Reza Farhang

Reza Farhang

Agile & lean

Properties of a good daily stand-up

I had a conversation with some of my colleagues about what makes a good daily stand-up, here are some properties:

  • Time-boxed (15 minutes)
  • Everyone is engaged
  • Synchronization is taking place
  • Attention to problems
  • People ask for help
  • The conversation is about stuff that matters to most people, individual issues are postponed
  • Anyone can lead the meeting, not just the Scrum Master / Team Coach
  • The meeting is the starting point for the day, afterwards everyone feels energized and can start working right away
  • Ends with a punch that marks the end of the meeting and the start of the day*

* The team has dumbells by the scrum board. The rule is that if you feel the current speaker is monopolizing the meeting, you can hand the speaker a dumbell. Now the speaker can keep talking only as long as they can hold up the dumbbell with an outstretched arm.

A perfect orchestra

The week in Japan has been very intensive and thoughtful.  We have visited about 5-6 Japanese companies, everything from a small software company with 10 employees to Toyota and their software development.

So what is the lesson learned of this trip.

From my impressions there are a lot of differences and similarities between the Japanese and the Swedish culture but what struck me most was the way of thinking towards Kaizen. Every company we visited had Kaizen as their number one priority, from the CEO down to ordinary workers.

Our meeting started with a visit at Fujitsu with their CEO and one of their chief engineering. They were really proud of showing us how they have with help of Kaizen made their productivity increase between 5-6 times from 2001 to 2008.

After that we visited Toyota museum and plant. As soon as you stepped into the museum and the factory you could feel the kaizen all over the place. The factory was so well synchronized that I understood that this has evolved during a long time where Toyota had improved their process to become “the” perfect orchestra.

We also visited some minor software development companies where I again was amazed of the way the companies breathed kaizen. This experience was confirmed in one simple sentence from the former Lexus IS chief engineering Mr. Nobuaki Katayama, with “KAIZEN = DNA”.

Every time I was reminded about Kaizen my thoughts went back to how we work in our companies in Sweden and what if we had kaizen as our most important priority through the whole organization at all time, the question is what we need to do to insert Kaizen in our DNA.


There are many theories on how we can get a team to become hyper productive. Everyone in the industry is looking for the answer. I can hereby promise that if anyone comes up with the silver bullet it will include “how to get commitment” as one of the most important ingredients.

There are teams with very talented team members and managers and challenging tasks but they fail to deliver and on the other hand there are teams with not as skilled team members or managers and boring tasks and they deliver. Why do we see this again and again?

My answer is Commitment.


Agile methodologies are a very good start to get the right prerequisites for a project to succeed. So why agile might work!

To start with, in Agile projects everyone involved should be in the planning meeting to make sure that they understand and can contribute to how the team should solve the problem. The team discusses the tasks together, breaks down the task to minor tasks so everyone understand the big picture, then they will estimate the tasks by playing planning poker and at last they decide how much they can commit to, using the pull scheduling.

Product owner (Customer) agrees to the planning and has thereby committed to the team.

When the iteration is over the team has a demo and retrospective on what they have done and how they can improve. Don’t forget that the team should be hold responsible to their tasks and improvement they have committed to do.


This sounds good and easy but sometimes this is not enough. So I have created a list of how to improve the commitment of the team.

  1. Building trust form all levels, team members to team members, team members to product owner and product owner to team members, maybe using the five dysfunction of a team
  2. Never start a new agile team if not everyone involved has at least a basic level of agile knowledge.
  3. Never start a new agile team without everyone being present at the first planning game.
  4. Make sure that there is at least a product owner or a proxy product owner on every planning game and that he or she is committed.
  5. As a ScrumMaster before finishing the planning game, ask every team member if they believe in the plan and if they are committed.
  6. The team must break down the stories and understand all tasks during the planning game.
  7. Only the team decides on how much they can commit to, think pull and not push scheduling
  8. Don’t let any new person into the team in the middle of iteration, if they have not been working with at least one Agile project previously.
  9. A good and active ScrumMaster that drives the team, helps team members with solving their impediments. Asking the team at the end of every daily meeting if they still think that the sprint will succeed and if not what can we do to get a better plan
  10. Make sure that the improvement discussed during the retrospective is applied

In the end I would like to address the importance of an open and interactive planning session (Sprint planning) as one of the keys to success with team commitment. Don’t be afraid of changing the plan and keeping the commitment of the team if the team does not believe in the plan anymore.

Kaizen (Continuous improvement) should be the first improvement

Since one part of my job is to help companies to improve, I have had the honor to visit many companies. Most of these companies have a good understanding of Lean and Agile and need very little facilitation from my side to take a huge step of improvement and other are much more tough cases. What most of these companies have in common is the lack of culture and facilitation of helping themselves to improve. Somehow the common knowledge is that, improvement is something that will evolve by itself, only a manager can have the right to do improvements or someone from the outside with a lot of experience needs to come in and help us.

The interesting thing is that most of these companies that I visit do not have any process improvement in their process. I have even been introduced to a project called Kaizen (Japanese for "improvement") that did not mention anything about continuous improvement in their process. This was not due to lack of knowledge or unwillingness from the management, they just didn’t think about it. When I mentioned that they have forgotten about continuous improvement in their process they totally agreed with me but somehow they forgot one of the most important ingredients in their new process.  

So when I start to work at a new company I’m pretty open with that “most likely the majority of improvement that I can help them to implement is their own ideas”.  So one of the first changes I usually suggest is a good way of introducing continuous improvement into their new process, a way to empower the employees to come up with new ideas.

By this blog I don’t want to say that you shouldn’t hire an Agile or Lean coach, rather the opposite. But understand the fact that most of the improvement will come from the people in your organization rather than a coach, the coaches are there to help you facilitate the continuous improvement.