Creating a Culture Change with Visual Management


Have you heard the old maxim “What gets measured gets done”? Management expert Peter Drucker said it, and here, Bill Donaldson shows us how a smart manager uses visual management to apply measurement to change what gets done.

Agile requires a culture of continuous change. In the real world change is difficult, even for great engineers and managers. To change a culture you need to change what is measured and rewarded. Too many times people count on a "If you build it, they will come" approach, which only works in movies like “Field of Dreams.” Instead, one should use the visible management technique in which the motto is "Make it visible and they will change."

Visual Management
Acme IT (a fictitious company) had set a goal of shipping an increase of ten times the end-user features to production. Aimee, the leader of Acme, was experienced in change management. Aimee and her leadership team used all of the traditional goal-setting techniques. They used SMART[1] goals and even DUMB[2] goals. Their primary goal was talked about  every time the team members had a sprint review, but their retrospectives never identified an action item that addressed it.

Acme didn't have a quality problem and its sprints were short. Whenever the company released code, it was high quality. In fact, Acme had just implemented a continuous delivery (CD) engine. Still, there weren’t any noticeable increase in the number of features released. The problem was that Acme was rewarding people for completing sprints and not increasing the number of features released.

Acme's teams had plenty of reasons not to switch. Aimee could have used many approaches to make the improvement. Her choice to fix this problem was visual management. Her goal was to make it a “game,” and a visual one at that. She defined the rules of the game, posted a “real-time” deployment scoreboard, and let people opt-in.

The rules were simple: Any release using the new CD framework counted. The deployment scoreboard was not owned by any person or group; anyone could contribute to the overall goal. Once Aimee got an automated email from the CM framework, she updated the scoreboard with a simple post-it note. The board had three numbers on post-it notes: The total for the year, the total for this week, and the total for last week. Two scoreboards were posted in the hall, one by each door, so people had to see them whenever they came in, went to the bathroom, or went out for lunch. One of the scoreboards was right in front of senior Acme management, so management was able to see progress too.

Fig 1
Figure 1. Deployment Scoreboard

Now people took ownership of integrating applications into the CD framework. Remember, no one forced the team members to do it; in fact, one person took this as his personal mission to help others get into the game. He became the leader for migrating to the CD framework, and he created another scoreboard with its own game. This scoreboard had post-it notes for each application to migrate to the CD framework. The scoreboard was a typical kanban board containing the following: To Do, In Progress, and Done. There was also an implicit work-in-progress (WIP) limit on the In Progress portion of the board. The section In Progress was kept in a corner of the flip chart that held about three post-it notes. Since Acme didn't use WIP limits, one was not explicitly set.

Figure 2

Figure 2. "Kanban Board Depicting Applications Waiting to Migrate to the CD Framework

The rule for this scoreboard was to get to the Done column, in which the application needed to be released to production. The result was that the two games supported each other and caused Acme to reach the goal of ten times the increase.

At the end of one quarter, Acme tripled its releases and 90 percent of its applications use the CD framework. However, the real impact was that Acme’s people are now happier. Developers now release more often, sometimes multiple of times a day, and the users are delighted every time a change is made the same day.

Visual management is about making it visible and making it fun—people will be happier. Isn't life better when people are happier? Try it and share your results.

[1] SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound

[2] DUMB: Direct, Understandable, Meaningful, and Believable. Prof. Karen Sobel Lojeski PhD. of Stonybrook University

User Comments

1 comment
Karen Spencer's picture

Isn't it interesting how small tactical moves that change the environment often result in the biggest wins? It's one of those Complex Adaptive Systems rules that we often ignore. Identify your destination and then steer towards it.  

October 20, 2013 - 4:22pm

About the author

AgileConnection is a TechWell community.

Through conferences, training, consulting, and online resources, TechWell helps you develop and deliver great software every day.