We’ve continued to continue improving

Continuous Improvement Trello board card

I blogged in early December about our initiative to formalise and structure how we continuously improve at Lagom. We are now three months in, so time for an update.

A formalised approach to improving

In December we adopted an Agile approach with a single backlog of all the things we know or suspect we can improve in our work: research methods, service design activities, business processes, how we communicate with each other…

Today’s backlog stands at 67 cards. But we keep adding ideas to an Icebox pile as they crop up in retrospectives and informal moments of reflection, e.g ‘How can we give ourselves space between video meetings?’ 

To give you an idea of the sort of things we’ve been improving, during February:

  • Charlotte and Emma explored more flexible alternatives for involving time poor research participants in workshops
  • Victoria looked at how to keep meetings on time
  • Helen looked at how to get the most value out of an Alpha inception phase
  • Stephen refined our templates for service roadmaps
  • John iterated our process for producing service blueprints
  • Adam looked at improving the value of the persona profiles we produce 
  • And I built an Alpha for the next-generation Lagom Playbook (we’re resisting calling it an Intranet)  

After three sprints (December, January, and February) we have a satisfying 32 cards in the Done pile. That’s 32 things that we can now do or deliver better than three months ago.

Improving how we do improvement

That’s right: we’re also learning how to do this better.

Lesson 1. Break things down (until they are deliverable)

We’re all getting better at breaking Epic-sized improvement ideas into smaller achievable-in-a-month-sprint-sized things. 

The gateway question is: ‘Can I deliver this within a single sprint’? 

We don’t want to end up with a bunch of half delivered improvements that keep rolling over to the next sprint. Which takes me to our next lesson…

Lesson 2. Set a definition of done

We certainly need to understand the problems we are trying to solve/improve. And we’re good at doing that with background reading, Miro board sessions with team mates, client interviews, etc.

But we also need to make sure we deliver things that actually make an improvement: templates, documented process, new tools…

So we have started to add this definition of done as a checklist on every prioritised card:

  • Explored and understood the problem / opportunity to improve
  • Found a solution to improve it (in collaboration where necessary)
  • Documented the solution [process and / or decision] in the Playbook
  • Created the artefacts / templates / examples to execute the solution (e.g. Miro template)
  • Demonstrated the Playbook updates and artefacts to the team
  • Confident Lagom colleagues can now execute the solution / improvement autonomously

Notice how checks 3 to 6 are delivery and executable outcomes focussed.

Lesson 3. Commit, but don’t over commit

I’ve been particularly guilty of wishfully thinking I can deliver more improvement cards in a month than actually feasible with our competing project and business commitments.

So we’ve agreed that every team member commits to one improvement card for the month’s sprint. 

IF they have time later in the sprint, they are welcome to grab another card  (to deliver). 

Lesson 4. Give the team ownership and decision making

To be fair, we started with this principle. But it has been great to see the team take ownership of the things that matter to them. Of course our user researchers know best what to improve about our research processes and methods.

So I now just prompt the whole team at the start of each month to go to the Trello board and commit to the card they want to work on that month. 

Lesson 5. Full team Sprint Show & Tells to celebrate progress

Finding a diary slot we can all make is a challenge, but it has been worth it to give everyone a chance to share their screen and present their delivered improvement to the whole team.

It can be as quick as demonstrating a new workshop template in Miro, but it gives everyone their moment to show their tangible contribution to improving Lagom.

I think it also shines a reassuring light on areas of the business that some team members may be less familiar with. For example: Helen improved our processes and documentation around our resilience to continue paying invoices and payroll if she was unavailable. Important stuff indeed.

To be continued…

In fact, we’ve just started our March sprint with 15 cards prioritised by the team. So that will be another 15 things we’ll be doing better by April.

I’ll be back later in the year with an update.

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