Workflow is Made of People

Nov 10 / Jim Benson
When you go to work, you work with people. You talk to them. You learn from them. You create with them. And, if you are a professional, you listen to them, because they are professionals too.

Lean and Agile provide some tools to work, to learn, and maybe even to talk, but we fall short in really building systems to ensure the right people are involved in work at the right time. We don’t look deeply enough at culture and relationships as the fundamental drivers of quality and satisfying work.
We talk about empowering people to act, which is a fool’s errand at best and condescending failure demand at worst. People are already empowered to act, there are simply things standing in their way. We don’t want to empower, we want to remove impedance.

How to Build a Real Culture of Continuous Improvement

Who is Doing Things? In the image, we see a group at the Lake Washington School District working together to make sure that the right stakeholders, decision makers, and professionals are involved at the right time in a set of upcoming construction projects. This is the first step of any project; agile, lean, or otherwise. We need to know who will help make the best decisions possible and when are they needed? You can see in the image, each stage of construction involves different stakeholders with different types of involvement.

What Do They Do? The board over to the right builds out the roles different people have at different stages of the project. Not what role do they have for the entire project, but how does their role change or evolve as the project moves forward.

What Do They Do Together? This information is then used to create a value stream showing where and when people are working together, either by directly collaborating, creating work and handing it off, or providing rounds of creation and feedback. The team specifically maps out how the people collaborate, so future conflicts are anticipated and minimized.

What Are Our Expectations? The group now has expectations that the project will go well, that certain work will be done, and that professionals will share information, make decisions together, and generally be … well … professional. The group will decide on ways to communicate, set meetings, and judge the health of their endeavor. They will generally set expectations that if things are not happening as expected that there will be discussions and the team will either adopt a new course or realign in some other way. But they will improve, they will discuss, they will solve problems, etc.

Culture Has a Roadmap. The group creates goals for the culture they are building. They check in, they improve, they can stop the line if things get out of hand. Expectations are visualized, completed, and that completion is celebrated and remembered.

Your Work is Rarely Just You

These projects involved general contractors, school boards, school staff, consultants, trades people, state and federal oversight, and much more. Many projects treat the construction of a school as a construction project and little else. In this case, the stakeholders sought to be collaborative from the beginning to build the best school possible and lower the overhead of project as a whole. Collaborating on the work, as the work is being done, removes second guessing, hours spent defending decisions, and bad spur of the moment decisions made without the benefit of the wisdom of others.

Before you anxiously start your next project, think about your social structure. Are the right people aware of the project? Are they involved? Do people have the information they need at the right time? Have you set yourself up for success?