Meanwhile many organizations have started with Lean. Especially standing in front of a whiteboard with performance data seems to be the hottest thing in town nowadays. The thing that bothers me in these daily huddles or stand-up meetings is that the data often comes from outside the team. I then tell them there is a reason that is is called “report out”. But what I witness more often resembles a “report in”, whereby the data is supplied by the team lead or some support department. Almost as if someone else will come in during half time, and tell the sports team what the score is. Not really my idea of an autonomous team. As a result, time is often wasted on discussions about definitions, consolidation rules and interpretations instead of focusing on opportunities for improvement. It is time for a change.
“Report Out” Instead Of “Report In”
Not so long ago I was invited to visit an organization, and among other things, to observe their regular stand-up team meetings. Prior to the meeting, an analyst coming from a support department joined the team leader with the data for the upcoming meeting. Many colorful charts printed out on A4-sized paper were spread out on the table. After this short pre-discussion, the charts were hung on the team’s whiteboard.
I then waited to see what the actual meeting would be like. Immediately after the start of the meeting, after the team members had the chance to glimpse over the charts, questions were raised over how on earth the data could be like the data that was presented. Something clearly was wrong, either with the data entry, the query or the Excel formulas that interpreted the data, as what they saw could not be true. Interestingly, of the 15 to 20 minutes the meeting was supposed to take, at least half was lost on this discussion. “What a waste”, I thought by myself.
The credibility of data that is not collected and reported by the team itself is almost always called into question. Externally consolidated data do not live for the team; the individual cases that make up the chart are unknown. When we expect teams to truly take ownership of their own performance and the improvement thereof, then they should also be able to report on their own performance in a short cyclic fashion. “Report out” instead of “report in” therefore. Leaders and supportive departments should go to the team to get to know where the team stands and whether support is needed; not the other way around .
The Language of Things
To enable teams to report about their own performance, I always look for the language of things. What things can be observed, counted, measured. What things are actually requested by the customer and delivered by the team, and which ones are truly value-add from the customer perspective? Subsequently, together with the team, I look for efficient ways to manually collect the required data.
I don’t know how you used to study, but I always tried to make summaries of the books for the courses that I followed. And those for which I made the summaries myself never posed any problem during exams, contrary to those for which I got the summaries from others. Writing down stuff for yourself always creates better insight, and makes thing really stick. It is therefore really worthwhile to have teams collect their own data. And when really not possible, then at least they themselves should get the data from any systems and do the interpretation. I also always strongly prefer manually updating charts, because it creates more awareness, ownership and simply because it is easier.
I am of the view that teams that know and understand their own products, processes and performance and that review these actively are also better positioned to judge and to improve these. As you may know from previous blog posts that I’ve written, I consider autonomy as the cradle of continual improvement. And team autonomy also implies autonomy in capturing and judging its own performance.
And if you, like many with you, have deployed the popular daily or sometimes weekly stand-up meetings, then I invite you to look again carefully. And hopefully you will not note, as I have noted only too often, that it aren’t the spectators that, at the end of the game, tell the team whether or not they have won the trophy.