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Systems Concepts for Agile Practitioners


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Presented at Agile Open San Diego in 2014 with parts repeated at Agile Coach Camp West, 2015.

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Systems Concepts for Agile Practitioners

  1. 1. Systems Concepts for Agile Practitioners Agile San Diego 5/1/14 Roger Brown, CSC, CST
  2. 2. The significant problems we face today cannot be solved at the same level of thinking at which they were created. - Albert Einstein
  3. 3. Why? Chaotic Complex Complicated Simple Human History Technological advance and growing population in a finite space have increased the complexity of human interactive structures.
  4. 4. Systems are greater than the sum of their parts. System properties and behaviors emerge from the combination of its constituent parts Reductionism is not sufficient. Our systems are dynamic and driven by nonlinear effects that are not easily understood.
  5. 5. Helpful Theoretical Models Queuing Theory – Erlang 1910 Lean Thinking – Deming 1940 System Dynamics – Forrester 1950 Automata Theory – 1940 Ulam and von Neumann Network Theory - 1970 Complexity Theory - 1970 Learning Organization – 1990 Senge A model is a simplification of reality intended to promote understanding.
  6. 6. System Dynamics A system is an entity which maintains its existence through the mutual interaction of its parts. - Gene Bellinger Orderly processes in creating human judgment and intuition lead people to wrong decisions when faced with complex and highly interacting systems. - Jay Forrester
  7. 7. Counter-intuitive Behavior System behaviors come from structures, not from coefficients
  8. 8. Feedback Mechanisms Reinforcing feedback Balancing feedback + Credit Card Balance Credit Card Interest + + Body Temp Sweat - 3 examples from
  9. 9. Feedback Delay Time DesiredState Long delay causes wider swings Short delay converges sooner Agile/Lean achieve smoother flow and reduced risk by shortening the delay time for feedback
  10. 10. Cost of Change and Feedback Delay
  11. 11. Lean Thinking 95% of variation in the performance of a system (organization) is caused by the system itself and only 5% is caused by the people. - W. Edwards Demming Misconception easily turns into common sense. - Taiichi Ohno
  12. 12. Push & Pull Systems Push systems overwhelm capacity, creating turbulence, rework, waste and delay Pull systems have a steady flow that provides predictability ♫ Push
  13. 13. Push Pull Make a plan Have a queue of work and a goal Track % completion of plan Measure throughput and work done Buffer plan for contingencies Small, frequent tasks to manage variety Plan decides what to do next People decide what to do next Long feedback delay Continuous short feedback loops Demand exceeds capacity Demand limited to capacity Fixed scope and time Fixed WIP Forecast based on estimates Forecast based on data
  14. 14. Little’s Law Cycle Time = Number of Items in Process/System Capacity
  15. 15. ? Single Piece Flow Do This Don’t Do This
  16. 16. Unintended Consequences
  17. 17. Local Optimization A focus on one property can have unintended impact on the system as a whole
  18. 18. Goodhart’s Law The moment a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be useful as a measure. Story Points/Sprint
  19. 19. Complexity Theory Complicated Complex Click pictures to view examples. • Many different parts. • Can take it apart and reassemble it. • If one part fails, it all fails. • Many similar parts acting independently within social rules. • Aggregate behavior cannot be predicted from individual part behaviors. • Still “works” if a part is removed.
  20. 20. Cynefin Framework
  21. 21. Sense Input What our senses tell us Probe How we use our senses to get new information Mental Models What sense we make of new information Actions, Experiments What makes sense to do next
  22. 22. Sense-Making Tools - - - We make decisions based on our patterns and mental models, not on information or theory.
  23. 23. Learning Organizations 1.Systems Thinking 2.Personal Mastery 3.Mental Models 4.Building Shared Vision 5.Team Learning
  24. 24. Working as a Team Organizations where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free and where people are continually learning how to learn together. - Peter Senge The Fifth Discipline, 1990
  25. 25. Urgent Not Urgent Important I • Crises • Pressing Problems • Deadline Driven Projects, Meetings, etc. II • Preparations • Learning • Kaizen Events • Relationship Building • True Recreation NotImportant III • Interruptions • Some phone calls • Some email • Someone else’s emergency IV • Trivia • Busy work • Time wasters • “Escape” activities When do we get time to improve? If we don’t spend any time sharpening the saw, we will have to work harder and harder to get the same results. - Steven Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, 2004 By intentionally creating downtime, or ‘slack’, management will find a much-needed opportunity to build a ‘capacity to change’ into an otherwise strained enterprise that will help companies respond more successfully to constantly evolving conditions. - Tom DeMarco, Slack, 2002
  26. 26. Learning Levels Single Loop: tweak the parameters Double Loop: experiment with the process Triple Loop: learn how to learn
  27. 27.  Retrospectives  Communities of Practice  Book Club  Brown Bag Seminars  Shadowing  Story Telling  Knowledge Management  Brainstorming  Skills Exchange Team Learning Tools
  28. 28. References Books: • Thinking in Systems : A Primer – Meadows • The Fifth Discipline and its Fieldbook – Senge • Business Dynamics - Sterman • The Principles of Product Development Flow: Reinertsen • The Systems Bible – Gall • 10 Steps to a Learning Organization – Kline and Saunders • Learning in Action – Garvin • Systems Thinking Playbook – Sweeny and Meadows Websites - - Bellinger - – Snowden -
  29. 29. Presenter Roger Brown • Agile Coach • Scrum Alliance • M.S. System Dynamics, Dartmouth College 1977 • Contact  Email:  Twitter: rwbrown  Blog:  LinkedIn: