An Illustrated Guide To Unlimited WIP


If you feel like the dog at the end of the series, defeated by the amount of work thrown at you. You are not alone.

Knowledge workers throughout the world are being overwhelmed by demands to do more, more, more…. be hyper-productive! faster!

The worst part is that, due to the intangible nature of knowledge work, many of them don’t even realize how overloaded they are. They know they are far too stressed, but they just can’t get ahead. The only answer it seems is to work harder and longer hours.

There is however an alliance forming… a group of thinkers and experimenters, who believe that working harder isn’t the only answer.

These rebels use concepts from psychology, sociology, Systems Thinking, Theory of Constraints, risk management, options theory, and cognitive complexity to model and study the systems they work in. They believe that by making the systems visible and explicit, the individuals in the system may gain a better understanding of it and have better opportunity to improve it. By continually evolving the systems they work in workers and managers are creating better outcomes for themselves and the businesses they work for.

Join the conversation, join us… at Lean Kanban North America, in Chicago at the end of April.

I can’t promise we’ll help with your dirty socks, but we’ll share what we know about Limiting WIP and increasing flow.



 *I would like to give credit to the person who took these photos… but I don’t know who they are. If you know please tell me!

The Social Mind at Work

An understanding of individual and social psychology can enable leaders of and participants in change initiatives to create appropriate conditions for co-evolving systems, resulting in improved outcomes for all parties. Psychologists have had a framework that tells us an individual’s behavior is a function of their interaction with their environment going back as far as the founder of social psychology, Kurt Lewin, and his equation B=ƒ(P,E).

In recent years, the Lean and Kanban community has explored a variety of topics including cognitive biases, decision theory, defensive reasoning, empathy, double loop learning, cognitive complexity, and tribal behaviors. Many speakers including Steven Parry, Jim Benson, Benjamin Mitchell, David Snowden, David Anderson and Yochai Benkler have focused the community on understanding the messy, confounding and ultimately liberating impact of human cognition on the systems we design and live in. Based on this solid foundation, the Lean Kanban conference decided, for the first year this year, to offer a track focused on Psychology and Sociology.

I am excited to announce The speakers for the LKNA13 Psychology & Sociology Track. This track is aimed at highlighting the above and other topics that can be used to enable continual systemic and organizational product and process improvement.

Speakers in the track will reflect on how the nature of knowledge work highlights the importance of Deming’s call for a “Knowledge of Psychology.”  Talks will include topics from cognitive psychology and social psychology. The speakers will explore how psychology can inform our understanding of group and team dynamics, as well as how we might foster innovation to create more effective and rewarding work systems and business outcomes.

I’ve spent the last 6 months working to find amazing speakers to fill this track. In my humble opinion, you will NOT want to miss these speakers:

Mary PoppendieckMaryPoppendieck laid some of the foundational stones of the Lean Software movement.  By way of example, she wrote:

The biggest cause of failure in software-intensive systems is not technical failure; it’s building the wrong thing.


We need a process that lets us develop the first 20% of a system, get it in production, get feedback, and add features incrementally as time and money permit. We need policies that say: If something has to be compromised— cost, schedule, or scope—the default choice should routinely be scope.

years before The Lean Startup was published. Mary’s talk “The Lean Mindset: The Far Side of Paradox” will explore the paradox presented by the opposing rational and intuitive mindsets and synthesize them into a single perspective, a lean mindset.

Steve Holt Steve-Holt_webis frustratingly well read in Cynefin, John Boyd and Maneuver Conflict Theory. He is also an expert in one of the underlying theories of the Kanban Method, Theory of Constraints. He hold a board position on the Theory of Constraints International Certification Organization.  Steve is an Associate Technical Fellow at Boeing and has deep experience in process improvement. Steve’s presentation “Organizational Evolution: Will all Successful Startups turn into Bureaucracies?” will examine how product development processes and organizational structures evolve, and suggest how to avoid bureaucracy traps while restarting the cycle of innovation.

Andrea KuszewskiAndrea is a research psychologist, science writer and Robopsychologist/ AI psychologist who has investigated the neuro-cognitive factors behind human behavior including topics such as creativity, intelligence, sociopathy, and x-altruism, as well as the science of learning. She is a popular speaker, a prolific writer and a science communication activist. I met Andrea in San Francisco last year and left with a long list of books to read. Her LKNA13 discussion “Creative Disobedience: How, When, and Why” (I love the title) will explore how to best nurture and encourage creative thinking–on both a corporate and individual level.

I will also be speaking on the topic of “Heuristics for Modelling Systems with Kanban.”

That is just one of six tracks on one day of an amazing three day conference.

While I’ve been busy scouring the world for Psychology and Sociology experts, Dr. Klaus Leopold, Dr. Arne Roock, Dr. Robert Charette, Janice Linden-Reed, Larry Maccherone and Lisa Shoop have been doing the same for five other tracks including:

  1. Economics and Risk
  2. Kanban at Scale
  3. Kanban Foundations
  4. Simulation Games and Measurement
  5. The Change Agent


There is also a mainstage with keynotes from Bob Lewis, Douglas Hubbard, Maria McManus and Paul Glen from Leading Geeks (read it). I was lucky enough to travel with Steve Parry during the Lean Kanban European tour, he delivered a series of insightful talks and he’ll be speaking. Todd Little one of the authors of Stand Back and Deliver, Michael Kennedy, Luke Hohmann of The Innovation Games are speakers as well.

I credit Joshua Kerievsky for slipping me “the red pill” years ago and beginning my journey in the understanding of software development. He’ll be there.

Hillel Glazer, the program chair for the 2nd year in a row (brave man) will be there…

My good friends David Anderson and Jim Benson who’ve worked for years to create a community that thrives on diverse ideas, and observable outcomes… well, of course, they’ll be there.

The conference is structured to make sure attendees get optimal use of their time. There are no more than three tracks running at once.  In the past, conference attendees have gotten great value out of the slack time between sessions debating and reflecting on the presentations. The evenings are filled with wide ranging expositions and deliberations at the bar, in the lounge or at dinner.

Come listen to and participate in discussions with professionals who’ve investe themselves in thinking about and experimenting with complexity theory, change management, risk, portfolio level control, collaboration, leadership, and innovation.

Won’t you join us?

Failing Well

My session “Failing Well” has been accepted for SF Agile 2012!

After attending 3-4 Lean Startup Machine events and working with internal teams at TLC to understand and apply the Customer Development framework, I’ve begun to notice a pattern…

There is a trap hidden inside CustDev. If entrepreneurs want to be successful, they have to be passionate about their ideas. They need to understand more about their customers than anyone else. I’ve observed that some entrepreneurs’ passion for their idea and their belief that they already DO know everything about their customers can prevent them from actually LEARNING what they need to know in order to create as successful business. The same passion and positive psychology required to succeed in the face of uncertainty is hindering them from learning fast enough to survive.

How can we take our passion, our vision, a couple “wild ass guesses”, and produce meaningful, validated learning?

Stand back… we are going to try science.

The question of how to learn as an organization and how to DEMONSTRATE learning has been explored by philosophers of science and by business theorists for years. What can the Lean Startup community learn about creating scientifically valid experiments that create actionable knowledge?

My “Failing Well” SF Agile session will explore the theoretical relationships between scientific hypotheses and scientific experiments. We will explore the theory behind using effective questions to invalidate assumptions and following through with the learning process after an error in the hypothesis is detected. We’ll learn how to detect hypothesis and questions that can’t be falsified and therefore only lead to vanity validation not learning.

We’ll learn how to fail well and fail faster by keeping our passion focused on the vision and our dispassionate logic focused on our assumptions.

Join Me at SF Agile June 4-6

If hearing me rant for an hour about the dangers of Cargo Cult Science isn’t tempting enough:

Steve Blank, serial entrepreneur, U.C. Berkeley, Stanford University, Columbia University professor (I’m exhausted just thinking about that much teaching), and  author of The Four Steps to the Epiphany & The Startup Owner’s Manual is Keynoting Day 1. I really enjoyed Steve’s talk at SXSW (and he signed a copy of his book for me too).

Joshua Kerievsky, author of Refactoring to Patterns and Industrial Logic founder is the Day 3 Keynote. Josh is not shy about his ideas and is one of those guys that really opens up your mind and gives you new perspectives, I’m really looking forward to his keynote.

There are only 150 tickets available for for this very interesting conference. I hope to see you in San Francisco!