The Phoenix Project Reading Challenge – Case Study

Thanks to one of our favorite Alumni for this great idea!

Claudia Light, CPDE, ITIL Expert | Process Architect, Enterprise Technology Services, Oregon Department of Administrative Services, Claudia.j.Light@Oregon.Gov

“When I took the DevOps Overview class, I shared that I was purchasing copies of The Phoenix Project and The Visible Ops Handbook to share with our management team. You asked me to let you know how that worked out.

What I ended up doing with the books was to issue a Summer Reading Challenge in one of our management team meetings.  The challenge was to take one of the books, read it and come back with three improvement ideas that we could potentially implement in our own organization. Our administrator modified the challenge slightly, saying that the ideas could also be improvements that we have already made.  (She and I had talked a few days before about how her enforcing limiting changes to maintenance windows was part of step one in the Visible Ops Handbook. It was a very unpopular idea when she initially presented it, but it has helped reduce outages.)

I issued the challenge two weeks ago. I will be checking in at today’s meeting to see what their progress on the reading is and to set a deadline for the uptake of ideas.  I have had a discussion with George Spafford, Gartner analyst and one of the authors to get some advice on things to consider when doing the uptake.  He had some great advice:

  • Gently probe why.  It’s about establishing why something is needed and using that as a guide – everyone must understand why change is needed.  George pointed me to the TED talk by Simon Sinek about How Great Leaders Inspire Action. It is the “why” that must resonate with people in order to create the interest in the how and the what. People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.
  • Overlay the discussion with, “How does this support our customers and our strategic plan?” How does this matter in the short term and in the long term? To tactical pain and suffering and strategic enablement?
  • Look at what has worked well, but don’t just preserve the status quo.  We need to review the status quo and understand the direction that is needed, what we can change and then evolve accordingly. It is dangerous to try and change too much at once. Instead, do a series of plan-do-check-act experiments to evolve in the direction needed. Whatever we do in this step needs to support why changes are needed.
    • Don’t get painted into a corner. Look at good existing practices. Can this expand to other groups? Promote the idea of “let’s get this written down and talk about it.” Table things that aren’t right yet, but don’t lose them.
  • Look at what are the greatest constraints we face today. The greatest constraints are often policies that made sense at one time but don’t make sense anymore. Look up the Five Focusing Steps by Dr. Eli Goldratt at the Theory of Constraints Institute. It has a generic mental model for overcoming constraints:
    • Identify the constraint – where does work bottleneck? Break fix vs. project work. Look at people and process. To increase capacity take the weight out and off load. (This was the Herbie the boy scout from The Goal. I am reading it now.)
    • With a system, we want to understand what is the biggest constraint that if we focusing and break it, then we improve our overall movement towards a goal.
      • Look at the critical path, shorten items on this path. Understand that shortening things not on the critical path doesn’t speed up anything. If we shrink tasks on the critical path then the overall duration decreases.
    • Exploit the constraint – What is the unnecessary stuff that can be off loaded.
    • Subordinate the rest to the constraint
    • Elevate the constraint – People jump to this step first by investing in additional capacity around the constraint. But without doing the first 3 steps this risks wasting the investment.
    • Avoid inertia – when you have alleviated this constraint, find the next one to work on.
  • Most people learn by doing.  George also pointed me to Mike Rother’s You Tube video on the Toyota Kata from Lean 2012 about the constant cycle of coaching. Look at what we are trying to accomplish and what’s holding us back.
  • Document the ideas without judgment to help people feel free to express their ideas. Don’t worry about the “how” for now, just capture the what. Collect the ideas first then go back to probe the why. Refer to Goldratt’s work on the thinking process. Draw out the main themes. Don’t optimize in isolation. Move toward the goals or protect the goals.

I enjoyed your Agile Service Management webinar and it’s also given me some good ideas.  I will be contacting your team in the near future to set up a repeat with our process owners and process managers.  Our progress on maturing our processes has slowed to a crawl lately and I think we definitely need an agile approach to start making progress again.”

Thanks Claudia and George!  

Until your next visit to LisaLand…Happy Reading