On Tuesday 30 July I attended the LAST (Lean, Agile, Systems-Thinking) Conference in Melbourne. This year I presented a talk entitled “An Introduction to STATIK – getting started with Kanban” plus I also did a workshop of “The Ship Game”. This is actually the second LAST Conference I’ve been to this year, I had already been to the inaugural Adelaide conference where I presented “Kanban for Beginners” and ran a session with “The WiP Game”. Thanks to everyone who could attend my sessions – I hope you got a lot out of it.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with LAST Conferences, they were started by Ed Wong (@littlehelper) and Craig Brown (@brown_note) who wanted a small grass-roots conference that was like “meetups on steroids”. Submissions are open to the public and there’s plenty of space, so if your new to public speaking and you want to try it out, it’s a really great way to get out there and give something a go. It’s also kept at a really low cost, as the speakers aren’t paid – just members of the local community. Sometimes not all of the talks are great – it’s been known to be a little “hit and miss”, but generally the standard is fairly good – plus I know a number of other conferences that I’ve paid a lot more for that have left me disappointed with some talks.

The Melbourne session is very popular and tickets usually sell out so we have a full house. It’s often run on two days, so usually if you miss something on the first, you often can catch it on the second. However this year, it was only one day so it felt like you really did miss quite a bit of content. The Adelaide session, by comparison was actually also sold out, but due to its smaller scale, I think it still retained a lot of the grass-roots feel to it.

Of the talks that I listened to, my favourite was from Neil Kingston from Intelematics who was talking about “Do project managers still matter?“. It was a story about how the project managers and PMO went from a project based system of work to a product based system. What was really interesting for me to hear was how Neil and the others in the PMO transitioned from command and control to what is effectively now a servant leadership role. A true tale of evolution, keeping the useful traits and discovering hidden or creating new talents to see how they can serve and support the overall organisation in its goals.

“An Introduction to STATIK – getting started with Kanban”

This was really a short summation of what Day 2 of my Kanban System Design training is all about (more details available here). During this talk, I describe the “Systems Thinking Approach To Introducing Kanban” and take attendees through the high level steps of how to get started with Kanban. Spoiler alert – no you don’t start by putting stickies on the wall!

During this talk, I describe the “Systems Thinking Approach To Introducing Kanban” and take attendees through the high level steps of how to get started with Kanban. Spoiler alert – no you don’t start by putting stickies on the wall!

For those interested, you can find my slides here:

The Ship Game

First of all I have to credit Klaus Leopold (@klausleopold) with coming up with the game – it’s really a great way to learn the difference between push and pull systems – plus it gives an insight into the metrics and data behind Little’s Law works.

The game is played in two rounds – the first round is using a push system, the second round uses a pull system. In both rounds we bootstrap the system in the first two minutes to get some ships moving through the production line. We record the amount of ships that are done and are in progress. At the end of the line one person is marking the time of exit for each ship. Then we add the “Red ship” which is the last ship to go through the system (using a FIFO – first in, first out – policy).

What we see is that the throughput is (approximately) the same in both rounds, but due to the WiP limits / pull system in place in the second round, we create less WiP – thus we can reduce the lead time through the system. Here is the data from the day:

Team 1

At two minutes:

EventRound 1Round 2
WiP146
Red Ship Enters2:002:00
Red Ship Exits5:283:25
Red Ship Time in Process3:281:25

Throughput:

MinuteRound 1Round 2
011
144
256
342
44
53

Note that the first an last minute of each round are disregarded as that is the system bootstrapping and winding down.

Calculations:

 Round 1Round 2
Average Throughput4.255
Red Ship Lead Time (decimal)3.461.416
Average Lead Time (calculated)3.291.2

Team 2

At two minutes:

EventRound 1Round 2
WiP166
Red Ship Enters2:002:00
Red Ship Exits6:533:46
Red Ship Time in Process4:531:46

Throughput:

MinuteRound 1Round 2
012
143
234
334
43
53
61

Note that the first an last minute of each round are disregarded as that is the system bootstrapping and winding down.

Calculations:

 Round 1Round 2
Average Throughput3.23.5
Red Ship Lead Time (decimal)4.881.766
Average Lead Time (calculated)51.714

The Results

What you can see from this data is that the “pull system” with WiP limits in place substantially decreased the lead time of ships through the process (to between one half to one third of the original time).  This really reflects Little’s Law in action which is effectively:

Average Delivery Rate = Average Work in Process / Average Lead Time

By decreasing the WiP we proportionately decreased the lead time. Furthermore, if we continued without WiP limits in place, the first round would have continually gotten slower delivery to the point where customers would be walking away because the wait is too long.

Thanks to everyone who could come along to my talks, I hope you’ve enjoyed them. I’ll see you again next year!

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