Being Agile Means Continuously Improving

Continuous quality improvement with PDCAOne of the first books I read that talked about agile principles was Kaizen by Masaaki Imai. It discussed the Japanese cultural concept of continuous improvement in both our personal lives and our work. If we are always thinking about how we can be a better person, do a better job, arrange our living and working spaces better, and how to help others be better, we can have a profoundly beneficial affect on everything around us.

Then I read work by W. Edwards Deming and learned about the Shewhart Cycle of Plan, Do, Check, Act. We have to have some sort of a plan, but then we should start doing the work. Next, we check the work and identify ways that we can improve it, and then we act on those observations and spread the beneficial ideas throughout the organization. As we act, we start planning, and the cycle continues. This isn’t a cycle of years, or one year, or even months, but rather it should be continuous. In Scrum, this happens both every Sprint, and every day. At the end of the Sprint, we use our review and retrospective meetings to check, act, and prepare for the Sprint planning meeting. Each day, we’ll have a mini cycle inside of our daily stand-up.

These concepts give me language for one of my core values. When I was nine, lying in bed and listening to my parent’s yell and scream at each other, I decided that when I grew up I wanted to have a family. I wanted to have a wife, and kids, and I wanted to provide for them, and take care of them, and make sure that they didn’t have to worry about the things that I had to worry about. I wanted to work to become a good husband, and a good father. And since then, I’m always asking myself how I can be better, and how I can do better, and how I can improve.

In Kaizen, Imai writes that any improvement that can save 2 seconds of work is worth implementing. In my own life, I have observed that small, incremental improvements have helped me become a better person. I can’t point at many huge shifts in my thinking over the years, but I can look back to the me of 10 or 20 years ago and know that I am a better person today than I was then.

Similarly, if we are continually working to improve our organization, and everyone in the organization is sharing the same focus and value, then we may barely recognize ourselves in 10 years. Organizations with company-wide quality management (CWQM) programs that are truly focused on improvement at all levels of the organization see tremendous benefits from it, even over a short period of time.

If we reflect on what we have done, figure out how to do better, and then implement what we have learned, the only direction we can go is up.

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