

[3] Workplace Management, by Taiichi Ohno, originally published in 1982, from translation by Jon Miller, Gemba Press, 2007.

Screen Beans Art, © A Bit Better Corporation

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Bringing Lean to Software Development

Software is not about making something, it’s about making something work. Take software out of a cell phone, a car, a factory, a business, and it won’t work anymore. Software is the brains behind just about everything complicated that we try to do.

In 1960, J.C.R. Licklider, the visionary behind the Internet, wrote: “The main aims [of software] are 1) to let computers facilitate formulative thinking as they now facilitate the solution of formulated problems, and 2) to enable men and computers to cooperate in making decisions and controlling complex situations without inflexible dependence on predetermined programs.”[1] In 1962, Licklider articulated his vision of an “intergalactic network” connecting everyone in the world.[2] Throughout his life, Licklider could be found in a leadership role in one of the organizations that worked to convert his vision into reality: Bolt Beranek and Newman(BBN), ARPA, IBM Research, MIT. He died in 1990, just as the ideas he championed finally grew into the Internet.

If we look at the Internet through Licklider’s eyes, we see the real purpose of software – it does the routine thinking for us so that we can turn our minds to more complex problems. If we look at the evolution of the Internet, we see what developing software is really all about. At its core, software development is the process of gradually finding ways to turn over more and more of what we know to computers so that we have more space left in our minds to discover ever more interesting things.

The Truck-Driving Problem
Imagine that you are responsible for driving a truck across America, along highways, through cities and around detours, dealing with whatever idiosyncrasies that weather and traffic might throw at you. Now imagine that your job is not to drive the truck, but program a computer to drive the truck for you. How would you go about this task?

Many people – especially those who have never built software – would break this problem into a series of steps: first design the logic of the system; second, translate that logic into code; and finally, add the code to the truck and test that it works. But you can imagine that a problem as complex as the truck-driving problem is far too complex to solve with this approach. Instead, the problem is being tackled over time with a lot of experimentation and testing, one module at a time. Today we have laser following cruise control and tomorrow we will have lane following capability. Soon we might expect congestion detectors and GPS guidance. Someday the truck-driving problem might be solved, but by the time it is, the system will no doubt be a lot different than what we imagine today.

Conventional Wisdom
Unfortunately, it has been conventional wisdom in software development to separate design from coding, coding from testing, and software from the system it supports. This gives us development processes that ignore the learning loops necessary to discover the logic of a complex system, create concrete representations of the system, make sure that these work together, and over time, grow a system that becomes capable of accomplishing the complete job. In software development, we have been asked to solve too many truck-driving problems. And when it turns out that we have been handed an impossible problem, it’s usually the developers – not the process or the scale of the problem – that are held responsible for the failure.

When I was an IT manager in a manufacturing plant in the early 1980’s, we discovered that the conventional wisdom about the way that manufacturing should be done had become obsolete. We figured this out because our competitors in Japan started doing things that produced far better results than we were able to achieve. In response to this serious competitive threat, we threw out conventional wisdom and decided to try the counterintuitive approach being used in Japan, called “Just-in-Time.” As a management team, we came to agree on a few basic principles and enlisted the wisdom of everyone in the plant to figure out how to make these principles work in practice. Indeed, it took some time and a lot of hard work to implement Just-in-Time in our plant. As part of the effort, we completely changed the way we thought about quality and used statistics to gain a deeper insight into how our equipment worked. Slowly, it seemed to us, we got better. In retrospect, the improvement was dramatic, but it certainly didn’t feel like it at the time.

Today, the name “Just-in-Time” has been replaced with “Lean,” but to me it remains largely about the same thing: abandoning conventional wisdom that has become obsolete and moving on to a new way of thinking. The transformation will be multifaceted, principle-based, and entail a lot of very hard work by everyone, workers and managers alike. And – probably – it will only happen if there is something that shakes people up enough to cause them to abandon conventional wisdom and look for a new way of thinking about how to do their job.

For those who look upon Lean as a set of operational practices, it doesn’t make sense to apply Lean to software development. Inventory, motion, variation, overproduction – the wastes of an operational process – don’t translate easily to the job of creating the brains of a system and making it smarter it over time. In fact, software development has long been plagued by inappropriate comparisons with other fields. Too often, analogies are created by someone who has only a passing acquaintance with a field. For example, someone who knows little about construction might say: “Buildings are completely designed before construction starts – if it works for buildings, why can’t it work for software?” I once discussed this analogy with a group of construction superintendants, who just about laughed me out of the room. They live in a world of incomplete and conflicting drawings, master schedules that bear no resemblance to reality, owners who regularly change their minds, and the constant threat of lawsuits.

Manufacturing analogies have been foisted upon software development by those who think that “cutting code” is pretty much the same thing as cutting metal. It’s painful to imagine the damage that has been done to software development by the manufacturing slogan “Do it Right the First Time.” I often wonder how this slogan came to mean that code should never have to be changed once it is committed to the code base. In our plant, product specs and manufacturing processes changed all the time; we just tested a product after each tiny step to be sure that no defects had appeared. Declaring that we should not have to change code once it is written is like decreeing that once we start our truck out across the country we should never have to change the planned route, no matter what detours or bad weather or flat tires we might encounter along the way.

I was only vaguely aware of the dangers of analogies when I set out to compare Lean software development to Lean manufacturing. I like using analogies – consider the truck-driving problem for example. I think of analogies as tools to help us understand and agree upon principles; but they should never be used as implementation guidelines. Copying specific practices from another field – or even from another company in our field – is a lazy way to implement change. First class execution is possible only when teams carefully think through the principles behind new ideas, understand how these principles apply to their world, and carefully adapt specific practices so that they make sense in the new context.

Paradigm Shift
I didn’t run into the term “waterfall” until 1999, and when I learned what it meant, I did not understand how it could possibly work. Therefore I was not surprised to discover that “waterfall” processes really don’t work – what surprised me was the fact that conventional wisdom held that they should work. I decided that the time had come for a paradigm shift in software development, similar to the paradigm shift that manufacturing experienced during the 1980’s and early 90’s.

Paradigm shifts require that someone with a clear understanding of a core problem in a particular field demonstrate a new and significantly better way to address this core problem. There’s no question in my mind that in manufacturing, the core problem was push scheduling – at least it certainly was in our plant. Simply implementing an effective pull system drove all sorts of other good behavior, and led eventually to significant cost reductions. We decommissioned a lot of software when we implemented our pull system, because the logic of our existing scheduling system was fundamentally flawed.

In that 1999 waterfall project, the core problem I experienced was the idea that development should be a series of handoffs: Analysis, Design, Coding, Testing, Deployment. The problem wasn’t that these steps were unimportant, but that each step was supposed to be completed before the next step began – and since the next step would be done by a different group of people, the handoff had to be done through documentation. The counterintuitive concept in Lean software development is to turn this process on its side and deploy completely done software in small increments. Let’s not even try to develop a system that will drive a truck, let’s see if it is possible to add some intelligence to cruise control and get that working while there is still a driver behind the wheel. Of course this means we are not sure how a fully automated truck will work, when it might be ready or how much it might cost. But if we keep the ultimate goal of an automated truck in mind and design our laser following cruise control wisely, we will be a step closer to a self-driving truck.

It might seem obvious that a completely automated truck is far too ambitious an undertaking, so splitting it up into incremental steps is the best way to make progress. What is counterintuitive is that this approach should scale downward. But it does. And if you look at any really successful complex system, this is the way it was developed. Lean development requires a visionary leader and a sponsor willing to fund the vision rather than a promise that is unlikely to be kept. However, such a sponsor can be hard to find; sponsors always seem to want a “plan.”
The “Plan”
The core problem in software development can be boiled down to the intense pressure for a “plan” that lays out what the software will be able to do, how long it will take, and what it will cost – and the subsequent expectation that development will follow this “plan”. The problem is magnified when the software is expected to be developed independently from the system for which the software will supply the brains. Why is planning a problem? Isn’t a plan essential? As Dwight Eisenhower once said: planning is indispensable, but plans are useless.

The problem with software is that the logic behind any system is inherently complex, and developing that logic independently from the system increases the complexity by at least an order of magnitude. As Fred Brooks once noted, “The complexity of software is an essential property… Many of the classical problems of developing software products derive from this essential complexity and its nonlinear increase with size.”[3] Trying to plan a large software development effort is not much different than trying to plan the development of a software package to drive a truck across America – without access to the truck.

You might notice that the core problem of software development is beginning to bear some resemblance to the core problem of manufacturing – we suffer from push scheduling in manufacturing and push planning in software development. But the antidote is somewhat different. In manufacturing, switching from push to pull scheduling gives dramatic results. In software development, switching from forecast-driven to feedback-driven development gives equally dramatic results.

The Antidote
Embedded in every development “plan” is a forecast – a guess really – of what will happen in the future. Plans that separate the logic of a system from the system itself are based on an additional layer of guessing – ahem – forecasting. If we base the development of a complex system on forecasts, we are doing forecast-driven development. If we develop and deploy small useful feature sets and get them working incrementally, then we are doing feedback-driven development. For simple systems, either approach will work. For large, complex or evolving systems, the only feasible approach is feedback-driven development.

There is a great appetite for predictability in any business that has to answer to shareholders or any organization that is under public scrutiny. This is entirely appropriate. However, the idea that predictability comes from creating a plan and then following the plan is fundamentally flawed when complex systems are involved. Following a plan will create predictability only to the extent that the plan is based on an accurate forecast of the future and a thorough understanding of the complexity of the system to be developed. Since I am a process control engineer, I would like to call to your attention something we learned a long time ago: When you really need predictability, you create a feedback system that can respond to change as it occurs, rather than a predictive system that is incapable of dealing with variation.

Many people are concerned about feedback-driven development – it seems to imply a lack of control. But when we are trying to create the brains behind a system, control is hardly what it is all about. The vision behind the Internet had nothing to do with control – and everything to do with finding ways for people to communicate and think more effectively. It took decades of detailed work engaging great minds from around the world for the Internet to become a reality, and it will continue to emerge for decades to come. This great network of software started with a vision and grew with careful guidance, detailed technical work, and extensive collaboration. If you want to understand how Lean software development works, you need look no further.

References and Notes
[1]Licklider, L.C.R. (1960). "Man-Computer Symbiosis" IRE Transactions on Human Factors in Electronics, v.HFE-1. p.4-11.

[2] This was described in a series of memos by Licklider.

[3] The Mythical Man Month, 20th Anniversary Edition, by Fred P. Brooks, Jr., Addison Wesley,1995.

Friday, January 12, 2007

How Does Toyota Do it? (Book Review)

When Matthew May was asked to help translate the Toyota Production System for the knowledge worker, he thought: “Huh? It doesn’t make any sense. Everyone knows factory work isn’t creative, right?”

How wrong he was. He found that factory workers were more engaged and creative than their corporate counterparts. Their jobs weren’t creative, their job were to be creative. He found that the Toyota organization implements a million new ideas a year – three thousand ideas a day. May notes that these new ideas are the real reason Toyota makes over twice as much money as any other carmaker, with under 15% of the market. These thousands upon thousands of implemented ideas are the engine of Toyota’s innovation.

Who needs another book on innovation? May asks in the introduction to his book, The Elegant Solution: Toyota’s Formula for Mastering Innovation. You do. This book is a great read – short lessons, lots and lots of case studies and examples both in the text and in the sidebars liberally sprinkled throughout the book. This is a book unlike any other on innovation; it is the result of May’s deep thinking and experience in trying to identify for Toyota University what innovation in Toyota actually means.

The book outlines three principles and ten practices for driving innovation in knowledge work, and concludes with a couple of brief chapters on how to get started down this path.

  1. The Art of Ingenuity. The pressure to innovate falls on the individual – every single individual in the company. First, ingenuity means connecting with your work, whatever it is, understanding why it is important, and making sure that it is a good fit with your skills and interests. If it isn’t create a job that is. Second, ingenuity means constantly experimenting to figure out how to do that job better. Third and most important, everybody is expected to use their ingenuity – everybody – all of the time.
  2. The Pursuit of Perfection.  There is no such thing as perfection – but aspiring to achieve perfection is nevertheless the goal. A good example of this principle can be found in the Fast Company article No Satisfaction at Toyota, an article about constant innovation at the Georgetown Kentucky factory. Read the article, it does a fantastic job at explaining the pursuit of perfection.
  3. The Rhythm of Fit. Innovation is always obvious – after the fact. But discovering the obvious is not such an easy task. It requires that you are grounded in today, yet have a clear vision of tomorrow. It requires systems thinking, rather than program thinking. And it requires the right social context – one that inspires rather than suppresses creativity.
  1. Let Learning Lead. Real learning is not about books or lectures or workshops. It is about constantly trying things and finding out what works. Learning involves asking the right questions much more than finding the right answers. Learning means moving the Scientific Method from PhD programs in Universities to the shop floor and the knowledge worker. Learning comes first.
  2. Learn to See. Walk in the shoes of the front line worker. Live the life of the customer. Data is important, but it’s interpretation that converts data into information. Learn to walk around and observe what is really happening. Watch your customer, become your customer, involve your customer.
  3. Design for Today. As good as Toyota is at anticipating the future, their innovations are always grounded in clear and present needs – demographic shifts, energy shortages, safety concerns. The idea is, as hockey great Wayne Gretzky once said: “Skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.” Market leaders don’t so much create markets as they understand where the market is going to go, and skate there.
  4. Think in Pictures.
  5. Capture the Intangible. The most compelling solutions are often perceptual and emotional.” May says. For example, when the Lexus team was designing the car, the entire team spend three months living in luxury in southern California, just to feel what their customers felt. They learned that luxury cars were not transportation, they were a safe sanctuary and quiet escape. Provide an ‘experience’ instead of a ‘product’.
  6. Leverage the Limits. This chapter centers on a wonderful story about Toyota’s North American Parts Operations (NAPO) stretch goals. In the year 2000, Jane Beseda, newly appointed vice president and general manager, challenged NAPO with ten audacious and mutually competing goals, including inventory reduction, response time reduction, and waste reduction. The goals were such that they could only be achieved by departments working together across what had been organizational boundaries, and the results were nothing short of amazing.
  7. Master the Tension. A McKinsey study on global productivity in the late 1990’s found that the companies which improved productivity the most were invariably companies in highly competitive industries. These companies had to find a better way of doing things – it was a matter of survival – but could not afford to throw money at the problem. We agree with May – constraints coupled with challenge provide the breeding ground for innovation.
  8. Run the Numbers.There is a place for instinct, but temper it with facts. Think hard about what the important numbers are – and they are often not the obvious ones. With insight into what numbers are important, capturing and analyzing data will confirm instinct (or not) and uncover patterns that are otherwise invisible. 
  9. Make Kaizen Mandatory. Standards exist to be challenged and changed. They are the current best-known way of doing things, and they are documented and followed by everyone. But they objective is to change the standard, to keep on improving the way things are done. Taiichi Ohno once said “Something is wrong if workers do not look around each day, find things that are tedious or boring, and then rewrite the procedures. Even last month’s manual should be out of date.”
  10. Keep it Lean. Scale it back, keep it simple, make it flawless, let it flow. May notes “We are hardwired to hunt, gather, and horde. To think more. So lean runs counter to human nature. Getting lean requires fighting the basic instinct to add, accumulate, store. Lean requires a precise understanding of value: the who, what, when, where, how, and why of the customer’s need. It means getting that value to them without complexity creeping in.
Get this book. Read it. It will change the way you think about innovation.