Lean – Holding Precious What it is to be Human

lean-heart-bookAt the moment I’m working on a new talk “The Long Way to Lean” for the International PHP Conference in October. As I can’t expect everyone in the audience to have a concept of “Lean” I want to add a short introduction. And I don’t want it to be about “waste”!

So much more than “Reduce Waste”

I hate how much the discussion is centered on waste. At least in Germany that’s the most prominent feature of Lean. To make matters worse, value is not always part of the discussion. One would think that in order to define “waste” you would also have to strive for “value”, but, nope, in my experience it’s not necessarily so.

Though I definitely prefer to frame things in terms of “value” than in terms of “waste”, it still didn’t feel right to me. And then I remembered the two pillars of lean are “Continuous improvement” and

Respect for people

The other things derive from that. Creating value is a way to respect your customers and reducing waste is a way to respect your colleagues’ / employees’ time.

When I started researching the phrase I found that a more literal translation reads:

Holding Precious What it is to be Human

Isn’t that beautiful? We’re humans, we fail and make mistakes all the time. And that’s okay. We also have the ability to be kind, to learn and to work together to accomplish greatness. In its creators minds’ the saying also contained the imperative to invest in people as well as for everyone to improve:

Respect for people is the attitude that regards people’s ability to think most

I totally get why Taiichi Ohno refused to put his approach into writing for so long. People tend to look for rules, easy fixes. They find and implement JIT and limit WIP and yada yada yada. But without caring about people as its core, Lean just streamlines unpleasent workplaces without substantially improving lives. I’d also suspect that heartless Lean can’t change the bottomline much, because the people who know what needs to change are still ignored and company politics continue to rule the day…

Let’s take heart and hold humans precious when we strive for leanliness!

Bias for Action

… or the Anti-”Somebody else’s problem field

At one point I worked at a company where I would waste 5 minutes every time I wrote an email, thinking about the recipients of that mail. Not about who needed the information, but about who would be pissed – for vanity or political reasons -, if I didn’t include them. Besides time it wasted a lot of my energy because I disliked these games so much. A “cover your own ass” environment like that is toxic for initiative. It leads to a “not my job” attitude, if even slight deviation yields repercussions.

How much could we have achieved if us lower level employees could have run with our ideas? If we had been encouraged to show initiative and implement improvements right away?
Fortunately I work in the promised land right now: People running with their ideas and taking responsibility happen all the time at my employer and it’s awesome!

Example: Demo time

It was demo day. For us that means that all teams present what they launched in the previous 2 weeks. All in all 30-50 people. Usually we do this in the big conference room, but it was closed that week due to water damage.

10 minutes prior to the demo my colleague looked up from his screen and asked “Huh, where are we going to demo with the conf room out of order?”

In pre-agile 2010 times that would have been it. End of story. We would have assumed that “somebody”, e.g. the scrum masters, took care of it. All teams would have congregated somewhere and spend 10+ minutes watching someone set up a projector and screen and laptop and … 40 people looking on for 10 minutes? That’s a whole work day we would have collectively wasted.

Not nowadays, though. We were aware of the problem and we were capable of solving it. So we did.We used 10 minutes of 4 team members to get the equipment, set it up and gather everyone in the new location. Everything was set up and running at demo time. Nobody bored. Nobody annoyed. No time wasted.

How did we get here?

What happened between pre-agile 2010 and today? Do we just have more initiative? Though we do hire differently now, I think that only a small part of it boils down to how much drive individual employees have.

Here’s what’s IMO more important: Knowing that #1 you are permitted – heck, encouraged! – to improve whatever needs improving and #2 you have the time to do so. Your time and the time of other people that you need to make it happen. (Money is less important, but it helps that even bigger amounts are just one question away.) Continue reading

The NOT operator in Meteor.js (Spacebars, Handlebars)

Because a colleague praised Meteor.js I’m currently working through the tutorial and was stumped by trying to create an “if not” condition. Neither {{#if !myVar}} nor {{#if not myVar}} worked.

Maybe it’s just my inability to google, but I did not find the solution as quickly as I would have expected, so is there a NOT operator in Meteor? Can I negate an if condition?

The answer is “kind of”. You’re probably looking for:

{{#unless myVar}} ... {{/unless}}

unless is the opposite of if

I also learned that Meteor’s templating mechanism is called “Spacebars“, which is derived from “Handlebars.js”. Both know “unless”.

PS: The colleague was completely right about Meteor: It’s awesome! I love it! You should totally try it!

Newsletters are great motivational tools

For the one sending the newsletter, not necessarily the readers ;)

Last month, when newsletter-sendout-time was nigh, I realized that I had not done anything agile-y all month. Nada. Zip. Zilch. There’s nothing like the prospect of sending out an empty newsletter to make you sit down and do stuff, like finish the 1-pager that’s been in the work for ages or finally add the 100th activity to Retr-O-Mat.

Offering an alternative to RSS for updates and connecting to my audience are both worthy ends. But ass-kicking in the GTD department? I did not foresee the newsletter doing this. Hope, I’ll not come to rely on it though …

Do you have a newsletter or something similar? Does it spur your productivity?

100 Activities in Retromat!

Rejoice with me for Retromat now features 100 activities!

Screen Shot 2015-04-07 at 9.33.04 PM

It’s come a long way since its humble launch with 16 activities 3 years ago (May 2012). It started with activities from Diana Larsen and Esther Derby‘s “Agile Retrospectives” and in an attempt to come full circle activity #100 is by Diana Larsen again.

Huge thanks to everybody who made that happen: People who thought of activities, suggested them, translated, sent photos, supported the print version, spread the word, … All you of you: Thank you!

SMARTe Ziele auf deutsch

Hm, wie würdet ihr die SMARTen Ziele übersetzen? Für den deutschen Retromaten (um den sich ansonsten Patrick Zeisig hochverdient gemacht hat) habe ich es gerade folgendermaßen eingedeutscht:

  • specific = spezifisch
  • measurable = messbar
  • attainable = ausführbar
  • relevant = relevant
  • timely = mit Termin

3 davon sind ja sehr naheliegend. Auch “ausführbar” finde ich nah dran. Einzig “timely” finde ich kniffelig. “terminiert” und “Termin gebunden” fand ich beides weniger gut als “mit Termin” aber so ganz trifft es “timely” im Sinne von “zeitnah” nicht. Was meint ihr?


New 1-pagers on Wall-Skills.com during February 2015:

Are you sometimes stuck as a PO or Scrum master? Geoff Watts created Coaching Cards with questions meant to “unstuck” you. Get a feeling for them here:

But that’s not all, here’s more:

Month of Decluttering

Disclaimer: Lately I’m getting into Tiny Houses and Minimalism. I’ll write about these topics at  wenigerballast.tumblr.com/ in German and reserve finding-marbles.com for work related musings. As I had already started the following post, I’ll publish it here anyway, just this one article.

To make space for the baby, my husband and I defragmented our flat prior to the birth. We’ve thrown away what feels like half our furniture (probably was about 1/6th). We could easily have outfitted at least one other household with all the stuff we got rid of. I was afraid the living room would look cold with so little furniture, but instead we love the new spacious feeling. Somehow, tidying up and getting rid of stuff is good for the mind and soul, too. At least my mind and soul ;)

This clean out gave way to an intense interest into Tiny Houses. This movement’s central question of “What do you really need?” ultimately led us to Dusseldorf’s 1st minimalism meetup. There we got introduced to the “Month of Decluttering” challenge: On the 1st day of the month throw away 1 thing. On the 2nd day 2 things, until on the 30th it’s Bye-bye for 30 things. We decided to start right away in February so that we only have to go up to 28 things.

Continue reading

Changing Lanes – Servant Leader to Developer

switching-lanes-194044-mIn a way I have come full circle: I started as a web developer in 1999 and I returned to being a web developer in January 2014. Intermediate steps: Studying Computer Science, creating e-learning content, usability & UX, scrum master, mashup of project manager & agile coach & product owner, and at good long last a Sabbatical.

During my Sabbatical in 2013, I figured out that supporting roles such as Scrum Master and Product Manager are not as satisfying to me as developing had been. I would have liked to thrive on serving others, but I don’t. Not yet anyway. I hope to get there one day. I’m good at it (better than I am as a dev) but not happy. Consequently I took a deep breath and switched back to being a web developer. The change of role brought along some funny changes in perspective:

Retro appreciation

I love retros. To me, they’re the most important of the agile rituals. When I was a scrum master I didn’t really get why developers were so often reluctant to attend. Now I totally get it: As a scrum master it is my job make sure retrospectives happen and result in change. When a retro tanked (no clear actions to take; talking about side issues, not the elephant in the room; …) I would look forward to the next one and plotting how to improve.

As a developer I’m a much harsher judge of whether it was a good use of my time. My main job is to create something useful for our customers, not meetings. So, I want each retro to improve us as a team and when the last one was meh, I now drag my heels as well. I could be coding in that time!
On a more abstract level, I still consider the retro incredibly important.

Obsessing over problems

Continue reading


There are a couple of new 1-pagers I created for Wall-Skills.com:

A Mini Design Studio is a short workshop to design single elements such as a graphical interface, short text, etc. It’s useful for product teams that jointly want to shape their product’s face.

Simplicity is 1 of 5 core values in eXtreme Programming, but what does “simple” mean exactly? Check out rules for simple code.

A good user story fulfills the INVEST criteria

A Sprint Goal allows the dev team to make good tradeoffs even if they can’t check back with the PO.