Lean Adaptive Management

Some organizations work in a simple, stable business environment with simple, stable and consistent business goals. Other organizations have to deal with a complex, fast changing business environment where business goals may be contingent or even contradictory. We explore how our current models for improvement are well equipped for simple and stable business environments but fail to cope with the complexities of today’s fast changing business. We discuss how we need to move beyond the current single- and multi-model improvement theory towards a thorough understanding of complex business challenges and situational improvement based on lean adaptive principles.

We discuss the case of a software product company that is faced with complex – and possibly contradictory – business challenges. A previous improvement initiative based on CMMI and Scrum did measurably improve the process of the development group but – as seems to be so often the case – failed to go beyond a local one-shot point improvement:
1) it did not sufficiently involve upstream and downstream stakeholders such as product management and support (and ultimately the customers and users);
2) it did not sufficiently differentiate between different kinds of developments leading to one-size-fits-all processes that actually fit no development very well;
3) it did not provide the insight to take on complex business challenges.

In order to tackle the above issues we decided to work on three fronts at the same time:
1. End-to-end flow (lean): Use Kanban to create flow in the end-to-end value stream starting from initial ideas up until actual implementation. The end-to-end-flow takes into account both value discovery (understanding the value) and value delivery (delivering the value).
2. Tailored project management (adaptive): Use a sense-making framework (based on Cynefin) to differentiate between developments where the value is clear enough to go almost directly into value delivery (linear flow), and developments where the value uncertainty mandates iteration between value discovery and value delivery (iterative flow).
3. Organizational maturity (management): Create a continuous improvement culture that works both bottom-up and top-down. Use Kanban to create a continuous improvement and high-maturity culture from the bottom-up. Use CMMI appraisals as a yardstick to measure organizational progress top-down in order to avoid that local improvements get stuck locally. And most of all, use tailored project management to simultaneously manage bottom-up and top-down improvements to match complex business goals.

Video Producer: http://www.leankanban2011.be/

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