Category Archives: Lean

The Third Way of DevOps: Stacking the Cards in Your Favor

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This post was written for DevOps.com

In the first bit to this  post, “The Third Way of DevOps – From Knowing to Being,” we shared our thoughts on effectively applying knowledge to put the Three Ways of DevOps into practice. This blog explores a complementary dimension: How to build confidence when faced with a seemingly impossible task.

This is the all-too-familiar setting. You’ve seen an opportunity to improve things and genuinely want to do something about it. But you soon feel the clarity and anticipation draining out of you. First there’s the pressure of the day job. Then there’s the inertia of your co-workers, who are oblivious of or indifferent or hostile to your ideas. And finally, as if these concerns weren’t enough, you’re faced with the difficulty of unlearning old habits and developing new ones. In short, you don’t take action on what you have learned and know.

Self-efficacy

Expressed in the somewhat abstract language of the theories of Planned Behavior and Reasoned Action, there’s a gap between behavioral intention and actual behavior. A plausible explanation for the gap is low self-efficacy, defined as the conviction that one can successfully execute the behavior required to produce desired outcomes. It’s the belief we have in our own abilities, specifically our ability to meet the challenges ahead of us and complete a task successfully. This is a crucial precondition because investigations have shown that peoples’ behavior is strongly influenced by their confidence in their ability to execute that behavior.

If-Then-Else

So why doubt your ability to change? Well, when a change seems large, the gut reaction is to feel the need to come up with a project plan. Because a plan creates the confidence that when the steps are taken, the desired results will be achieved. Without a plan, we’d be irresponsible risk-takers. That’s how we’ve been taught to think. And rightly so—at least, in a predictable environment, where you can determine which steps will have which effects. If you work with IT, you are likely to think in terms of If-Then-Else. This is how we would like to believe IT always works. Predictably.

If-Then-Maybe

However—and this might be the biggest “however” you’ve come across for a while—things are not always predictable. Not unpredictable in the sense that it should have worked but something just went wrong because we didn’t do enough homework; unpredictable as in simply unknowable. Unpredictable as in possibly seeing a pattern of behavior in hindsight, but never having been able to predict it, let alone control it. Unpredictable as in “complex adaptive systems,” as they are referred to in the world of complexity thinking. It’s no longer If-Then-Else; the name of the game is If-Then-Maybe.

Complexity Thinking 

Complex adaptive systems are all around us but if you’ve been used to thinking that things are—or could or should be—predictable, you tend not to see them for what they are: one of kinds of systems that exist in nature. The Cynefin sense-making framework describes systems in terms of five domains: obvious, complicated, complex, chaotic and disorder. Obvious and complicated are both predictable domains, where something in the complicated domain needs a bit of work to discover the predictability than when it is obvious. Complex and chaotic are unpredictable domains, the main difference being that something chaotic is dangerously unpredictable and therefore needs direct action. There is a fifth domain: disorder. You are in this domain when you don’t know which of the other four domains best describes the current situation. A word of warning: People’s cognitive bias will often lead them to think that they are in their usual domain, in which they feel most comfortable.

Step by Step 

The way to introduce changes in complex systems successfully is to take it step by step. Because you can’t predict the results of a step, you have to closely monitor what effects—both desired and less so—each step creates. Then, based on your assessment of the new situation, you determine which next step to take. Rather than moving in a straight line toward a “to be” end state, you move each step to the “adjacent possible.” You make good use of the disposition of the system; in other words, where the energy is tending to flow.

No Big Answers, Just Little Questions

So, it’s not a case of looking for the big answer. It’s about a series of small questions. The Toyota Kata approach recommends asking ourselves (and others) these questions:

  • What are we trying to achieve?
  • Where are we now?
  • What obstacle is now in our way?
  • What’s our next step, and what do we expect?
  • When can we see what we’ve learned from taking that step?

A key concept is that we should work towards the next “target condition.” This is an interim goal on the way to whatever we want to achieve. It just describes where you want to be next, not how to get there. It labels the future set of circumstances that lie just beyond our current level of understanding. It will typically have to be achieved between a relatively short period between a week and a few months; otherwise, it will be ineffective. How we will get there will emerge though the process of experimentation.

Stack the Cards in Your Favor 

So the next time you feel inspired to make a (little) difference, don’t be discouraged by the prospect of having to think everything through in detail. This is often even contra-productive. The liberating realization that you can take things step by step, is good for your self-efficacy, increasing the chances of actually achieving results.

This article was co-authored by Mark Smalley.

Doing versus Being – How Mindfulness Supports Better Lean Thinking

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I wrote this post for the Lean Enterprise Insitute.

I was recently talking with the CEO of a large insurance company who said, “our people seem to know Lean concepts and tools, but they are not being Lean as they go about their daily work!” If this sounds familiar then read on.

After years of training, workshops, and books on Lean and continuous process improvement, most organizations applying Lean have not realized the performance breakthrough and cultural shift they had hoped for. I have visited numerous organizations who have invested years undertaking Lean activities (value stream mapping, A3 problem solving, visual management, leader standard work, Kaizen, etc.)  but have little to show for their efforts in terms of sustained value stream performance, quality, productivity, effectiveness, safety, and efficiency gains.

This is an issue we as a community need to take an honest look at. Perhaps there are some missing elements that we need to be considering. Is it possible that we’ve gone on “autopilot” and are just going through the motions without engaging our minds? Have we become robotic in our Lean thinking and doing? Have we become so comfortable with the knowledge of Lean that we have lost touch with the being of Lean?

Shifting out of autopilot

 

A state of being known as mindfulness presents a path forward. Mindfulness is defined as “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.” Mindfulness has gained lots of attention in the business press over the past decade. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) journal Preventing Chronic Disease reported: “Approximately 1 in 7 workers report engagement in some form of mindfulness-based activity, and these individuals can bring awareness of the benefit of such practices into the workplace.” 

Four Levels of Awareness 

You are probably familiar with the classic four stages of awareness:

  • Unconscious Incompetence – blissful ignorance (not knowing that you don’t know something)
  • Conscious Incompetence – painful awareness (realizing that you don’t know something)
  • Conscious Competence – intentional awareness (knowing what you know and don’t know)
  • Unconscious Competence – unaware but knowledge and experience has taken over

Initially described as “Four Stages for Learning Any New Skill”, the theory was developed by Noel Burch in the 1970s.

Isn’t it interesting that unconsciousness competence emphasized the autopilot nature of our thinking? Perhaps this works for a few people, but the rest of us would be better served relying on mindfulness and conscious competence to develop deeper levels of focus, analysis, experimentation, reflection, and learning. To that end, please consider the following model:

Four levels of awareness: Knowing, Understanding, Doing, and Being

(see image above)

A good place to start

 

Knowing is where we typically begin by training people in Lean Basics: principles, systems, and tools that make up the Lean body of knowledge. While knowing key concepts and models is certainly needed, by itself knowing does not necessarily lead to major changes in behavior. I may know eating pizza is not good for my health but that knowing does not stop me from ordering a large pizza most Friday nights!

Understanding occurs when we mentally process the new information we have learned, compare it to what we know and don’t know, and create context and perspective. We reconcile the new knowledge to give it meaning in relation to everything else we believe we understand.

But even solid understanding does not drive sustained changes in behavior. John Shook addressed this issue in his landmark Lessons from NUMMI article in 2010. In that piece, he wrote, “It’s easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than to think your way into a new way of acting.” This key insight is attributed to Millard Fuller, Founder of Habitat for Humanity. 

Activity with mixed results

Doing is where many organizations find themselves – they are diligently putting up team boards, updating metrics, holding team stand up meetings, updating A3’s, developing countermeasures, going to the gemba, and so on. There is a concerted effort to accomplish the tasks of continuous improvement. Kaizen events, team huddles, and the Lean Management System have been determined a success, but at the end of the day, not much has changed!

 

Let’s pause here: how accurate is it to suggest that “not much has changed?” If we define change in terms of sustained gains in value stream performance, quality, productivity, effectiveness, safety, and efficiency gains. Go take a walk around your company and honestly assess the level of sustained gains when viewed through this lens of awareness.

Just as understanding is needed for clarity around the “why” and “what” of Lean, doing is the action needed to close the gap between where we are and where we want to be. Someone once said, “A tool is only as useful as the user.” If a team using Lean is operating at knowing, understanding, or doing level, problems not deeply understood, changes are temporary, and solutions seldom sustained. We can often find ourselves so absorbed with the challenges of achieving our daily work goals that we lose focus and reliance on process improvement – we are doing Lean, but we are not being Lean.

To move to action, we need to move from understanding to doing. However, to sustain the change, people must progress to the next level of awareness – being.

Being is a whole new ballgame 

Being is the calm, focused state of mind where we are fully present and aware of what is here, right now. When we are in this state, the mind is nonjudgmental and accepting of the current situation. Acceptance does not mean approval; it means that we grasp the situation for what it truly is, in order to take steps to improve the situation and close the gap. With acceptance, we do so with a clarity of mind and calmness of thought that leads to a state of allowing things to be as they are while moving towards an improved target state.

Acceptance, acknowledgment, and allowing things to be as they are versus resisting, judging them, or putting up excuses for them, gives us a powerful edge for direct observation which often reveals underlying contributing factors to the current conditions.

Being delivers a key element that is missing from doing: a space for the mind to be more relaxed, more creative, and less stressed. As we become more present and focused on the moment directly here and now, the mind becomes calm, curious, and accepting.  Mindfulness positions us to approach problems dispassionately, which directly supports Lean thinking (structured experimentation, reflection-based learning, connecting with people on an authentic level).

In the next post, we’ll explore some specific mindfulness practices you can apply to boost your effectiveness at being Lean.

About the author: Mike Orzen is a member of the LEI facility and has been practicing both Lean and mindfulness for over twenty years. He can be reached at mike@mikeorzen.com.