Standish Group CHAOS report for 2009

The Standish Group has released its CHAOS Summary 2009 report. Let the data speak for itself: only 32% of all projects were successful, 44% were challenged, and the rest 24% failed. See more detail in this press release.

April book review: Collaboration Explained

When I started this column in January 2008, I wanted to share my book recommendations with a wider audience and solicit feedback from our blog readers. Let me first say that I am very happy and grateful for all your insightful questions and suggestions. Thank you for subscribing to our blog and reading books featured in our monthly column!

Based on your comments, the books that are going to be discussed over the next several months are closely related to the books already reviewed in 2008 and 2009. This month, we will continue the theme of collaboration culture and facilitative leadership started in February: "Facilitate with Ease!" by Ingrid Bens.

Jean Tabaka
Collaboration Explained. Facilitation Skills for Software Project Leaders.

In this book, Jean Tabaka describes the benefits of a consensus-based leadership approach and participatory decision-making. She explains how we can usefully share ideas, information, and decisions among project team members and demonstrates organizing tools and techniques for many project events. Jean offers guidelines and practical advice to project leaders and agile practitioners on how to manage complex team dynamics and foster and maintain collaboration in their teams.

What makes this book different from Ingrid Berns' Facilitate with Ease! is the context of agile software development projects. Jean provides detailed advice and even includes sample agendas for many relevant project meetings:

Generic Project

  • Status Meeting
  • Strategic Action Planning
  • Process Change Workshop
  • Project Start-up Meeting
  • Project Retrospective


  • Scrum Planning
  • Daily Scrum
  • Sprint Demo and Review


  • Project Chartering
  • Release Planning
  • Iteration Planning
  • Daily Stand-up
  • Iteration Demo and Review
  • Release Retrospective

Crystal Clear

  • Methodology Shaping
  • Blitz Planning
  • Reflection Workshop

Having read this book cover to cover, I often find myself referring to Jean's sample agendas when preparing for a meeting. I believe you will find this book valuable as well.

Happy reading!

March book review: Managing to Learn

John Shook
Managing to Learn. Using the A3 management process to solve problems, gain agreement, mentor, and lead

The term A3 refers to a size of paper defined by ISO 216. For lean organizations, A3 is also a problem-solving and improvement tool as well as a management style and process.

The A3 report is a standardized form for describing a problem on a single sheet of paper. The report communicates both facts and meaning in a commonly understood format. It describes a story behind a particular issue and is guided by PDCA (Plan, Do, Check, Act), an iterative problem-solving process. The process guides dialogue and analysis of the issue by discovering answers to the following questions:

  • What is the problem we are trying to solve?
  • Who owns the problem?
  • What are the current conditions?
  • What are the root causes of the problems?
  • What are the countermeasures?
  • What is the implementation plan?
  • How will we know if the countermeasures work?
  • How will we capture and share the learning?

In John Shook's book "Managing to Learn", you will find an excellent introduction to the fundamentals of A3 analysis as well as easy-to-understand examples on how to apply A3 thinking to improve problem solving, decision making, and communication in business organizations. John also explains the underlying learning process for developing talent and touches on how A3 enables the right decision at the right time. This capability of A3 helps lean organizations operate pull-based authority (aka, kanban democracy), where authority is pulled where it is needed and when it is needed: on-demand, just-in-time.

The book is organized around two story lines running in parallel. The first story line reveals the thoughts and actions of Desi Porter, a young manager who gradually discovers the meaning of the A3 process. The second story line describes the thoughts and actions of Ken Sanderson, Desi's supervisor who mentors Desi Porter in a structured problem-solving approach. While Desi is primarily concerned about his project of improving the document translation process in the company, Ken needs Desi and his other direct reports to master A3 thinking.

The book is both thoughtful and entertaining. I highly recommend it. If you are interested in learning more about the A3 management process, this book is for you.

To order this book from, click here. Happy reading! 

Dinosaur Thinking video by Henrik Mårtensson

This short video provides an excellent overview of why Scientific Management worked well in the early 20th century and why it makes it very difficult for organizations to adapt to the new world today. Enjoy!

January book review: Scrumban

Corey Ladas
Scrumban: Essays on Kanban Systems for Lean Software Development

Many agile teams subscribe to a development approach which Corey Ladas describes as craft production. A team of generalists is working together on user stories from an incoming queue, usually a product backlog. Each idle team member (or each idle feature crew) takes ownership of one user story at a time until there are no idle team members or no pending user stories available. This approach allows a team to control the flow of work and achieve a level of predictability in the process. However, it provides limited knowledge transfer and division of labour and, thus, often results in high variability in deliverables.

In this book, Corey offers a different approach to managing work items. A team of specialists uses kanban scheduling and other lean techniques in order to maintain a smooth and continuous flow of business-valued work items and maximize their throughput into production. What I like about this approach is that it recognizes the area of expertise of each worker and provides clear leading visual indicators of project health (as opposed to a lagging indicator such as velocity).

The book is thought-provoking and very interesting to read. If you have been thinking about introducing a more formal engineering workflow within your team, this book is for you.

Happy reading!

October book review: Ready, Set, Dominate

Michael Kennedy, Kent Harmon, Ed Minnock
Ready, Set, Dominate: Implement Toyota's set-based learning for developing products and nobody can catch you.

This is a continuation of the book I reviewed earlier this year: Product Development for the Lean Enterprise. The authors pick up the story of the Infrared Technologies Corporation (IRT) a year later. The company has piloted bits and pieces of the Toyota System with various levels of success. The progress is visible but it is not sufficient to achieve the company goals. To make matters worse, the Board of Directors has run out of patience with IRT's poor financial performance and has hired a new Chief Financial Officer to improve profits fast. The new CFO does not believe in product development transformation efforts and recommends a different strategy: selling non-profitable side of business, outsourcing manufacturing, reducing cost through an across-the-board workforce reduction, and using profits to buy high-growth and high-profit companies...

No doubt, IRT faces serious challenges: market share is shrinking, overhead is increasing, and profits are deteriorating. Will the company be able to turn the situation around? Read this book to find out!

In the form of a business novel, the authors allow us to experience a journey towards Lean Product Development with the focus on Lean Knowledge Management. They point out common implementation mistakes and show how to effectively integrate the flow of innovative knowledge into a planned cadence of product releases.

Included with the book are case studies of two companies that have been successful at understanding and applying Toyota principles. I would like to quote one of them: "... once the desired specification was put on paper, it was viewed as an absolute requirement. No variance from the goal was acceptable. Since the requirements were not a variable, the only variables left were time and money. That meant missed schedules and cost overrruns."

Happy reading!

August book review: Toyota Talent

Jeffrey Liker and David Meier
Toyota Talent: Developing Your People The Toyota Way

I am leading a product development team at a financial organization. One of my objectives is to create an environment supporting and motivating team members to learn all jobs within the team and continuously improve our work methods. This may not be an easy goal to achieve, but I see a huge value in having team members capable of performing multiple jobs and willing to assume different roles and responsibilities.  

While I was exploring ideas on how to organize training and skill development for our employees, I came across Jeffrey Liker's and David Meier's book describing an approach to training used by Toyota. At Toyota, managers and team leaders are responsible for establishing a teaching environment within their teams. They create development plans for their team members, work closely with the trainers to evaluate the progress and skill level of each individual, and keep an eye on the overall performance indicators.

Jeffrey and David provide excellent ideas on how to identify critical knowledge, analyze and standardize work methods, break down jobs into small pieces for teaching, run training sessions, and follow up to verify the results. Even though the approach described in the book is targeted towards manufacturing, I found it to be applicable (with little adaptation) to product development and engineering. 

Happy reading!

July book review: Agile Estimating and Planning

Mike Cohn
Agile Estimating and Planning

Mike Cohn is an Agile Alliance co-founder, Information Technology executive, and the author of two excellent books: "User Stories Applied" and "Agile Estimating and Planning". His first book became de facto standard for creating user stories. His second book is often described as one of the best practical guides to estimating and planning agile projects. I really like and recommend both of Mike's books.

Estimating and Planning are necessary non-value adding activities on a software project. They are non-value adding because they do not add a direct value to the final product as perceived by the customer. They are necessary because the consequences of not doing estimating and planning are dire: we would end up with no data to support any quality decision-making process on the project. When is the project going to be done? What can we have completed by a certain date? Should we release now or shall we wait another month and release with more features?

You could argue that during estimation we analyze and evolve our requirements, which may be considered a value adding activity. I would agree with you. The trick is to make this process fast and lean by doing just enough analysis and eliminating all unnecessary wastes. You will need to figure out what works best for you and your team, but if you are wondering where to start, start with the "Agile Planning and Estimating" book. You will find simple, pragmatic, logical, common-sense methods and techniques to make your projects successful.

Happy reading!

June book review: The Secrets of Consulting

Gerald M. Weinberg
The Secrets of Consulting: A guide to giving and getting advice successfully

As a consultant, I find it illuminating and resourceful as it puts rationality and structure around seemingly irrational subject area. As a manager, I find it full of wisdom and wit, but perhaps lacking clear message and specific take-aways. As a reader, I simply find it entertaining. What am I talking about? "The Secrets of Consulting" book by Jerry Weinberg.

Jerry defines consulting as the art of influencing people at their own request. Even this definition alone makes me think hard and deep about my role as a consultant... or as a person who needs consulting help. In a casual conversational manner, Jerry introduces rules and laws helping a consultant become more effective and ultimately more successful at what she/he does.

To give you a taste of what this book is about, I listed a few of my favourite rules and laws below:

  • The Duncan Hines Difference: It tastes better when you add your own egg.
  • Prescott's Cucumber Principle: Cucumbers get more pickled than the brine gets cucumbered.
  • Rhonda's First Revelation: It may look like a crisis, but it's only the end of an illusion.
  • The Harder Law: Once you eliminate your number one problem, you promote number two.
  • Fisher's Fundamental Theorem: The better adapted you are, the less adaptable you tend to be.
  • The Bolden Rule: If you can't fix it, feature it.
  • The Third Law of Consulting: Never forget they paying you by the hour, not by the solution.
  • The Fourth Law of Consulting: If they didn't hire you, don't solve their problem.
  • The Fifth Law of Pricing: If you need the money, don't take the job.
  • The Principle of Least Regret: Set the price so you won't regret it either way.
  • Marvin's First Great Secret: Ninety percent of all illness cures itself - with absolutely no intervention from the doctor. Deal gently with systems that should be able to cure themselves.

For more information about the author, visit Gerald's website. Happy reading!

May book review: Product Development for the Lean Enterprise

Welcome again. Here is what I picked for this month's review:

Michael N. Kennedy
Product Development for the Lean Enterprise: Why Toyota's system is four times more productive and how you can implement it.

I first learned about Toyota production and product development around 5 years ago. Their numbers are truly impressive:

  • Toyota is consistently named at the top in owner satisfaction surveys
  • Toyota's  milestone dates are never missed
  • Toyota's engineers and managers achieve incredible 80% of value-added productivity (vs. 20% auto industry average in the US)
What does Toyota do differently from everybody else? How can we apply their principles to IT? Product Development is substantially different from Manufacturing. Which one is a better fit for an IT organization? 

While there is plenty of information on wildly admired Toyota Production System (Lean Manufacturing), there is considerably less data on Lean Product Development (Knowledge-Based Development). In order to better understand how these two systems are different, take a look at the table below:

  Lean Manufacturing Lean Product Development
Cycle Time: Short (minutes, hours) Long (days, weeks)
Core Material: Physical material Knowledge and information
Teams: Smaller, focused Larger, more diverse
Focus: Focus is on executing predefined tasks and automation Focus is on defining new solutions and building knowledge and expertise

In his book, Michael Kennedy introduces the principles of and key elements behind Lean Product Development:

  • Set-Based Concurrent Engineering
  • System Design Leadership
  • Responsibility-Based Planning and Control
  • Expert Engineering Workforce

In an engaging and humorous manner, he explains how these principles can be adapted and implemented in your organization. The book is thought-provoking, sophisticated, and extremely fun to read.  It appeals to my sense of humor and has a plot and engaging characters that no reader will forget. It will keep you occupied until early morning hours... ;-)

Principles of Lean Manufacturing work well for IT maintenance and support. Lean Product Development fits well IT software development teams. If you are a technical or functional leader in an IT organization, this is a must-read book for you!  I am sure you will enjoy it.

Happy reading!

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