Notes on Value from worskhop 14/10/09 - Building the Lean Web Development Team

Notes from my Beta Workshop - "Building the Lean Web Development Team".

We talked about four general areas on Wednesday:

  • Values
  • Flow
  • What is it?
  • Poke Yoka


When we talked about Values we said that one of the important aspects of the Toyota Production System.

The Toyota Production System insists on seeing the world of business as a value-stream. Each activity in the value stream either adds value, or it doesn't. If it doesn't, it is a candidate for removal and reduction. The way to identify these candidates is to create a value stream map of your organisation (this is very similar to a "Brown Paper Exercise" done by many management consultants). We did this in the class and this is what we came up with:

We then highlighted the areas that we thought were adding value in the process [in red]. Then we highlighted the areas that we didn't think added value to the process. Quite a few of these were activities to do with planning and assessing the work that came in. The very radical idea occurred to us - "What if we didn't do those bits?" What if we just "Exposed our development capacity" to our clients - this brings in some of the Kanban thinking - "here are the slots, it's obvious when we're available and when we aren't." How do we figure out whether we can do a piece of work or not? By trying to do it.

When you look at things in this way, planning and estimation look really pointless. If your capacity is really obvious, then the option of figuring out how long something will take by trying it presents itself.

What are our values? I used an activity that I'd learned from reading "Sources of Power" by Gary Klein to come up with a bunch of values for the group. We wrote these on a set of index cards.

Web Developers' Values

  • Software engineering best practice
  • Customizable
  • We're a learning company
  • New People
  • Good solutions in non-perfect situations
  • Dealt with unexpected problems
  • Customer delighted
  • Generic
  • Flexible Code
  • Speed
  • Setting an example to other developers
  • Adding structure
  • Product
  • New challenge
  • Taking a risk

We then asked if these were the values of our customers, or our suppliers?

Customer's Values

We thought our customer's values were probably very different - this is the list that we came up with:

  • Easy Life
  • Shiny Fun Web
  • Rounded Corners
  • Blue
  • Verdana
  • On-Time
  • To-Budget
  • Free Food
  • Good Coffee
  • Regular Updates
  • Non-Threatening
  • Lack of Jargon
  • Learning Jargon to impress Boss

Who are your suppliers?

I'd talked to some of the people who turned up at the course - a woman who owned her own web development business and she'd told me with a shrug that she didn't really have any suppliers. After thinking about it for a while, I realised that this was very wrong. One of the things that Toyota does that makes it very different from other companies is that it has very involved, very long-term relationships with its suppliers. Here are some suppliers that you have that you might not have thought of:

  • Universities (supply you with staff). Universities supply you with staff. Are the universities teaching their students the kind of things that you need them to know? Are the universities picking the right kind of people to come on their courses - are they a good "fit" with the organisation. We talked about the value of having interns - I asked if anybody had ever had interns and there was a general agreement that when they do have interns, they're given "grunt work" rather than anything that might allow them to learn, or show off their abilities.
  • Other Web development companies (supply you with staff). People come to you from these companies - the better you know them, the better chance you have of good people coming to you from them.
  • Software manufacturers (Apple, Microsoft and Adobe)
  • Hosting. I hear lots, I mean LOTS of stories about last minute changes to hosting requirements that come from a client and derail a project. Do you have a really good relationship with your hosting supplier? Alternatively, are you permanently chasing problems with a very cheap hosting supplier?
  • Me, and people like me (I supply you with training and consultancy). How do you make sure that I know enough about your company to do my job properly. What sort of experience and abilities do you need in a consultant?

Value Dynamics

What are you supplier's values? How do they change throughout a project? This seems to be a crucial part of the business of web development in a way that it isn't in other industries such as car manufacture where buying the product is a quick process rather than the long, drawn out process that it can be with web development. I think a lot more work needs to be done on this, but for now, what we came up with was as follows:

Beginning of a project: What's important to customers at the beginning of a project is price and feature list, and impressive pitches.

Middle of a project: What's important to customers in the middle of a project is understanding the trade-off between features and price (although this sounds like a web developer-view to me).

End of a project: At the end of a project there are a whole different bunch of things that are now on the client's mind. Now they need to be able to show some working software to their bosses, and also, possibly some return on investment (ROI). We all agreed that if there is working software that is generating value, then the budget is much less of an issue.

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