Do Agile, Toyota Production Method and Lean Construction Go Together?

What do agile, Toyota Production Management and construction have in common? Everything. The story is told by Mary Poppendieck in her talk, The Tyranny of the Plan. A big, big thank you to Chris Gagne for transcribing the talk.

From Hardware to Software and Back Again

Why does a coder have anything useful to say about construction? Years ago Japanese companies started selling videotape in the U.S. below the cost of American vendors. One of those vendors was 3M. It set up a team to learn how the Japanese did it. 3M made Poppendieck, one of its process control programmers, part of the team. This was long before Lean. All 3M’s team could find was a terrible translation of Taiichi Ohno’s book. Without options or time, 3M had no choice but to give Ohno’s ideas a try.

3M’s US plant began to beat Japanese videotape vendors on price and quality.

Poppendieck continued to explore the convergence of Toyota Production Method and code development. She coined the term lean software development in a book by the same name, published in 2003.

The Problem: On-time-and-budget Delivery

Mary coaches software developers on Lean and Agile and she noticed a disturbing trend. Project management tools were more sophisticated than ever. But on-time-and-budget delivery seemed to be less and less predictable.

The cadence of pacemaker tasks dictates the project's pace.

The cadence of pacemaker tasks dictates the project’s pace.

So Poppendieck looked at old-school project management. That is, the era before computers. She discovered that builders used to be the masters of delivery.

In the 1920s New York general contractors put up 60- and 70-floor buildings in 12-18 months as a matter of routine. Starrett Brothers and Ekene designed and built the Empire State Building in 18 months. Between September 1929 and April 1931, 102 floors were erected. Tenants began moving in during May 1931.

Because of the Crash of 1929 and World War 2 the Empire State Building was the last skyscraper built in New York for nearly 20 years. The knowledge died out due to old age and war.

Today many believe that government red tape prevents us from matching the pace of the 1920s. Poppendieck found that today’s labor laws are modeled on the best practices of the 1920s-era skyscraper projects. Those buildings are still sound today. So builders didn’t skimp on materials or workmanship to speed up work.

Lost Secrets Found Again

The secret  was rediscovered when the lost project notebooks of the general contractor on the Empire State Building were found a few years ago.

Based on decades of doing and learning the builders discovered that “pacemaker tasks” controlled entire projects. For the Empire State Building the tasks were:

  1. Structural steel
  2. Concrete floors
  3. Windows and trim
  4. Cladding

How these tasks are managed is critical. One key is for work crews on these pacesetter tasks to maintain a steady cadence. Another key is to decouple the pacesetter tasks from each other. These two insights helped the builders to eliminate cascading delays.

This is what Ohno means when he writes about Flow. It is the secret of the Toyota Production Method and it’s been hiding in plain sight.

Many still think Lean is about waste. But waste is only a symptom of disrupted Flow. You can eliminate waste and it will pop up again and again until you fix whatever obstructs Flow.

The Magic of Goal, Deadline and Budget

Poppendieck noticed another important difference between then and now.

Today we follow a design-budget-build sequence. Delivery date is a byproduct.

Back then, New York builders used deadline, budget and total number of floors as the driving factors. Design was the byproduct of these constraints.



Buying Personas – Something Old, Something New

Jay Baer’s  Youtility is a fun read. He says that “smart marketing is about help not hype.” It’s a bit shocking that this statement still has the power to shock.


Buying personas then and and now

Baer points out that organizations are 60% of the way through the sales process before they call a sales rep. The stat was generated by the Marketing Leadership Council (MLC). It surveyed 1,900 organizations, private sector and government, enterprise and medium size and manufacturing, tech and finance.

MLC also “discovered” four distinct buying cultures: the Innovator, the ROI guy, the Relationship-er and the Risk Avoider. Those four buying cultures reminded me of Geoffrey Moore’s Innovators, Early Adopters, Early Majority and Late Majority.

I’m having to hypothesize because MLC hides its details behind a paywall. A bit ironic given that Baer’s message is “customers prefer to self-educate themselves — you win by making it easier for them.”

I’ve mapped Moore’s segment personnas into a 2 x 2 matrix to show what I mean.

The dominant feature of Moore’s Late Majority is that they’re skeptics. They need ALL the boxes ticked. Change is danger so they delay change as long as possible. Do these people sound like Risk Avoiders?

Moore’s Early Majority need to be comfortable that others in the community are making the move. Does it seem that these peoples’ defining characteristic is Relationship?

Moore’s Early Adopters are all about benchmarks and tangible improvements that are measured. Sounds like MLC’s ROI Guy to me.

Moore’s Innovators are all about speeds and feeds, ease of use, design elegance, and unique functions. This has been the standard candle for innovators for 20 years. It seems likely MLC is thinking along these lines for its Innovators.

In my experience multiples of these personnas are in play at the same time. You seldom get just one. Watch several of the customer testimonials on the OPower web site. Every spokesperson touches on at least two of the themes, often three, and sometimes all four.

This deeper emotional underpinning, what they’re feeling, is what will really hit home when you capture it in your marcom. Customers’ words are the key. Their testimony in their own voices is far more powerful than your best paraphrase. The maximum power is in the body language, intonation, repetition and other non-verbal cues. A good writer can capture this essence in words alone. If you can get video, so much the better.

The Two Most Important Numbers for Startups

First, there’s 60%. Enterprise customers are 60% of the way through the purchasing decision process by the time they call a rep. That’s what the Marketing Leadership Council (MLC) found in a survey of 1,900 of your targets.

Does your business plan depends on sales wins with enterprise customers? Then their ability to use the internet to educate themselves makes your task tougher. Because a smarter customer devalues what your reps know about products and solutions. So reps have less to trade for customers’ “why” and “who” information. That is, the decision making criteria, customer culture, internal politics, and key people.

Then there’s 80%. In surveys 80% of customers – and more — say that reps are unprepared for the first call. That shows the impact of customers educating themselves.

Here are four suggestions to re-balance the conversation with enterprise customers.

  1. Get the (right) word out. Suppliers who provide better information online get more business. The “right” words show how people use your stuff, and why.
  2. Create conversations. Write more testimonials, less white papers. Take a leading role in the special interest groups related to what you do.
  3. Message all buying personas. Learn to listen for the voices of the Innovator, the ROI Guy, the Relationship-er and the Risk Avoider. Usually all of them are in play so all need to be messaged.
  4. Tell a whole product solution story. Most products or services are part of a larger solution so providing the context adds value. Develop an example solution to present at webinars and trade shows. Keep practicing and polishing it.

What it takes to change the world

Were it not for John Hinckley and his crazed passion for a Hollywood child star, climate change would be far more advanced. Don’t believe me? Read on.

What might have been, in blue; what is, in green.

What might have been, in blue; what is, in green.

In the early 1970s, years before Hinckley fired on Reagan, chemists hypothesized that the widespread use of CFCs for refrigeration and spray bottle propellant might lead to much higher rates of deadly skin cancers.

Ozone gas high in the stratosphere normally absorbs most of the sun’s ultraviolet-B rays. What UV-B does get through is enough to cause skin cancers. CFCs are harmless at ground level. But they float up to the stratosphere where UV rays break the CFCs down, releasing high concentrations of chlorine atoms. A single chlorine atom can destroy 100,000 ozone molecules. And we were releasing nearly 1 million tons of CFCs a year. A skin cancer epidemic was highly probably without a ban on CFCs.

The 1987 treaty that banned CFCs took years to negotiate and was strongly opposed by many in the UK, France and Germany.

One of those opponents was Ronald Reagan. He won the presidency in 1980 on a platform of deregulation. Important Reagan appointees questioned CFC science. Anne Gorsuch, head of the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), challenged the link between CFCs, stratospheric ozone depletion, and skin cancer epidemics.

But by 1986 Reagan was quietly supporting an aggressive global ban on CFCs according to Andrew Benedick, the lead US negotiator. Why did Reagan act against his principles?

No more for you, Mr. President.

No more for you, Mr. President.

Benedick and others credit Reagan’s fight with skin cancer. Reagan loved the outdoors. Whenever possible he would sneak away from the office to ride his horses and chop wood. In early 1985 the bill for Reagan’s decades of unsafe sunning came due when doctors diagnosed aggressive skin cancer. To get rid of it doctors operated two, possibly three times, between November 1985 and July 1987.

But there had to be more. It can be hard to change your mind. But to change policy you have to resist the social pressure of your entire community – and win. Reagan faced strong opposition to the CFC ban from his own cabinet as well as the Republican party. Reagan’s support for a ban on CFCs makes him the only GOP president or candidate in over 30 years to defy the party line.

Some argue that Margaret Thatcher, a trained chemist, persuaded Reagan. But Thatcher only joined the ban-CFC bandwagon in late 1987 after the initial treaty was signed in July. Benedick says Thatcher came around after scientists, who had been denied direct access, were allowed to pitch Thatcher directly.

If not for this moment, climate change would be much worse now.

If not for this moment, climate change would be much worse now.

The appearance of the ozone hole likely played a part.

Scientists predicted that ozone levels would gradually decline. Instead a huge ozone hole formed in the skies over Antarctica in the space of a few years. It was obvious that the same collapse would soon happen in northern latitudes. This news became public in 1985 around the time Reagan’s dermatologist was giving him the bad news.

Before any of that, there was Hinckley. He missed assassinating Reagan in 1981 by the tiniest of margins.

Aid Michael Deaver told interviewer Charlie Rose that after the attempt on Reagan’s life he became more stubborn. He believed that he was chosen by a higher power, and that the shooting was a reminder of this. Reagan decided to more closely follow his own instincts.

As bad as the droughts, famine and flooding are today it could be much worse. CFCs are a very much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Without a CFC ban the effects of climate change would be far more advanced.

But thanks to a love of the outdoors, skin cancer, the ozone hole — and Hinckley — we have a ban on CFCs.