A simple guide to incremental improvement toward any objective


25 Mar
25Mar

Here is a simple guide (fewer than 10 steps) to making incremental improvements using a scientific approach, whether it be in your personal life or in your workplace.

Through the steps (below), we'll follow two different examples — one related to an agile transformation, and one related to personal health.

1. Define an objective

  • Increase speed to market of product features
  • Get fit

2. Define possible root causes* for why you or your team are not where you want to be right now with regard to the objective

  • Team dependencies, different release schedules, work decomposed as batches ==> Slow speed to market
  • Eating junk food, not exercising enough, not sleeping enough ==> Being unfit

* Note that in complex adaptive systems, such as human bodies and product/service teams and organisations, there is rarely a single root cause for any given outcome (good or bad), hence the need to consider multiple possibilities which should form the basis of incremental and iterative improvement experiments — fishbone and causal loop diagrams are both useful for this purpose

3. Define a problem hypothesis based on one of the possible root causes (this is now the "problem to solve")

  • I believe that [unsynchronised release schedules and work dependencies between teams working on the Acme initiative]
    are causing [longer than desirable lead times (speed to market) for releasing even small changes]
  • I believe [eating kettle chips every day]
    is causing [me to be overweight]

4. Gather the baseline data for the problem

  • 2 teams required to make a label change and release it to production — Team 1 and Team 2 release dependent components every 4 weeks, but 2 weeks apart ==> Minimum lead time = 2.5 weeks (including integration/testing)
  • Eat ~100g of kettle chips every day — Weight = 90kg — Height = 188cm — BMI = 25.46 (should be max 24.9)

5. Define an improvement hypothesis — an [activity] and [expected result] which you believe to be a small step toward the objective in a measurable way

  • I believe by [Team 1 and Team 2 releasing on the same day every 4 weeks]
    we can [reduce the minimum lead time for a label change release from 2.5 weeks to 3 days by April 20th]
  • I believe by [eating no more than 50g per day of kettle chips, and not adding any other junk food to my diet]
    I can [reduce my weight to 88kg in by April 10th]

6. Do the improvement activity

7. Compare the actual results to the expected

  • New minimum lead time = ?
  • Ate ? grams of kettle chips — Any other junk food? — New weight (and BMI) = ?

8. Consider what you learned by doing the activity (it should guide your next steps)

9. GOTO step 5, unless

  • There is a more potentially impactful problem hypothesis to focus on — GOTO step 3, or
  • There is a a more impactful objective — GOTO step 1

If you have any questions on this approach, or need a hand with your lean/agile product development or agile transformation endeavours, please reach out directly to me or my company Hypothesis.

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