Monthly Archives: February 2015

Creating the right culture for Super7 Operations

How to create the right culture for Super7 teams?

Creativity and autonomy florishes within a culture of trust, support, stretch and discipline. Traditional companies often rely on constraints, compliance, control and binding through contracts. This is explained excellenty by Prof. Sumantra Ghosha.

Recently, I was given a tip to watch a short clip form Prof. Sumantra Ghoshal, called “the smell of the place”. To my opinion, this clip is very relevant for autonomous teams, scrum, agile and Super7 Opertions. Below, you’ll find his brilliant speech from the World Economic Forum about corporate environments and the faults of management in creating a positive work place.

The smell in which creativity and autonomy – and therefore Super7 Operations – will florish

  • Stretch (environment in which everybody wants to take that extra step)
  • Discipline (self-discipline, be on time, agree to disagree and committ to decisions)
  • Support (managers change from exercisers of control to coaching, guidance, support)
  • Trust (act on the presumption that people act in the best intrest of their company)

 In contrast, the smell traditional companies often create:

  • Constraints in stead of stretch,
  • Compliance in stead of dicipline,
  • Control in stead of support,
  • Contracts in stead of trust.

Important lesson from this video is that the smell can be changed. You can convert the smell of the place from “downtown Calcutta in the summer” to “a forest in spring”. It has been done before. And, you can use the smell metaphor in explaining and visualizing this change.

One department I recently visited had a brown paper on their Scrum-wall, on which all teammembers rate the smell they are smelling on a scale from 1 (Calcutta) to 10 (Forest). This way, they can monitor the culture, and address issues that cause ‘bad smells’.

Menno R. van Dijk.

ShuHaRi as a way of implementing Super7

Implementation of Super7 Operations can benefit from ShuHaRi, the Japanese learning-technique that is often used to introduce Agile Scrum. This way, you can give the team the responsibility for how to apply the principles of Super7, as soon as they are ready for it.

Should we ask the people from the shop floor to participate in the design of Super7? As Super7’s are supposed to be autonomous, why not give them autonomy in how Super7 Operations is applied in their teams? These questions often arise when organizations are planning to adopt Super7 Operations.

I feel that it is a very good idea to give the Super7 teams full autonomy on how they apply the principles of Super7. However:

  • People can only be expected to master the principles, and apply them to their own view, when they first fully understand them;
  • And, they can only fully understand them after they have experienced working with them;
  • And experience isn’t gained through explaining and training, but through doing.

My approach to implementing Super7 Operations is based on ShuHaRi, a Japanese teaching philosophy. So, a bit of theory, then:

ShuHaRi describes three phases that you go through when learning a technique:

 Shu: As a student, you follow the teachings of the master precisely. You don’t have to know the underlying principles. You practice the standard way that the master teaches you.

Ha: You are now able to execute the new technique, and you start to recognize the principles and theory behind it. The teacher may help you by explaining the principles to you. You now start to experiment with applying the principles, not only the standard that you have been taught.

Ri: You are now able to improve on the standard, by applying the principles. You use your experience to make the technique better for your situation. The principles are so clear to you that you can apply them without help from a master.

The ShuHaRi method is now widely used within Scum and Agile software development. Alistair Cockburn translated this Japanese martial arts best-practice to a way to learn techniques and methodologies for software development.

In our most recent Super7 Operations implementation projects, we’ve applied ShuHaRi in combination with the Improvement Kata. See my previous posts on the subject of Kata for more information. ShuHaRi and Improvement Kata are combined to give the team weekly target conditions that they can experiment towards, where the focus shifts from instruction towards freedom to change the method as seen fit. But this is perhaps too abstract, too much for one blog post. I will go into my approach to implementation in more detail in the near future.

Menno R. van Dijk.

Making Agile Squads work

To make Agile Squads work, you can make specialists multi-skilled to enable the Squad to prioritize across all disciplines within their squad – an important lesson from our Super7 experience.

Many companies are trying to emulate the success that Spotify has had with their Agile engineering culture (see YouTube: part1, part2). Traditional companies are now considering reorganizing into Squads, Tribes and Chapters. Let’s recap first:

A Squad is a small, multi-disciplinary team, much like a Super7 team, but more focused on developing and managing a product or product feature rather than processing customer requests.

A Tribe is more-or-less what we used to call a department, but again, focused on a related group of products or services.

A chapter is the ‘matrix-layer’, a group of similar specialism from different tribes.

As Spotify explains in their second video, strong growth has made the Squad & Tribe organization more complex. So how do you get this type of organization to work?

My observation is that the matrix of Chapters running crisscross through Tribes creates 2 potential problems.

1. Less autonomous problem solving power for the Squads because different specialists can’t help each other.

– Squad members are all specialists in their own field
– Each specialist will have their own list of priorities
– When one specialist’s highest priority is really critical, the risk is that his/her squad members can’t help this specialist, simply because they don’t know enough of the subject.
– Instead, they can only focus on their own priorities, sub optimizing the squad results

2. Requirement of more management because of complexity

– In the situation as described above, the specialist in need of help will turn to his/her chapter-members.
– This requires cross-squad or even cross-tribe prioritizing
– And this will require a lot of talk, compromising, decision making.
– In short, this will increase the need of management.

For these 2 problems, our experience with Super7 could hold the solution:

Use multi-skilled specialists, and enable the Squad to prioritize across all disciplines within their squad. A graduation study has shown that Super7’s that can rely on help from within their own Super7 are more effective and have better team-spirit than teams that need to lend a hand to other Super7’s on a regular basis. This emphasizes the importance of multi-skilled specialists.

How would this work for Squads?

  • Super7 shows us that specialists need to be able to help at least 2 other members of their Super7.
  • Translated to Squads: every squad-member needs to be a specialist in at least 2, but preferably 3 specialisms that are needed within the squad.

This will demand a lot of the people involved. They need to be trained. But as Toyota puts it: “we build people before we build cars”.

Menno R. van Dijk.