Kaizen: Make Time for Improvements

Part of running an Agile process is taking advantage of the continuous improvement opportunity, meaning making the process and product better with time. So, simplifying the process while increasing your response time and product / service quality.

Some of these changes can be introduced quickly and with little bother for the team, sometimes all it takes it making the change and notifying the team. Other improvements need time and planning to get done. The problem many organizations are facing is making time for identifying the improvement need, then designing and implementing changes. This seems to be a problem for small companies and vast corporations both. Where the small ones will be struggling to find the time to plan and make a change, the big ones will come across a ton of red tape slowing any change attempt down.

What are some things any process manager can do to introduce a change?

Eliminate and replace

Identify a wasteful part of the current process and recommend what else could be done with this time. If a recommendation is not enough — put an end to this part of the process and direct the team’s attention specifically to another thing that needs to be done instead of this one.
Gain: If done right, you can kill two birds with one stone — remove a wasteful process part and introduce an improvement

Kill the “future” time

The larger the team the more likely it is that part of staff’s routine will be planning future product features, analysis of possible ways of increasing sales, drawing up prognosis of all kinds. Whereas these are all great and often necessary exercises, there is a tendency to spend too much time on them. Limit the time allowed for this and limit the range of possible solutions teams can prepare for in detail.
Gain: Less time spent on possibly wasted and never implemented ideas, more time and energy available for current work.

Pausing for market feedback is time for in-house improvement

With any new product, there will be a time of a lot of new work needing done on it, and time to let things sit as are. If you know your market well enough to be able to anticipate when to build and when to wait for client response — you’re in possession of key knowledge on when the entire team can pause and redirect their attention to making valid changes to the overall process or starting work on another thing entirely.
Gain: Knowing when to pause development and improve in-house works and processes can keep your team, focus and infrastructure up to date and gain time for requirements gathering altogether.

Analyse and kill the profitless items

Whatever it is that you’re making or providing, there are definitely parts of it, whether it’s a product feature, an entire service or else, that brings far less income than others. Measure this and stop work / support on the least profitable items.
Gain: More time for profitable work and making valuable changes.

Optimize the use of time

If, as a manager, you have a feeling you don’t really know what the team are working on most of the time, things are bad. Get them to make their actions and processes transparent and accessible to the team. This really puts the pressure on getting to work on the valid items and taking responsibility for them. Kanban, Scrum and other visual methods really make this easy. On top of this — try limiting the time allowed for all meetings and make use of 21st century technology to spread and get information.
Gain: Better use of time, clear insight into what the team works on — great way of identifying improvement opportunities.

Let the team know that their input matters

An empowered team is a stronger team, by all means. Who better to show you faults in the system than the parts of it? Listen to their feedback and take it on, as this is the essential source of information on what can be improved upon.
Gain: Stronger team and improved processes.

The hard-core approach

The popular Kaizen rule mentions “making the changes before you have to”. But when push comes to shove and the need for change becomes too obvious to obscure an ignore any more, there is always the though way. This is minimizing all daily activities, keeping only the essential processes going and halting the less valid ones completely in order to just implement the change. May seem drastic, but works the treat.
Gain: Changes are made!

It’s possible to make a jump from the above characteristics to summing them up in one final suggestion:
get more Agile. Hardly anyone can work on day-to-day tasks while keeping the big picture in mind.
Studies show that a change from process-centric systems to short iterations and item-driven approach is very welcome by all teams. You gain better focus, clearer objectives and higher goal reachability. Do keep in mind, that without making valid changes to the processes you and the team follow, it’s more likely than not, that your services and products will decline in value. Staying aware of this should create enough motivation to find the time for a change.

First published on the Kanban Tool Blog.