Here’s a secret you’re not going to like. Your business has too much waste. Because of that today you’re going to hear about some ways of eliminating that waste and making your company more efficient. It’s called Agile Technologies and our guest Bruce Eckfeldt is going to help you learn the basics.
After this podcast, here’s what I want you to do. I’m going to want you to learn about the concept of SCRUM and how you can use it in your business. I’ve been using SCRUM in my own business as well as with clients and have been having great results. Listen to this podcast, leave a comment below and think about how you can use SCRUM and Agile Technologies in your business.
Here’re some of the things you’ll learn today:
- Where Agile Technologies came from and how they can help your business.
- Why small steps are always better than making great big and complicated plans.
- How big plans have a waterfall effect that always makes your projects over budget and late.
- How you can apply cost savings methods in your company that will bring you results.
Narrator: Welcome to The Sustainable Business Radio Show podcast where you’ll learn not only how to create a sustainable business but you’ll also learn the secrets of creating extraordinary value within your business and your life. In The Sustainable Business, we focus on what it’s going to take for you to take your successful business and make it economically and personally successful.
Your host, Josh Patrick, is going to help us through finding great thought leaders as well as providing insights he’s learned through his 40 years of owning, running, planning and thinking about what it takes to make a successful business sustainable.
Josh: Hey, how are you today? This is Josh Patrick. You’re at The Sustainable Business.
Today, we’re going to be speaking with Bruce Eckfeldt. Bruce is a really interesting guy. He had me on his show last week and we’re returning the favor this week. We probably could’ve gone for a whole lot more than 20 minutes which I only go for. My guess is we’ll probably do that today. He’s a serial entrepreneur. He started his tech consulting business in 2013. He sold it. He’s now a business coach working with early-stage startups in tech, media, design, real estate development and construction – although I’m not sure there’s such a thing as an early-stage construction company but we might have to figure out whether that actually exists. The rest of those things all have early stage companies for sure. And yes, there are early stage construction companies but not what you think of an as an early stage company – at least in my world.
At any rate, I’m sure we’re going to have a really interesting conversation. We’re going to start talking off about what’s called the Agile software development and we’ll see where it goes from there. So, instead of me yammering on which is a bad habit I have, we’ll bring Bruce in.
Hey, Bruce. How are you today?
Bruce: I’m great, Josh. Thank you so much for having me on the program. It’s a pleasure to speak with you again after doing our show just last week.
Josh: Yeah, this is really fun. I’ve enjoyed speaking with you and getting to know you a bit. I think that you’re one of the really bright stars in the advice business. And for anyone who’s spent any time listening to me, they know how much I whine about the lack of good advice in this space. Those who are listening are in for a treat today.
Let’s start off with the definition, what is Agile software development?
Bruce: Sure. So Agile software development is a bit of an umbrella term but it refers to a series of methodologies or approaches to developing software or software systems that really borrow a lot from the whole idea of Lean. Lean is just a whole approach to kind of business and problem solving that was developed originally by Toyota in the late ‘70s and ultimately came from people like Deming who are looking at statistical quality control, how to improve processes, and how to improve processes in terms of figuring out what the constraints are, figuring out what the problems are and intuitively improving that in a continuous way.
So, Agile software development took a lot of those ideas and came up with these different approaches and that includes things like extreme programming, scrum, feature-driven development. There’s kind of a host of specific methodologies within it. They all kind of have the same idea of highly iterative, customer-driven feedback to evolve a system of all the solutions over time and designing upfront and big specifications and big documents and separation processes.
Josh: So the anti-scrum or anti-Agile is what’s called Waterfall. Why doesn’t Waterfall work very well?
Bitcoin Well, because of a host of reasons, I think the more sort of interesting analysis of it is that if you look at the history of project management and program management, Waterfall was really developed in sort of situation cases where there was not a whole lot of change for the requirements over time and the main challenge was scheduling tasks. You know, serial sets of tasks that “I need to get this done before I do this. And therefore, I need this equipment and these people here and then I need these people—“ So it’s very much set on a fixed set of dependencies and figuring those [inaudible 00:04:04] plan.
The problem is as we moved into the late 20th century, early 2000s, in terms of the challenges, what we have in business and what we have in software is that there’s a lot more dynamics and a lot more uncertainty in these processes, so what ends up happening is that – well, I can sit down and go plan. Fairly quickly, that plan becomes informed by new information such that I need to change it very quickly.
So, the power of Agile as it quickly gets to the work at hand so that I can learn what it is I don’t know. I incorporate that into my next step. And by doing that, I create a process where I can really respond to changing markets. I can respond to more understand our customers and their needs. And ultimately create some more successful and a more efficient way of developing, really, any kind of creative solution whether it be software or otherwise. And then people use Lean, Agile and many, many sort of applications now, not just in software development.
Josh: So one of the things which I’ve noticed is that one of the reasons Waterfall doesn’t work is that it’s based on all these dependencies and as soon as one of the dependencies goes out of whack, the whole waterfall’s out of whack and becomes over-cost and late. Is that your experience as well?
Bruce: I will call it a very brittle system, like once I put together a plan, the moment that anyone thinks that plan doesn’t work, it tends to have this ripple effect where it tends to have this sort of deterioration of the entire plan and that happens. Then they go to Waterfall, people actually are pretty good at putting that together. There is no challenge that I find that there’s so much time and energy that goes into kind of figuring out a long-term plan and the change happens so often that it just becomes a hugely inefficient process to kind of re-plan the entire project every time you get a new change or every time you get a new set of information that needs to be incorporated in it. So, you know, for me, it’s not so much that like it’s a bad way of doing things. It just is not an appropriate method for the types of problems that we have today.
Josh: That makes sense.
So we know that Agile works well in software. Have you ever used Agile outside of the world of software?
Bruce: Any problem, any creative solution that you’re trying to develop that incorporates some kind of learning is ripe for an Agile approach. And what I mean by that is the more that you can think of the processes as being “I have a thesis. I have an idea of something that someone might like. I can develop some kind of version of that that represents what I think is valuable, put it into the hands of those people, have them use it and have them give me feedback and then incorporate that into the changes that I’m going to make.” That, fundamentally, is a natural process.
So, you know, anything that you can do that mocks up, that develops a prototype or develops a small version of a solution and people are now doing this in the business world – the startup world where they’re creating very sort of limited feature, often times kind of prototype versions of their business processes or business models and actually testing it with customers in ways that help improve “What’s valuable? What’s not? What works? What doesn’t?” and incorporate that into kind of future [inaudible 00:07:07]. So they’re actually using it at the fundamental business model level, not just the software level.
Josh: So, Bruce, most of the listeners we have on here are owners or they’re managers in blue-collar businesses. And blue collar businesses really are not iterative processes. I have a construction company. I’m going to build a building. I’m going to install a security system. I’m going to run some wires for electricity. What kind of planning would you recommend that they do to speed up their processes? Can you use Agile for that?
Bruce: Yeah. And, actually, I think one of the more interesting applications of Agile or Lean in terms of way of thinking is to look at your operations and figuring out “How do you continually improve on what you do?” So, while pulling wires, or laying bricks, or pouring foundations the technology doesn’t change so much. I mean, that’s a pretty standard process. While you go about the planning process, how you’d schedule it and you actually execute it is all something that is ripe for figuring out better ways of doing it.
And so, a client does need an Agile approach in terms of reviewing what you’ve done, figuring out what’s working, what’s not working and how you might be able to make it better. It’s really applicable to just about any business process in any industry. You can actually find that physical manufacturing and physical services industries is where you can actually see some great applications of this just by thinking through “Well, what can I do to make this better?”
Josh: Now, I know that most of the folks listening to this show are not really good at complicated systems. You know, they might be listening and say, “Boy, this sounds great but we’re not Google. We’re not Apple. We’re not Bechtel. We’re a small little construction company and this sounds complicated.” What would you say to somebody who says that to you?
Bruce: It’s as complicated as you make it in the sense of it’s really about just sitting down and visualizing the work that you have and work that you do and figuring out “Where are the opportunities for change? Where the opportunities for improvement are and making targeted – very, sort of thoughtful changes to that in terms of improving the process.
So, I’ll give you an example of a company that I went and visited a couple of months ago. They do—let’s say sewer repair. So they have a series of trucks. They have a series of workers and they run around mostly here in the New York City area. They dig up pipes, replace pipes – anything that you have to remove some part of the asphalt, they’ll deal with. It was fascinating to see how they had a scheduling – that the process for scheduling and the process for assigning work all laid on these big whiteboards. And what we did is we just talked through like “How do they go about scheduling something? What is the checklist? What are the series of steps? We looked at the issues that we’re having like [inaudible 00:09:41] kept coming up to them in terms of inefficiencies.
In Lean, we like to talk about the five wastes but actually it’s inefficiencies in a process – extra time, extra movement, re-work. So, all of those are things that are ripe for thinking through “How do we remove that systematically from the work that we do?” And I was literally going through basically paper sets of checklist that were posted on the board and changing the steps, adding steps or refining steps so that we could cap some of these things earlier and make sure that we’re not creating situations that are going to likely create this waste later in the process. So it’s a very practical and a very kind of matter of fact way of approaching the business process.
Obviously, in the software world, we use it in all sorts of ways to technology use and these things for us in terms of automated testing. But the principles are so the same regardless of the processes [inaudible 00:10:29].
Josh: So, when you did this with this company, what were the results?
Bruce: Well, some of the results were really looking at “What’s the occurrence of these kinds of errors on an ongoing basis?” Right, so if we found something that was happening four times a week, our measurement was figuring out, “Can we get this down to three? Down to two? Down to one? Down to zero?” in terms of the frequency of that happening or the impact of that.
Josh: So, Bruce, what were the changes that got made, how would it manifest and what kind of cost savings did they see?
Bruce: I mean, typically what we do is we look at all the areas that we could improve and we plot them on a chart or we discuss them in terms of “What are their frequency and what are their impact?” And what we want to do is we want to find high frequency, high impact errors/problems that are coming up and address those first.
And so, in terms of the ROI of the process, what we’re really doing is figuring out “Well, how often are they occurring? What are the impact of those things? And if we can reduce it from, you know, four times a week to two times a week, we have a pretty good understanding of what it saves us in terms of either re-work cost, improved schedule, ability to increase capacity. So, all those things are kind of worked in the equation. And essentially, we continue to iterate in that way and focus on this process until the things that are left on the table aren’t worth the effort that it’s going to take to change them.
And typically, a couple of months go by and new things will come up. We get to see new opportunities for that. The other thing is you tend to make that process much more efficient as you get good at seeing where the problems are and quickly figuring out what to do about it. The cost of [inaudible 00:12:00] is absolutely driven down [inaudible 00:12:03].
Josh: So, I know that you’ve told me before and I want to hear you tell our audience about this a bit, is that the review process is actually what you think is the most valuable part of Agile. Why is that true?
Bruce: It’s because it’s really where the insight happens. And often times, one of the first things I do when I go into a conversation and we’re looking at how to make improvements or where do we start our focus and doing what I call a “retrospective” and that’s a general term but it’s also a term specifically in the Agile/Lean community which is a very kind of focused critical look at the work we’ve done for the purposes of figuring out where we might be able to make improvements and how we might be able to learn. And typically, what I do is, put in place, inside the company, a continuous process for doing this reflection. So I’ve got a continual source of new opportunities and new ideas for I can make improvements.
So, for some companies, this might be once a month that we sit down and review how things are going. In other cases, it might be once a week. In some cases, they’ll even do this at the end of every day where they do a quick review of what worked, what didn’t work and what we want to change and that leads to a process for them making changes and tracking those changes.
But the retrospective is a really powerful and a really kind of fundamental idea in kind of a learning organization where there’s an effort of continually improving their team to get better. And it’s about – there’s no really end. An organization can always get better. An organization can always come up with some ideas and so it’s about building that into the culture and building that into the rhythm of the company and how they work.
Josh: So, one of the subsets of Agile, which you’ve already mentioned is called Scrum. And if you’re using a Scrum process, the founders recommend that you get together every day for a very short five to ten minute-standup meeting. Is that something you would agree with?
Bruce: Yeah. It’s one of those fundamental practices. And the reason that works is because a lot of the waste that comes into companies and into organizations is through miscommunication and not having everyone kind of on the same page about what is the priority? What’s the focus? So, first of all, it’s about making sure that everyone understands what everyone’s working on to the extent that those are not clearly aligned behind a very clear organizational operational goal then it’s a chance to identify that.
The other thing is that you tend to find ways of quickly sharing information. So, I’m working on X and I’m running into a problem. Being able to have that meeting at the beginning of the day where I can mention that and anyone that’s run into that problem before or happens to know something that might be really [inaudible 00:14:33] that, can mention that there. Often times we say, you know, “take it out of the meeting” so I’m not going to get details there but I can get that. “Oh yeah, let me talk to you afterwards. I actually ran into that yesterday. I’ve got [inaudible 00:14:43].” So it’s a way of quickly sharing information, keeping everyone on the same page. And it really is an important rhythm or kind of heartbeat of the organization.
Josh: You know, it seems to me, as you’ve been talking, I just had a thought occur to me is that Agile processes seem to be a way of managing and taking advantage of mistakes. Does that make sense to you?
Bruce: Yeah. I think, you know, mistakes are opportunities for learning. I mean, successes are opportunities for learning as well. So, it’s treating sort of everything as a source of potential knowledge. And really, the trick to this retrospective process is “How can you do that in such a way that you can get to the information without bias? And that you can, from that information, decide and develop very clear actions that relate it to the thing that you want to change.”
It’s easy to have a look at the past and look at the work you’ve done and find mistakes [inaudible 00:15:38] blame or kind of beating people up on it. And it’s just not helpful. And so, a lot of—we actually go in and train people and coach people on the retrospecting process/improvement process. The biggest thing we do is change the culture we’re [inaudible 00:15:51] around, looking at the past, looking at mistakes. And honestly, it’s one of the hardest things to do as well.
Josh: You know, we’re socialized that all mistakes are bad and that we should do everything we can not to make them and, for whatever happens, never admit you made a mistake.
Bruce: Yeah. Yeah. Unfortunately, a lot of cultures – a lot of companies, the effort is generally on hiding or re-assigning blame to other people.
Josh: So, I have a question for you around this thing, if you have a choice and you’re working with a company, do you focus on mistakes or do you focus on the opportunities and the successes?
Bruce: Honestly, I generally focus on the successes to start with because one of the classic mistakes kind of companies make is they go in and try to fix all the mistakes and in the process undo all the things they’re actually doing right. So, often times for a couple of iterations that could take the whole week. It could take the whole month. We really just try to focus on taking in those things that are working really well so that when we go to start making changes around the things that operating well that we don’t screw up the processes that are working. And it depends on the situation and the culture but that’s often how we approach it.
Josh: By the way, that fits in with the answer I get from most CEOs, if I was to ask them this is that – I do this seminar question that says, you have a choice of improving your weaknesses or improving your strengths, what do you choose?
Bruce: Yeah, brute strength.
Josh: And literally, I think I only had one or two CEOs who ever said “improve the weaknesses” and at the same time, I’ve only had one or two employees say “Improve your strengths.”
Josh: So what’s really interesting is that it fits in there.
Well, we have time for one more thing to talk about and that is – how does a company get started with Retrospectives?
Bruce: There’s a couple of different ways. I mean, certainly, there’s a lot of content out there on the web. There’s a couple of good books. There’s a guy named Norman Kerth who wrote Retrospectives. It’s so academic yet it gives a really good overview of retrospectives from a non-software just general approach. How do we approach the task for the purpose of [inaudible 00:17:44]? You know, I find that finding a good facilitator, finding a good coach who has done this several times, can actually walk you through the process and the training folks.
The other really great thing about having a facilitator or coach, whether it’s internal or external, is that that person can really focus on the process and is not focused on trying to participate in the actual session. And so, often times, leaders will want to do a retrospective so they gather their people and they’ll try to run a retrospectives, but in fact they are one of key sources of knowledge and it’s really difficult to switch hats during that meeting. So finding someone who actually is aware of the pure facilitation hat and focus on a process and making sure that your information is uncovered and discussed openly in a clear and constructive way, can be really important, really powerful in terms of getting that going. Ultimately, it’s about making it into the general rhythm and the schedule of how teams/individuals work on that impetus.
Josh: That’s great. Hey, Bruce, unfortunately, we’re out of time.
Josh: So I’m going to bet there are people listening and saying, “You know, this agile thing is kind of interesting. I want learn more about it”, how would they contact you?
Bruce: My website is eckfeldt.com. I write in my newsletter that focuses a lot on basically management habits. It’s called 52 Habits and it’s all about how you kind of approach a high growth, early stage startup process from a management point of view.
And that’s eckfeldt.com/52habits, all one word.
Josh: Cool. Hey, Bruce, thanks so much for your time today, I really appreciate it.
And for those of you who are still with us, I have an offer for you. I have this one hour audio CD course which is called Successive Sustainability. It’s the five things that you need to do in your business to create a sustainable business. And if you want to get it, it’s really easy to do so, just text SUSTAINABILITY to 44222. That’s SUSTAINABILITY to 44222 and you’ll be taken to a form where you can give us your address and we mail it to you. It’s free and it won’t cost you one cent.
This is Josh Patrick. You’re at the Sustainable Business. I hope to see you back here really soon. Thanks a lot for sticking around with us today. I hope you enjoyed the episode.
Narrator: You’ve been listening to The Sustainable Business podcast where we ask the question, “What would it take for your business to still be around 100 years from now?” If you like what you’ve heard and want more information, please contact Josh Patrick at 802‑846‑1264 ext 2, or visit us on our website at www.askjoshpatrick.com, or you can send Josh an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for listening. We hope to see you at The Sustainable Business in the near future.