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Continuous Improvement Spiral

“…a person and an organization must have goals, take actions to achieve those goals, gather evidence of achievement, study and reflect on the data and from that take actions again. Thus, they are in a continuous feedback spiral toward continuous improvement. This is what ‘Kaizan’ means.” – W. Edwards Deming

Some people are lucky they get continuous improvement built in naturally on everything they do, others need reminding and that is why one should have retrospectives regularly. But then to be successful with retrospectives one needs variety.

After my summer vacation, I wanted to find a new way to conduct a retrospective.

I found an inspiring article and realized that 2017 is the year when Finland finally became a space nation. Finland sent out our first two satellites during the first half of the year. The plan is to send out a third before the end of the year to celebrate the centenary of Finland’s independence.

The mentioned article proposes a Real Launch Retrospective and it says, “maybe it will help if we use some live examples that we come across, as many people will be easily able to correlate these to their work experience.” I thought this was a perfect exercise for my teams.

We watched a video of the launch of the Finnish satellite as an inspiration, checked out our own T-0 countdown checklist, and then started the discussion to find our own driving and pulling forces towards T-0. The article was right.  We discussed and agreed on actions that will help us during our countdown. Of course, it was also interesting to hear in one of my retrospectives that one of the participants knew somebody who had been involved in making the satellites in the first place. After another team’s retrospective we got our own countdown clock ticking on the radiators.

Playing games makes many things more fun.

Throughout the years at Ericsson, we have engaged in many kinds of retrospectives. A couple of years ago we had a summer retrospective for our whole organization (or at least for those who were not on vacation). We played a Finnish game called Mölkky. If you succeeded to knock over the wooden pins with the “mölkky” on your turn, you shared a recent work life success story. If you did not, you shared an item that should be improved in our way of working.

We have transformed our Ericsson internal tool called “Agile Amplifier” to a card game, having a couple of statements on the other side of each card and some thought awakening questions on the other. Yes, cards are more fun than the original Excel sheet.

Additionally, we also played with Legos. We have had Lego Serious Play-retrospectives where the inspiration came from this website. People started smiling directly when they entered the room and saw the big pile of Legos on the table. It was great to see that even the people that usually are quite quiet were talking and it was plainly visible that everybody really enjoyed the session. Throughout our Lego Serious Play session, people continued building new models while all the time discussing the things we would need to change based on the already built models.

We use the regular retrospective sessions also to help people to get to know each other better. 

We find that improved personal relationships enable us to work together better. To carry out these team building sessions, we use a tool called personal mind maps. In the tool, people share the subjects they want to share. These subjects could be related to their family, friends, home, hobbies, education, work, goals, values or anything else important to them. Through these personal mind maps, we have learned a lot of new things about each other even when some of us have spent years working side by side.

We have also done personal and team coat of arms. In the coat of arms exercise, sharing intrinsic motivation and strengths is important as it creates a good foundation for collaboration. Of course, it is also good to agree on common values and vision and to make certain we have the same mission.

One more example of the exercises we have had could be the Market Place of Skills. In a market, you must first sell yourself to the potential buyers, to do this, you need to make a good pitch so the customers will engage with you. In this exercise, we also have each person make a big sign displaying their dominant skillsets, not forgetting to also display the other skills that they could potentially sell. The displays allow teams to identify the skills that each person on their team possesses and feels confident to display and share with others. It is always important to know all the competencies of people around you. You never know when you might need support in a skill that one of your colleagues possesses.

Finally, we have used the retrospective sessions to show our appreciation to each other and in this way learned more about each other and at the same time about ourselves.

During the holidays, we have given each other holiday cards with special notes telling about our appreciation. Before summer vacation we passed out stipends explaining the great things that others have done during the past “school” year. Furthermore, we have been handing out golden medals to celebrate the achievements others within our organization have reached.

Our larger organization has also gotten involved in sharing appreciation for one another.

Two years ago it was really impressive to come to the office in the morning as our hallway had three big white boards full of stipends and the amount kept growing every day. Besides, at any point of time anyone in our organization can use different kinds of appreciation cards available at the office to show their appreciation. At the end of each week all these appreciations are shared for the whole organization and the appreciation cards are added to our hall of fame. It is always such a pleasure to hear people praising each other!

There is a saying stating that the biggest room in the world is the room for improvement. As there is still room lets be in a continuous improvement spiral, let’s be ‘Kaizan’! If not otherwise, at least by having different kinds of inspiring retrospectives regularly and by acting on the findings!

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