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Lean

Communications As a Lean Agile Lens

Individuals work in teams to provide value

Published: Monday, February 1, 2021 - 13:02

We focus on the work, we focus on the teams, but we rarely focus on the individuals. What does an individual professional need to be fully engaged, enthusiastic, and ready to take on new challenges?

Think of five of those needs.

At the core of any needs you wrote down is bound to be information. Communication is how information is transferred. Whether it is clarity of mission, definitions of current work, feedback from previous work, availability of other team members, disposition of colleagues, satisfaction of customers... it’s all information, and that needs to be communicated.


We inform each other, we process together, we achieve.

Both agile and lean come packed with good options for how and when to communicate. There are huddles, kaizen events, retrospectives, work-grooming sessions, A3s, and so on. Lots of tools, predefined, sanctioned, and equally prone to success and failure.

In the initial article, I defined the first lens, communication, as:

Communication:   Human beings and human enterprise run primarily on turning ideas into products. Digital or physical, service or commodity, craft or mass produced, they are products. This requires constant, caring, and creative conversations between producers, managers, designers, sellers, marketers, customers, regulators, funders, and so on. Almost nothing is produced alone. We are always collaborating; this requires timely information, alignment, and action.

Nuance: Information

So behind this lens of communication is all the information professional human beings require to assess the state of a product, the needs of the customers, the emotions of their teams, and the feedback required to know they are doing a good job and are valued personally.

I have seen precious few teams that understand that these needs exist, let alone that they should be planned for and met.

When we talk about communication as a lens, it means we are constantly focusing on these needs. Is our culture supportive not just emotionally, but do we also back that up with getting people the information they need to be secure in their actions and decision making? Are we, as a team, hoarding, slowing, inhibiting information? Do we routinely feel that we are out of alignment or feeling lost? Do things surprise us that other team members knew? Are our customers happy with how we interpreted their needs?

The list of questions can be as long as the list of amazing things that people do every day.

Nuance: transfer vs. processing

Hate meetings? Bad news, companies run on them. The universal problem with meetings is that they tend to be push events. Information is pushed on people verbally, generally in a way they won’t retain it and in formats that don’t resonate. These meetings are designed for information transfer.

Transfer is an action of moving something from one container to another. Their brain into yours.

The transaction ends there. You received low-bandwidth information from a sketchy source and are expected to do something with it. That is a meeting.

Processing, on the other hand, is actually taking information and changing it into something else. This is what lean calls value-added work. An idea or some information was in a nascent state, a group of professionals got together and processed that information into a state where it was actionable, sellable, or discardable. That is a working session.

How many meetings do you have a week? How many working sessions?

Communication is at the heart of both. The difference is that the information from meetings can be easily and more effectively conveyed by other means. Working sessions require collaboration and hard work with a group of professionals.

There are no industries that do not require working sessions, yet we routinely give group work to individuals, and make groups attend meetings.

Communication as a lens keeps a strong eye on how we, as a group, receive and process information.

Putting this to work

Again, this and the other four lenses we’ll cover here, are the spine of our Lean Agile Visual Management Certification. We are very serious about creating and maintaining humane ways of working and building professionals and teams that have a true understanding of professional satisfaction.

First published Nov. 16, 2020, on Modus Institute.

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About The Author

Jim Benson’s picture

Jim Benson

Jim Benson is the creator and co-author (with Tonianne DeMaria) of the best seller Personal Kanban (Modus Cooperandi Press, 2011) winner of the Shingo Research and Publication Award, 2013. His other books include Why Limit WIP (Modus Cooperandi, 2014), Why Plans Fail (Modus Cooperandi, 2014), and Beyond Agile (Modus Cooperandi Press, 2013). He is a winner of the Shingo Award for Excellence in Lean Thinking, and the Brickell Key Award. Benson and DeMaria teach online at Modus Institute and consult regularly, helping clients in all verticals create working systems. Benson regularly keynotes conferences, focusing on making work rewarding and humane.