One of the worst nightmares of a plant manager or a supermarket owner is the silence that accompanies a complete halt at the production line or at the checkouts. Complete halt means nothing progressing, which means no revenue, which means no money. Which means big problems now.
At Toyota, however, the philosophy is quite different. Problems happen all the time, and the longer we delay fixing them, the bigger they become. So the worst thing is to let problems ferment and become big problems later.
A Toyota production line has a big red button (or an “andon” cord) at each step of the line, and each worker is autonomized and encouraged to push it if a problem is found - and fix it.
Any problem that flows down stream becomes bigger, so we want to build quality in, every step of the way.
One of the manifestations of this philosophy in an Agile mindset is the Definition of Done. What should we do at our team to ensure that quality is built in - in coding, in testing, in productization, in teamwork and all other aspects of our work as a Scrum team.
In effect, the Definition of Done of a team is a practical reflection of its standards. Or, more precisely, the theoretical definition of.
Many times there is a gap between the standards that the team defines for itself, and its actual practice. It is a slippery slope when this gap is left to widen: Our standards are not adhered to, to later become ignored and thereafter become irrelevant altogether.
Many times this happens because the team is pushed into “delivering more value” - a cleansed word for saying “bloody get more stories done”.
From there it’s a vicious cycle: a team is pushed to deliver more, leading to not pushing the button when a problem happens, leading to fermented problems, leading to less ability to deliver, leading to more pressure.
Well, someone has got to push this button!
If you are a PO, and this sounds familiar to you, how about pushing that button?
Next time you’re in the Sprint Review, or otherwise reviewing a done piece of work, find out if it’s done according to your team's Definition of Done.
If yes - thumbs up to you all! That’s a great opportunity to appreciate someone.
If not - it’s time to Push the Button! Recall that it’s not anyone’s fault (we’re not looking for blame). It’s just a problem that needs to be fixed.
If a problem is found - it's also time to Push the Button and expand the Definition of Done.
After you’ve pushed the button a few times, encourage others to do so as well. After all, if the PO, who wants to push more features in, is pushing the button - surely everyone else can too!