Wednesday this week I wrapped up three interesting days attending and speaking at the LESS 2011 conference in Stockholm.
I arrived on Sunday morning via Oslo, and was one of just four people who attended the informal community event at noon that day. Haakan Forss, Al Shalloway, Karl Scotland, and I had a nice discussion about community trends and the challenges faced by our respective clients.
On Monday I was able to catch the last half of the executive track, which had been organized by Professor Jayakanth (JK) Srinivasan from MIT. In addition to yours truly, JK had invited a handful of senior managers and executives in regional companies to present their experience with Lean so far. I enjoyed the case studies from Ericsson and Nokia, even though their efforts are in an early stage and appear more influenced by Agile ideas than by Lean thus far. Unfortunately, I missed the case study presentations during the first half of the day.
As with almost everyone we hear talk about Lean in the software world, the emphasis in the Ericsson and Nokia case studies was very much on Lean as an operating system and much less on Lean as an organizational learning system or as a people system. However, in both cases it was easy to see that just using some very simple practices like collocating teams and reducing batch sizes can make a huge difference. I also feel it is important to give people in otherwise fairly traditional organizations credit for starting down this path.
One of my highlights at the conference was meeting Steve Denning in person. His presentation in the executive track helped underscore why operating managers attempting to introduce Lean ideas face such a big battle. Steve’s contention, based on researching companies with breakout performance as well as data from publicly traded companies going back decades, is that conventional management systems are not performing well because the premises they are based on are simply wrong. He goes into more detail about this and what to do about it in his book, “The Leader’s Guide to Radical Management”. I very much look forward to future interactions with Steve.
JK had done a wonderful job strictly limiting the size of the group and selecting the people around the table. This gave people an opportunity to have a frank discussion with their peers. At the end of the day JK also gave a talk featuring an interesting case study of a large Indian IT services company. We were also treated to a sample of ideas about Lean enterprise transformation described in JK’s new book, “Beyond the Lean Revolution”.
Another highlight at my conference was talking at some length with Al Shalloway, the founder and CEO of NetObjectives. Even though LSI and NetObjectives don’t really compete directly, it is fun to talk to others who are also building consulting firms and exchange discoveries we have made and some war stories as well. Plus Al is just a great guy.
Another distinct treat was a sit-down with Jim Sutton, the current President of the Lean Software and Systems Consortium and one of our advisory board members. I was able to have a conversation we usually have on Skype in person instead, which made it even more enjoyable than usual.
Two people I knew somewhat from Twitter, but had not really talked to in person, were Jean Tabaka and Karl Scotland, both with Rally Software. Jean and I had a great discussion about the evolution of the tool space, and we talked about our experiences with putting on webinars. I also got to hear about Jean’s upcoming vacation to Estonia.
I gave one talk and a half-day mini-workshop at this conference. The talk was about leadership challenges that we have seen senior executives encounter when we help them launch and execute Lean Transformations. Judging from the Twitter comments, it was quite well received, but I was surprised that we didn’t get more questions. Perhaps people were eager to break for lunch
My workshop on the last day was about Lean Transformations in the software industry. It opened with some reality checks on what the industry looks like now, who the biggest players are, and some key trends. The workshop was intended for a senior audience. We got about eight people, I think, in part because by then a lot of people had left, and also because the conference did not really attract very many senior folks. The good part was that we had a very interactive session with some good discussion, in particular on the topic of obstacles to organizational learning.
The conference itself appeared to run very smoothly. It was clear that the organizers had done their homework. The conference hotel was a good pick as well, even though it suffered from the usual European aversion towards free and reliable WiFi access. Typing in user names and passwords from WiFi coupons that are freely available to visitors anyway is not value-added. Other than that, the hotel did a great job and the staff was very pleasant to deal with.
My only regret at this conference was not having more time to attend everyone else’s sessions and also not having the time to enjoy Stockholm. I will rectify that by returning as soon as I can, however. I hope to attend next year’s LESS conference as well.