In my home, like many others, it's a tradition to thoroughly clean our house, yard and even our office every spring. Spring cleaning is a little different than a normal cleaning - it's a little more thorough. Everything gets touched, sorted and perhaps even thrown away. When we are done, it always amazes me when I step back and see the stuff that has accumulated since our last spring cleaning that is no longer needed. The same spring-cleaning concept can be applied to the processes that you use at work.
Here's a simple plan for spring cleaning your processes:
- Convene a small team. Consider using a Three Amigos-like process, consisting of a developer, tester and process or business analyst. A small team will reduce the time needed to come to a consensus and the inclusion of multiple disciplines will help make sure that important steps don’t get “cleaned up.”
- Map your actual processes. Create a simple process map that shows all steps with their inputs and outputs. This will be useful for focusing the spring cleaning on what is actually being done, rather what is supposed to be done.
- Review your actual processes against the organizational standard and/or what everyone thinks ought to be happening.
- To start, identify steps that have been added to the process. Ask if the added steps can be removed. In many cases, process steps are added to prevent a specific mistake or oversight. I recently saw a process with a weekly budget review signoff because in an earlier release the team had gone over budget. The step in process added two additional hours of overhead to collect and validate signatures (the data already existed).
- Next, review each step in the process to determine whether there are simpler ways to accomplish the same result. In the example of the weekly budget review, we removed the step and put a simple budget burn down chart on the wall in the team room, which took approximately five minutes to update every week.
- Review the process change recommendations with the rest of the project team. Simple enough. I like convening a lunch session to review the changes and to share a common meal.
- Implement the process changes based on the review and monitor the results.
- Calculate and monitor the project’s burden rate. The burden rate is a simple metric that is the ratio of testing, review, sign-off and management to total time. The burden rate represents the overhead being expended to manage the project and to ensure quality. If you were able to construct a perfect engineering process, the burden rate would be zero; however, perfect is not possible. Spring cleaning should reduce the burden rate. I recommend reviewing the burden rate during a retrospective periodically so that overhead does not creep back into the process.
Spring cleaning is a tradition in many of the colder climates. When the days grow warmer and longer, all of the extra stuff that has accumulated over the winter becomes obvious and a bit oppressive. Cleaning out what isn’t needed lifts the spirits, and process spring cleaning serves the same purpose. Get rid of steps that don’t add value and simplify how you work. A process spring cleaning will lift your team’s spirits and help them deliver more value. Spring cleaning is part of a virtuous cycle!
Vice President of Consulting
Agile Practice Manager