No craftsman can perform his tasks without the right tools and over the year I have evaluated a lot of them and ended up using a few of them. One should not confuse these tools with various methods, there are 100’s of methods that are required to be practiced and this distinction is important.
My favorite tools are thinking tools. The two most often used tools are LeSS, a Product Development framework built upon Scrum, Lean/Systems thinking and Cynefin, a decision-making framework that allows you to work effectively in complex and chaotic environments. Both these are non-prescriptive frameworks that work based on situational context. And no, Jira is not even a tool in my books and certainly it does not help you think! In order to problem-solve, you need a way or multiple ways to look at the problem. And then come up with the most optimum way to solve that increases your chances to create utility with it.
Some of my thinking tools that I use:
- Teams – Teams are the underlying construct in organization design for value realization and utility of work. There are several ways to enable and support them and being aware of those options and picking the right set of options lead to value realization that is as different as night and day. When we mean Teams, I mean Team(s) with 1000’s of people working as Teams of Teams and Teams of Teams of Teams. And the construct of Teams is distinctive depending on the work (and includes constructs like Crews in certain contexts)
- Cynefin – the ultimate in decision-making tools, context-sensitive approach to making decisions that are most appropriate to the situation. Increases your chances that the options you pick have better utility. Cynefin and Sense-making emerge from anthro complexity, the application of complexity science derived from natural sciences of human behavior in decision-making.
- Lean Thinking – Lean is a perspective that is built based on enabling human systems and letting them continuously improve. Most Lean is done poorly with limited utility from its application, primarily because Lean evolves from TPS and it is deeply rooted in Asian culture where the individual is less important in the system than the group. So requires deep-rooted changes for it to deliver extraordinary value. Lean’s application is manufacturing centric and several of its constructs need to be reimagined and simplified for its success in knowledge work – again for extracting the right utility from context.
- Systems Thinking – is a set of practices that have a rich history built up especially over the last 100 years – has a swath of tools and techniques. From these, you borrow simple tools that are useful to drive conversations that are valuable to solving problems – again depends on the context of the situation.
- Product Thinking and Customer Centricity – Product Thinking especially Whole Product Thinking is the holy grail of value realization when coupled with Product Management and Product Development practices. This thinking starts the conversations for pathways from Project Management to Product Management. Customer Centricity is at the core of business success.
- Queuing Theory and Theory of Constraints – these are tools (along with the associated thinking) that help you inspect how work should be structured and what roadblocks to flow are created by how things are structured.
- Empirical process control (Emergent Practices), Good practices, and Exaptative practice are at the core of how to respond in Complex, Complicated, and Chaotic environments – the world has moved on from the blind adoption of best practices without context.
- Network theory – how does human change work in a social context and how best to make use of it to leverage change by creating change movements by leveraging change agents using methods like Viral Change and Backstage Leadership.
- Innovation practices – Innovation is not something that is used to create something new (Innovation team), but more around how can innovative practices be triggered to constantly improve?
- Multiple methods practices in concert – The above thinking needs to be applied coupled with multiple methods that are practiced in concert for a given systemic solution.
- Approaches that aid in simplification and decomplexifying things that do not require necessary complexity day-to-day and prevent you from doing your work effectively. For this, my favorite method is LeSS framework.
The above thinking tools help you in establishing the values and principles that could help drive your change journey. There are several methods that are required to be used in concert along with these thinking tools in order to establish your organization meta-model or meta-framework.
- Organization Design, Strategy, and Design: facilitation techniques – Complexity aware Design Thinking, Four Points contextualization, Future Backwards, Ritual Dissent, Constraint Mapping, System Archetypes, Cultural archetypes, Competency Mapping, Value stream mapping, Wardley Mapping, Causal Loop Diagrams, various canvases, types of teams – Feature Teams, Component teams, Crews, Red Teaming, etc.
- Observation and sensemaking techniques: Sense-maker, Mass Sense, Gemba walk, Gembi Gembitsu, Vanguard Method, Lean Six-Sigma (data-centric), Ethnography, Design Thinking
- Product Management and Product Development methods: Product Discovery tools, The Manifesto for Agile Software Development, Impact Mapping, Story Mapping, Strategy mapping, various prioritization techniques, Scrum, LeSS, Kanban Method, ToC, Pirate Metrics, Lean tools like 5-Why’s, Ishikawa diagrams, Product methods like Kano model, Product Life cycle and Crossing the chasm,
- Technical practice methods: ATDD, BDD, Test-Driven Development TDD, Clean code, continuous integration, continuous deployment, continuous delivery, Test automation, SBE, Intentional/emergent Architecture and Design, Unit testing, UI/UX/CX practices, etc.
- Coaching and mentoring methods: Mentoring practices include 1:1 and Group mentoring. Large scale mentoring with facilitating Community of Practices and Open Spaces. Specific coaching techniques used include use of the models like Coactive coaching, the GROW model, and ORSC @ Work for team coaching.
- Teaching and educating methods: that focuses on establishing learning the concepts based on a “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime” approach. Once you learn how to problem solve and apply the right method in the right context; along with the required effort to practice it and improve it over time, it helps to learn and sustain long-term behavior patterns in complex systems.
- Complex Facilitation techniques: All methods above are facilitated as required so that other facilitators can learn and use these techniques over a period of time.