The High Velocity Edge with Steve Spear

Adam welcomes Steve Spear to the show to discuss his 2009 book "The High Velocity Edge".

[00:00:00] Adam Hawkins: Hello and welcome. I'm your host, Adam Hawkins. In each episode I present a small batch, with theory and practices behind building a high velocity software organization. Topics include DevOps, lean software architecture, continuous delivery, and conversations with industry leaders. Now let's begin today's episode.

[00:00:26] Adam Hawkins: Hello. And welcome back to the last episode in the high velocity edge series. I hope you enjoyed the past nine episodes in the lead up to this episode, featuring my conversation with Dr. Spear. I don't think you or I expected it to go on for that long. So thank you for sticking with me. There are a few things I should mention before getting into the conversation.

[00:00:45] Adam Hawkins: First. I know that I've said it many times throughout these episodes, but I'll say it again. anyway. This book changed everything for me, it inspired me take writing and this podcast more seriously. Let me tell you a story about how that happened. I think Dr. Spear told this story in a book or on another podcast.

[00:01:02] Adam Hawkins: I can't really remember at this point, but whatever the story stuck with me, it goes something like this. Steve spear went to a Toyota assembly factory in Japan on a research project. He approached someone on the assembly line and asked them how they did their. job. You may think they replied and said something like, well, step one, I do this step two.

[00:01:21] Adam Hawkins: I did this step three, etc. Oh no, this is Toyota. The guy pulled out a binder of all the past experiments and knowledge that had informed them how they discovered how to achieve the current outcome. AKA that's the daily work

[00:01:37] Adam Hawkins: how he does his job. I realized that I needed to be doing something. like that. I needed to capture the entirety of my knowledge on certain topics so that I could revisit it myself. And of course share it with others. Plus, as Admiral Rickover says, problems with arguments are painfully clear when put into writing. So practice that led me on an unexpected side quest to rework my website to be something closer to. a Wiki. I've added most of the work from the past five years and all of the writing I've done for this podcast to it, you'll find theory, guides, articles, and of course, book analysis. I've also included the transcripts for all nine episodes in the high-velocity ed series. Since I did write them ahead of time writing the scripts helps me concentrate the knowledge into the best and smallest batch. possible.

[00:02:28] Adam Hawkins: Anyway, check out my website at or find it on the podcast website at Lastly, there's one more resource to aid you in your high velocity journey. I've put together a free guide to Mike Rother's. The Toyota kata. His book directly relates to the second capability in the high velocity edge.

[00:02:47] Adam Hawkins: That's problem-solving Toyota applies to kata or practices in this area. The first is the improvement kata, and the second is the coaching. cutter. These are wonderful exercises to help people solve problems and to teach others the problem solving process. Get it for free All right, now, time to introduce the man, the myth, the bow tie master the legend, Dr. Steven spear. He has a pretty long bio. So I'll read off a short version of it from the book jacket. Stephen spear is a five-time winner of the shingle prize and recipient of the McKinsey. award. He's a senior lecture at MIT and former assistant professor at Harvard. He's a senior fellow at the Institute for healthcare improvement.

[00:03:32] Adam Hawkins: He's the author of numerous articles appearing in academic and trade publications, including the Harvard business review and the New York times. He also holds degrees from Harvard, MIT, and Princeton, and he's worked at the university of Tokyo and the U S Congress office of technology assessment. So that's the official bio, but let me give you a little bit of color on that too.

[00:03:55] Adam Hawkins: I think that he is a fun and passionate guy. You could tell when he speaks and he's really into this stuff, he's done the research. He's done the work he's been on the floor. I think this is someone that we should really listen to. So now that we've waited long enough, I give you my conversation with Dr. Steven spear.

[00:04:18] Adam Hawkins: Steve welcome to small batches. How are you today?

[00:04:21] Steven Spear: Hey, doing great, Adam. Thanks for having me.

[00:04:23] Adam Hawkins: Well my pleasure. I am so excited to talk to you. I just finished reading the high velocity edge in preparation for this interview, and it's almost, took me too long to read it because given, if you've read the DevOps handbook, it's cited and referenced so many times and sort of connected literature. It's just about time that I read it. And I'm overjoyed that I did. Now. I'm going to talk to you about it. And I like to start the conversation by trying to boil down the book to like one sentence to not to trivialize it because there's so much more to it than just that.

[00:04:55] Adam Hawkins: But I think at the heart of the high velocity edge is the simple idea that. Use the scientific method to measure and experiment to improve your practices and continue to do that. And then you expound upon that, you know, quite well throughout the book, but is that a fair starting point for the high velocity

[00:05:15] Steven Spear: edge?

[00:05:16] Steven Spear: Yeah. that's exactly right. So you think about it. I started this line of work in the mid 1990s, trying to explain, how Toyota had, established and sustained and actually still sustains a crushing competitive advantage over its rivals in an industry, which is just, brutal in terms of it should be a level playing field where no one can, gain and sustain a meaningful advantage.

[00:05:40] Steven Spear: And. Anyway, I started there in factory floors and that kind of thing. And my entire career has converged down to one point, encouraging the use of the scientific method by everyone about everything all the time. And kind of my assertion is if everyone did that and we can talk about why that's so important, if everyone did that, we'd all be happier.

[00:06:02] Steven Spear: And the world would be a much better place just to sort of unpack why I'm such an advocate for the scientific method. And like you said, You know, the book runs quite lengthy because it's got a lot of, cases and anecdotes and narratives in it. But what does it boil down to you? Just do the scientific method and thinking about what the scientific method is and, asked that we make a declaration of what we believe to be true.

[00:06:27] Steven Spear: And then it asks us to, expose those declarations for reputation to find out where we're wrong. And when we find out where we're wrong, what the scientific method then says, so your first guess was wrong. But now that you've had more experience and more data, you have an opportunity to update your guests, you know, create a hypothesis, one, two, three, our prime, double prime, etcetera. And you have an opportunity now to take a better guess and get smarter and smarter. Now Just thinking this through why this is so critically important is that, the reason we do our work and whether we are people who are developing it, systems or software specifically, or more generally people developing drugs, the reason most people go to work every day is to solve problems.

[00:07:11] Steven Spear: Look at this whole COVID thing right now. Yeah. There are things that we should be doing, we know should be doing like wearing masks, but more generally, the reason we're still suffering through this thing is, problems. We don't understand the virus. We don't understand really how it, inspects.

[00:07:24] Steven Spear: We don't really understand how it causes complications, biological complications in patients. We don't have, we, didn't have, maybe we will have a vaccine. Right? It's all problems, all things we don't understand. And what is the scientific method? Unbelievably good at doing is taking you from a position where, you don't know, you're confused, you lack understanding, and through this, iterative experience of fast feedback where you make a declaration and find out what's wrong with the declaration and modify the declaration and then get feedback on that.

[00:07:57] Steven Spear: And then. that, That actually comes up understanding when you have understanding, you have solution. So anyway, that's right. What, what we wrote about in the book was, basically people who had arrived at the realization that the scientific method applied to everything all the time to everyone ideally would lead to much better outcomes than the lack of that rigor.

[00:08:23] Steven Spear: And. You know, the book discusses, you know, proof cases, be it, the design and production of automobiles, the invention of nuclear propulsion for summaries, etcetera. Yeah.

[00:08:35] Adam Hawkins: There's so many different examples in almost like case studies across different industries that. If you're reading this book, if you're in software or in any industry, you can see how this way of thinking applies because it's so clearly applied in many different contexts.

[00:08:51] Adam Hawkins: Like it's a nice background to say, yeah, these are not specific to a certain industry or a certain role or responsibility, but these. are No, it's really a philosophy for how you go about your daily work. And then we get back to the idea of improvement of the daily work as a, you know, as how you actually do your work.

[00:09:09] Adam Hawkins: That is your objective. And the other point about you kind of danced around it. When you mentioned the scientific method is something that you mentioned at the end of the book, which is. The scientific method sets you up in a discovery mindset, as opposed to a knowing mindset. The point is like the solutions aren't known, they're discovered.

[00:09:29] Adam Hawkins: So if you, if you can say from the outset that I don't know the solution to this problem, or I don't know the best way to do this, then you will experiment and then discover something you find to be probably true, as opposed to something that you just assume is true. And that to me, was... Just an amazing point that if you can focus on discovering the solutions, you'll get to a better place than if you assume that they

[00:09:57] Steven Spear: assumed what they were, right?

[00:09:59] Steven Spear: Yeah. Hey, look Adam, That's a hundred percent. So a couple of things here when I first started this work and started talking about this work, people pegged me as the Toyota guy. I'd given my talk about Toyota would be about Toyota. And then you get the hand wave. Ah, you know, well, that's interesting if you even got that Chris or Chris Murray Hanaway. But we don't make cars. Now you started thinking about this really, why does this seem to apply? And then the book, you know, I documented it application across a fairly diverse field than we've seen in practice efficacy in many other fields is because, you know, we typically define organizations by the, product or service they deliver, you know, the plane, the train, the automobile, the medication, etcetera And sometimes we need to find the, organization by the processes and use it to construct or maker, deliver the plane, train the automobile, the medication, the medical care, the hospitality service, etcetera. But that's not the problem because once, you know, let's say with a medication once you know, what disease you're treating, weren't, you know, how that illness, occurs once, you know, what medication will offset the causality for.

[00:11:05] Steven Spear: it you solved all the problems. And similarly with planes, trains, and automobiles, why don't you actually have this thing? And you know what it is, what it should be, how to provide it, who needs it, et cetera, the problems are gone. The hard part is solving the problems and that's the commonality across planes, trains, automobiles, and medications, right.

[00:11:24] Steven Spear: Which is we're trying to come to through a collaborative effort. We're trying to come to an understanding of what is the problem we're even trying to solve. And we're trying to come to a collaborative. effort As to what's the solution might be for that particular problem. And also through collaborative cognitive effort, we're trying to figure out how to actually, how to construct a solution that'll deal with that problem.

[00:11:53] Steven Spear: And so we started moving away from the object that an organization produces and you move one level up to the processes and he moved the level up to that. What do you have people working collaboratively? And, once you've got that issue, which is, we've got a very big problem to which we each can contribute only a small and important, maybe even a necessary, but certainly an insufficient in which we can each contributed in a small part of a much larger whole of the solution.

[00:12:25] Steven Spear: And that's a common problem, common managerial problem, which is what do you do in order to, achieve a much higher yield On peoples in a capacity, of individually and collectively. How do you achieve a much higher yield than people's innate capacity to be creative? And that's what we're talking about.

[00:12:46] Steven Spear: And once we realize that's what we're talking about, tapping into people's innate ability to be creative, then it's not about planes is not about trains, automobiles, medications or medical care. It's about people and the organization of them so that their efforts come to such to some better harmonious outcome.

[00:13:04] Adam Hawkins: Yeah, that's true. Now, this sort of segwayed into the first part of the fourth thing to talk about in the book, which is problem solving. And I want to get your comments on the structure and dynamics of organizations and how that relates to solving these kinds of problems. So can you describe for the listener, the concept of structure and dynamics and how that relates to solving the problem you're describing?

[00:13:30] Steven Spear: Yeah, so. That's great. So look, it, it all comes off. This premise that the reason we get together inside an organization is because there are problems that we can't solve individually, whether we can solve it individually, why would you even go an org, you know, solve a problem and move on to the next thing?

[00:13:45] Steven Spear: The reason we get together is to solve problems, right? So if the reason we get together and solve problems, then, what we want to make sure is that, when it comes time to solve a problem, we have the right people talking to the right, other people in the right way about the right thing to. Most effectively solve a problem.

[00:14:02] Steven Spear: And if we have the wrong people talking to the wrong other people, but the wrong thing in the wrong way, then we'll be slower and less effective in solving the problem. Now, this is an interesting thing, is that if you look at successful organizations and whatever form they have now, And no matter how much they're struggling to accomplish on their, whatever their social mission is right now.

[00:14:23] Steven Spear: What's interesting. And what has to be actually is that the form that I now have, whether it's, you know, even if it's an underperforming organization right now, at some point they have the right structure. some point they had the right structure and here's why is because, early on. There were problems in society, meet the commercial problems in the marketplace or other social problemsthere were problems.

[00:14:45] Steven Spear: in society for which there were no solutions. And, the organization got started, because what it wanted to do, its its founders, its originators wanting to do is they want it to be the source of solution. And so, they spend time. Trying to come to share an understanding of the prom collaboratively.

[00:15:03] Steven Spear: They tried to, they spent some time trying to come to some shared understanding of the solution, collaborative problem solving again, and then they arrived at a solution. And when they did, the reason they did is that, they figure it out in order to get to a solution that was meaningful. And meaningful as both magnitude and speed, right?

[00:15:23] Steven Spear: In order to come to a solution that was meaningful, they have to have the right people talking to the right people about the right things at the right time. And whether they organize within functions or cross functional teams or whatever it is, that was the right solution at the time, right.

[00:15:39] Steven Spear: Organizational solution at a time to generate these technical solutions. And now what you see with organizations though, is that, their organizational structure is once established. You know, it's interesting, right? They, they get established in this very dynamic area of conversion of experience of, oh no, no, no.

[00:15:56] Steven Spear: Hang on. you shouldn't be talking to Steve right now. You should talk to him later. to talk to someone else like Jean right now. Right? So in emergence, you get this emergent structure and then it calcifies, That that becomes a problem. This is why we see organizations fail is because, the problem space in which they're operating it, hasn't calcified.

[00:16:16] Steven Spear: There might be new problems, new products, new technology, new markets, new competitors, and the suppliers there. Right. everything's new, new, new, right. But they've started establishing routines. They started establishing bureaucracy, started establishing, expectations, et cetera. And in doing so the form, which ones fit no longer does.

[00:16:36] Steven Spear: It's like me trying to spit a squeeze into my, wedding tuxedo. It wants to look lovely on me, but, you know, I changed it. Didn't right. And, you know, ideally, you know, that's, my spandex is such a wonderful thing. Right. You know, it's dynamic change if you're clubbing your physique. But anyway, what we see is, most organizations don't have the capacity to, continue to morph their, structure.

[00:17:00] Steven Spear: There are examples and, you know, we can go into them, but, there are a few examples. Or counter-examples, but by and large, most don't, but anyway, that's where the structure piece comes in, which is, again, you know, the reason we show up is to collectively collaboratively solve problems and we have to make sure we've got the right neural system in place to do that effectively.

[00:17:22] Adam Hawkins: So try to restate the relationship between structure and dynamics for the listener. the way that One way. I think you can think of it and please correct me. If this is a, a wrong description, you can think of structure as the neurons. And then dynamics has all the different ways that the neurons communicate. It can change, they can reorder it, but there's going to be some fixed structure and things are going to flow depending on the need at hand.

[00:17:49] Adam Hawkins: And over time, you'd like to change your structure to continually adapt to whatever the problem set is. And You know, keep the dynamics in place such that things are able to flow and work as expected. But the problem is that as you say, sometimes the structure can calcify and then they organizations miss this inflection point where the world has changed underneath them, but they haven't, maybe they're not aware of that.

[00:18:16] Adam Hawkins: And that's a whole other conversation of, you know, what happens. But the next thing I'd like to ask you about is how did you see the relationship between structure and dynamics and a focus on problem solving in your experience at Toyota? Can you give us maybe one or two short examples of maybe these key moments for you when you saw this in

[00:18:39] Steven Spear: action?

[00:18:40] Steven Spear: Action?

[00:18:41] Steven Spear: Yeah. So I'll give you a couple of examples. you know, very often we think that the key to guests getting something done that we currently can't get done is we need more. muscle. And, another approach is that we don't need any more muscle. We need a better nervous system. And, I'll set up this example, which, when I did my, studies at Toyota, this is, you know, 30 years ago, they asked that before I go onto their, into their manufacturing facilities.

[00:19:01] Steven Spear: First, what I do is I spent some time in not competitor's facility, to get a sense, so I going have the comparison, you know, and, in that environment, I was one of 50 on a team, you know, before our first level supervisor and I only given day, if there was a question of productivity and output, we added muscle or took it away.

[00:19:02] Steven Spear: Right. Which is, a, oh, we're running behind. Let's add more people we're running behind. Let's add another shipright. So that's the, I think that's the common way to think about these things, which is if we want more add more resources. And it was a fascinating thing that we'll remember that, that ratio of 50 to one in the Toyota environment.

[00:19:05] Steven Spear: they'll never, why were you interested in Toyota? Because at that point, Voda had demonstrated that if you do a head town, the products would be, was double anybody else. So if you wanted to catch up with Toyota, you would have to build another factory. You would have to add another shift.

[00:20:00] Steven Spear: And they were just like, no, we're fine. You know, or work a nine to five, you know, like Dolly Parton would sing. so anyway, in that environment, They had, and remember where I was coming from was 50 to one. They had, let's say three, four or five, let's say five for the same sake of Ironman, five team members.

[00:20:18] Steven Spear: And then you had a team lead. I was the job of the team lead the team lea. Is there, not to boss around, not to instruct, not to, delegate. The job of the team lead is to be the, the, the intellectual slack resource. So that if someone has a problem, someone could pull that same Zan on the board and someone, you know, Adam could run over and say, Hey, Steve, what seems to be the problem?

[00:20:40] Steven Spear: How can I help? And it wasn't only while the line was running, it was, during breaks where then we could get together with our other teammates and say, Hey, what went wrong? And what can we do to make things better right That's, that's five to one. Now in that environment, They also had for each team. They had, let's say three teams to a growth. right Now we've got 15 people actually turning wrenches. So 15 muscle, and now we've got three at that first level of three team leads. So that preteen and a group lead. So now our ratio is like, four to 15 in terms of neurological system to muscle. And what's the job of the group lead? Well, the job of the group lead is that if Steve has a problem and you know, needs help. Adam comes over and says, what's the problem? How can I help? And most of the time, that's fantastic. I'm really appreciative of what you've done for me. But occasionally you can't. on those occasional times, you have a problem. So Gene Kim comes over and says, Hey Adam, what's the problem? How can, how can I help?

[00:21:38] Steven Spear: So now think about our ratios, right? Most everyone else's names. They want to up their output. They had more team members. And what a Toyota do you say? No, no, no. no. It's not the team members. It's the team leads. Cause we have to Pick up the slack when we have problems sort of damping the variance, but we also have to have the ability to solve problems.

[00:21:56] Steven Spear: So now we're at 15 team members, that's three teams. so We have three team leaders verbally. so we've got the 41 and then we get to an area, right? Because occasionally, you know, Gene Kim comes running over in his group leader role. He can't actually be helpful, but fortunately Ann Perry, the, area manager she comes over, right.

[00:22:14] Steven Spear: Then you start thinking about these ratios. So we've got. No three team to a group, three groups to an area. So that gives us a 45 direct labor. We've got nine team leads. We've got three group leads and we've got Ann, so we got a ratio of 14 or 15 to the 45. And it's crazy. Cause it's when you factor those people in.

[00:22:38] Steven Spear: That you get to these two to one productivity ratios. And he said, well, what the hell is going on? Cause those people, quote unquote, you kno, what the conventional look at that as like what the hell is going on. most people don't do anything all day. All I do is quote manage. It's like, whoa, hold on.

[00:22:52] Steven Spear: It's not that they're, they're managing in terms of, you know, shuffling paper and checking lists and doing audits and that kind of thing. They're there to. Respond to problems that the person doing the direct work can handle on his own or her own. What it is is it's the investment in the neural system.

[00:23:11] Steven Spear: And anyway, let me just I'll stop at this point. You know, obviously, you know, human beings have been the most invasive species on the planet. more than cockroaches I'm joking, I'm not acting bang, no comparison between us and cockroach. just don't want to offend people are cockroaches, but what I'm saying, you know, you think about.

[00:23:29] Steven Spear: it Have we managed to pull this off, you know, we, we stand up, so we're kind of slow. We can't run like a cheetah, you know, arms weak. We can't climb like a chimpanzee or a doll, you know, limit some kind of limits. What we can eat. Our digestive systems are not nearly I was watching some squirrels outside on the roof and they're, they're drinking water, you know, water off the, off a rubber roof.

[00:23:52] Steven Spear: And they're fine with that. If you are, I drank water off a rubber roof, we get pretty sick. Right? So we've got these nice. So it's something about the muscle of the human being. It will kind of weak creatures. So how is it that we've, been the, the dominant invasive species through evolution? because our brains we've got gigantic brains relative to our bodies.

[00:24:12] Steven Spear: And, anyway, just, you know, pulling that, on that backlog, talking about, organizations is what Toyota figured out is that if you really want to compete. Adding more and more muscle is not the way you're getting more and more brain is. an annual point you were making earlier, you know, what they're trying to set up is a structure where, people can have the right conversation with the right parts of the neural system of connected with the other right parts with signals and all flashing back and forth.

[00:24:42] Steven Spear: She get attention and concentration on the right problems at the right time. Now there's a whole lot of other expression, but, but this whole notion of adding this corner, what anyone else in that industry would view as overhead and Toyota use is absolutely necessary. And in fact, just one sort of product plug in, in my, my book, I had gotten, a couple of chapters, developed to, I've got a chapter developed and knowledge sharing and another one developed leadership.

[00:25:10] Steven Spear: And what is common to both of those. It's Toyota's huge, huge, like paranoid level anxiety late in investment in developing group leaders, You say, what is a group leader? While a group leader is the person who Throughout the operations of the person who sets the norms, the behavior, the standards, the expectations that the organization be a thinking organization that happens to make a physical product as opposed to an organization that makes a physical product and occasionally has the positive thing.

[00:25:41] Steven Spear: So in anyway,

[00:25:43] Adam Hawkins: well, thank you for bringing the group leaders up. Steve, I'm going to put a flag in that one. I'd like to come back that if we have time, but, like right now, I think we've Covered these two of the capabilities you mentioned in the book at a four. So we talked about the first one, which was problem design, talked about problem solving dimension of the end on cord and swarming, and just a little sidebar there Like when you were describing the concept of these people coming in and solving the problems. My mind went to. The goal and the theory of constraints and that the peoples, if they're blocked by problems that they can't solve, that creates a bottleneck in the process, right? These group leaders of the people, the team leaders coming in and solving the problems, they're really solving the problems, but they're addressing the bottleneck in the system, which is the inability to move through these unknown problems.

[00:26:29] Adam Hawkins: So in a sense, that's actually, it's not even. slack. It's the most important resources you have, which is to throw it at the bottlenecks. If you use it, as, you know, if you're not unblocking the bottleneck, you're not actually improving the process. Right. So that's the key, as you mentioned, the key realization, but I want to take it now to something you have in the book here under capability two, which is the problem solving framework, as it relates to something that I talk about a lot on the podcast, which is the idea that.

[00:26:58] Adam Hawkins: You can build a deployment pipeline that proves the absence of known regressions. Therefore, you can say that all these changes I make are free of known regressions. That way you can deploy fiercely to production, you can do your work quickly. And this speaks to you have some definition of the ideal of the true north beacon to which improvement effects were orientated.

[00:27:20] Adam Hawkins: So the first characteristic here is defect free. Second is on demand one piece at a time. Immediate and without waste safe and secure. All these things seem like what we want from our software delivery pipeline. So my question to you, Steve, is what are the theory and practices that we can use to achieve a defect-free delivery pipeline?

[00:27:46] Steven Spear: All right. So great question. And I love you. You you're bringing up this notion of the ideal. So there's a common thread here, which is the idea between this idea of the ideal and what we'd started off with talking about the scientific method. And, the common thread, or the common theme is the idea of feedback and what, is feedback?

[00:28:05] Steven Spear: What is useful feedback? Useful feedback is not affirmation validation. I mean, yeah, for our, you know, self-esteem, it's important, I suppose, Cause that's a constantly But, but really from a learning perspective, the useful feedback is the contradiction. And, you know, that's the essence of the scientific method and, you know, look. Thomas Edison is, kind of the poster child and scientific method.

[00:28:21] Steven Spear: You know, or the 10,000 times he tried to get a light bulb before the first one lit and then whether he said it or not, it's a fine saying, he said, he said, I didn't fail 10,000 times to, get a light bulb to light out. I learned 10,000 times why wouldn't, you know? And so it's, you know, 10,000 things not to put into a light bulb.

[00:28:50] Steven Spear: Right. So, so it's this whole idea of feedback. Now, Well, we found in a Toyota, just very interesting. Yes. People in most places, how do you do your work? And most people are, you know, sort of proud of the work done, hospitable, whatever else, the human you at the very least, there's a, hand I'm here. Come on over.

[00:29:07] Steven Spear: I'll let you see how I do my work and then do a, B, C D E one two three, four, five. What we found in the Toyota environment, this whole notion of, tension. Between reality and aspirations, attention and commitment to the scientific message it was cultivated. So you'd go over to people. I went over to people and people are not sophisticated by the degrees, the education, the pedigree, the letters before or after names, you know, ordinary work and steps.

[00:29:36] Steven Spear: And you say, Hey, you know, can I see how you do your work and I say, oh yeah, sure, sure. So, you know, the work I have here is, this welding operation. Now, ideally when I did this, well, it'd be a defect-free weld and I would do that. Well, I do that. with Well, defect-free when someone asks me to, based on customer need, not based on my own internally driven schedule and if someone wanted me to do that well, when they asked for it, I'd do the weld immediately cause if they know they need it, why would they have.

[00:30:09] Steven Spear: to wait? And I'd only do one well, right. Because why would I do the extra well, if they only asked me for one, so I guess the one by one thing, and in doing that well, you know, want to make sure that it's easy and efficient. I'm not wasting time and resources, etcetera. I want to make sure I leave a weld in a safe fashion that I don't hurt myself or burn down the building.

[00:30:28] Steven Spear: And. you know, Some of these other things that the security comes in late sort of information security, but I, I do the wellness such a way that it's not spill and trade secrets. Yeah. That that'd be the ideal. And then I said, yeah, but here's the problem. When I go to do that, is a problem located well, is it difficult?

[00:30:47] Steven Spear: Well, there's a chance I'm going to create a defect. So, what I've done is I've created this corrective action, this counter measuring, you know, in the medical parlance, this treatments. And because I've got this corrective action, it makes it easier to make a deceptive. I'm sorry. It makes it easier to make a defect free weld.

[00:31:07] Steven Spear: And it makes, it actually it makes it harder to make a defective weld. And because of this corrective measure, I'm closer to the. The ideal of defect free on demand, one by one, safe, secure, et cetera. I'm closer to that ideal than it wouldn't be otherwise. they start thinking about the conversation. It's insane, right?

[00:31:26] Steven Spear: Because. Yes. Most people have went to see their work and they show you the wellness, the physicality, you know, here's my welding torches, the weld, here's the welding material. You have someone in that environment and how they do their wealth. And They give this whole unpacking of the other scientific method. They use to, figure out how to do the weld closer to the ideal, rather than further than the ideal.

[00:31:46] Steven Spear: And, we, we found that when we went into places that really kind of bought into this as a way to manage, you know, wait, wait to manage people, to get. Really tap into the creative potential. Every time you asked the person a question about what they did, and you thought you were asking the question, but the physicality of the environment, it's like, oh, the physicality is just the way to express the banking.

[00:32:07] Steven Spear: You know, that it was all about, well, this is ideal. I've got this attention tension between where I am and where the ideal is. And I've run through these, these various experiments. And here's the experiment right now. One last thought on this is, let's ask someone to see the standard work by which they did something.

[00:32:26] Steven Spear: I think it was like putting a seat in the car and the guy pulled out a three-ring, loose-leaf binder. I said, how can I possibly be, as it it's a hundred, some odd pages. And that loosely binder, I gotta tell you a hundred pages to put a senior car. He said, oh no, no, no, Just the top page, just the top page 12 steps.

[00:32:43] Steven Spear: 55 seconds. I said, what's the other a hundred pages he said, oh yeah, well, No yesterday, that was the previous page. I was doing this work. I had a problem, you know, and they didn't walked through the whole ideal and the problem, the corrective action. And, so that's why we have, this is today's standard work.

[00:33:00] Steven Spear: Today's experiment. So in one of the other pages in the book, so they started flipping through, he said, well, you know, let's say we're having this conversation and it's on a Wednesday. Right? So page two in the book was Tuesday's page. One of the book was, I'm sorry, the page before that was Monday's page before that was last Thursday.

[00:33:17] Steven Spear: Cause it lasted for two whole days, the standard war, they started flipping back. And what was the first page? The very bottom page in the book was at the front, that was the first standard work that they had. conceived. So how long do you leave that? Use that sand at work. So now, you know, maybe half a minute, cause we didn't even make it through a cycle before we figured out there was so much stuff we just didn't understand.

[00:33:37] Steven Spear: So we had, know, standard work, standard work, standard work standard work all within the first 10 minutes of time to do this, this, this task. So, anyway, the idea is this beautiful source of tension. The gap as the provocation for, making a change and the change being in this form of the scientific method.

[00:33:57] Steven Spear: I have a problem. I have a hypothesis about its source. I have a hypothesis about its resolution and the test of the hypothesis is actually using the new standard work.

[00:34:06] Adam Hawkins: Yeah. So in theory, if you say approach. say. A bug or a question or some known failure in production. If you could see that as a problem and figure out some experiment that you can do to reproduce it.

[00:34:23] Adam Hawkins: And then another way to prove its absence, bake that into your process of how you actually do your standard work, then that becomes your natural way of thinking. And then over time, Applied everywhere and continuously you will continually remove known defects from your standard work and

[00:34:48] Steven Spear: not reverse that,

[00:34:48] Steven Spear: I'm so glad you brought bugs. Cause I want to tell you what's a favorite recent story. I was working with a company which does, you know, these very, very, gigantic, programs and processes to get product to market. You know, the, the step start to finish can be thousands with possibly hundreds of points of contact.

[00:35:06] Steven Spear: Anyway, you know, I was giving a talk about, you know, learning organization, scientific method. I explained a little bit of my background. inspired by Toyota and how they converted. What people think is a physical work into intellectual work, which just happens to have a physical component, like a laboratory has beakers and test tubes, I guess, and pipettes.

[00:35:24] Steven Spear: Anyway, I'm giving this story and we're looking around for a volunteer to create a pilot this organization. This is one guy and he does a firmware debug. named Matt. And Matt's like, well, I don't know, you know, I can't, you know, this is for cars. I'm not sure how this will work for me. Cause you know, after all debug is kind of an art, but I'll give it a try.

[00:35:44] Steven Spear: And what Matt did was, you know, he got hand is a team of software engineers, they came up with a commitment that if they had a problem. They would not sort of just sort of hack away at it and say, wait a second, why do we have this problem? Because we created it because the best known approach we had used up to this point was capable of creating the bug.

[00:36:03] Steven Spear: Wasn't capable of creating. Defect-free capable of creating the bug. So if we want to, get rid of the bug, we have to try another approach and the other approach, the new approach, you know, the approach crime or whatnot, that's a hypothesis. And so what we're going to do is rather than just do the work, you know, with an implicit hypothesis, We're gonna make, 'em explicit.

[00:36:23] Steven Spear: We're gonna, before we do this we're going to state our beliefs about the new approach and why it will get rid of the bug. Now, of course it didn't work on the first or the second or third try every time the 10th try. But anyway, Matt made this commitment that he was going to use the scientific method.

[00:36:37] Steven Spear: That every time they tried to debug and what didn't, you know what didn't, you know, but after, I don't know, like two months of. Treating this organ each and every time as an experiment in each and every time as an experiment by everyone on his team there, are diva productivity going up 18 fall 18 fold.

[00:36:57] Steven Spear: Right. It was crazy. Hey, you start thinking about what we talked about before. It wasn't a matter of adding more muscle. It's not like they got more debug software engineers. And then it gets smarter. They started using their brains more or not more was like their brain dead because they started using them more effectively.

[00:37:13] Steven Spear: So they’re using the scientific method now, now the thing about Matt, which I love is when we started this thing and I said, well, I don't know. You know, it works for cars, but what we do is different, but I'll give it a try. And then when they got to 18 acts, Like, damn man. That's pretty good. You want to try it somewhere?

[00:37:32] Steven Spear: well, I don't know. don't work for debugging for aware, but I'll get, and that's the beauty of man, which is, and I think, I think it finally reached the point where he was being a little facetious and just kept up, but he always said, you know, I just don't know if it'll work. But I'm getting, give it a try.

[00:37:49] Steven Spear: I'll give it a try with rigor. And if it works, I'll be delighted and have to tell other people. Anyway, it was a beautiful thing because, mats, you know, he said, you know what the hell I'll give it a try. It may not work, but you know, no harm there. He got on his team, his 18 X increase in productivity. He started telling other people and showing other people.

[00:38:10] Steven Spear: And what didn't, you know, this thing spread virally through this organization and it spread virally, not only at the sort of horizontally, but also spread vertically as people started to realize, wait a second, if I'm managing. The collaborative effort of many, what I really need to do is get more and more people to behave like Matt and his teammates, and more and more people can behave like Matt and his team as well.

[00:38:32] Steven Spear: Anyway, this organization went from, you know, being okay in their marketplace to, you know, it was about a two-year effort. It's a big organization, and thousands of people. But after about two years, they were ranked number one by their customers. And again, it was, you know, what you raised earlier there's no more muscle mans, right.

[00:38:50] Steven Spear: They didn't hire more people. They just said, wait a second. Let's put our brains to more use so that our hands are more

[00:38:59] Adam Hawkins: effective.

[00:39:00] Adam Hawkins: So we are almost out of time here. I'd like to get some quick comments on you, as we read from you on this point that you it's a nice segue from Matt back to the group leaders, which is something I don't think was called out specifically, but I think we are kind of dancing around the edge of it in the conversation, which is the improvement kata and the coaching kata. So. We're talking about the group leaders and their role is to sort of get people to think in this way, which is the coaching kata. And then the improvement kata down, say at Matt, like I have this problem, what's my target condition I want to get to. And how can I do that? Right. How is that the role of these two katas yeah.

[00:39:41] Steven Spear: You know, it's a, it's a hundred percent, right? So. I'll tell you what Matt one, when we're done. Adam, I'm sorry. Something flashed across my screen and my attention span, Adam. So, what I'll do is when we're done talking I'll, forward you an exit, at my book chapter nine, which is leadership chapter.

[00:39:58] Steven Spear: And, what you just said is completely, totally right on, which is there, there are these handful of organizations who would say we're going to compete by the efficacy and efficiency. which we can see and solve problems. That's how we're going to compete. And for competing and mottos or airplanes or submarines, or the production of medication, or, you know, complex, sophisticated electronic equipment, we're going to compete at the speed of which we can learn and discover and explore.

[00:40:29] Steven Spear: And, if we do that, then we're going to be a way ahead of everybody on, things like, productivity efficiency, the com market, etcetera. All right. So how do you do that? Well, when captain do is inculcate in people. This approach, the approach that max had gone and the approach that I saw so beautifully on the shop floor, Toyota's better suppliers and treating everything as an experiment.

[00:40:53] Steven Spear: And so then you say, well, if you want your associates to behave that way, how are they going to know to behave that way? Well, they're going to look one level up and less than right, and say, well, how are everyone else behaving. And if everyone else is behaving that way, they might behave that way. And if no one else is behaving that way, they may do it as kind of rogue behavior, but they won't be able to sustain it because the social reinforcement is not there.

[00:41:16] Steven Spear: Now, if you want your teammates to behave that way, who's gonna Make sure that happens. There's gotta be a group leads and this is why the group leads become so important. You know, you gotta teach scribbling. So then it gets well, how did, how did the group leads know that this is our way, our way is to whether it's the object right in front of me or the system of work in which I'm embedded our way is to treat everything as an experiment from which every action is generating feedback.

[00:41:42] Steven Spear: Well, then it starts going well, if it's the group that has got the area manager, the area manager is going to be the assistant general manager. And then the general manager that are in those all the way up to the top of the organization. So whether the organization is tens of thousands or tens, simply doesn't matter is that, if you're responsible for other people, You have this huge, huge opportunity to show them the right way and the right way is the right way is to say, Hey, we're wrong about a lot of stuff, but we can get better.

[00:42:10] Steven Spear: Right. You know, we can get writer about it if we're starting off wrong. And, you know, I'd say I find this, very inspirational. This whole idea. When I first got started with this work, it was us manufacturer was facing this existential threat from, Japanese intruders. and you know, the conversations were always in turn them so off parts and dollars, right?

[00:42:33] Steven Spear: You know, how many cars, how many dollars, how many tons of steel, how many dollars or how many you had or whatever else it was. And that's, that's important, right? Because you know, the ability to make a, a car for fewer dollars, a ton of steel for fewer dollars gets into people's ability to, earn a meaningful way to support their families, you know, support their communities, etcetera. And so in, the, in that it's inspirational, but I think there's another piece which is, you know, People are inherently creative creatures. Right. And, you know, we claim that, you know, the thing that really distinguishes us, so we used to claim it's a binary was thinking you were creative. And then the rest of the animal kingdom does not. And you know, probably more accurate is we're really, really, really creative.

[00:43:13] Steven Spear: And the rest of the animal kingdom is yeah. Kind of like dabbling in creativity, whatever it is. It is. So the defining characteristic of being human and you start thinking about it as a leader of, you know, fives and tens and fifteens or 150, whatever it is. As a leader, you have an opportunity to shape the environment in such a way that people can be less creative or more creative.

[00:43:37] Steven Spear: And why the hell would you pit Wes? Why the hell would you make it your daily experience to. Diminish the ability of people to achieve their fullest potential and why not then, you know, given the choice and it really is a choice. It really is a choice. As I try to explain to the book really is a choice for leaders.

[00:43:56] Steven Spear: They have those alternatives, right? So one alternative is to act in such a way that you diminish people's ability to express their full potential as creative human beings. And the other alternative is you can choose as a choice. You can choose each day to help people more express. More express their potential creative creatures and not only creative, like, all of them a little bit, I made.

[00:44:19] Steven Spear: it, it's now sitting as a hobby on my desk, but creative in such a way that they're doing something with someone else appreciates not only creative creatures, but creative creatures who can do things which are appreciated by others. So, anyway, like I said, I find this whole way of thinking to which I've been exposing this whole way of really behaving.

[00:44:40] Steven Spear: So inspirational because given the finiteness of the time we have, really that the code, the code to putting that time to much better productive, appreciated. use. Yeah,

[00:44:53] Adam Hawkins: Well, it's a truly aspirational sense that we can always be better and that it's not just about, you know, business results, whatever, but it can really be related to human flourishing also.

[00:45:05] Adam Hawkins: So you can take it any way that connects to you. Well, Steve, thank you so much for coming on the show. It was my pleasure to talk to you. I wish I had more time to talk to this with you, but you know, we have to be respectful of each other's time. So is there anything you'd like to leave listeners with before we go?

[00:45:23] Steven Spear: Oh, yeah. So thank you so much. So one is the offer, right? So, I really enjoyed this conversation and if there's opportunity to have another one to follow up, let's do it. If any of your listeners want to follow up, you know, with a group conversation or one-on-one, please do I'll send you excerpts from my book, which, you know, you'll post on your website, whatever else.

[00:45:40] Steven Spear: And look, if people like the extra buy damn book, you know, Buy the book, great book. Yeah. Birthdays are coming up, holidays, gift giving, you know, you know, it's in the spirit. So. buy The book. The other thing is if folks want to check it out, you know, we're talking about structure and dynamics of problem solving organizations.

[00:45:58] Steven Spear: So, one of the things we've done is recognize that depending on your workforce, if it's, distributed and dependent on central resources, sometimes getting that connectivity to have the right dynamics is difficult. So we created some software for that and we created some other software for. When people anyway, you can go to the website and check it out.

[00:46:20] Steven Spear: But if people want to see what we're up to, to try and create tools, to enable this, learning dynamic, it's a C2 to solve, you know, see like, you know, sight-see to enable. So SCETOSOLVE.COM. That a little demo videos and cartoons and stuff and so, yeah, that'd be fun to watch.

[00:46:39] Steven Spear: anyway.

[00:46:41] Adam Hawkins: and for the listeners, you can always find the links to all these things on, the links to see the solve, the high-velocity edge, where to by the book presentations from Steve and supplemental information will all be linked there.

[00:46:53] Adam Hawkins: So, Steve, once again, thank you so much for coming on the show and I would love to talk to you again, but for now I think we'll leave it. there.

[00:47:00] Adam Hawkins: All right. Well, thank you.

[00:47:04] Adam Hawkins: You've just finished another episode of small batches podcast on building a high performance software delivery organization, for more information, and to subscribe to this podcast, float to small I hope to have you back again for the next episode.

[00:47:20] Adam Hawkins: So until then, happy shipping,

[00:47:23] Adam Hawkins: Like the sound of Small Batches? This episode was produced by Pods Worth Media. That's

Subscribe to Small Batches

Show notes and other presents sent to your inbox

checkmark Got it. You're on the list!
2022 Adam Hawkins