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The Drive for Continuous Improvement

Jim - March 3, 2020 - 0 comments

Driving change across an organization begins with taking the right steps toward achieving a positive business outcome. A number of ways exist to improve your team and its productivity, realize true transformation, and achieve development excellence. But how do you ensure you’re making progress? Inward-looking methodologies are designed to paint a realistic picture of where an organization must change in order to become leaner and more productive. Conducting these types of exercises on a regular basis creates an environment of continuous improvement. What are the benefits of adopting a mindset of continuous improvement? And is your team ready to take the plunge?

The Retrospective vs. Lessons Learned

In the Agile environment, the Retrospective is a key ceremony that each team should be practicing on a regular basis. The Retrospective allows the team to stop and reflect at the end of each sprint. The teams ask themselves three questions: are there things that could be done better? Are there things that are being done well? And are there things should be stopped? These questions may seem simple but can cause a great deal of angst within a team. In fact, some teams can even view the Retrospective as an actual impediment, and many Agile coaches find that the Retrospective is skipped altogether.

When a team doesn’t have enough time or simply believes that the Retrospective ceremony adds no value, there’s an obvious question an Agile Coach should ask: is this organization committed to improving, or are they just paying lip service? This hard cold reality underlies the fact that the basic organizational culture change that should have been implemented at the start of the transformation was either not done or not done correctly.

A similar process exists in the waterfall environment. Known as the Lessons Learned method, this process asks similar questions to the Retrospective ceremony but is instead done at the end of a project. The obvious weakness in this approach is that time moves quickly, memories fade and issues can often get blurred.

Kaizen: The Solution?

In both the Retrospective and Lessons Learned methods, teams may still struggle to solve plaguing problems. In these scenarios, instilling a mindset of continuous improvement is needed as opposed to practicing a ceremony or method, stopping, and then going on to another activity. The practice of Kaizen, a Japanese management method, pushes a firm to institute a mindset of continuous improvement by encouraging regular, incremental improvements. This can be a daunting task for the staff-level person and the manager alike, but the truth is that every organization must deal with this reality to improve every day. If a body becomes complacent or assumes their market share is always safe, then they’ve already lost the battle before it begins.

Looking Across Your Company

A technique of using the process of impediment identification found in the Agile process, can be leveraged across your company. In a highly successful technique, a skilled facilitator can work to identify areas where major impediments are impacting multiple teams. This organizational exercise drives continuous improvement and can eradicate impediments that are causing rippling impact to teams. The key element in this exercise is that the management team is responsible, and the “scrum team” works these impediments.

The Agile process teaches the idea of embracing change, but the reality is that people are often hamstrung with culture, management and other issues that can make them very resistant to change. The linchpin to this need to change can be summed up in a quote by General Eric Shinseki: “If you dislike change, you are going to dislike irrelevance even more.”

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