Reflections on LSSC Conference 2011 – Long Beach, CA

The LSSC continues to be a very open and passionate group about educating folks about Lean principles and practices and Kanban.  I find this group to have many more folks that think in terms of Adaptive Systems Thinking and taking an inter-disciplinary approach when approaching software and systems development than in the purist Agile Communities. Quite refreshing! 

That said, there was some “agile bashing” going on which I don’t subscribe too.  IMO, LSSC members need to keep an open mind and treat Lean and Kanban as tools for their professional tool belt that can be applied where the context is appropriate.  This openness will prevent the rise of zealots in the space that can prevent the group from thinking and allowing principles and practices to organically evolve as learning occurs.  

I heard some folks at the conference talking about Kanban and they made it sound like all you needed to do was put up a board and things just worked.  In my experiences it’s not that simple.  The concepts of Kaizen and Kaikaku were thrown around alot, but sometimes I wonder if everyone was really clear on their meaning.  I find it interesting that folks will say Scrum is ‘bad’ but then talk about Kaikaku.   IMO, implementing Scrum is more Kaikaku (transformation) then just implementing a Kanban board.  And from a change management approach, frameworks like Scrum can effectively ‘script the critical moves’ which Chip and Dan Heath point out as being critical to change in their book “Switch”.  Much what determines the right moves for an organization depend on its context.

There were some very thought-provoking keynotes given by Dave Snowden and Chet Richards.  If you are a member of the LSSC, look for the videos of these presentations to be posted soon on the LSSC website.  I highly recommend joining.  I especially liked Dave Snowden’s explanation of the woes of our current educational system, that we have been and continue to be growing a generation of “industrial recipe followers” instead of true “chefs”.  This metaphor hit the nail in the head.  You see this in the behavior of management in organizations to not think about problems or think about learning from failures and improve but instead pursue buying another process / silver bullet.  We need to stress that failure only has no value if one doesn’t learn from it and to learn from it we need t be thinkers not recipe followers.

There were a couple excellent experience reports that really showed how the use of Kanban really did help large organizations improve where Scrum did not work for them. It would have been beneficial to have more information on exactly how the Scrum based transformations where introduced and run to provide a more balanced perspective.  I usually find that the failure occurs because of a lack of understanding of change management and teams only picking the practices that were more comfortable for them rather than using the basics of the framework. 

I had several excellent conversations with Alan Shalloway, David Anderson and other thought leaders in the Lean / Kanban space on practical application of Lean / Kanban for teams that are currently trying to practice some flavor of Agile.  Also, there was quite a bit of discussion in the halls about where Kanban is not as applicable.

Frode Odegard’s presentation “Beyond Lean Value Streams: A Systems Approach” was quite thought-provoking.  It gave an overview of the Lean Software Institutes (LSI) five-dimensional model of business systems and showed how it can be used to implement Kaikaku to create transparency at multiple levels and enable substantial performance improvements 

I participated in the product show case for VersionOne and observed several other vendors visualization tools for Kanban boards.  From what I can tell, LeanKit is the only vendor that seems to be thinking in terms of how UI design needs to evolve when you consider tactile interfaces.  Very soon we’re going to be seeing large tactile interfaces like you see on TV shows like Hawaii Five-O and the CSI shows become economical for companies to utilize for visualization.  (Did you know you can get a 42” touch-enabled LCD monitor from HP for $1800? )  This type of technology will be a game changer for distributed teams being able to use virtual boards.  If you want to get an idea of what will be coming in the not too distant future, watch this video called “A Day With Glass” produced by Owens Corning and start imagining 🙂   Pay special attention to the scenes in the work setting.  Imagine a Kanban board with the abilities shown in the video… Like VTC overlaid with the board.

LSSC11 ranks up there as one the top 3 conferences I’ve attended during my career in terms of learning and thought exchange.  I’m looking forward to next year’s event in Boston, May 13-16, 2012.  Hope to see you there!

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About Mike DePaoli

Mike DePaoli has been contributing to the IT community for over two decades and practicing agile and lean approaches to software development since 1996 in roles from programmer to CTO. His evolved approach to crafting successful lean-agile software development organizations was forged by the meaningful challenges he undertook at prior employers and as an Agile Coach at companies such as eBay, Adobe Systems, AOL, NetApp, Disney, Boeing, EMC, and Trizetto. Mike’s area of expertise is helping organizations craft strategic change initiatives that educate on and establish agile and lean values, principles and practices at every tier of the organization. Mike applies systematic thinking with a multi-discipline approach to his work. Mike is a Certified SAFe Agilist, Certified Scrum Professional, Certified Scrum Master (CSM) and Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO). He is a highly-regarded speaker in the Agile community having spoken at Agile conferences in North America, South America and Europe. He is currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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