Developing A Lean Learning Organisation

Working in a multi-disciplinary complex environment can surely have it’s challenges. At Insight Software Ltd (GoHubble.com) we have a lot of variables to manage. We provide advanced analytical solutions which pioneer the industry on Reporting, Analytics and Planning across critical systems such as Oracle, SAP and JDEdwards as well as other ERP’s and CRM’s. Our enterprise customer environment can unsurprisingly be highly differentiated with different performance and governance constraints per enterprise. With a team approach and strong learning culture which includes a Kaizen approach to improvement, we repetitively overcome these challenges to provide a solution which can perform a billion transactions in under 10 seconds and in some cases profoundly transform the customers view of their data.

Learning and continuous improvement albeit might sound like buzzwords to some, to us are in fact measured and real cultural objectives and outcomes we embed in our product, support and services teams. We believe this is a key component to successful companies today, particularly in innovative and complex environments which we choose to operate in.

Below are just some of the small ways we embrace Kaizen and Continuous Learning.

1. Culture Of Trust And Inquiry  

The first step in creating a learning culture is to truly believe that whatever the outcome, everyone is trying their best with what they know and have available at the time to achieve a positive result. Let’s face it, nobody wants to or ever intends to fail or to deliver a negative outcome. When this is fully acknowledged, the tone changes to that of inquiry and discovery as opposed to blame and fault; a key point worth reminding yourself about. Trust is a fundamental component to any environment that wishes to develop a kaizen culture.

As CTO, it’s incumbent upon me to set the tone across the teams, department and to work with other leaders for consistency on this front. I need to reinforce this statement in my personal actions, response, recognition and rewards. To do this, I actively look to encourage open and honest information and inquiry for reflection and learning, where people are comfortable and feel safe to share and recognize others doing this. We reward quality of information, engagement and actively seek to restrain judgement whilst capitalizing on moments of Failure as key moment to learning.

2. Transparency – Simplify And Surface

Our product department which covers Engineering, QA, Product Management and 3rd Line Support has undergone significant changes in the past 12 months. We have successfully moved from releasing every quarter to releasing every week, we have changed most of our tooling and systems, adopted Kanban across the teams, brought in new skills, structured new teams and improved our delivery success by a factor of 4. All this whilst significantly growing as a company and innovating our product.

Supporting these changes is a principle of ‘Simply And Surface’. Embedded into each other changes above, we ensured and continue to assert that all tools and processes are visible and accessible to all. This not only means that all data is accessible via URLs and dashboards, but key information is presented in public spaces and actively shared. Supporting this we ensure all goals are clear from the top down so everyone knows what, why and when we are working on all activities. The leadership team religiously present bi-weekly, monthly and quarterly updates reflecting on our progress, learnings and goals.

All of these components might seem trivial, but contribute towards a learning environment. Sharing key information allows for passive and active engagement which penetrates the many. If the teams are aware and can connect their contributions with key outcomes, it helps align behaviour to desired outcomes. Reflecting back on the notion that everyone is trying to do their best to achieve a desired outcome, sharing information better positions and aligns teams to do just that.

3. Structured Learning

Having a structured approach to learning can help encapsulate the principles laid out in points 1 and 2 above. Structure can help ensure you have consistency in depth and consistency in actionable outcomes which helps put the learnings into practice.

By way of example, we have introduced a structured Lean root cause analysis process in the department using the 5 Why’s. This isn’t innovative or new, but it works and works well. We invoke this process as and when needed, usually when there is a learning opportunity recognized. A learning opportunity being something that could also be a positive outcome and not just a failure.

How this works in practice for us :

  1. When a learning opportunity is recognized, a passionate individual of any role can request a 5 why’s engagement.
  2. Where key individuals of the event have been recognized, each individual is asked to participate to help improve the outcome next time and given a 5 Why’s document to complete independently. (Usually 3-5 people of different roles in the event).
  3. The instigator/facilitator sets a 45-60 minute meeting to converge the group and schedules this as a shared and open agenda on our confluence page which shares all other active and historic instances.
  4. During the meeting, each contributor runs through their 5 Why’s submission and the group collectively agree actions and measurements.
  5. All activity is recorded and shared on confluence for others to follow or contribute to.
Plan-Do-Check-Act

Supporting the 5 Why’s process, we support the process as a Plan-Do-Check-Act process. The 5 Why’s session above fulfil the Plan section. The actions agreed from the 5 Why’s meeting are what we agreed to Do using a supporting hypotheses with success criteria. We then schedule a follow up in a timely manner to Check the outcome for Do. At this check point we decide how we Act on the outcome, by formally adopting the changes or pivoting and trying something different.

Summary

Developing a continuous learning environment is an endless endeavor, much like continuous improvement itself. I’ve shared just some of the many things we have put into practice to help us progress as a team and organization. To hold ourselves accountable to this and not get caught up with our own bias, we recently engaged DORA (Devops Research And Assessment) to objectively assess us. DORA provided us objective insights into strengths and weaknesses which we now have active programs to address. From the research I was personally pleased to see that we scored significantly higher than average on Learning, Collaboration, Westrum and Job Satisfaction. These key ingredients provide confidence that all other problems we face can be solved together as we learn together.

 

Above shares just some insights to our approach on developing and maintaining a learning culture. If you would like to share your approach and learnings or would like to enquire some more, please feel free to get in touch.

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