Reinvent Management: Go to the Gemba

From Lean management, we’ve heard the exhortation to, “go to the gemba.”

Getting management to perform a gemba walk is gaining popularity in agile circles, and of course, has been a key Lean technique for decades.  As this excellent article points out, the gemba walk is not strolling around and glad handing people.

How important is it to connect management with the gemba, or “real place” where work is done?

To fully appreciate the answer consider the alternative from the world of auto manufacturing.  For years, executives in Detroit insulated themselves from the shop floor – their gemba. From the Seattle Times:

For generations, the 14th floor of the General Motors Corp. headquarters, with its thick carpets, mahogany walls and electronically controlled glass doors, has been the ultimate symbol of power at the world’s largest company. Access was by invitation only.

Top executives were sealed off from the rest of the GM work force. Chauffeured into the basement garage, GM’s leaders were whisked by private elevator to the 14th floor’s executive row, where their meals were catered in a private dining room.

The 14th floor was an essential part of the corporate culture that shaped GM – for better, and recently for worse – for more than half a century. Now, as GM’s board and a new team of managers struggle to make the company more competitive, they are beginning by destroying the mystique of the fabled executive floor, in an effort to change a corporate culture marked by insularity and inbred management.

The results, as we American taxpayers know too well, were disastrously painful, culminating in the implosion and subsequent auto bailout in 2008.  So, how did Detroit’s new ‘C’ suite go about fixing their massive mess and get out of bankruptcy?

Sergio Marchionne, the CEO of Fiat and Chrysler took several bold steps to turn Chrysler around.  One of them was to forgo the remote chairman’s office for the shop floor.  The old office is now an empty “tourist trap.”

A great example of go to the gemba, indeed…check it out in the 60 Minutes clip below.



An Itch to Scratch!

Part of the mission at LitheSpeed is to reach back to the community in some small manner, each of us committed to that notion in our own unique way. The thought of engaging with kids resonated with us, but of course, we didn’t quite know where to begin. Ideas were tossed around, and soon, one of them took root and we put forth our maiden venture – a Kids Programming Workshop. An experiment really, so we extended the invitation to our own kids and some of their friends. We limited the group to about 20 kids (8 to 12 year olds).



The platform of choice for the workshop was Scratch, a fun and intuitive visual programming tool conceived of at MIT and provided free of charge. Scratch helps kids to think creatively, reason systematically and create their own stories, games and animation using typical programming constructs and commands that can be snapped together like LEGO-blocks.


Weagenda set up some laptops in our training facility and picked a Saturday to run this ½ day session, quite unsure of how it was going to play out. The agenda was quite straightforward – a short introduction, followed by time-boxed immersive exercises conducted in pairs, followed by a showcase. Heck, even if it were a train wreck, there was pizza at the end to make it all right!


We need not have been so anxious as to the outcome, because it was a blast! Amongst the kids were some seasoned Scratch programmers who not only demonstrated their talent in creating expressive, engaging games, but also impressed us with their willingness to guide and help the novices along, and the hubbub of active learning and problem solving within the space was simply exhilarating. It was amazing to see the kids take to it so readily and so enthusiastically.


Buoyed by the success of this pilot, we are committed to broadening the reach and scope of similar initiatives this year. Try it for yourself and see if you catch the itch to Scratch.

Happy New Year!

LitheSpeed wishes everyone a very Happy New Year!

Motion blurred asphalt road forward to 2015

Story Mapping in a Nutshell

Continue reading “Story Mapping in a Nutshell” »

Scrum Event in DC with Jeff Sutherland

We at LitheSpeed are proud to announce a special free event with our partners at Scrum Inc.  Jeff Sutherland, the co-creator of Scrum, will be at Mio Restaurant in Washington, D.C. on Saturday, Nov. 22nd to celebrate the launch of his new book Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time.

The event is free, open to the public, and is a chance to hear about Scrum from the man who invented it, and buy a copy of his book. The event will also have a wine tasting with wines from Spain and Argentina provided by SAWM Imports, and a food demonstration from the owner of Mio, Manuel Iguina. The team at Scrum Inc. is looking forward to connecting with Scrum and Agile practitioners in Washington and hope that you will help spread the word to everyone you know and that you, and all of your Scrum teams, can join us. The event is free, but we’d appreciate it if you’d register so we know how many people are coming.

Agile DC Executive Summit – A Success

The Agile DC Executive Summit took place on October 20th at the Center for Innovative Technology in Herndon, VA.




Speakers included Max Keeler of the Motley Fool, Mark Perine from Marriott International and Gill Haus and Elliot Susel from AoL among others (see web site for more details). The summit was well received by sponsors, speakers and registrants and we are happy to say it was a great success!


Max Keeler, Motley Fool




Sanjiv Augustine, LitheSpeed Founder




Lean Startup Panel





Dave Merkel, FireEye




Elliot Susel, AoL





Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) Panel




Mark Perine, Marriott International




Sponsor booths





Thank you to all who participated, from all of us at LitheSpeed



Hope you can join us for the Agile DC Executive Summit next year!

Healthcare.Gov — One Year Later

What a difference a year makes!  Time-cover

Actually, what a difference 6 weeks with the right team and the right focus makes.  Last year, at around this time, the Healthcare.Gov site was in full meltdown, and all over the news media.  Over the subsequent weeks and months, many of us spoke and wrote about what went wrong, how it could have been avoided, and how it could be fixed.

Providing rare insight into the rescue operation in the days that followed, is this landmark article from TIME Magazine.  Here are some of the awesome agile things they did to rescue the beleaguered site:

1. Put Jeffrey Zients in charge, but, “the guy in the suit is never in control.”

A business executive, with a track record of delivering things, Zients was the solution to, No One in Charge.  Though Zients was now in charge, it wasn’t quite as simple as ordering people around:

“Zients isn’t a techie himself. He’s a business executive, one of those people for whom control–achieved by lists, schedules, deadlines and incessant focus on his targeted data points–seems to be everything.   So for him, this Apollo 13 moment must have been frustrating–because in situations like this the guy in the suit is never in control.”

“True, Zients had assembled a terrific team that had gelled perfectly. But his engineers could move only so fast. Though he had carte blanche to add resources, putting 10 people on a fix that would take one coder 10 days doesn’t turn it into a one-day project. Coding doesn’t work that way. “Jeff was a great leader, but there were limits,” says Dickerson. “He would ask us every day if we were going to make the deadline … He’d say how he had to report on how we were doing to the President. And I’d say till I was blue in the face, ‘We’re doing as much as we can as fast as we can, and we’re going to do that no matter what the deadline is.'”

2. Focused a core team under CTO Todd Park’s organization.

The site had been developed under the auspices of Health and Human Services. Puzzingly, President Obama’s CTO had not been involved in the development of the site. Mr. Park, as it turns out, is a huge fan and practitioners of lean and agile methodologies.  In fact, Mr. Park was a keynote speaker at the 2012 Lean Startup conference, and shared his experience applying Lean Startup techniques within the public sector. So, they needed a solution to, Too Many Cooks?

From the TIME article:

“According to notes from a meeting in one of CMS’s three war rooms (yes, things were so uncoordinated that there were three), those assembled discussed the fact that “we heard that the capacity”–the number of possible simultaneous users–“was 100,000 people, and there are 150,000 people on it.” Yet five days later, White House chief technology officer Todd Park would tell USA Today that the capacity was 50,000 and that the website had collapsed because 250,000 people tried to use it at the same time. Park, a highly successful–but, for this job, disablingly mild-mannered–health care tech entrepreneur, had been kept out of the planning of the website. In fact, the site’s actual capacity at the time was “maybe a few thousand users,” according to a member of the team that later fixed it.”

So, at this late juncture, Mikey Dickerson, an Obama campaign veteran and site reliability engineer assembled a crack core team to fix the problem.  Besides Jeff Zients and Todd Park, it included Ryan Panchadasaram, Jini Kim, Paul Smith and Andy Slavitt.

3. Worked in a rapid, but flexible manner to fix issues iteratively using a Daily Standup Meeting.  Rules for this meeting:

“It was in a 4,000-sq.-ft. room rented by QSSI in a nondescript office park in Columbia, Md.–lined with giant Samsung TV monitors showing the various dashboard readings and graphs–that Barack Obama’s health care website was saved. What saved it were Mikey Dickerson’s stand-ups.

Rule 1: “The war room and the meetings are for solving problems. There are plenty of other venues where people devote their creative energies to shifting blame.”

Rule 2: “The ones who should be doing the talking are the people who know the most about an issue, not the ones with the highest rank. If anyone finds themselves sitting passively while managers and executives talk over them with less accurate information, we have gone off the rails, and I would like to know about it.” (Explained Dickerson later: “If you can get the managers out of the way, the engineers will want to solve things.”)

Rule 3: “We need to stay focused on the most urgent issues, like things that will hurt us in the next 24–48 hours.”

The stand-up culture–identify problem, solve problem, try again–was typical of the rescue squad’s ethic.”

All in all, we realize that this unfortunate saga could have avoided.  So, the question that we need to ask is, why wasn’t Healthcare.Gov rolled out from the get go with agile and lean practices?

The TIME article has some strong thoughts on which we should collectively reflect:

Had the Obama team brought in its old campaign hands in the first place to run the launch, there would have been howls about cronyism. But one lesson of the fall and rise of has to be that the practice of awarding high-tech, high-stakes contracts to companies whose primary skill seems to be getting those contracts rather than delivering on them has to change. “It was only when they were desperate that they turned to us,” says Dickerson. “I have no history in government contracting and no future in it … I don’t wear a suit and tie … They have no use for someone who looks and dresses like me. Maybe this will be a lesson for them. Maybe that will change.”


Right on Track: Agile DC Summit and Agile DC Conference

PrintSo, our big yearly events are almost upon us: the Agile DC Summit and the Agile DC Conference are next week, on Monday October 20, and Tuesday, October 21 respectively.

As we head into next week, our @LitheSpeed team is preparing for a couple of days of fantastic talks (by executives from The Motley Fool, FireEye, AoL, Marriott International and the Millenium Challenge Corporation),  lively panel discussions (Scaled Agile Framework and Lean Startup) and active networking opportunities; all at a great venue, the Center for Innovative Technology.

With the team moving in full flow, I thought I would disengage from the hustle and bustle of conference prep, and indulge in a bit of reflection.

The Agile DC Conference is my colleague Bob Payne‘s brainchild from over half a decade ago, and began with Bob and a small team of volunteers driving the event forward as a grand experiment under the umbrella of the non-profit Agile Philanthropy. Agile DC quickly filled an unmet need, and has become the Agile event of the year in the Washington DC metro area.  These days Bob is supported by an all-volunteer organizing team, and the Agile DC conference sells out its 500 person capacity.  Gallaudet University’s Kellogg Center provides the backdrop for this major event that now draws presenters and attendees from all over the country, and even internationally.

A couple of years ago, I noticed that while the Agile DC Conference does an awesome job of pulling together the agile community and others interested in agile methods, senior managers and executives weren’t that well represented or served by the event.  We went through some discovery, and decided to pilot a new event, the Agile DC Summit last year.  It turned out to be a resounding success, with executives from Mark Schwartz (CIO U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services) to Tracie Winbigler (COO of National Geographic Society) sharing their experience rolling out agile to transform their organizations.

This year, we’re right on track: the Agile DC Summit is scheduled for next Monday, and the Agile DC Conference will roll next Tuesday.  Hope to see you at one or both of the events next week!


See you at the Agile DC Executive Summit in Two Weeks!

We’ll be hosting the 2nd Annual Agile DC Executive Summit this October 20th at the Center for Innovative Technology in Herndon, VA.  We’re super excited about the Summit this year and have a great lineup of speakers.

Agile DC Executive Summit

Turn DC Agile!

Please visit for more information, a video summary of last year’s event.


Who: Washington DC, Baltimore and Richmond area Executives and Senior Managers

What: The 2nd Annual Agile DC Executive Summit

When: October 20, 2014

Where: The Center for Innovative Technology,

Thanks, and we hope to see you and your management colleagues in a couple of weeks at the Agile DC Executive Summit!

Avoiding the Agile Pitfall

The growth of Agile in the public and private sectors has led to many cases of dysfunctional Agile – where organisations are mechanically going through the motions, but are failing to realise the benefits Agile has to offer.

At best, those companies that fall foul of the dysfunctional Agile trap are finding it frustratingly hard and costly to transition to Agile; at worst they’re losing significant market share.

And when this happens, Agile gets the blame.

In this video from Agile TV, experienced Agile Consultant Sanjiv Augustine touches on some of the root causes of dysfunctional Agile – and more importantly, how to avoid this common problem.

Watch the video now!