5 Steps To Get Better All The Time

Filed under Grab Bag | Posted by PMStudent

Improvement is easy.

But only if it emerges over time, has buy-in from the people involved, and tracks with reality instead of the fantasy in some manager’s head.

This approach comes from a long study of Lean and most recently inflences from the great book by Eric Ries, The Lean Startup. It’s simple and can be applied to just about anything in your personal or working life.

Identify Customer Value (Actionable Metrics)

In the Lean Startup Eric calls out ‘vanity metrics’ as the kind of numbers companies like to throw out to make competitors feel bad, but do not really mean anything. I agree with Eric’s assertion that the goal of any startup (and I like to think of every project as a startup) is to gain validated learning as quickly as possible.

For example, on my project value from the customer’s standpoint is functional software that empowers their ability to do scientific research in the fastest and easiest way possible. Vanity metrics are things like number of releases, requirements verified, lines of code, etc.

Model The Value Stream

Everything has a value stream. The work that you do, your personal projects, everything.

Simply put it’s just the way you turn inputs into value added outputs. It’s more than a methodology or a project management process, it’s the nitty-gritty of how products get produced on your project. For that matter it means the exact same thing in an operational setting, which is where the concept came from.

If you are just starting out, all you want to do is model the reality of your current value stream. You are not trying to change anything (yet).

Use The Model and Observe Results

Using this model of your value stream, a Kanban board is one example of how to visualize the value stream and actually use it as you get things done. If your experience is anything like mine, you will quickly start to see opportunities for improvement that had previously never been considered.

On a team, it’s important to draw attention to your observations of how things are working and encourage team members to offer their own opinions. Asking open ended questions like “how do you think this part is working?” is a great way to stimulate thought and discussion.

I do this daily with my teams, and it’s really a daily retrospective about how we are doing.

Solicit Ideas From Stakeholders

As you have regular discussions about how things are working, people will have ideas that are worth experimenting with. Treat all of these ideas with respect.

Keep ideas about opportunities for improvement somewhere everyone can see them.

Hypothesis For Testing

Based on all the ideas, pick one (just one) at a time for testing. This is your method of gaining validated learning about a potential method of improvement. This is an experiment.

Sometimes it makes sense to implement the experiment across the board. Sometimes you may want to pick a single team member or customer (or a small group) to pilot the change before making it part of the standard process.

As you’ll see in the next part, this is where you repeat the cycle. Not only do you propose an experiment, but you define the metrics for determining success or failure in terms of customer value.

We just added a new validation step into our value stream on one of my teams. It has already proven to be of value, because the actionable metrics were the number of discrepancies we can find and resolve as soon as possible. We found discrepancies that would have only been discovered much later in the very first week. So we’re keeping it. The shorter the feedback loop back to developers, the better.

A shorter feedback loop means less setup time for developers trying to remember what they did (if feedback is instant, the fixes take much less time to implement) and we produce higher quality software with less defects.


That’s it. Repeat constantly. You should always be testing.

If you keep doing the same thing you did yesterday, don’t expect to get better. That goes for any area of life. If you want to get better at anything, this is a good way to do it.

?How are you improving every day? Leave a comment and share.