Changing How We Work

Good Samaritans work with Reserve Soldiers in Puerto Rico

I’ve been thinking a lot over the last several months about how my team and I work. This is somewhat about the actual work we do, but more about how we do it. My thinking was prompted by several factors. First, we felt like we were always maxed out on capacity. The metaphorical CPU was always pegged at 100%. As a consequence, we had long cycle times and lots of context switching. Second, much of the time we felt like we were struggling against the system to get work done. It felt harder than it should have been, was draining our energy, and hurting morale. Finally, we didn’t feel like we were collaborating as a team as much as we would like. We were operating in our own silos.

We needed a change.

Recognizing all these problematic symptoms of a system of work that just wasn’t working, I was inspired by a quote from The Phoenix Project,

“Improving daily work is even more important than doing daily work.”

We were all just… doing stuff. We certainly weren’t improving daily work. Maybe the book held the answer for how we could…

So I thought about our work. And I talked to my team about our work. Here is what we came up with, rooted in the DevOps Three Ways. For the work we do, we need:

1. The First Way: A way of taking in work, making work visible, and flow.
This one was pretty obvious to use since we’re all deeply rooted in the agile community: we needed a kanban board. We started with a physical board in our shared team space rather than using a tool like Trello, Jira, or LeanKit. Maybe we end up online eventually, but for now we wanted simplicity and “presence” — it’s hard to forget about the big board with all the colorful cards on it a few feet away from where you sit every day. We’re also holding our regular team check-ins around the board, which gives us great context and situational awareness about the work we’re doing.

2. The Second Way: A way of getting feedback about the work we do and how we do it.
We need feedback of all shapes and sizes. This could be anecdotal feedback in the moment as part of a hallway conversation. The feedback could also come from a more formal retrospective or a structured quarterly review session with our stakeholders. We want to know whether the work we did was the right work, how valuable it was (and why), and how efficiently and effectively we did it. This feedback serves as the primary input for figuring out how we improve the daily work.

3. The Third Way: A way of getting better at doing work.
This is where The Phoenix Project‘s quote comes to life. We must use what we learn from all that feedback about the daily work we do and how we do the daily work to improve the daily work. We should try new ways of working and work on new things. We should experiment (my favorite word). Almost everything we’re doing with the kanban board, our new team check-ins, and the various ways we’re getting feedback is an experiment right now. Eventually all this will get operationalized and we can start thinking about new “new”.

I’m really excited about the changes we’re making to how we work at the start of 2018. The changes are increasing our flow, collaboration, and impact — and increasing our energy, enthusiasm, and morale. Not a bad way to start the new year.

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