Self-organized Kaizen

September 23, 2013 — Leave a comment

While “self-organized team” is a well-known Agile concept that’s very much sought after, having teams that truly self-organized do require often a mindset change from both the team members and their manager.

Usually that means getting the team to self-manage the backlog, work out the task dependencies among themselves, pull through issues together as a cross-functional team etc. I’m sure you have read enough about getting teams to self-organize in their delivery work. But what about self-organizing outside of the delivery process?

Let me share with you some recent initiatives taken with the team where they practice their own self-organization outside of an Agile delivery team.

Town Hall

As a company with offices in a few countries, we already have various meetings, briefings and showcases where senior leaders from the HQ kept everyone updated on how our company goals & targets are progressing. That’s already a given.

Last November I introduced a monthly Town Hall meeting where the intention is to gather the team for a sharing session that has a bit more localized contents and a more familiar platform for everyone in the team to step out and share.

While the first couple of sessions were mainly anchored by myself and the involvement of senior managers from MEL, it has always been our intention to hand-off this event to the team themselves to self-organize.

When I made the call for the team to own Town Hall, the managers helped form the Town Hall Ambassadors (committee) which comprised one team member from each team/dept. Initially I was worried if the “appointed” team members would buy into owning this Town Hall or would they felt they were coerced into organizing this?

My fears are unfounded really. Not only did the Town Hall Ambassadors own the event wholeheartedly, they even started evangelising to detractors why the Town Hall is not another “needless meeting” but one where each of us can find our own voice in helping to shape the working environment and culture where we are actually spending a large part of our life every day!

The Town Hall Ambassadors have gone from strength to strength in making our monthly Town Hall an event to look forward to. They run NPS* surveys to get feedback from the teams which part of the Town Hall events everyone like (and should be kept), which part should be dropped or changed; and are constantly looking for fresh ideas to add variety to the event.

(NPS = net promoter score)

Town Hall now occurs every first Weds of the month.. and everytime I see the invite coming into my Inbox, I couldn’t help but smile at how the teams have self-organized themselves to fully own this event. Sometimes even when I wanted to slot in an agenda or two, I find the month’s Town Hall agenda already fully taken up and may have to defer mine to next month. Yup, even I don’t always get to have my say nowadays but that’s a small price to see a self-organized team in motion. 🙂

Kaizen Wall for Office Improvement

In most offices – unless yours are different from ours – there are usually lots of (mostly minor) issues here and there which requires the attention of Admin or Operations to attend to in terms of improving the working environment, office set ups, and what-nots. In the past, these matters tend to escalate up to the managers (most likely the Admin Manager).

This changed a couple of months back when one of our Iteration Managers (who joined us earlier this year) promptly put in place a Kaizen wall where everyone (right down to Lia, our part-time helper) are encouraged to 1) post an issue as a new story card to the Backlog, 2) pick up an issue to act on (not necessarily an issue raised by himself), or 3) get someone to own an issue to move it forward.

Above: The Kaizen wall with four simple columns – Backlog (or Wishlist), To Do, Doing and Done. There’s also a Reject column for story cards that are reviewed by the Town Hall committee and deemed not suitable to move forward at this moment.

Since this initiative has started, we’ve seen a number of improvements and changes made to the office environment and a few niggling issues sorted out quickly. One of the more significant changes is the setting up of a reading corner where an Ikea book shelf was brought in, a list of books (technical, professional and a few non-business) was acquired and I’m told we’ll be having (soon) our first (of many) Lightning Talks where team members would gather informally and share some of the stuff they’ve read & learnt from the books.

Can’t wait.

To further encourage this momentum, I’ve informed the team I’ll be giving out the Kaizen Minion award, where I’ll go thru some of the Kaizen cards implemented and if one of them amazed me, the person who got the task done would receive a cash voucher from me!

The first of the Kaizen Minion award went to the team member who went out of her way to get us the Ikea bookshelves and got the book library kickstarted! She amazed me with her tenacious spirit to get things done (she doesn’t drive but no problem, get on a bus.. just get things done!) and because of that, we are now looking forward to our monthly Lightning Talks (which is another great sharing opportunity that I’ll write more later).

I’m more than happy to give out more Kaizen Minion vouchers… as that simply means the team is well on their way to being self-organized.

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