Wednesday, December 21, 2011

And the APO says ”we have a quality problem”

Yesterday was my first daily scrum and I think it went pretty good. As I am incompetent to comment on any of the work items or faults, the team members were talking to each other and not to me – excellent (I think there is far too much SCRUM MANAGING going on). After the daily scrum we discussed a little about the fault situation and how to make the work visible. Since the team preferres (for some reasons which are beyond my understanding – more clarification and digging is needed here) to use some kind of electronic way to control their work we also agreed that team members update this table in the wiki page before the daily scrum, so that the team can see how the burndown looks like. Yes – small improvements indeed – however they are coming from the team / the importance is acknowledged by the team and its not coming from ”upper management”.
I had some coffee table discussion with other scrum masters and one thing became obvious: the organization is learning and improving. The problem seems to me that it does not happen systematically (enough) neither is the improvment not always in line of thought with Lean, Agile and Scrum values and principles. I drew an illustratation to explain my point:

So, I see two main issues: (A) the underlying assumptions change and the solution does not change and (B) during the solution creation process, there seems to be little if no reflection on whether this proposed solution is in the spirit of Lean and Agile values and principles or not. To tackle point (A): in an ideal solution, the decision making – which typically happens after the thinking period – would require from the decision maker to state all the assumptions expressed in the decision making process. By doing so, those assumptions would be visible and recognized. It requires a certain discipline from the decison maker to maintain a high quality of documentation. On the other hand, it will be relatively easy to spot the change in those underlying assunmptions and thus the decided solution can be questioned more easily and also people can put their arguments based on facts i.e., the document assumptions. (this is nothing new for anybody who has read basic literature on decision making theory, however it seems that organization often do not have time to document those assumptions. So I simply assume that people do not know about that and somebody needs to tell them and then we see what happens). Item (B) is more tricky. It comes down to the question: How do you know that you do not know? (bounded rationality is one of the topics in organizational theory and is part of Transaction Cost Economics Theory). Also in this meeting with the APO I recognize this trap has once more closed. Hey – wait a moment. How am I to say that I obviously know better then the others??? Well, lets put it this way. This is not the first group I observe. Because of the public nature of this blog, I am also not willing to reveal more details on what exactly happened. The issue is that time is pressing and I hear statements like: ”we need to push on”, ”we do not have time now to think this more”, ”we must make a fast decision” (see more later what happened to me personally). A group of 16 people will have at least 17 opinions – each individual plus the group's opinion ( as a whole). Most likely there are several sub-groups which have an opinion as well. Sam Kaner illustrates this nicely in his book ”Facilitator's Guide to Participatory Decision-Making”. His first chapter can be copied (with some limitations of usage), so I recommend to get a book, copy, spread and start reading the first chapter. The group was simply too big to make any meaningful sensible results (IMHO!!!), neither was the discussion using a systematic problem solving method (such as A3). Dividing the team into smaller groups and applying a systematic problem solving method might do good. Give it a try!
I try to illustrate the issue with problem solving from a different angle. Every person looking at a problem has her own view. As a result of that every person creates a different solution going into different direction. Person A does not understand why person B is proposing such a solution (i.e., solution B) and thus, person A might not only ignore solution B but even boycot it (maybe more maybe less actively).

IMO a common understanding of the problem is missing, a common decision on the one solution to try out. This does not mean that the solution will work! Neither should anybody mix this with consensus. There was a sense-making explanation of those concepts in Patrick Lencioni's ”The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable”.
And this is how I try to illustrate the common understanding incl. the common solution (maybe shared point of view and shared solution would be alternative terms).

I think this is also one of the key elements in A3 – by doing the GEMBA, the author and the counterparts will get a common understanding of the problem, its root causes, the goals and as well as the proposed solutions to fix the root causes.
Anyway, this was the first meeting of its kind and I will meet the APO next week – so lets hope we find the time to discuss some of that and get a common understanding on what is problem with the quality-problem-solving. I got some really good feedback from the problem solving workshops which I had two weeks in China. Obviously I like the topic ;)
Stay tuned for me ...

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