A delightful discovery

Generally, I think it’s kind of silly to spend time patting yourself on the back about what you did.  Especially when there is so much more yet to be done, but I wanted to share an experience and an anecdotal measure of what a good process looks like.  (Apologies up front for the self-congratulating nature of this).

Almost 10 years ago, before I learned a thing about LEAN or Six Sigma, I worked for a large company.  When I was there, I put into place a very simple multi-stream waterfall process.  I didn’t know anything about LEAN, but I knew at the time that I didn’t want a burdensome process, just an effective one.  Books like Steve McConnell’s Rapid Development and my past experiences were my only guides.

I had no idea at the time if the process was a good one.  I had no idea when I left if the people who stayed would still use the process or abandon it the minute I was out the door.

Recently, I had the need to recreate something like that process I put in place 10 years ago.  You’ll find from my writing that I have not jumped on the Agile bandwagon.  Based on my own research, the work of individuals like Boehm and Turner in Balancing Agility and Discipline and a healthy amount of valid criticism from the Internet community, I’m convinced turning to a craft-like approach to software is not the answer.  Thus, my need for a simple multi-stream waterfall process…

So, I called up a friend who still worked at my former employer and asked for the old process documentation I had created.  I was convinced that they were no longer following it, so I should be getting back exactly what I had left them with.  To my surprise I was told that no they did not have what I wanted.  Not because they had promptly filed it in the trash, but because it had evolved!

They sent along a package of templates and flows which, while it strongly resembled what I had left, they had expanded upon and improved to meet changing situations.  The spirit of what I had created 10 years ago was still intact!

Two things are important about that experience.  One, I was with that company almost 5 years before I left.  That duration, the authors of LEAN Thinking point out, is about the amount of time needed to make a change permanent.  Had I left a year or two into the process change, it may have not survived.  For five years I pushed hard on my team for change, and I had left thinking that it was all for naught.  Not so!  The type of persistence that Womack and Jones write about paid off.

The other was that processes will continue to evolve.  On one hand, I was kind of hoping to get back exactly what I had left them with.  I was a little disappointed that I did not because selfishly, it was no longer quite mine.  But, after a moment of reflection, I realized that the fact that it was living and evolving was necessary to its survival as a viable process.  It also meant that team, many of whom are still there from when I was there, has taken ownership of it and made it their own.

It’s personally gratifying to see a process survive for so long and grow and change and be perfected but not abandoned for the latest fad.  But what’s more important, the team has been able to steadily improve by working from standard process and continuously, patiently modify it in little ways.  It’s heartening to know that Kaizen works.  We talk about it a lot, but how often do we get to look back 10 years and see its effects?