We recently published a Medium story about the 13 traits of software operational excellence. Our number one trait of operational excellence was:
Above all, the best run companies are dedicated to continuous improvement. The word “dedicated” is more than a platitude: there has to be a process. “Running the company” is not only the responsibility of the COO and CEO, it’s everyone’s. The best companies execute better today than they executed 3 months ago, and they know what it’ll take to get better in the next 3 months.
This is true, but it doesn’t really answer how you set up that process for continuous improvement. That’s what we’ll explore here.
One concrete recommendation is to think of processes like a product. We already know that products evolve over time, and that good development practices require versioning. But now think instead of the way your company works today. Let’s call that “Work 1.0”. “Work” includes everything from the way you make business decisions, or how you run meetings, to the way engineers check-in code or do performance reviews. Essentially all the operational aspects.
Imagine if you versioned the changes in the way your company works. Work 2.0 might involve changing the process for design reviews, for example. Implementing this idea of versioning your operation can have a powerful cultural effect. Rather than employees thinking of company operations as an immovable object, they begin to understand that things can be improved. And you can really scale this idea. An HR department is going to want a different set of desired “features” for Work 2.0 than does the engineering group. But together they come together into one versioned release. Moreover, if all groups make changes at the same cadence (or release timeline, to further the metaphor) you can spot potential conflicts early.
Once you’ve introduced the versioning concept, the next key is to open the list of changes to everyone. Although managers and leaders ultimately make the call on what changes go into the next version of Work, you have to do it in response to customer and employee feedback. Managers can use this opportunity to call a series of “retrospections” in which everyone is invited to reflect on what is working and what isn’t. If you’re an Agile practitioner, this fits nicely since Agile calls for retrospection as part of the workflow.
Get the data
As is the case with product decisions, you make the process decisions with the right supporting data. Coming up with the right process data requires careful thought and depends on your unique business needs. Some ideas include looking at feature delivery efficiency, regressions in the mainline and other similar operational data. This something we love to work on with our clients.
We’ve seen clients successfully implement the idea of versioning work. They all say they don’t know how they ever worked before! Once the idea of continuously improving operations is understood and institutionalized, other problems find a time and place for being solved and a great work culture emerges.