Sunday, March 10, 2013

3 Days of Lean and Kaizen

This week, from March 4th to 6th, the first Lean Mindset Workshop and Kaizen Camp Gathering in HCMC was held. The Agile Vietnam guys did an truly awesome job in bringing together top-notches around the globe the event. That included experts on Lean Software Development, Mary and Tom Poppendieck as well as Jim Benson and Tonianne Demaria Barry, founders of Personal Kanban.

Joining the event was both a last-minute decision and a bet to me. Three days before the event, Saigon Service Design Jam was held. It was also the first of its kind in Vietnam, and also lasted for three days. I couldn't afford the two events together. Selecting the Lean and Kaizen one was truly a leap of faith as I had stopped attending the events of Agile Vietnam a while back. Although I had to commuted 30km in Saigon's heat for the event, it was well chosen.

What was there?

The Lean Mindset Workshop occupied the whole March 4th.

Mary and Tom were an admirable 70-something couple who were spending their retired time travelling around the world giving Lean Mindset workshops and writing books. Honestly, I was overwhelmed by the amount of information. The usually-two-day workshop was compressed into one so that was a lot of talking and for a short period in the afternoon I was lost.

The workshop started by examining the death of companies that were driven under the name of productivity, developed securing manual and policy which ironically prevented innovations and finally failed to focus on its customer's values. The stability periods between economy crisis are getting shorter, the market is more fluctuating than ever and yet disruptions remain extremely hard to forecast. There is a rising need for organizations to structure themselves to be flexible against changes from time to time. The ideas of Lean Mindset are evolved around this concept.

We moved on to identify the seven flow disrupters in software development. Together in a group of 7-8, we discussed about the source, effects, and solution of each. The next step was to give our organization a health check based on the basic disciplines of a healthy organization. The list had a lot to do with quality control and as expected Cogini failed hard on testing disciplines (though we got most of the rest right).

Due to the time limit, we could only afford wrapping up Iteration, Kanban, and Continuous Delivery quickly. Kanban was still a pretty new concept in Vietnam software industry so it was important to stress that Kanban doesn't ask an organization to change anything that its currently does. Positioning itself as a supporting framework to visualize processes and policies, Kanban can be integrated smoothly with organization's current process. The three processes covered in the workshop are tools serving the purpose of making organizations more Lean and agile.

To end the day, we had an interesting talk about improving productivity

The legendary 10,000 hours

Balancing challenge and skill

The science of motivation

Kaizen Camp took over the last two days of the event. 

I found the way the workshop and the camp lined up and supported each other fascinating. If there had been only the workshop, most attendants would have came out like me, overwhelmed and confused by the massive amount of information. If there had been only the Kaizen Camp, there wouldn't have been enough topics to feed two days full of action. During the camp, we discussed work, life, and community. And under the spirit of kaizen, we also discussed improving all of them. The camp shared the same format with Barcamp and even though there were facilitators, the topics were community-centric and highly diverse. Fascinating!

The topics gave me the opportunities to challenge and practice what I was introduced to during the workshop. One of the reasons I stopped attending events of Agile Vietnam was that even though the sharing there was interesting, I found that each organization was unique in certain ways. How could I apply something that had been successful else where was always blur. Facilitating a group of motivated people isn't about teaching them or telling them what to do but more about asking triggering questions to get the participants to open up and speak out what is on their mind. And Mary, Tom, Jim and especially Toni made awesome facilitators. Many questions were answered specifically to Cogini context and the fog was just lifted. I ended up facilitating a session or two myself.

Nice people

I have attended a number of Barcamp, locally and internationally. Yet the attendants to this event managed to be the most diverse. I didn't met as many managers as I would like to, but there was a gentleman from TMA that really knew what he was talking. I met a girl from the North that seemed to have full of doubts in life yet decided to join a startup. I made friends with two engineers with tremendous experience from KMS, and a head of department of a game company. There was also a startup guy who seemed to be making similar mistakes as I did when getting to know Agile methodologies. And who could have known that I would run into a high-school friend there. Behind each attendant was a more sophisticated story. A startup with bureaucracy problems of a Forbes 500. A company that sent only programmers and no manager to the event. A sponsor that didn't mind that its name couldn't show up on media prints. Despite all of those differences, I was moved by their genuine desire to learn, share and make friends. Once again, my belief that engineers are nicest people on earth was strengthen. Thank you.

* Special thank to Huy Tran for allowing me to use his photos to illustrate for the post

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