Is there a best way to do a task? It's certainly a story we want to believe, but of course, the truth is more complicated than that. Instead of trying to determine and fix the best way of doing something, it is our responsibility to keep doing better.
At INS1GHTS 2021: Build the Better Future, Heidi Waterhouse, Transformation Advocate at LaunchDarkly, gives a historical overview of industrial psychology and the lessons we can take from history to apply to our current challenges.
Keep reading for key lessons from history that affect how we approach software development today, or watch the full session replay below for a deeper dive.
And for more INS1GHTS like these, don't miss INS1GHTS Days September: Connecting Applications and Audiences, from Edge-to-Cloud.
Watch the Full Replay of This Session from INS1GHTS2021: Build the Better Future
Check out Heidi Waterhouse's session, The One Best Way is Continual Improvement. For more INS1GHTS sessions, visit our replay hub.
Kaizen and the Toyota Production System
The Toyota production system is an inversion of the top-down management system of a physical plant. Rather, it relies more upon continuous feedback and improvements where the work is being done. It improved processes at Toyota production plants so significantly that it is now applied to industries far beyond manufacturing; in fact, many other industries like healthcare and software development now use this method. The core of the Toyota production system is called Kaizen - or continuous change for the better.
Its application to software development resulted in a groundbreaking shift from long development cycles to working in an agile manner. Initially, software development had an extraordinarily long feedback cycle; it could easily take 3 years from an idea to physically shipping software.
The combination of Kaizen learnings and technological advancements like cloud computing enabled developers to move from a “waterfall approach” to a “fountain approach”.
With a waterfall approach, information only moves one way. You set out to build or improve upon your software, and complete steps sequentially. There is no feedback loop to allow for continuous improvement.
A fountain approach is what happens when you switch to agile software development. Developers focus on smaller deliverable units - not a whole piece of software, but rather improvements to one function, a new feature, etc. When delivering smaller units, it’s easier for teams to immediately gather feedback, and continue to iterate upon the product.
How to Enable Continuous Improvement at Your Organization
To enable continuous improvement at your organization, your feedback needs to be data-rich, timely, and provide actionable information.
To improve the quality of your feedback, first rethink what you’re measuring, as whatever you’re measuring usually becomes the goal. Does the data you’re collecting give an accurate picture of performance? If you’re not measuring the right things, you may actually create perverse incentive structures. For example, if you’re measuring the quantity of work shipped, does this incentivize your employees to churn out a large volume of low quality work?
Second, keep in mind that when you do get feedback, review it closely for speed, accuracy, and weight. When reviewing feedback, consider what weight to give it against your other sources of feedback. What value will this change give the company? Is it applicable for a lot of your users, or is it more of an edge case?
And third, when acting upon feedback, make sure you’re only making bets you can afford to lose. The benefit to continuous improvement is that it makes it much easier to make smaller bets. You can push small refinements and upgrades that, if proven unsuccessful, are simple to roll back - without losing weeks of development work.
Ultimately, while change is expensive, stasis is dangerous. The companies that succeed are the ones that continue to innovate. Think, for example, of the many computer companies that are no longer in business. It’s not because they didn’t have the technological capabilities to keep up with the market - it’s because they didn’t continue to drive innovation and change.