The KMM podcast: "continuously improve until fit-for-purpse"


Finally getting around to listening to this (don’t @me) and David made a point early on that there’s a view in Western organizations that you should “continuously improve until fit-for-purpose, not continuously improve for the sake of improvement.” Wow. That’s actually pretty mindblowing, to choose to give in to entropy. Thoughts?


I think that people have a hard time sustaining the effort of improvement. I don’t necessarily agree with his assessment as to ‘why’ it happens, but I’ll agree that it happens. I’m curious if his suggestion that it happens more in Western orgs is true.


On an unrelated topic, I was watching a very old presentation by Russ Ackoff and he spoke of the value of ‘Discontinuous Improvement’. I found it fascinating and counter to most literature surrounding the Kanban Maturity Model.

Kanban literature speaks of evolutionary change. And most people equate that with gradual change. But evolution is not always continuous; it is often Discontinuous. That is, when a species develops a mutation, or when mass extinction occurs giving rise to entirely new apex predators. These sorts of evolutionary changes are disruptive and make the pursuit of ‘fitness for purpose’ even more challenging.


What would fit-for-purpose look like in our continuously changing environment?
Do you think that the competitive environment allows a target end-game? Or will the goal post be pushed all the time?

The successful companies are the ones that manage to embed continuous improvements as a culture. Continuous improvements is a fundamental pilar of Toyota for this precise reason. If you analyse Google, they are following this principle too.
Improvements can take the form of process improvements, product improvements or innovation beyond the existing business.

One important point to note however is that as soon as you focus on the process, the product or the innovation, you have lost it already. This is why Lean got a bad name and why Agile is messing it up right now. All this is about focusing on the people and unleashing the ingenuity of the teams continuously. This is why it is so hard. It is why the companies that built it as an advantage openly talk about it, they know that such culture is extremely hard to build if you don’t have it.

Another important point to note is that you go slower first. This is not about going faster and actually even Agile or Lean are not about going faster. They are about going more often. Cadence. By going slower I mean, take time for the culture to bed in from the inside rather than land hordes of consultants to accelerate, take care of refactoring continuously, analyse why bad decisions were made in the past and rethink organisations and decision framework to address those mistakes, and for got sake stop calling the increment a SPRINT. We are looking for FLOW.