A lesson in Quality.

I feel so sorry for this company.

They've produced a fantastic looking product but it's buggy.

And, it's hardware, so it can't be fixed remotely with a software update.

It's earning them loads of "Fantastic but ... it doesn't work" reviews.

Their website looks beautiful.  Their product feels beautiful.  But, a tiny bug, is tarnishing what should be an amazing reputation.  

And then their low trust support processses are turning fans, like me, into enemies, and examples.


1.  Waiting ... it's okay when it's understandable.

I ordered my fancy Brydge IPad Pro keyboard, then sat back and waited and waited. That's okay.  Lots of people are ordering them. There was a backlog. I now live in New Zealand so there's international shipping.

I was delighted when, many weeks later, they sent an email saying it had (finally) shipped.  I couldn't wait!  But I had to ...

It arrived a week later ... while I was away for work.  I couldn't wait to get back home...  I reallly wanted this new keyboard.

I got home.  I opened up the box.  I plugged it in.

It doesn't work.

It doesn't work.

It doesn't work.

2.  I contact support.

They make some suggestions.

They don't work.

I contact them again.  They tell me I have to post my broken keyboard back to them and then they'll test it to see if it's broken and send me a replacement. What?

My first thought? Why didn't they test it before they sent it to me?  Why did I have to test it for them?

My second thought? Why do I have to wait some more, for them to test it to see if it's broken?  If I'd bought it from amazon I could have returned it and they'd have sent a replacement straight away.  In parallel.

I reply, asking them to send a replacement, in parallel, instead.  I post my broken keyboard; they post theirs.  We're both happy! Yay.

3.  Their response?

'Unfortunately, we can't do that'.

My first thought?  "Can't" is the wrong word.  They incorrectly wrote "won't".  

Why wont they? 

Presumably they don't trust me.

Perhaps they think I'm running an elaborate scam to try and get two keyboards!  Honestly, I only want one - the one I paid for weeks ago and can't use. 

4. I go look at reviews on blogs and amazon.

According to the reviews, this product is riddled with bugs.

One prominent blogger - a guy who, now,  loves his keyboard - had to order THREE before he could use the product, since the first 2 didn't work. 

I don't want to have to do that. If I get unlucky a 2nd time then the new iPad Pro will be out before I get a working keyboard.  Once bitten ...

5. I asked for my money back.

I'd love a working keyboard.  I've wanted one for 6 months.  But now, I just don't want the hassle and the stress and - you know what - I've grown to dislike the company and I don't want their effing keyboard any more.  

6. That's an emotional response.

I'm not happier to cut my nose off, to spite my face ... and it's all not because they shipped me a broken keyboard, it's because they wouldn't replace it with urgency because they need to test it because they don't trust me.

7. What should they have done instead?   

When they discovered their product was buggy, they should have stopped the bugs reaching customers by testing them.  

And then, when a shitty product reaches a customer, they should apologise enormously, expedite a replacement (which they test before they pop it in the envelope), and perhaps offer to compensate the customer for their lost time.  

8. Contrast this with Apple.

In January Apple replaced my iPad Pro, and it's case, and it's Smart Keyboard since they werent working properly.  The ipad had a bright spot on it's screen.  The keyboard and case were looking far more tatty than they should have been given their age. The iPad was a week out of warranty.

And then, a couple of weeks later, my iPhone had a weird problem and, since I was leaving the country, for good, the next day, they replaced it on the spot.

I've not been moaning about their shitty products.  I've been telling people how amazing they are.

Lesson: If you're gonna have apple-like products, then make sure you have apple-like support.



The odd socks principle.


I wear odd socks most days, but no one knows because they're hidden inside my shoes.

It saves me time and it makes me happy, but no one else needs to know.

Sometimes, in work and life, when you're doing something odd - like Agile or TOC, say, or a fondness for Neil Diamond - there are ways to be odd, to share the benefits of being odd, without making a big fuss about the oddness.





Quiz: Are costs going up or down?

Yes, it's true to say that TOC is about bottlenecks.  

But it's more than that: TOC is about how your understanding of the world changes when you recognise that bottlenecks (and other types of constraints) exist. 

If you go back and read The Goal you'll discover that the first half is a bottleneck free world and Alex Rogo manages and measures his world as if bottlenecks do not exist. Then, early in in the second half of the book Alex discovers that bottlenecks do exist, and he spends the rest of the book figuring out the changes he needs to make to his factory's  processes and measurements, given the existence of these bottlenecks.

The before and after versions of the measurements conflict with each other.  And that conflict is where the most resistance comes from from his bosses and colleagues. They (oblivious to bottlenecks) say that Alex's changes will make the factory less efficient (because the machines and people won't be 100% busy all the time) and it will push product costs up (product cost is an average and, in his factory, total costs stay the same but they're producing less product) but Alex says those changes will result in the factory making more money (and he is). 

I understood those ideas, intellectually, when I first read them but I didn't work in factories and (silly me) I figured they only applied in factories. But then, over time, I noticed that the same problems happen all over the place - in hospitals, in software development, for instance. And now, in prisons. 

Read this article, from the Irish Times, note that fixed costs are 75% of total costs, then ask yourself "did the costs go up, or down?" Then ask yourself, if you were running that prison what would be the easiest way to lower costs?

Would you, maybe, lobby for longer prison sentences and tougher probation rules, so your prison had more prisoners inside and they could each share more of those fixed costs? 





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I just saved £900 while off sick from work

I managed to catch a bug of our filthiest child so I've been off work for a couple of days.

That saved me about £900 coz I used the downtime to do some comparison shopping.

- I checked the latest price for car rental for our upcoming summer holiday. From the same company, it was £300 cheaper yesterday, than when I booked it in june, so I cancelled it, rebooked and pocketed the difference.

-BIG SURPRISE.  I discovered you can buy reputable car rental  "excess" insurance for £40 a year, which covers both of us, and saved me between £150-200, just counting our summer holiday.  Avis charges about £15 a day otherwise. I never knew you could buy that insurance

- i got pissed off at Vodafone for making me hold for 40 minutes, when i had to call them because their website was broken, that I decided to cancel 1 of our SIM cards, rather than renew, and when I got put through to the cancellations person, and told him I was going to cancel, he slashed all 3 of our phone bills, which saved us about £400 all up. And I doubled my data alowance to 20gb and we've got free data on our holiday.

Funny the things you discover when you are figuratively chained to the loo.

Hope this maybe helps you.  I stumbled across those 3 savings and now I can buy a new MacBook. 

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Names - Paretoed

As I wandered towards the train station today I noticed a sign in front of one of those pop-up shops you sometimes see in shopping malls. It asked, "Is your surname here?" .  Without thinking, I looked for CHING but my surname wasn't there amongst the 200 or so names.  I then looked outside the list and saw they were selling preprinted posters detailing the history of the customer's surname.  I checked and the surname Pareto wasn't on the list, though it was written all over the sign, and no doubt summed up their business model.

I am sure, given you're reading this blog, that you know of Pareto and his law, also known as the 80/20 rule, but I like this particular example. There are a huge amount of surnames - including mine - not on their list, but they've surely covered over 90% of the population. 



New RSS feed for this blog

Sorry me but due to a technical hiccough*, I've had to move the RSS Feb for this blog.

Resubscribe using the link at the top of this page.


* or technical incompetence on my part.  



Announcement: New book - Chucking Rocks at the Universe

Hello my friends.  You can read my new book, as I write it in an agile (incremental and iterative) way, by going here.  That's the google Docs version and it currently has the first 2 installments - about 2,000 words worth - and it will keep growing 'til January the 20th, when it will be published. 

At least, that's what I intend. This is an Agile project and I'll be structuring the book, and planning its construction, in way where, unless something really shitty happens, I will hit the date. 

What's it about?  Sorry, but you'll have to subscribe to the blog (via email or rss) to see. I'm sharing my thinking as I go along (that is actually part of the content) and so far I have a fixed date, a working title, a cover and a whole lot of work ahead of me. 

If that answer doesn't grab your attention:  it's about Agile, but with the boring bits taken out. 



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X-raying the Cash-Cow - a Lesson in using Bottlenecks to Make More Money

I've been travelling from Manchester airport to Edinburgh, weekly for a couple of months now.

Something odd happened today: it took well less than 5 minutes to get through security, down from the normal 15 - 30 minutes, and that had an interesting knock on effect, - the waiting area is extra full and there are big queues in all of the shops - and it provides my imagination of a fascinating example of how bottlenecks can cost/make businesses a lot of money.

I'm not sure what happened to speed up the security process, although it might just be that they put more staff on the machines. Whatever it was, it looks like their check-in bottleneck has, perhaps temporarily, moved from the security scanners to the shopping/waiting area.

Let's say the security scanning process is 15 minutes faster today. Let's say most passengers previously spent 45 minutes waiting in the shopping/waiting zone before they got called to their gate. They're now spending 60 minutes there. There are now roughly 1/3rd more passengers in the waiting zone, and the seats are all taken. There are roughly 1/3rd more customers in the shops, and, the way queues work, small changes in demand can cause them to grow disproportionately, and (to me) it looks like the queues are 3 or 4 times bigger than normal. Those queues sound good but shops want customers paying, not queuing to pay, and not walking away because the queues are unbearable.

If the check-in bottleneck has moved permanently, then maybe the shops should start looking at their checkout processes and speed them up a smidgen so they don't lose sales from people like me who won't queue unless desperate?  They should milk that cash-cow.

Likewise, maybe the airport will, after a while, once everyone agrees the cash cow is hanging around, threaten to slow the security down,again, unless the shops agree to pay higher rentals?

I'm guessing it cost the airport 3 extra security staff to speed up their security. Maybe it was 6. Who know?  I'm guessing. But let's say it cost them £250k a year. I bet the increased spending in the shops (provided the shops increase their payment capacity so they can milk the cash cow) is worth at least £250k a month, probably more.

It's funny, I've been spending my time in security, over these recent months looking around contemplating how they might speed up the security process.  When you learn TOC you tend to do that; it's frustrating but it fills in time. I'd always looked at it from the point of view of a customer, someone who was stuck inside the system. It wasn't until I saw the queues in the shops that I put my business eyes on and saw a cash cow there waiting to be milked.

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Agile and Sales

A few years ago, I found myself in the unusual position.  I got layed-off when the other companies in the big group I worked for got into financial difficulties and, then, while I was waiting for my notice period to burn down, I accidentally helped our sales guys win a multi-million-pound sale. 

In the 2.5 years I'd worked there, I'd never been asked to speak to any customers.  But then, during the bidding process for a big deal the representatives of one potential customer asked to hear something about our development processes during their site visit. The sales guys - nervously, I imagine - asked me to do an hour long presentation on Agile (yawn), where they hoped I'd emphasise the maturity of our development practices.  

I agreed and they slotted me in from 11-12am, on the last day of the 3 day visit. 

Eleven came and ... no customers.  

Twelve came, still no customers.  

Eventually, I got an email: could I squeeze the potential customers in for 10-15 minutes, at the end of the day, while the customers waited for their airport taxis to arrive?  

'Sure', I said, and then I chucked my presentation away, and asked myself, what's the most useful thing I could tell them in 5 minutes?  

The answer, it turns out, was the old sales/marketing rule: sell benefits, not features.

The potential customers arrived 5 minutes late, of course, and they were clearly exhausted, worn out from 3 days' of boring demo's and negotiations, and sleeping in hotels, and speaking in English, their 2nd or 3rd language.  We were the last of a handful of competitors and I bet they were dying to get home to their own beds.

There were five of them.

I said, 'Do any of you own Macs?'

Two nodded. 

'You know Apple released their annual OS X upgrade today?'

More nods. 

'It's nice getting all those bug fixes and shiny new features every year.  It's one of the reasons I like Apple, compared to Windows, since they only deliver significant upgrades every 3 or 4 or 5 years.' 

Five nods but only two smiles (from the Mac guys).  

'Well, we've made a lot of changes here over the last two years and nowadays we ship production quality releases of our latest software quarterly.  Every 3 months - four times a year - you'll get new features and bug fixes. Our software isn't as sexy as apple's but by that measure I reckon we are 4 times better than apple.'

More nods.   

Their taxi arrived. We shook hands.  They left. I went home.   

Late the following week I got an unexpectedly nice email from our head sales guy thanking me.  Apparently our product's features and our price were similiar to our competitors but our quarterly releases were a huge competitive advantage, and that's what clinched the deal. 

I helped straighten out our development processes so that we could deliver quarterly, but it was our development manager who pushed (and pushed and pushed and pushed) the quarterly releases.  Hardly anyone thought it was a good idea ... except our customers.


A few thoughts:

-   These days I hardly talk about the "features" of Agile because, honestly, Agile has been around for ages and, if you wanna do a better stand up, well, google it, or buy a book.  Mostly, I help folk Identify the benefits they want to chase (and, just as important, what they shouldn't chase, yet) and then help them figure out how to go after that.  Benefits, not Features.

- There used to be a book floating around called "Sacred Cows Make the Best Burgers", but I think it's wrong because, "Cash Cows Make the Best Burgers" and, if you want it to be, Agile is very good at transforming ordinary cows into tasty Cash Cows.  

- I moved from that job to something much, much better, but I can't help but feel a little miffed since the margins from that one deal would have paid my salary for somewhere between 50 and 200 years.   Maybe I didn't do such a good job of selling my own benefits :)



FREE Audiobook version of Rolling RocksDownhill - OUT NOW!

Have you been too busy to read Rolling Rocks Downhill?

Why not listen* to the audiobook free instead. 


Rolling Rocks Downhill has been out for a year now and getting fantastic reviews, like this, the most recent:

““What an amazing book! Like Goldratt’s The Goal, Ching uses the novel format to get across important organization concepts. I have already implemented some of his lessons in prioritization and working in batches in my organization. The book is also very insightful in describing how real organizations work.””
— - not my Mother

And this (the next most recent):

““A genuinely enjoyable read. There are obviously lessons within the story, and good ones at that, however this is so well written you forget you are reading anything other than a gripping story.””
— - - not my Mother, either


*Podcast and web, Audible (paid) coming


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Is the 80/20 rule limiting our ambitions?

See this billboard?  I took the photo just outside the Edinburgh Apple Store - it is literally 5 steps away.  



Location. Location. Location. 

Location. Location. Location. 

Imagine you've broken your macbook, or iPad, or iPhone and you've popped into the Apple store to get it fixed, expecting the visit to cost you a fortune, and then you see this sign. Hmmm, you think, if I cross the road, take the escalator down 2 flights, then maybe I can save myself a sizeable chunk of cash. I bet a lot of people do just that. 

In terms of bang-for-their-advertising-buck, this location is probably the best investment the small company could make. That said, it is prime billboard real-estate and pretty expensive so they could've used their small budget to buy a dozen cheaper signs elsewhere, throughout the city.  But somehow they got clever and just purchased the one.  


This isn't just 80/20 thinking, it's 99/1 thinking. 

I'd love to know their thought process.  How did they make this decision?  It's counterintuitive.

I doubt they started out thinking, "let's just have one expensive sign". Most people don't think like that. We humans seem hard-wired to think "more is more" not "less can be more". I imagine, too, the advertising folk were very keen - incentivized, actually, in that they'd earn more money - to sell more signs, not less, so I doubt the idea came from them.  

Somehow, someone got creative and did the counterintuitive. Bravo. 


I've had a lot of conversations, lately, with programmers about how we need to "slicing and dice" our projects and then their scope. I always ask - just to be sure - if they're heard of the Pareto or 80/20 rule. I'm surprised to report that hardly any of them had. I guess I'm suffering from the curse of knowledge be used I'd assumed that, since 80/20 thinking was so fundamental to my work, it was just common knowledge and everyone knew it these days.

The bad news is they didn't. The good news is that it's such an obvious concept they picked it up and applied it very quickly. 


I've been using a billboard example to explain Pareto, asking "if you had a limited budget to advertise your new product, in your city, where would ou put the billboards?".  

It never occurred to me, until I saw this sign, that maybe 80/20thinking was limiting.

Maybe I should be asking, "if you could only afford 1 billboard, even if it was more expensive, where would you put it?"

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A better way to learn mathematics- read this!

I was very good at maths at school and university, if you judge good according to test scores, but I never really got maths.

I got really high scores because, frankly, I was good at remembering stuff.

I feel guilty about that. I also feel like I missed out on a lot - the magic of math, you might call it - and I often fall asleep at night reading the latest easy-to-read "popular" math book, trying to catch up.

A few weeks ago I stumbled across a wonderful little website that explains mathematics in a charming, and friendly way. The author uses analogies and pictures and he has a nice chatting way of explaining things. I think he's my new role model for how to explain things.

Best of all: you can sign up for his newsletter on the front page. The second newsletter genuinely  surprised me because it explained a problem I've had with maths all my life - it's called the fence post problem and it's about counting things (I'm not kidding) - and now, at age 46, I finally understand it.

One birdie.  

One birdie.  



Anti-social media

I decided, while on holiday in NZ over Xmas, that Twitter and Facebook take up too much of my time and brain power, so, earlier this week I culled 700 people, down to 17, from Twitter and I stopped following a whole lot of groups and people in Facebook.

No offence if I've dropped you. It's not you - honest! - it's me, I need my brain back.

I've tried going cold turkey before - mostly by removing the apps from my phone and iPad - but it didn't work, so what I did this time was, for every tweet of FB update, I asked, "Could I live without this?", and if I decided I did I unfollowed it. I kept doing this until I got to the "higher value" stuff and then I took a deep breath and asked myself "Could I really live without this? Is my life really better with this?" and I culled a lot more. I repeated this, over several days, until there were only a few updates ever 3 or 4 hours and it just wasn't worth opening the apps up. Then I did some more culling and I deleted the apps.  


Interesting thing: Twitter didn't mind but Facebook fought back. It was previously only showing me a small percentage of posts from some groups (like the urban photography group) and so long as I followed those groups it kept giving me new stuff every time I looked. So I culled them.\

I will continue to write and share stuff on Twitter and Facebook but I want to use my brain, mostly, to write blogs and books and articles, and to read books, rather social media.

That said, I'm still following God on Twitter - The real one - and 16 others.

Please don't be offended if I'm not following you. It's me, not you!



Slice then Dice

I'm spending a few days each week working at our Manchester site.  I've not been down here for a couple of years and, today, I bumped into a chap I spoke to way back in 2013.  I couldn't remember his name but I remembered our chat.  He is an experienced PM, he works in a waterfall environment, and we talked about if there was anything he could cherry-pick from the Agile world.  There was.

I told him that, imho, the simplest thing any PM could do to improve their waterfall environment was to slice each big project into 2 or 3 or 4 smaller projects.  The first project builds a base which the subsequent small projects build upon. The second small project fills in the gaps.  The third and forth fill more gaps, or exploit opportunities discovered while releases 1 and 2 have been live - though, sometimes you'll decided not to do 3 or 4, and invest your money elsewhere.     

Anyway, I bumped into him again, he told me his name, he said he'd done as I'd suggested and it had worked wonderfully well.   



Tips for the New Year - or not.

My family and I have been holiday in New Zealand for the last month. I was born here but I've lived away for almost 20 years and it's always a pleasant surprise when I come back.  The weather is delightful, the fishing is fun, and the food & wine is impossibly good, but most of all, I get to see my family (and friends) face to face.

Here's something that always suprises me, as an infrequent visitor: you don't TIP here AND yet you still get fantastic, friendly, fast service.

The last time I was over here, I forgot you don't tip and I left $50 sitting on the restaurant table.  They had my number (from when I booked) and the restaurant manager called me up, saying, "You accidentally left some money on your table.  How can we get it back to you?".  I said it was a tip because they looked after us so well.  They said I was very generous, but it wasn't necessary.

People get paid a fair wage and they just do a good job because that's their job and they want to do a good job.   





New Podcast: I talk with Steve Tendon about Taming the Flow

I've just spent a fascinating hour chatting with Steve Tendon, co-author of the  Hyper-Productive Knowledge Work Performance (The Tameflow Hyper-Productivity).  

If you're intrested in TOC or Agile then you'll love what Steve has to say.  I had a few ah-ha! moments, especially when he spoke about the two pillars of the tame-flow approach: Unity of Purpose and Trust.


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Old dogs, new tricks.

Silly me!  I thought we were having a conversation!

A few months ago extreme-programming guru Ron Jeffries and I had a rather drawn-out - and probably unproductive - twitter discussion about a situation where I (and others) used some harry-arsed estimates to cause some very effective slicing-and-dicing on 3 large-ish software development projects (think dozens of developers and 10s of thousands of days, each). The projects were very successful and earned us - and my version of Agile - a lot of credibility within our business.  More than that, though, the process built a lot of trust.

You can read Ron's blog post here, but as you do please please please insert "I think" in front of every sentence starting about a third of the way down the article.  Ron is an excellent and assertive writer, but he is actually expressing a bunch of opinions.  And, to my mind, he seems to say the same thing over and over again - what Tom DeMarco called, "method of repeated assertion.  

I wasn't going to post a reply but then I got sick a couple of months ago and I had a few days in a hospital bed with a charged up iPad and I went hunting around on Ron's blog.  I found this this (different) post, where Ron says:

"People who think estimation is necessary, or a gift from G*d, bugger off."

At first I thought it was maybe the morphine, but he actually wrote that!  

If you go poke around you'll see a lot of stuff like that.  

Ron, like one of those bible-thumping preachers you see in old cowboy movies, was tweeting to the converted.  


I hope this doesn't come across as an attack on Ron.  He's done a lot for our industry and I cherish the 1 time we met face to face.  It's just a funny way of doing business in an industry which prides itself on collaboration.

Silly me.  I thought we were having a conversation.

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Want to go faster? Some surprising advice from one of the world's fastest men

If you've got 3 minutes to spare then PLEASE watch the following two videos.  The first, Lucy in the chocolate factory, clearly demonstrates one of the most common problems in manufacturing and agile.  The second - Paul Hollywood interviewing racing great Stirling Moss, which I nabbed from the BBC last weekend - is the solution.

Might be the most useful 3 minutes of your life.  Honest.


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Best tip ever for talk/speech presentation ...

I’ve got a big speech/presentation to give tomorrow afternoon at the Lean Agile Scotland conference. I’m the closing keynote. I feel a lot of responsibility because, as the last speaker, if I screw up then it’s a horrible way for folk to finish 3 days worth of an otherwise wonderful conference.

Frankly - between you and I - I’m a still a little bit nervous. 

So tonight I’ve gone back to my hotel room to practice and, while doing so, I’ve had a brilliant idea. You know how they say that if you’re nervous when you’re giving a talk you should just pretend everyone in the audience is naked, and then the nervousness will go away? Well, I’m a bit nervous, so I’ve stripped off and I’m rehearsing in front of the mirror, butt naked.

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