The Power of Lean Agile

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Chances are you have heard terms like Agile, Agility, and Lean being used more and more in the business world.

It certainly has a strong presence in the world of project management. Yet it’s principles and techniques go far beyond those defined borders.

Allen OllendorfThe concept of Agile started in 2001 in Snowbird Utah. It is essentially a set of values and principles that are proving increasingly effective in a variety of industries. Allen Ollendorf is a Lean-Agile coach and trainer. He often discusses the differences in Project Management style methodologies and what could what for other businesses and organizations. In many circles, Lean-Agile is seen as a new way of working.

What Is The Old Way Of Working?

“For lack of a better term, the old way of working was a kind of command and control structure that was adopted from the industrial sector,” said Ollendorf.

Sometimes termed as “Scientific Management” it emerged around the turn of the last century. Some of its original proponents were Kellen Winslow Taylor and Henry Gant.

“The whole idea was that people were putting nuts on bolts and doing the same job all day,” Ollendorf explained. “Taylor figured out how to measure what they did, sometimes even by timing them with a stopwatch. It set up this whole idea that management are thinkers and the people doing with work are doers.”

What Is The New Way Of Working?

Of course, over the century or so since that time, the way we do business, the way we produce or source good has changed, as has a lot of our cultural values toward what is or is not acceptable in the workplace.

“Fast forward to now and everything is pretty much flat. Especially in technology and for the most part in business as well,” commented Ollendorf.

There are a lot of different management styles in use today. They tend to be as varied as the businesses and the individuals in that particular company or system. With Agile there is less immediate direction from managers.

“Instead of telling people what to do, you guide them in the direction they need to and trust that they will figure out how to do it,” said Ollendorf. “I work with Fortune 500 companies and it’s helping them to do more and be more-nimble, being able to pivot to meet the market.”

How Do You Get People To Buy Into This New Way Of Doing Things?

“You have to establish trust first,” said Ollendorf. In my approach I don’t tell people what to do, I guide them on their journey. It’s really more like being a servant leader, which is really important as a coach because I want them to model that behavior.”

Of course, teamwork and team organization are also critical factors. “You want them to work as a team. Everything today is team based. Especially in big organizations where transparency and collaboration are so important.

Does The Size Of The Team Matter? Is It Scalable?

In some larger businesses and organizations, teams can be very large. To the point where communications can sometimes be cumbersome, or inefficient. With Agile philosophy, size does indeed matter.

“The size of the ideal team, like say a software development team, is around seven. Plus or minus two. This is because of the complexity of communication,” explained Ollendorf. “You may have operational teams that are bigger than most. With most new teams though, like those trying to build new products, smaller is better. Communication is faster, so they can move more quickly.”

What Is Lean?

Lean also originates from the world of project management. Many feel that it relates to management practices taken from the Toyota production system in the 1970s.

“It takes from a guy named W. Edwards Demming. He originally presented his ideas to General Motors. It included concepts like respect for people and continuous improvement,” said Ollendorf.

Unfortunately, for GM, the idea was dismissed and Demming was sent off to present his ideas elsewhere. Around that same time Toyota was looking to grow and interested in ways to claim a much larger market share in the automobile industry. “They were looking to ramp up and they worked with Demming to create the Toyota production system based on his principles.”

“It deals with things like limiting works in process and working in smaller batches for improved flow. In the Toyota production system, anybody can stop the ling and make corrections. GM at that time was working in very large batches and they didn’t want to stop the line,” explained Ollendorf.

Ollendorf also notes that Lean is also about building in quality. When you do things in small pieces you can focus and deliver it quicker.

What Are The Differences Between Using Agile And Lean?

On this point, Ollendorf notes that they are interrelated. “Agile is about the ability to change. Lean is about working in small batches, where the quality is better and you can produce work faster!”

Does It Help With Costs?

“It helps with cost and you get feedback to help make necessary course corrections early. As opposed to delivering one big thing and then having to rework it in retrospective,” noted Ollendorf.

How Do You Determine What Is Best For A Company’s Needs?

“That starts with assessing where the company currently is and what they are doing. Also understanding why they want to do Agile.” Ollendorf said.

For some companies, it is about controlling costs. “It’s also about empowering people to be involved in the success of the company and improve things like job satisfaction!”

Engagement can also be a major factor in adopting agile. Especially for companies who are struggling to deal with a lot of employee turnover.

What If A Company Wants To Adopt Agile, But Do It Themselves?

Ollendorf notes that this is rarely a fruitful endeavor. “A lot of companies that try to do it without a coach attempt to do it organically. Later they find that nothing has changed and matter of fact it might be worse than it was before!”

How Long Does It Take To Fully Transition A Company Into Agile?

It’s worth keeping in mind that major transitions in operational philosophy and management styles are rare an overnight success. They should be seen as a major investment in making significant improvements over the long term.

“The initial transformation can take one to two years to get everyone into the flow. Then there might be tune-ups after a few years,” said Ollendorf.

Is There Agile Software?

There are several types of Agile software available, with many different proponents. Though it’s worth noting that the concepts behind Agile and any accessory software are not industry-specific.

“There can be a bit of politics about what software a company uses. It’s often a centralized decision on which one to use. As it should be. Especially in big companies.”