Skip to main content

Going for Lead-Time

Note: This topic of this post was heavily inspired by The Phoenix Project and the succeeding tome of reference, The DevOps Handbook.

There are many metrics out there that can guide you to improve your business, but in the upside-down world of Internet business, many of these can be plain wrong, or at least they do not serve well as guides for what you should be doing. If you measure success by measuring profit, for instance, you'll run out of good will with your users or partners very quickly.

Then there are a load of more noble but fuzzy numbers that you can measure by surveying employees or users. Think employee-happiness, etc. While these are definitely useful, they are easy to get wrong, and it's easy to over-do it, causing survey fatigue. They're also hard to trace from cause to effect. It's hard to say which particular company decision lead to some satisfaction rating going down.

Take the SWOT analysis as a particular one of these surveys. It will give you a great map of what the employees of the company are feeling about a variety of things, and while this will certainly be helpful, it does not even attempt any root-cause connection, so it ends up being a collection of subjective opinions, which may or may not be pointing at the underlying issues.

When it comes to getting real deep understanding of the issues of an organization, I'm personally a fan of the good old retrospective. Getting in a room or call with a smaller group of people who can genuinely build a common understanding of what is going wrong and right is golden, especially if done so on a repeated basis (as long as the resulting commitments and impediments are actually tended to). They don't scale so well, although I'm sure there are clever ways like open-space, or "scaling agile" techniques to help with that.

But neither SWOTs nor retrospectives give you proper metrics. They're not fast. They're not objective. They're not automatic.

So what number can we measure in an automatic way that actually gives us valuable input on how the organization is working? What number can we aim to change when changing the organization? What number can we ask about in every retrospective? The answer is lead-time.




An example of "lead" from idea to change in the world. I left out waiting times, execution times, rework/failure rates, etc.
Armed with lead-time, the Theory of Constraints, Little's Law and value stream mapping, you can go into any organization and start improving the system (yes, this is in a simplified sense what Lean is about). You'll still need retrospectives and the like to explore how to improve the system, but lead-time trend over time will tell you how bad/good it is. Shorter lead-times is a near no-brainer for improving company performance. While shorter lead-time does directly equal higher velocity or more performance, it does mean you have much more opportunity to navigate tactically and strategically, and improve velocity and performance more often.

After I joined eyeo and saw the dangers of increasing silofication, I started working for turning the ephemeral cross-functional teams into sustained, first-class organizational units. A lot of people who had been at the company for longer didn't see why this was necessary, so they asked me why.

At first, I'd be stumped, thinking this was an obvious thing to do. Then I'd think more about the happy ways of working in a team like that, and how it's just good. Also, being able to point out all the explicit teams in some map would be really handy for new-hires to navigate with. However, arguing like that didn't get me very far. People had more important things to take care of, naturally.

So I changed my line of argument: I looked at the current issues: projects seem to take a long time. Requests spend a lot of time hanging in free air before landing at the right desk. I then started building a case for optimizing our structure for lead-time:

  • If any task that needs doing can bounce between the necessary experts within the border of a team that works tightly together, lead-time will go down.
  • If a domain of related tasks will always go to the same team, their ability to deal with these types of tasks will improve and lead-time will go down.
  • Related, if the inventory of related work-in-process is oriented around a fixed team, they can increase their focus and reduce the amount of concurrent tasks, making lead-time go down.
  • If an incoming project can be take on by an existing team of people who already are able to work and deliver together, yup, you got it, lead-time will go down.
Once people started seeing that my ideas were actually about fixing their biggest issues, seeing that their biggest issues could usually be expressed as length of lead-time, the tone changed quite a bit, and soon after that we got busy organizing the introduction of these new kinds of teams.

How to turn lead-time into an actual metric then? That's for another blog-post.

Popular posts from this blog

Encrypting and Decrypting with Spring

I was recently working with protecting some sensitive data in a typical Java application with a database underneath. We convert the data on its way out of the application using Spring Security Crypto Utilities. It "was decided" that we'd be doing AES with a key-length of 256, and this just happens to be the kind of encryption Spring crypto does out of the box. Sweet!

The big aber is that whatever JRE is running the application has to be patched with Oracle's JCE in order to do 256 bits. It's a fascinating story, the short version being that U.S. companies are restricted from exporting various encryption algorithms to certain countries, and some countries are restricted from importing them.

Once I had patched my JRE with the JCE, I found it fascinating how straight forward it was to encrypt and decrypt using the Spring Encryptors. So just for fun at the weekend, I threw together a little desktop app that will encrypt and decrypt stuff for the given password and sa…

Always use git-svn with --prefix

TLDR: I've recently been forced back into using git-svn, and while I was at it, I noticed that git-svn generally behaves a lot better when it is initialized using the --prefix option.

Frankly, I can't see any reason why you would ever want to use git-svn without --prefix. It even added some major simplifications to my old git-svn mirror setup.

Update: Some of the advantages of this solution will disappear in newer versions of Git.

For example, make a standard-layout svn clone:

$ git svn clone -s https://svn.company.com/repos/project-foo/

You'll get this .git/config:

[svn-remote "svn"]
        url = https://svn.company.com/repos/
        fetch = project-foo/trunk:refs/remotes/trunk
        branches = project-foo/branches/*:refs/remotes/*
        tags = project-foo/tags/*:refs/remotes/tags/*

And the remote branches looks like this (git branch -a):
    remotes/trunk
    remotes/feat-bar

(Compared to regular remote branches, they look very odd because there is no remote name i…

Managing dot-files with vcsh and myrepos

Say I want to get my dot-files out on a new computer. Here's what I do:

# install vcsh & myrepos via apt/brew/etc
vcsh clone https://github.com/tfnico/config-mr.git mr
mr update

Done! All dot-files are ready to use and in place. No deploy command, no linking up symlinks to the files. No checking/out in my entire home directory as a Git repository. Yet, all my dot-files are neatly kept in fine-grained repositories, and any changes I make are immediately ready to be committed:

config-atom.git
    -> ~/.atom/*

config-mr.git
    -> ~/.mrconfig
    -> ~/.config/mr/*

config-tmuxinator.git  
    -> ~/.tmuxinator/*

config-vim.git
    -> ~/.vimrc
    -> ~/.vim/*

config-bin.git   
    -> ~/bin/*

config-git.git          
    -> ~/.gitconfig

config-tmux.git  
    -> ~/.tmux.conf    

config-zsh.git
    -> ~/.zshrc

How can this be? The key here is to use vcsh to keep track of your dot-files, and its partner myrepos/mr for operating on many repositories at the same time.

I discovere…

Microsoft ups their Git efforts another notch

This week Microsoft announced first class Git support embedded in the coming version of Visual Studio.

Now, it's not completely shocking. We could have seen it coming since Microsoft started offering Git repos on CodePlex, and more recently offering a Git client for TFS. In any case, these are some big news. Scott Hanselman weighs on some features and some more background here.

For those who are a bit unaware of what the Git situation on Windows looks like these days, I've dotted down these notes:
Some explanation on these:

msysGit has long been The Way to use Git on Windows. It's basically a port of Git itself, so it's a command-line tool.GitExtensions (includes Visual Studio integration), TortoiseGit, Git Shell, posh-git and most other tools are powered by msysGit.libgit2 is a native library for doing Git stuff. It is developed completely separate from Git itself. The above tools could (and should) probably use libgit2 instead of hooking onto and around msysGit.Github…

Automating Computer Setup with Boxen

I just finished setting up a new laptop at work, and in doing so I revamped my personal computer automation quite a bit. I set up Boxen for installing software, and I improved my handling of dot-files using vcsh, which I'll cover in the next blog-post after this one.

Since it's a Mac, it doesn't come with any reasonable package manager built in. A lot of people get along with a combination of homebrew or MacPorts plus manual installs, but this time I took it a step further and decided to install all the "desktop" tools like VLC and Spotify using GitHub's Boxen:

  include vlc
  include cyberduck
  include pgadmin3
  include spotify
  include jumpcut
  include googledrive
  include virtualbox

If the above excerpt looks like Puppet to you, it's because it is. The nice thing about this is that I can apply the same puppet scripts on my Ubuntu machines as well. Boxen is Mac-specific, Puppet is not.

It was a little weird to get started with Boxen, as you're offered…