Agile is Out, Lean is In… Work Management Options

In business, there are two main types of work:

  • Ad hoc ongoing work, and
  • Project based work where a bunch of work is lumped together to achieve a bigger objective.

Of course the lines blur a lot: large ongoing work versus small projects.

Ad hoc ongoing work tends to be mostly queue based for most people. How this work gets managed (or not) varies wildly.

For project based work I see that you have 4 main options for managing it:

  • Schedule based – The standard planned up-front Gantt chart type project. A variation would be to plan/schedule only as far out as you need to until you get closer to the actual dates.
  • Simple queue – A big list of what needs to get done. The list can be prioritized if that makes sense and items taken off the top.
  • Agile – Use cycles (iterations or sprints) and pull work into each cycle based on priorities and necessity just before each cycle. Use what you learn during a cycle to improve the next.
  • Lean – Use kanban style queue management and limit work in progress at each step. Works quite well for ad hoc ongoing work.

Lean is getting a lot of attention (Lean Startup, Lean Manufacturing, Lean Development, Lean Marketing) these days as the newest and greatest thing.

I like how lean (kanban) forces an important concept; FOCUS.

If you can only work on 1 or 2 things at a time until they are done, you gain the ability to focus all of your attention on that one thing and avoid the distractions and lost productivity of switching focus. To me this is really the beauty of lean. Sure there is a lot of stuff around the math of productivity and small batches, but it really comes down to losses due to focus and queuing.

Some of the examples of effective agile teams are actually using the power of focus (small work in progress) and short iterations to achieve small batch sizes without calling it lean.

Similarly a well run scheduled project or simple queue could achieve the same results.

Every project manager (managers and team members as well) should really learn all they can about the different methodologies. Every project and situation is different and you will likely need to use aspects of each sometime in your career.

I find it ridiculous to state that some methods of work management are more focused on continuous learning and improvement than others. This implies there is no room for those things in other methodologies.

Sorry, it is the people who are focused on those things. The people adapting agile (and now lean) successfully are by their very nature, more inclined to be learners and improvers.

Some processes if they are done well will help people focus on those things and even expose inefficiencies. However, it is the people who make it work. I have read between the lines in some of the books on Kanban; the manager (and team) made all the difference in the successful adoption and when they left, things reverted in many cases.

As the masses go lean, many will mess things up just like the pseudo agile shops out there. This is good news for those with the skills to make things work.

Don't be ashamed to use what process will work best for each situation; even if it not currently hip. Use what you can from each to make your work and projects as effecient as possible. If you have to use a schedule based methodology, use some agile and lean where you can.

Measure, learn and improve.

If you don't your competitors will.

Lean is great. But so are the practices from the other methodologies.

Lean and agile are about using what works best; not being rigid. Keep an open mind and use what works for your team. Deliver as much value as you can.

What methodologies are you using for managing your work?

By | 2017-04-03T11:42:47+00:00 November 17th, 2011|Categories: Doug's Blog, Leadership, Software Development|

About the Author:

Doug Wagner is an entrepreneur, President and Co-founder of Sunwapta Solutions. Sunwapta's mission is to help businesses transform from surviving to thriving, sustainable growth. From strategy to implementation, this means marketing, sales, managing your brand and delivering consistent value. Get more clients and keep them.