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Jim Benson


Relationships As a Lean Agile Lens

Relationships are the transformation of understanding into appropriate action

Published: Monday, March 8, 2021 - 12:02

When we work together, which we all do, everything involves relationships. People request work from other people... that is a relationship. People take jobs that involve bosses and structure... those are relationships. People form teams to get specific types of work done... again, relationships. And it goes on from there.

No one works alone. Everyone works together. No exceptions.

In the initial article, I defined relationships as a lens:

Lens 2 — Relationships :  Even with the most standard of standard work, everything we do is the embodiment of a relationship. Every work order we receive, every plate of food we hand to a diner, every creative idea your business partner has launches one or many relationships. There can be no isolationism in a successful business. If our relationships are not intentional and maintained, we will endure the costs of drama, frustration, and realignment. If they are intentional and maintained, work flows more smoothly, products are of higher quality, and everyone involved is professionally satisfied.

Relationships are the transformation of understanding into appropriate action.

When we look at our process through this lens, we must confront the fact that process itself is simply how we understand our relationships.

Who does what and when? What information will be available where? How do I know what you want? How do we figure out what is possible? How is a quality delivery defined? How will you meet or exceed my expectations? How will I meet or exceed yours? How do we make sure we are there to help each other? How do we make it possible for people to have psychological safety? When do we collaborate? When do we individually focus?

So many questions in this lens, and this doesn’t even scratch the surface.

When Agile and lean started, before there was any set canon, both focused heavily on how people relate to each other. As time went on, focus was more and more on how to do things rather than how to work together. The relationship lens specifically dials that conversation back.

We want to constantly monitor how the professional human beings on our team are interacting. We want to monitor and improve the culture (the social soup of our interactions) because our culture directly and invariably impacts the quality, timeliness, and appropriateness of our work. Bad culture creates increasingly bad product.

We’d like to avoid misalignment, attrition, back-stabbing, gaslighting, and lack of direction. 

Intentional relationships between professionals create stronger professionals. Collaboration, communication, and consideration are components of relationships and intrinsic to their success. We’d like to promote them.

These are entirely achieved by making sure we maintain relationships. Our process, therefore, must intentionally include elements that improve our relationships. Processes that spot areas of misalignment or misunderstanding. Processes that seek to solve problems quickly. Processes that don’t consider improvement extra work but understand that improvement is why we are at work in the first place.

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.

Learn more about Lean Agile Visual Management

First published Nov. 19, 2020, on Modus Institute.



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.