Agile

Lean vs Agile. What is the difference, really?

Oftentimes both terms are mentioned in one and the same breath, but are they interchangeable? Where do they come from?

On Lean.

Lean as a term is coined in the 90ies and reflects the ideas and practices behind the Toyota Production System (the car manufacturer). Lean is short for Lean Manufacturing and aims at focussing the production effort to generate true customer value by reducing everything else (which is considered to be waste). It’s basically a way to make manufacturing systems customer centric.

The key concept in lean-approaches is waste or, as it is called, “Muda” (Japanese for waste). Next to this direct waste (Muda), oftentimes the terms “Muri” and “Mura” are used, designating secondary waste stemming from either overburden (Muri) or from unevenness in workloads (Mura).

The reverse of waste is “value” and is, in Lean, defined as any action or process that a customer woud be willing to pay for.

This implies that in order to become Lean every process is evaluated against the customer relevance and either considered a waste or a value-add. In a service organisation this entails often that the whole meeting-approach is turned upside down (and slashed), a strong push towards automation, eradicating multi-tasking, etc. The time expenditure is geared towards the things of which the organisation knows customers will need in the future and aim for a delivery as-fast-as-possible.

The emphasis of Lean is on the system “as a whole”. There is always a helicopter perspective at play and micro-management is shunned (micro-management generates non-value-added work, which is exactly what is not acceptable in a Lean system).

Related concepts are:

  • Six Sigma: set of techniques and tools focussed on eliminating defects and reducing variability (6 sigma variance is a statistical concept by which is designated that, in case of a production line the output is 99.99966% free of defects, or in short: 3.4 DPMO (defective features per million opportunities)
  • Value Stream Mapping: method for analysing the current state of the system and designing the future state: the core to many system improvement initiatives.
  • Kanban: an inventory-control system to control the supply chain. It is the key planning tool in a lean system. A Kanban (Japanese for Billboard) is a card that states the inventory going in, being in and going out of each subprocess or task. It enables you to see the backlogs, where inventory is being built up, etc. In short where the potential for the creation of Mura and Muri exists.
  • KPI of Key Performance Indicator and Balanced Scorecard: means of tracking the system as a whole, focussing the value-add of the customer and evidentiating the interrelationships between the customer, financial resources, organisational capacity and internal processes. It’s a way to track the execution of the company’s strategy.
  • The Deming Cycle: Plan-Do-Check-Act (which is core to continuous improvement or Kaizen).

In short the lean principles are:

  1. Define Value: you need to understand what brings value
  2. Map the Value Stream: how to create and deliver the value to the customer
  3. Establish Flow: create a continuous stream end-to-end
  4. Implement Pull: make the customer aware and nurture the perceived need for the value (the customer has to be aware that there is value produced): no pull, no production
  5. Work to perfection (continuous improvement)
  6. And: mind the waste 🙂

On Agile.

Agile was launched in 2001 and comprises a set of principles put forth in the infamous Agile Manifesto and stems from the software industry as a reaction against the heavyweight methodologies that were the norm and out of frustration because so many projects were never really delivered upon within time and budget.

Agile starts with a set of values which are at its core:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools: i.e. self-organisation and motivation through e.g. co-location, working in pairs…
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation: focus on the added value (working software) over wasting time on writing lengthy manuals
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation: not all the software requirements can be clear at the start of a project. Therefore a continuous involvement of the customers is necessary throughout the project
  • Responding to change over following a plan: quick responses to change and a continuous development

The typical work method is called the Scrum which is a flexible, “holistic” product development strategy where a development team works as a unit to reach a common goal.

A scrum team consists of people fulfilling 1 of 3 roles:

  • Product Owner, representing the stakeholders and the voice of the customer. The PO is responsible for ensuring the team delivers value to the business. Typically user stories are used to point to the value components. (S)he manages the so-called product-backlog: what needs to be developed.
  • Development Team: responsible for producing and delivering the chunks of value (called: potentially shippable increments or PSI) at the end of each Sprint. A sprint is a block of time reserved to work on an item of the backlog. Usually the period spans a couple of days to a month.
  • Scrum Master. This is not a team leader, but the person responsible to “hold the space” and make sure the team can deliver free from distractions from the outside. (S)he also ensures that the sprint runs smoothly and according to the rules. The role is that of a team facilitator or servant leader.

On Lean + Agile.

More and more we see a combination of both Agile and Lean approaches melting into one. This is especially true in a start-up/scale-up environment where scrums make it difficult for larger chunks to be handled (unless they are arbitrarily cut up in smaller pieces). A Kanban approach can provide the overall framework and the handling of larger workpieces while scrums allow for the nimbleness and the self-organisation and feedback benefits.

Coaching

How Coaching Turbo-charges Your Career

A coach isn’t a therapist, a friend, a mentor or a counsellor. The focus of coaching is on achieving specific goals. In this increasingly complex and fast-moving world, managers need all the support they can get to enable them to achieve their goals.

A coach will help you build specific skills that will bolster your professional performance. While a coach might encourage you to share your past experiences, the emphasis is on the future and, especially, on removing particular roadblocks from your path.

In general, there are two kinds of executive coaching. The first is remedial coaching. This is when a manager, director or executive is creating problems, and possibly completely out of their depth and misaligned. However, turning to a coach when everyone is at the end of their tether seems logical but is never ideal.

The second, and most successful, kind of coaching is when a manager, director or executive is feeling challenged, and may be in a “stretch” position. A coach can help to equip you with what is needed to do the job well. In an ideal world the situation is pre-empted and the coaching starts when the goal-setting takes place.

In other words: don’t wait for a crisis before contacting a coach. Instead, consider coaching when you are not feeling entirely up to dealing with the challenges you’re facing. Typically executive coaching helps managers who want to move on to the next level of leadership. Coaching works for anyone who knows they can do a lot better, who is not satisfied with their current performance and has a bigger dream.

How does coaching work?

The approach will depend on the needs of a client. Typically I start with a 90 minute session exploring goals, values, strengths & weaknesses, pitfalls, etc.

Goals are critical in coaching. Unlike therapy and mentoring, coaching is exclusively focused on achieving specific objectives. These could include a whole range of goals from all areas of life. Oftentimes these areas are interconnected and progress on one side might lead to leaps on another side.

The relationship with your coach will typically have an end-date, and won’t continue indefinitely. The coaching sessions are typically intensive for the first few weeks, and then less frequent as the client works on achieving goals. A large part of coaching is holding you (the client) accountable to do the work for themselves. While everyone is different, it can take three to six months before behaviours start to shift in a meaningful way.

How do you choose a coach?

The coaching sector is relatively unregulated. Currently, the gold standard is an accreditation from the International Coach Federation (ICF). ICF coaches have completed courses that have been certified by the organisation.

To find the right person for you, personal referrals can be useful. Get references and also scrutinise the coach’s CV to see whether they have the skills that will help you. Get a sense of where the person has worked and confirm their qualifications. The latter is crucial, she says. Many so-called coaches will punt their experience – “30 years in HR” or “extensive consulting work” – but don’t have any credible (e.g. ICF-certified) coach-specific training.

Also, and probably most importantly, have a coffee (or a call) with a prospective coach to make sure you are a good match. It has to be someone you will trust. There should be chemistry between you: your interaction should not be forced and you should feel understood.

Curious to find out more? Why not give it a try!

Coaching

Five Strengths Coaches Bring to Your Table

Oftentimes I’m asked: “sure coaching, but does it really work?” And the answer is obviously: “yes, it does”. Other than pointing to independent research (see my previous article), there are some distinct benefits you get from working with a coach. Here are 5 essential ones:

A coach keeps you on track

A coaching relation starts (at least when working with me) with a solid mutual understanding of your vision, values and goals. Oftentimes I’ve seen that momentum is lost and motivation crumbles when we loose connection with these core elements of our being. Coaching ensures that you stay connected and that you don’t divert from those things you really treasure.

You get immediate feedback

You get what you buy. Oftentimes that implies that the vendor hides imperfection and sells you a dream. You can tell a coach anything you want, a coach will give you back i.m.m.e.d.i.a.t.e.l.y. what you are projecting, allowing you to understand and grow from there. When was the last time someone, anyone, really listened and gave you an honest feedback?

She hacks your growth

Keeping you close to your core, I keep you in check with your future. Oftentimes, we entrepreneurs, get faced with bolders that feel unsurmountable. However, our sheer will, passion and dedication, makes us believe we will prevail. Now imagine having someone by your side turning the boulders into pebbles, shifting your perspective and unlocking new paths to accomplish your objective.

She creates accountability

Isn’t it easy to say: “YES!” and than do something else, forget about it and having an excuse ready whenever you get called out upon it? After all, who is having your back? Who makes sure you keep to your promises to yourself? Your coach creates an environment where commitment happens. Your coach will make you commit and hold you accountable. When your coach sees it is really important to you, she will make you commit and make sure you deliver. She will make you accountable and champion you.

Your natural leadership comes to fruition

We all are naturally creative, resourceful and whole. Being recognised for your true self unlocks all possibilities to further your journey starting from a place of conviction, passion and dedication. You unlock your potential and break through the boundaries you’ve set yourself today. What else would be possible? What more can be achieved?Really?

Does it really work?

Yes it does. In my previous article I touched upon a bunch of studies all supporting the ROI of coaching in leadership. Not sure whether it’s for you? Give it a try! Sample sessions are generally offered for free (like here): just call a couple of coaches, see how it works for you. Experience it.