The Purpose of a Tool in Agile

What is culture?

Here is a slight paraphrasing of an excerpt from David Mann’s book, Creating a Lean Culture: Tools to Sustain Lean Conversions.

Culture is important, but changing it directly is not possible. Culture is no more likely a target than the air we breathe. It is not something to target for change. Culture is an idea arising from experience. That is, our idea of culture of a place or organization is a result of what we experience there. In this way a company’s culture is a result of how people collaborate with each other. Culture is critical, and to change it, you have to change your method of collaboration. Focus on agreements, behaviors, specific expectations, tools and routine practices. Lean systems make this easier because they emphasize explicitly defined agreements and use tools to make the work and agreements visible.

As Mr. Mann says, culture is important but it is a reflection of decision and reward policies in a company. To be able to change it you must change the way decisions are made and rewarded.

Here are three Lean principles that provide a foundation for working with culture.

  1. Take a systems-thinking point of view and recognize the system causes most of your problems.
  2. Respect and trust people.
  3. Management (via servant leadership) improves the system within which people work so that they can work autonomously on a well stated objective,

The challenge with software is that it is not visible while it is being built. The greatest difference between Kanban and Scrum is Kanban’s insistence on explicit workflow which adds to Scrum’s visibility of the Work-in-Process.

Frameworks and tools

The primary purpose of an Agile product management tool is to create visibility of both workflow and of artifacts (epics to stories). You don’t want to follow a tool; instead, you want visibility into what people are doing. Then using the ideas of Lean flow, the tool assists people in making good decisions.

Good frameworks are proxies for good Lean-thinking. Tools designed around frameworks miss the opportunity to teach Lean-thinking. Frameworks can be good “tools” in the sense they give a good starting point but you should outgrow them.

The purpose of a tool

Change the way we work together

As mentioned, visibility of workflow, agreements and artifacts being worked on is a fundamental tenet of Lean. The purpose of a tool is not to guide people as much as it is to make this informaiton visible to people. This enables people to better collaborate with each other. But it also lowers the experience required to make good decisions. One of the biggest differences beetween an expert and someone just starting out is that an expert knows both what to look at and what to not look at. For example, in Agile we know to focus on collaboration instead of documents.

The purpose of a tool is to crete visiblity of our workflow, agreements and artifacts being worked on. The information being made visible should include information that a novice might not know to look for. By presenting options to see it, the tool can provide training in the sense that it can now be known that these are useful pieces of information. By combining this with why that information is useful and how to use it, better decisions can be made with less than the usual amount of experience being required.