Esko Kilpi on Interactive Value Creation

The art of interaction, the design of digital and the science of social complexity

Tag: Agile manifesto

Lean interaction

In lean vocabulary, anything that does not create value experienced by the customer, anything that slows one down in serving the customer’s need, or does not contain potential for learning, is waste. Making something that does not solve the customer problem is waste. Waiting is waste. Any extra processing steps are waste.

The concept of lean has lately been transferred from manufacturing to other practices such as media services. People are used to lean thinking when it comes to technology and industrial processes, but it is still rare to understand what being lean means in communication-centric businesses. This is because many managers still trivialize the power of interaction.

We still don’t appreciate that work is communication: we live and work in a network of conversations. Being lean today means understanding that these conversations are never neutral. They always affect the quality and pace of the customer outcome. Communication either accelerates or slows down. Communication either creates value or creates waste. Communication can create energy and inspiration or can take energy away and reduce inspiration. Waste today means getting stuck or running in cognitive circles in the conversations we are having. Communication enables but also restricts

The sciences of uncertainty and complexity have helped us to understand that organizations can be seen as patterns of interaction between human beings. The interactions in the linear mass industries were very different from the interactions in the dynamic, unstable, Internet-based world. To cope with this, we need to learn to embrace unpredictability and complexity as inescapable constants.

Many managers still possess the skills that meet the challenges of static conditions. In a static, reductionist environment, you knew how each role fitted within the larger system. You knew how the repetitive process worked, and you didn’t want deviations. You knew what it took to make the products and you didn’t want people changing anything or inventing things . You wanted everyone to do their planned part and not get in each other’s way. When roles and organizational units are separated from other roles and units, communication is the task of the manager. You, as a manager, do the coordination and share the information necessary for each to make their planned contribution and nothing more.

In dynamic business conditions, the management practices described above are not only unhelpful, but cause damage and create waste rather than value. If you cannot predict you have to invest in real-time learning and iterations instead of predictions. Success is first and foremost based on the value of interaction, context awareness and responsiveness. What we still need to learn is that this responsiveness is not possible if we are many handshakes away from the customer context that we should respond to.

The agile manifesto points out that individuals in interaction are more important than processes and tools. Working prototypes are more important than documentation. Customer collaboration is more important than contracts and, most importantly, responding to change is more important than following a plan.

Knowledge is the act of interacting and new knowledge is created when ways of interaction, and therefore patterns of relationships, change. The creative assets of an organization are the patterns of interaction between its members. Assets are destroyed when relationships are missing or are dysfunctional.

Enabling new habits of communication and improving the quality of the conversation are today among the most important processes of lean development.

 

 

Lean and social

Waste seems like a straightforward term, but lean thinking has given new meaning to the word. In lean vocabulary, anything that does not create value, slows one down, or does not contain potential for learning is waste. A thing or a document sitting around waiting to be used is waste. Making something that is not needed is waste. Unwanted movement is waste. Transportation is waste. Waiting is waste. Any extra processing steps are waste.

The concept of waste has lately been transferred from manufacturing to other practices such as product development. According to lean principles, when a development project is started, the goal is to complete it as rapidly as possible. In a sense, ongoing development projects are just like inventory sitting around in a factory. Design and prototypes are only valuable when (paying) customers are involved.

Eliminating waste is a fundamental lean principle. Thus three of the steps towards implementing lean development are learning to see waste, uncovering the sources and eliminating them. We recently studied the product development methodology of a large multinational company. They have been very successful in the past, leading in most of the markets they have entered. But lately, many people have voiced concern that there have been unnecessary delays in getting new products to market. To find out why, we gathered input from managers and ecosystem partners.

A division into two main areas of concern developed: technology/process and social interaction. We asked people what percentage of the barriers to faster time-to-market might relate to the technology/process side and what percentage would be on the social interaction side. The answers were almost unanimous: over 75 percent of the reasons for slow product development were on the social interaction side. The results were alarming because in this organization almost all approaches to being more agile and to taking waste out of the system were historically on the technology/process side.

People are used to lean thinking when it comes to technology and processes but it is still very rare to look at taking waste out of communication. Many managers still trivialize the power of conversation. They think that social interaction issues are soft compared to the hard issues of technology and process.

We still don’t understand that work is communication: we live and work in a network of conversations. Being lean means understanding that conversations are never neutral. They always affect the quality and pace of the outcome. Communication either accelerates or slows down. Communication either creates value or creates waste. Communication can create energy and inspiration or take energy away and reduce inspiration.

The world around us is changing. The interactions in mass manufacturing were very different from the interactions in complex, dynamic, knowledge-based work. Many managers possess the skills that meet the challenges of static conditions. Those conditions are based on predictability and systems thinking, meaning that the crucial variables are known in advance. The main risk factor is then the accuracy of the predictions.

In a static environment, you know how each role fits within the larger system. You know how the processes work, and you don’t want deviations. You know what it takes to make the products and you don’t want people experimenting and making things up. You want everyone to do their part and not get in each other’s way. Roles and organizational units are separated from other roles and other units. You, as a manager, do the coordination and share the information necessary for each to make their planned contribution and nothing more.

In dynamic business conditions the management practices described above are not only unhelpful but cause damage and create waste rather than value.

If you cannot predict you have to invest in real-time learning and iterations instead of more predictions. Success is based on speed of learning and responsiveness. Responsiveness is not possible if you are many handshakes away from the things that you should respond to. Learning is then based, not on teaching materials, but on conversations linking interdependent people. The question is what the design of a valuable conversation is? We spend countless hours attending meetings and sending/answering emails, but the nature of those hours goes unexamined. Many people think that a conversation is inherently valuable. That is not the case. The challenge we face is to deepen our awareness of how conversations create either value or waste. The goal is not just to be more social.

The agile manifesto points out that individuals in interaction are more important than processes and tools. Working prototypes are more important than documentation. Customer collaboration is more important than contracts and most importantly responding to change is more important than following a plan. Creating value or waste is a result of how we interact.

We need to embrace change, unpredictability and complexity as inescapable constants in all product development. It is about being lean and social!

.

Thank you Craig Larman, Petri Haapio, Ari Tikka, Mickey Connolly, Vasco Duarte and Ken Schwaber