As a business owner, I have to remember to manage my own WIP, work in progress. Yves Hanoulle recently wrote about his own encounter with his wip limits, and what he decided to do it with respect to his “Who Is” series.
When you are a manager, program manager, project manager—anyone who leverages the work of other people—you have to limit your own WIP. If you don’t, you can’t pay attention to the most important work you have to do. If you don’t pay attention to the most important work you have to do, and finish it, the people who depend on you for the decisions you make, are working on the wrong thing. If they are working on the wrong project, that means you’re not managing the project portfolio well. If they are going in the wrong direction on a program, that’s waste. If they are going in the wrong direction on a project, that’s waste. Going in the wrong direction doesn’t have to be about requirements, although it certainly can be. It can be about architecture, or a legal decision, or when to get training involved, or all those day-to-day myriad decisions for programs and projects that manage risks.
That’s why I like using kanban or some version of WIP limits for project managers, program managers, and senior managers. No, I don’t often tell them this when I coach them, not at the beginning. I explain we’re going to get to done on a few things, and then a few more things, until they achieve some flow of work through their work. After we finish a few weeks of work together, then I explain what a kanban board looks like, and I ask them if they want to use one. Often, the answer is no for managers. Often, the answer is yes for program managers and project managers. And then, they want to use a freaking tool.
I explain the best tool is a wall and stickies. That the work will change often enough that otherwise they will spend all their time updating the tool, and they will start cursing the tool and the time they spend in the tool. “But how will I share what I’m doing?” I tell them to take a picture with their phone and post it on their common site. Everyone has common web access in the form of a wiki, blog, or something else. It’s easier and faster to post a picture every day than to update a tool.
Transparency in work is great for programs and projects. I would say it’s necessary. I like it for managers, too. Is it necessary for managers? Well, sometimes the work that managers do has to stay quiet because of the regulations that outside forces impose on the organization. I know that many of my management decisions were improved when I asked for—and received—advice from my management team. Being a more transparent manager helped me. I was too immature at the time to post my work. At least I discussed it.
One of the questions I hear a lot is this: “If I’m lean as a project/program manager, how does that work if the technical teams are agile? They are working in iterations and I’m working in continuous flow. How do we sync?”
This is a great reason to keep the iterations short. If you allow the iterations to be as long as 3 weeks, you will feel as if the iterations take forrrreeeeevvvveeeerrrrr. Sometimes, even 2-week iterations will feel tortuous.
- You can ask the teams to work in flow inside their iterations, but I have a rule about changing the contents of an iteration once the team has committed to it: DON’T DO IT.
- You can ask the team to work in flow, but not all teams are comfortable working that way.
- A much better option is for you to change the way you work. Try to look ahead a little more and anticipate a little more. Yes, this might increase your waste, which is the topic of this post. You cannot win them all.
Can you find the Golidlocks moment of no one having WIP, and no one having waste? Maybe. It takes experimentation and time to work together, which brings me back to Yves and his fine experiment.
Yves has not worked with most of us before. Yves and I have known each other through email, and one or two in-person conversations before he asked me to be in his series. One of the ways I limit my WIP is to respond to emails such as his quickly. I was on vacation and turned around his email within 24 hours, which surprised him. And, then a number of other people surprised him in a similar way. So, Yves did not have experience working with all of us before. I don’t think Yves could have discovered that Goldilocks moment last summer, not without a lot of experimentation. He did experiment. He discovered. He learned. Through his transparency, the rest of us learned, too. Thank you, Yves.
Re the Who is series: I hope you read the series, and go back all the way to Lisa Crispin, who was first in the list. If you ever have a chance to participate in a conference with Lisa, do so. Aside from being generous in her comments on the who is series, she is generous with her tweets. She hears the nuggets in people’s talks and tweets them. And, she is fun to hang around with!