In our experience, one of the most valuable aspects of Lean-Agile is the team rhythm. Lean calls this takt time. The military calls it operations tempo, shortened to "OPTEMPO." Some call it cadence.

Like the loud metronome used by a high school band and dance team to coordinate the actions of the many people on the practice field, our Lean-Agile system provides that rhythm to the learning experience development team, and the entire team is more synchronized than we were before Lean-Agile. The system includes a daily standup that provides feedback and product increment goals that tell them how many learning objectives need to be completed each day of the two-week iteration.

One small, three-person Lean-Agile team found the benefit of team rhythm in their success on an aggressively scheduled project. They hit all the milestones on time and the customer was very pleased. This seems to back up a comment by David Snowden, that "Conditions of scarcity often produce more creative results than conditions of abundance." The time-boxed iteration and the cadence help provide the sense of scarcity and clarity about what faces you in the next two weeks.

For instructional/LX designers with less experience, however, be careful to adjust what scarcity means in terms of time available or it may actually worsen their performance.

Contrast this to another project where the large training project had 15 courses. The project included multiple teams with a total of almost 20 people. The person leading it was also an instructional/LX designer and was frequently pulled into quality checks at the team level and into many meetings at the organizational level. We did not use daily standups and we did not know about Lean visual management using a Kanban board yet. This team had delays in cost reporting feedback because the activity reporting frequency was weekly, but the financial reports were only released monthly. The team members occasionally got confused about what to work on when the lead got pulled away so much. The project spiraled out of control and ended up with quality problems and cost overruns.

Before you mentally place blame on the lead, consider that the system structure did not facilitate her success in leading this effort. Looking back at that experience, we are sure that we could have done better with Lean-Agile. This lead would have benefited greatly from the system we use now. To apply Lean-Agile we use a Scrumban variant of Agile. We still use leads because we may have to work with other disciplines like software engineering, mechanical engineering, etc.

  • All know the iteration goal for the next two-week iteration, providing overall clarity for that period. The two-week goal tells them how many learning objectives need to be completed each day of the two-week iteration. This is the metronome effect we have noticed. It is more helpful than micromanagement.

  • All know their individual assignments and have accountability to the entire team even if the lead gets pulled away because the Kanban board we use includes avatars attached to each work item card, so everyone knows what everyone is supposed to be doing today. This reduces coordination waste for people getting their assignments. You could say, "Well the MS Project Schedule shows all that." We have learned that the team-updated information board gets updated faster, and all can see it.

  • Traffic jams or work item cards in a particular workflow process step are as easy to see as the traffic jams on the highway are to the traffic helicopter each morning. In our old way, no one could see the status until the lead updated MS Project. Often because of the many demands on the lead, the MS Project file did not get updated for a week. Kanban boards, whether virtual or real, spread the update work to the entire team, making it less burdensome on each person and more regularly updated.

  • The Lean principle of pull helps avoid inventory waste because as each person on the team finishes their current work item card, they move it to the next column on the board and pull a new one from the upstream ready/buffer column.

  • All know that learning objective 21, for example, has to be completed today

  • The lead does not have to spend as much time asking each person for their status so she can update the MS Project file because the status for every work item is visible on the Kanban board.


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