Earth Consultants

Applying Lean Six Sigma to the Environment

E085: Applying Lean and Agile for People and the Planet with Brad Jeavons

48 min read

In this podcast, I talk with Brad Jeavons, lean and Agile consultant with SA Partners. He is the host of the Enterprise Enterprise podcast. An episode we did together for his podcast will be released soon.

Brad and I got along great, as we have similar passions around sustainability, the environment and social issues.

During our hour-long talk, he explains:

  • what he really liked about the Toyota Production System (TPS) when he first learned about it
  • how he decided to write the book “Agile Sales”
  • why it’s important to stop “overcooking” people’s time
  • the importance of leaders showing by example
  • how to keep employees motivated to improve

If you enjoy this podcast, please follow us on your favorite podcast app. Any ratings you could give us, or shares across social media would be greatly appreciated!

You can watch the full video of the interview here…



Have you ordered the new book, “Lean Six Sigma for Good: Lessons from the Gemba (Volume 1)?” The book is made up of 8 chapters written about experiences from Lean and Six Sigma practitioners, to give you tips and tricks to help you work with nonprofits in your area. All proceeds donated to charity. We are also close to releasing Volume 2, so check back for the latest news.


Brion Hurley (BH): Well, welcome Brad Jeavons (BJ). Just wanted to have you introduce yourself and talk about what your background has been in the world, all the way leading up to your work today implementing process improvement and Lean. And again, thanks for joining me and I appreciate the invite after we talked on your podcast.

BJ: Yeah, Brion. I really enjoyed our conversation. I run the Enterprise Excellence Podcast and it was such an honor to get you on that. Our conversation will come out in the next few weeks. It’s amazing, so thank you.

Right, background, really high-level, I grew up on a farm in Australia, and so I learned about scarcity early on. I went through I think 10 years of drought on that farm with my family and saw what could happen and had those challenges. It also got me involved a lot, of course, of how do you operate with scarcity. We naturally were doing a lot of Lean things and thinking about every step we did because it was just our family, so you only had a limited resource to work with and things were tough.

Then I went to uni and I just focused on Japan. I didn’t do it because of Toyota Production Systems or TQM. I think I was initially just intrigued by the Japanese culture and everything about it. I think I heard, in an early lecture, about lifetime employment and teamwork and that just sent me down a rabbit warren of focusing everything I did on Japan, and of course, I got immersed in Toyota Production Systems and TQM. I didn’t know about Lean. Lean wasn’t around then; it wasn’t called Lean. I’ve got to admit the environmental bit didn’t come through strongly then, but I think that was more of a place where Australian universities were at at that time. You’re talking 25, 30 years ago. But environmentally, I was strongly driven. I was a surfer and I was right in the environment and all that side personally, so highly driven that way.

Got a graduate position as you do out of university. Ended up in a bank and didn’t stay there very long. The culture didn’t suit me, that sort of cut-throat we’re going to hire and fire. It was a very brutal time in the way that banking culture was, not that banking culture’s all like that now. And then I ended up in a graduate position with a family business and I really felt at home there. I’ve got to admit my career, again, didn’t touch back on continuous improvement and Lean straightaway. I ended up in marketing and technology, software, and then sales, and then through to general management. It’s when I got to general management that I, all of a sudden, had factories to lead and service teams and operations. I was like, “Wow, okay, I need to go back to the books from university.”

I went back to the books and I saw two things. I saw that I’d actually applied a lot of what I’d learned at university focusing on Japan into how we were marketing, selling, and doing software work. Of course, I’d brought in elements of agile. And then I learned also that it’d been renamed, that it had been called Lean. I knew that theory of constraints was still about and CPS was still spoken about, but I discovered Lean. So yeah, got back heavily into that and really brought that into the workplace, but brought it in, I think, in the wrong way where I was my passion and my top-down drive that put it into the business rather than bottom-up. I did the mistake that most of us do.

BH: Yes.

BJ: It looked wonderful, Brion. It looked wonderful till the moment I left the general management role and went into a business improvement role, mainly because of my passion for Lean and continuous improvement and the environmental, and I saw the cracks start to form. But it was funny, at that same time, the CEO, Jack Winston, of this company, he wanted me to research how do you make it stick because he’d seen it applied in a number of businesses within the broader business and saw it not stick. And so I got to research it for 12 months and try to figure out how do you make this stuff stick.

That brought me onto a common friend of ours, Dr. Keivan Zokaei, Dr. Peter Hines, these people which they’re so prominent in relation to how do you build a culture of continuous improvement and make it stick and not just be a thing that happens while the leader’s about, but also they’re the exponents of Lean and Green and how do you get the symbiotic win as you’re doing this between environmental and economic outcomes.

That really brings me to today. I’ve written a book on agile sales because I thought I can’t lose those insights I gained through sales and how these Toyota Production Systems, Lean, whatever you want to call it, elements and also the elements of focusing on a bigger purpose when you sell, not just making money. The book talks about how do you truly help customers, how do you truly help the planet while you do that. I had to write that book because I think sales hasn’t had a book written like that for it before. It’s all just been largely manipulation tactics, really, has been most of the sales books whereas this book is more one on culture and systems and truly driving purposeful outcomes for customers in their buying journey, and the results you get are through the roof too, so it’s not like you don’t get economic outcomes out of it. And then I’ve been consulting, out helping all sorts of companies survive and also thrive for themselves and the planet and the community.

BH: That’s great. I think you have a lot of different backgrounds and experience, and I think that’s really important to be able to look at processes differently and I guess see the general process. Because I think, as consultants, people think that we have to know the industry really well for us to be helpful to them, but I try to explain to people I’m able to now see processes and I don’t care what you’re doing inside of those processes specifically. I’m looking for the workflow of what’s going on there, but I think it does help that you do have a wide variety of experience to be able to see and maybe say it in a way that resonates with those different people from different departments. Maybe it’s the way you say it could be really powerful for them to have a light switch to go on. That, “Oh, that’s what they mean when they use that terminology,” or something that resonates with them.

BJ: I think the biggest gift it’s given me, Brion, being in so many different roles is it helps me avoid being righteous. Because I’ll be dealing with a leadership team and they are flat out. They’re fighting fires, they’re stressed. You see that look of glazed look in their eyes as if, “Oh my God, how am I going to get through this day?” I think there’s times in my brain, as with any consultant’s brain, something can click in there and you can go, “Seriously, just do this. I can see it. It’s clear as day. Just do this.” I guess I’ve got that empathy with them because I’ve been there and I know their world, and so I can sort of take a better approach, in some regards, to truly help them on the journey and help them get there. I’m not perfect. There’s many a moment that I think I probably would come across a bit righteous, but yeah, I think that’s the biggest gift that my career has given me is being able to place myself in those shoes of those executives with what’s going on in their world, and then help them gradually move through the journey and the rock one step at a time.

BH: I want to go back to Japan, the time you spent there. You mentioned something about picking up some of the TPS while you were there. Could you give a little more details on that?

BJ: Well, I think with TPS, we studied all the tools and techniques, but the biggest thing that resonated in my time studying that, and I need to shout out the lecturers who were presenting it back then, brilliant, well done, because they were actually more presenting on the cultural side of things, which I think’s quite unique. They were presenting on lifetime employment and the safety that that brings into the organization, and the focus on the bigger purpose. They spoke about a lot of these organizations like Toyota, and we looked at many of them that have a greater purpose that they’re driving for.

We also spoke a lot about the leadership approach in that we got trained a lot on the more servant leadership, really focused on where value’s created. I’ve got to admit that stands out so much more. Ah, the final bit is teamwork. So much study was done on teamwork and having the right people in your team to actually create the outcome. So not silos, but these cross-functional, high-performance teams at the front line. I think, wow, good on you Queensland University of Technology because I think you ran a course that was focused a lot on Japan because, back in the late 80s/90s, that was massive. I think you focused largely on the heart of it and I think I was lucky for that.

BH: Yeah, I think the opposite happens is that’s kind of the last thing that gets discussed later as you learn more. Like why don’t these things stick and why aren’t we getting the results? it’s like, “Oh well, then you should really look at the culture element of all this and leadership. That’s why your kanban system doesn’t actually work even though, technically, it’s set up perfectly for that situation.” And so I think that the desire for people to learn the flashy tools is what attracts people to process improvement, but you’re right, it’s the harder things to teach, the getting leadership on board and coaching and not giving answers and directing their teams what to do exactly, but having them learn how to improve and giving them space to fail and the respect for people element. All that is so critical to the foundation, yet often that’s not what’s the starting point. It’s we’re going to learn about value stream mapping and jump right in.

BJ: I think I think the worst thing that any company’s done, it doesn’t matter where you are, who you are, what part of the world, as soon as you bring in a paradigm that process improvement is a linear thing and it’s about eliminating economic cost out of our business, which often then people apply to it’s about eliminating people from our business, so how do we use Lean and continuous improvement technology to get rid of people, you’re on a losing streak. Especially when you look at it, it’s biting everyone right now. What’s the constraint right now? largely around the world, it’s getting people is the constraint.

The better way is like the great companies have done. I’m not going to focus on Japan because I think there’s great companies all over the world and there’s good companies and bad companies in Japan. I think the bigger one to focus on is the companies that have gone continuous improvement is a circular approach and it’s about streamlining things for our people and the planet. I think that same thinking has impacted our planet because we’ve gone, well, what we need to be able to get better economic gains is, one, become more efficient to get rid of people. Whether that’s what was naturally thought or the message that happened, I don’t know. And then the other thing was we’ve got to get slicker and faster to reduce costs to get the cheapest product to the customer, so how can we offshore and how can we make faster in relation to how we build, and let’s not think of end of life, because it’s just going to go to the tip. So we make all this stuff where it doesn’t even have screws in it and it’s designed to fail in five years and we get this thinking where that’s great because if we designed to fail, well hey, the customer’s going to have to buy another one in five years. Happy days.

Whereas if we’d more thought, and not every company, but if most companies thought, right, improvement is about achieving excellence with our people in harmony with the planet and our broader community. Okay, how can we do that in that regard? That’s why I love that word, monozukuri, that comes out of Japan. It is a Japanese word, but it means producing harmony with people and the planet. I think it’s amazing and I think that’s it. If every organization had gone, no, how do we produce in harmony with people and the planet, our people, community people, customer people? Okay, so we’ve got to connect with our customers strongly. We’ve got to understand them. Okay, we’ve got to engage with our people and create solid teamwork. Okay, we need a purpose to really drive this forward. And okay, well actually, well producing in harmony with people and the planet, that’s an amazing purpose. Okay, let’s go. And okay, we don’t want this thing to be thrown out at the end of the day because we’re losing all this value from our world. How do we make money and sustain what we’re doing to be able to last longer, be reused, then effectively be recycled when the end of life comes? it’s a different paradigm, but I think that’s the secret to it at the start of it is just shifting that paradigm.

I think Lean’s got a bad name because we’ve gone about it in the wrong way. It’s been applied to that paradigm of let’s use Lean and technology to get rid of people and reduce cost, but actually, often, people end up spending more or costing more down the track. And let’s produce in a linear way because it’s perceived as being the most efficient or economic, and it’s being proven wrong.

BH: Yeah, or it looks good in the short term or in the financials because it’s not covered, those other costs, the impact to the society and who’s paying for everything. Fortunately, the more that that can be absorbed into those costs, I think that can create a better financial picture for the companies where they see the full impact of those costs and can make better business decisions the way they normally do, which is return on investment often.

BJ: Yeah. Brion, you made a great point there getting to the deeper heart of it is that it’s what looks good in the short term. These decisions to let’s go to 12-hour shifts back onto each other. It’s a short-term decision. It’s going to make us some instant results, but I’m only going to be here two or three years and I’m not going to cop the fallout that happens down the track when people are worn out, there’s no improvement happening, and things aren’t actually getting better. It’s the decision to go to that new product that doesn’t have screws in it and, wow, it’s cheaper and it’s going to give me a bottom-line hit instantly and I’m going to produce that way, but down the track, we’re losing market share because there’s a quality impact on our customers. It’s all short-term. You’ve got to be long-term thinking to actually be a great company and to do some of the things that we’re talking about.

BH: I always remind people of, even in the US, how Toyota, in San Antonio I believe, was having delays in starting up their factory, and so they took a six-month delay and just sent their employees out to the community to do projects and be helpful. Because they knew, long term, that this is the way I invest is I don’t want to have to retrain brand new people and start over. I want to build loyalty to my employees by showing them that, hey, if there’s ebbs and flows in the business, our first response isn’t going to be layoffs or temporary unemployment. It’s going to be we’re keeping you on and its good business because they know that that retraining effort, it doesn’t have to happen. Maybe there’s a short retraining, but they’ve already invested in these people and they’re sending a message right away that we’re not in it to jump around looking for the shortcut to save money. You can trust, staying and working here, that we’re not looking for ways to get rid of you.

And by the way, now you have a bunch of employees out in the community helping out. How powerful of a marketing program is that to say Toyota’s in the neighborhood and look at all the help we’ve gotten in our community from all these workers out here just being useful and helpful. You couldn’t have a better marketing campaign possible than if you’d put 100 billboards in the area promoting the products or putting the name up. So talk about a smart, long-term decision that was also just totally different than maybe what most companies would have done in that same situation in the short term. But you look at it in the big picture and you’re like of course that was the best thing to do even though they might have felt like they are losing hundreds or millions of dollars on that. So, like you said, the best companies are looking at those long-term decisions and they’re taking the short-term hit knowing that this is an investment that we’re going to see 10 times over in the long run.

BJ: Yeah. We have seen companies able to keep the share market happy with long-term visions that are clear and concise and they stick to it and they work their way there. I’ve got a case example of it, Brion, that might be interesting. This company doesn’t mind me talking about this. Priestley’s Gourmet Delights is really a cake and dessert and snack manufacturer in Australia, based in Brisbane, Australia. They’re a family business. They’re really the largest in their space which, traditionally, was largely food services, supplying these cakes and even vegan options and all this stuff to cafes and clubs and restaurants.

I connected with them about two or three years ago and they had a disconnected thought on environmental and Lean. They were thinking, right, we’ve got to get more environmental and we’ve got to become better at Lean and continuous improvement, and rapidly. I was able to talk to them and go, well no, the two are the same thing. They’re interconnected. The journey with them started right in a really good place. It started with purpose and vision and collaborating with the organization to go what are you guys about? they defined it as simply creating happiness. Their whole drive and vision was how can we constantly simplify things for ourselves and our customers and also create happiness for our people, the planet, and our customers? So it had that three connotations, everything was about our people, our customer people, and the planet. They then deployed that down through the organization and helped everyone define in their own language. Most teams just stuck with that. They got it, they loved it, they stuck with that. They didn’t have to evolve that vision purpose statement too much.

And then they did all the things that we know in Lean. They made these things transparent and they got teams communicating around these transparent boards which are focused on what’s most important, which is how do we improve for our customers, ourselves, and the planet and simply create happiness by doing it. They really rapidly embraced Lean and got going well on continuous improvement in more of a bottom-up way. The vision and that came from the top, but the way that they deployed it and deployed the systems and helped coach people as they did it went really well. They also put a lot of effort into leadership development, in developing themselves as leaders.

Now, the results of it I saw when the pandemic hit, because when the pandemic hit, they lost 80% of their business overnight. Rather than lay off staff, they just did everything they could to be able to keep staff going, got hold of all the government support they could to keep staff going, but they didn’t just rest on their laurels then. They went, right, well, we want to keep simply creating happiness for our people, our customers, and the planet into the future. We need to pivot here. So they deployed agile techniques then, which agile’s built on Lean. They implemented agile techniques of customer journey mapping and scrum to then be able to basically reinvent themselves rapidly. They collaborated cross-functionally with salespeople, operations people, finance team members, and they looked at the market and they rapidly moved into supplying the hotels that were taking people coming back from overseas, the quarantine hotels. They pivoted into really online type food ordering organizations. They pivoted to the strategic position that, in this market now, frozen product is good because you don’t know when you’re going to be shut down next, and they’ve come back on budget. Basically, they went from losing 80% of their business to bringing it back throughout the year because they grew so much.

Why’d they grow? because their people were inspired and believed in what they believed in because it had a bigger purpose to it. They had the capability then to be able to move fast and be agile because they’d put the time in the training, but they didn’t do that first. They started with really the purposeful vision and how do we engage the whole organization with this and the leadership, then they went to the techniques and skills and they came through strongly. We’re in another lockdown in Australia at the moment where most of the eastern seaboard’s locked down, but they’re still tracking well and I think there’s a calmness in the company too now because they know they can basically handle anything and it’s hats off to them.

But that’s the power of Lean and Green, that’s the power of this bigger approach when you actually think about producing in harmony with people and the planet and building a continuous improvement approach based on that.

BH: Yeah, that’s great. I think that seemed to be a pretty common theme with companies that have adopted Lean or agile methods. It’s they were able to transform quickly during the pandemic, and I think faster than the companies that didn’t have that, because probably they’re used to change. They’ve already been improving their processes, so it’s already got simplification down and standardization, so if you need to change something, no problem. We already have people on the same page. We just get everyone quickly to try a new method or a new approach that’s safer for the employees. Maybe it’s a couple extra steps here and there, but the ability to do that and not have people push back and react because this is the first time we’ve changed it in five years, that’s not there anymore because they’ve already been doing these changes.

I think a lot of where I see benefits to Lean too is getting ahead of these changes and getting them ready for things that are coming down the line. If you’re deciding we need to do process improvement because we already have a problem, sometimes I caution people not to use it on the current problem because there’s just so much pressure and attention on it that people just want shortcut answers to stop the bleeding. I’d say this is not where you want to introduce something like Lean because this will combat that directly. Let’s look at the future issues that you’re going to run into or the longer problems you’ve been dealing with. Let’s start there. This one that’s happening today with your customer that’s all a huge mess, that’s not where we want to start because people want to- they’re not ready for the mindset that it brings about starting simple, getting alignment on the vision and stuff, and people just- there’s just too much pressure on that urgent issue right now to go do that, so I really like to get them thinking more about where are we going to be at the end of the year, not so much what’s today’s problem. They’re not receptive at that point to thinking things in a new way of doing things.

BJ: I think it’s where it’s largely gone wrong is that Lean’s been used to try to fix some problems and, often, with those problems being fixed, it’s resulted in employees being let go and that’s where it’s just ended up in this death cycle. Whereas, if you look at it, in order to create a company that’s continuously improving and agile, you need people who are continuously improving. Even if you are a major technology company and you’ve only got a team of five people, you need to keep improving your technology. In order to be able to keep learning and growing and developing and getting better, you need people that want to learn and grow and get better and increase their capability.

Now, coming in and just training them on agile and Lean doesn’t necessarily mean it will stick because humans to change, we need a motivation, a reason to want to change. If our heart’s not in it and we’re not motivated, we’re not going to do it because change is hard and learning is hard and getting better is hard. So many people have studied it. Human motivation is the starting point of change.

Now, in COVID, one of those motivations can be the negative. It can be a crisis, fear, drama, concern, anxiety. That emotion can lead people to change and companies to get better at agile or Lean, but it’s not sustainable because as soon as that crisis is over, what are you going to do? are you going to create another crisis to get the motivation? that’s why I believe that, in order to get a culture of continuous improvement you need, ultimately, the sustainable one is a positive motivator which people can relate to and connect to and it drives them every day to wake up and learn. Listen to that podcast on the way to work rather than listen to the radio and try to tune out and forget I’m even going to work. Get to work and come into that huddle or scrum truly thinking about the goals we’re going for and being motivated to it.

Now, yes, a crisis will drive that and it will drive that motivation that can allow you to get rapid return, but it won’t sustain unless you create another crisis whereas the positive motivator, that can sustain. You think about a motivator around producing in harmony with people and the planet. That’s never-ending. When do you say you’ve stopped being great at producing in harmony with people and the planet? it’s seeking perfection. It’s a motivator that’s everlasting and I think that’s at the heart of the power of what you and I are talking about, and particularly what you’re focused on, Brion. My podcast and what I do blends across a lot of people and I get experts like yourself on Lean and Green and I’m passionate about it, but your absolute focus on Lean and Green, mate. The biggest driver for me is the sustaining motivation for people to want to wake up every day and learn constantly to get better to help produce outcomes for people and the planet. You can’t beat it. I think what better reason is there than doing stuff to create a better world for generations to come?

BH: It’s a whole lot better than increased profitability or market share. I think that’s part of the how do we keep people engaged. Some of the big costs in a company can be turnover and replacing people or the impact of burnout from people filling in for roles where people are out for two or three months while they’re transitioning, finding someone new and they’re taking on the workload. That overexertion, I think, is another real important element to Lean that gets overlooked a little bit. That’s where you’re going to make mistakes and that’s where you’re going to have people leave the company because they’re overloaded. But you’ve got a chance if they feel like, okay, this is worth it because we’re doing something bigger, whether it’s for the environment or for our community or to keep a community safe or lower COVID transmission rates or reduce deaths, that’s motivating for most people. But when you start throwing out financial numbers and stock market price and profit share, it really doesn’t motivate people the same way.

I think it’s almost imperative that companies look for things that are outside of financials and look at the people and planet as the thing that will drive it. To your point, that’s going to be the long-term motivator instead of just dealing with the current issue or the fire or the burning platform that, a lot of times, they say is the cause for change. You’re right, it doesn’t last that long.

BJ: No. It lasts until the crisis has ended. And then the final thing, Brion, I think you touched on it in your conversation there, is if leaders or even if you can’t do this at the top of your company, you can do it within your division. This doesn’t rely on your most senior leaders to do this. As a team of five people in one little part of the company, you can create this. I did this back in my time when I was leading a sales and technology team. I’ve got to admit it wasn’t a long-lasting vision because it was all about nailing the competitor, a bit of a Nike strategy. Was Nike kill Adidas or something like that? it’s a bit like that. But we nailed it like, man, the work ethic and the drive and motivation in that team. But the challenge we had is when we achieved that and we became the biggest, we lost that vision and I actually experienced what I’m talking about.

But you look at companies where they have that more purposeful, longer-lasting drive, the intrinsic motivation it gives people is massive and it lasts. It goes on. But there’s one other ingredient. If I say that’s one major ingredient, the other major ingredient is then leadership behavior because if you put this stuff out there and you don’t live it, breathe it, constantly talk about it, demonstrate it in your behaviors as a leader, whether you’re the leader of that small little team or you’re the CEO of this big organization, if you’re not talking it, living it, breathing it, sweating it constantly, there’s something that happens in the human brain that goes, “I don’t trust you,” or, “I don’t trust this. This is a load of crap.” I don’t know what it is. I think it’s we’ve got this BS meter in our brain that clicks in, and I think that BS meter can click in really fast if leadership aren’t living it like crazy.

Now, when you’re a CEO of a big organization, the challenge you’ve got is that could happen anywhere in your leadership chain if you know what I mean. You could be so driven and passionate about this and you’re living it and people see you living it, but wherever that chain breaks down in your leadership channel, it can create a cancer where people start to go, “Oh, look at Fred. He’s not living this. This is crap. Look at that. He doesn’t even recycle. Look. Look, he just chucks everything in the general waste.”

It’s all these symbols that people see and I think that’s the second part that leadership needs to think about is what am I telling people by what I’m doing? what are my behaviors communicating to my people and to the market? okay, I’m saying this good stuff. I’m saying all this amazing stuff, but am I actually living it? because if I’m not living it, my people aren’t necessarily going to live it or they’re going to end up actually not motivated. Because they may be motivated by this whole longer-term purpose vision that’s driving me, but they might be going, “Well, yeah, I believe in that, I love it, but I don’t really want to work for this company with it because I don’t really believe it. They’re full of crap. They’re not living it and acting it, so I’ll go find somewhere that actually is.”

BH: Yeah, and I think the decisions that are made too, I think, are also sending a message about whether they really believe it or not. So if it’s about we value our employees number one, but first sign of trouble, they’re laying people off, that’s sending a message that maybe that’s not really your top priority, and when we bring up ideas, they get shot down. I think that is, you’re right, the actions are what tells people whether the words match. If there’s a disconnect there, that’s very damaging.

BJ: Yeah, I’ve got a great example on what you said, Brion. There’s a company I know that their driver is to basically keep producing for generations to come. They got a vision or a mission statement which is like, “We want to be producing for generations to come for jobs,” and stuff like that, but then they won’t hire family members. So you’ve got this disconnect where they’re saying to the people, okay, we want to produce for generations to come here at the site, and the word generation’s in there, but then they won’t hire anyone who’s connected by family to anyone in the organization. That’s just discredited and blown out of the water to start with.

BH: Yeah, it’s almost like we don’t trust you to be able to work with your family. It’s already like there’s a negative perception about that, like we can’t even manage it. We just are just not going to do it because it’s easier that way.

BJ: Yeah, and so your generations aren’t going to be here working here in the future and that’s the other challenge. I think an organization, yeah, setting this vision and driving this bigger outcome to it, like producing in harmony with people and the planet, amazing motivator and amazing driver, but then the next thing you quickly need to do is go, okay well, what’s my leadership behavior saying or not saying to that, and what systems in our business are either going to enable that or not enable that because it doesn’t take many to blow you out of the water where a system is actually working against that.

But I think to do that, that’s where the whole elements of Lean come in to really help or agile where you’ve got Scrum@Scale going or multi-tiered Lean huddles going where communication is flowing up and down across the company like a rocket. If you act quickly on the impediments and there’s the trust and confidence in the company that a frontline employee will come to you and go, “Hey Brad, you know this thing, mate, that you’ve put out there about producing for generations to come? mate, do you realize we’ve got a company policy still that we can’t hire family members? it’s an impediment.” So if that impediment can get to the right level fast because there’s that trust and confidence in the company and it’s safe, then you can deal with it as a leader. You can just get rid of that. You can change the policy tomorrow and move forward. I think that’s where we start to really see the systems of Lean and agile really start to deliver results for a leader.

BH: That’s great, yeah. Can you go into agile a little bit? I don’t think we’ve covered that in previous podcasts, so maybe just give a little overview, and then maybe that leads into kind of how you looked at agile from a sales standpoint. I think that’d be really interesting.

BJ: The foundation of agile’s the Agile Manifesto. It was a document that was written back in the early naughties (1990’s). It was driven out of we’ve got to fix how we’re cutting software. If anyone thinks back to the 90s and the early 00s (2000’s), was there a software that was released that wasn’t full of bugs and just a nightmare? it was a very poor market. Particularly two guys, Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwarber back then, they saw that, with Moore’s Law, computer power was going up like a rocket. Moore’s Law is that computer power and processing capability will double every year, and software coding and the producing of software-based products was not increasing. It was actually stagnating if not getting worse.

Jeff and Ken had come up with a concept called scrum, which scrum, it’s a teamwork system that enables absolute focus on your customer, whether it be internal or external, and cross-functional teaming where a team’s formed based on that customer, not based on business silos so it allows you to just break down silos rapidly. It has a system to it that creates this constant learning, constant transparent focus. The right data on the boards, the right focus, and this rapid speed of innovation. With agile or scrum, there’s techniques in there that actually allow you to get faster at continuous improvement. I’ve got a friend of mine, Alex Teo, he’s also involved in Scrum@Scale, and he said to me, “Brad, it’s continuous improvement squared. It’s like it’s just amplified.”

Scrum was built based on Toyota Production Systems. Jeff and Ken studied Toyota Production Systems. They openly say it was built on Lean philosophies. For anyone that hasn’t come across agile yet, I’d recommend looking into it because it applies everywhere because software companies are just companies full of people who are trying to improve for their customers. The same applies to a factory, the same applies to a finance department, the same applies to a HR department, a sales department. It’s just people. How do you get people to really engage, get motivated, work as a tight team?

Yeah, so it’s come out of that space. I have applied it to sales in the same way where basically start with the customer, understand who they are, understand their journey, come back and go, okay, what small team do I need to work together to do this? okay, that team. I don’t just need salespeople in there. I need a marketing person; I need a technical expert. Okay, let’s implement scrum so that they can collaborate every day, focus on what’s most important for their customer and for the business, and learn and adapt every cycle of improvement.

And then the next part then, which is very powerful in Scrum@Scale in particular, is that they scale that then so that you can go from the front line scrum teams where you’re trying to create the value stream at the front line- the closer you can get the interdependencies of people in agile, that’s the best where you’re trying to get it at the front line if you can. The best example in traditional Lean for us is the way that if total productive maintenance is done very well, where the team in the factory is not just the operator, the team is the operator, the maintenance person, the scheduler, whoever it might be to keep that machine running really well, that’s the best example of more an agile approach in traditional Lean manufacturing. But then how do you connect that team to the executive so that two things can happen, one, we can all stay strategically focused so we’re all focused on the right things at the right time, and we can pivot and adapt as a whole company if we need to. But the other thing is how can we connect from the top-down rapidly so that if something comes up that that team can’t handle, an impediment, a challenge, it can go to the right team to be able to be removed rapidly. It’s like this impediment removal system.

Now, the powerful thing in Scrum@Scale is that you try to get that as close to that team as possible. It might be you’ve got five strum teams running and they’re teams across the company and they are interdependent. They need to communicate together to be able to get improvements and get results. It might be that a person from each of those teams goes to a team above them, called a scrum of scrum’s team or a scale team, and their job is to help keep that focus but also overcome impediments that the teams themselves mightn’t be able to overcome. So again, when you scale meetings, you’re not just scaling them for the sake of scaling them. You’re thinking who actually needs to meet above here? it’s all this constant focus on where are the interdependencies, who needs to meet together to actually make things better.

There’s a bit to it. I tried to explain there in a short sentence about it, but if I say anything, it’s the extreme focus on the customer it brings, the fact that it’s creating small teams of the value stream. The whole business silo and division thing can just get wiped out because it’s how do we create this at the front line. And then it’s this thinking of who do we need to meet above them or just above them so that any impediments we can overcome can just be overcome rapidly. It’s this real, yeah. You’re really thinking about the customer and, ultimately, how do we get rapid decisions and improvement made at the front line, and then how do we support that as close to the front line as we can.

In logical terms, when you think about it, you’re like, yeah, that’s what we’ve got to do. We want to produce stuff for customers. We want to be extremely fast and innovative. Okay, well, how do we get the right knowledge in the right team so that they can just talk every minute of every day? but let’s at least get them together and look at a transparent board once a day to be able to stay focused and really drive their improvements. And then who do we need to meet above them so that we can overcome any impediments? because we want these frontline teams to just be able to keep producing value and improving like a rocket, so okay, who do we need to meet above them so that we can just overcome any impediments rapidly that they face? and so you just keep the value stream just pumping like a rocket and there’s some techniques you use that can actually measure are we getting faster at producing value and are we getting faster at innovating. That’s a whole nother story.

BH: Well, just from afar kind of watching agile take off, it’s really impressive. I would argue it maybe has been adopted more quickly than Lean or Six Sigma or any other methodology. And maybe because there’s a lot of software and it kind of got in early and must have been easy to see success throughout the beginning, so it was easy for people to say, “Yeah, that’s a better way of doing it,” but that’s been very impressive.

BJ: Yeah, I think they’ve really applied a good level of logic to thinking about a company. I guess the ultimate goal of most of the people that wrote the Agile Manifesto is how do we innovate rapidly and create value, but how do we enable ourselves to scale and not lose the agility we have as a small startup company? a lot of the thought came from that too, is we want to go from being a LinkedIn or a Spotify. Okay, we’re a founder and a few people around us. How do we become a company of thousands of employees and massive and still have that same speed that we had when we were a startup?

That’s where it’s come from, and I think a lot of people can relate to that. Most people have probably known someone who runs a small business or known the evolution of a business growing and bureaucracy can be the death of a company. It can be extremely fast and agile when it starts up just naturally because communication is so connected because it’s a small team. But as soon as you start to scale and you start to build your silos, it just all starts to break down. Whereas the Scrum@Scale structure, when done well, it eliminates that and you keep that startup, small company, innovative, fast style culture going. Highly focused on the customer because, of course, when you’re a startup, you’re focused on the customer because you’re actually out there shaking their hand and dealing with them. But as you get bigger, you get pushed up the tree and your connectedness with the customer stops, all the things we know are negative that really hurt a company.

BH: Yeah, those silos start to grow or develop because now you need a head of engineering and a head of marketing and they start to optimize how they do their work, not necessarily what each customer needs across the value stream. Yeah, I think that’s a great place to start with larger companies is you used to be small at one time. You probably didn’t have these silos and now you do. That’s why we have to get you kind of back to a structure that looks more like how you were starting off and where you knew everything and everyone was well connected because they were in the same room. Now, you’re in different buildings and that’s where a lot of the communication has broken down.

BJ: Yeah, and often, too, Brion, what happens too that we know is that that owner or founder or CEO who grew the company to become big, he or she can still try and dominate the company because they’re like, “I’m the expert. I created this thing,” or, “I’m the CEO that grew it. I’m the one who made it,” and so they can become a bottleneck themselves because it’s like decisions have to sit with them. But the challenge with that is, by this time, they’re five layers up the company and you’ve just got this permafrost and mud and complexity that can happen with communication flows. They lose touch with the customer, it all starts to go wrong, and yeah.

What Scrum@Scale does or agile at scale is it basically creates that autonomy at the frontline and it creates that small teamy type startup type structure with the right people in that team always, and you just scale it from there. Also, you stay extremely flat because the way that you scale your meetings with interdependencies, if you’ve got a frontline team of five people and they’ve got no interdependencies with other teams, so imagine this, you’ve got a frontline team, six people, and you’re able to just do what you do and you no one else is dependent on you. That team, the person might be going to the top meeting just with impediments because if you don’t need to connect the other five people teams, why have a scaled meeting above it?

It might be that that that team hangs on its own and does what it does amazingly well, and someone just goes to the executive – they call it the executive action team or an executive team – if needed. That’s the thinking. It’s extremely flat then. You’ve got the team and the executive, but there might be other teams around the business doing things that there’s interdependencies between them and you need to have that next team above them to connect it up. It’s a really unique way of thinking about it, but it works. You’ve just got to look at what has happened in the IT world and also now where it’s being applied in non-IT, like Tesla and Amazon and some of these other organizations. Many organizations are now getting onto it, banks, you name it.

BH: Yeah, I’m finding that most of the IT groups I’ve talked to or worked with, a lot of them are doing agile already and so it’s almost become very core. It’s almost like it’s strange to find the groups that aren’t doing it, at least in some pockets of the organization.

BJ: Yeah, and it’s spreading through the whole company now. It’s not just being used in IT, it’s being used everywhere. Again, I think you’ve got to start with what we’ve spoken about leading up to this. Without that purposeful vision and the reason why we’re going to do this that drives the motivation, agile, Scrum@Scale, it won’t be as effective. And then the leadership behaviors, if they’re not in play and we’re not looking at- because really, what we’re looking at with agile and scrum where we are looking at the system, a system to connect the organization and create speed and velocity and exciting customer focus, but as you and I have said, we need the leadership behaviors to be in play and we need the motivation to do it. It’s when you connect those three that you get amazing results.

BH: There’s also some effort going on, I think it’s Lean Impact, or there’s a group that kind of spun out of Lean Startup and I think there’s a lot of agile connection in there as well. That’s kind of looking at sustainability in general, kind of looking at all of those challenges we’ve got in our society and seeing how these methods of Lean Startup and agile and core Lean principles are really helping accelerate some of those bigger challenges and issues, not just within companies, but the non-profit organizations and governments who can really influence some of these issues. It’s exciting to see those things really start to take hold and the word start to get out, but obviously, there’s more work to be done there. But I’m seeing more examples and people showing how, hey, we can accelerate and come up with a solution that’s better, more effective, more cost-effective, hopefully, more sustainable, and actually be more impactful to the people that we’re trying to reach and help to address whatever challenge it is, homelessness or getting them better burning stoves to not run into pollution or health issues. That’s pretty cool.

BJ: Brion, in the not-for-profit socially and environmentally focused organizations, Scrum@Scale is what they need. Because, typically what happens in those organizations that I see, they’ve got an amazing purpose. Amazing purpose and they’re so passionate about it, but invariably, they create this insane bureaucracy. And then what happens is there’s all this infighting that happens. Even though they’ve got this insane purpose, there can end up being conflict amongst the people because communication breaks down and everything gets a bit lost and they lose their way. Whereas you take a Scrum@Scale or agile at scale approach to a socially or environmentally oriented organization, you create the environment where that passion and purpose stays front of mind and teams have the autonomy to just move and make stuff happen.

Because I think that’s where the anger comes from is that people get so fired up about what they want to achieve, and then the bureaucracy slows them down so much, and they end up annoyed because they’re like, “We’ve got to go out there and save the world, but I’ve got to do this paperwork and I’ve got to go to all these 50 meetings and I’ve got to do this,” and I think that creates this anger and this despondency. Whereas you apply that purpose that all those companies have got and that bigger cause with an agile framework or a Scrum@Scale framework, people have this insane passion and drive and they’ve got the autonomy and speed to just move fast. That’s rocket fuel. But unfortunately, I don’t see many companies like that at the moment. I see more the latter that I’ve spoken about, which is sad, especially when these companies have such a great cause and they can do such amazing things.

BH: Yeah, I think what I’ve noticed, too, is the overexertion. Kind of going back to that comment too, is I think the organization’s motivated, the employees and staff and volunteers are motivated, but it’s like they try to tackle everything or try to do too much and they burn out their staff or they put in this bureaucracy, intentionally or unintentionally, and people now trying to do too many things that aren’t planned out and thought through. They’ve gotten these 17 projects on their plate and they love what they’re doing, but they can’t keep up anymore. It’s just too stressful and it’s too painful and they’re like I’d love to keep going, but it’s just like too much to handle.

I think the ability to say what can we actually do in this sprint or what can we do in this time period that is realistic and let’s not waste our time with all of this stuff that’s way in the future? we’re overproducing if we start working on that. Let’s get the core thing done right now, and when we get to that point, we can get into those details and start working on that, or we’re saying we don’t have time for these extra projects. They’re going to have to go into a later queue. Let’s knock out these projects now and we’ll get to those much better than we try to shove everything into one big funnel and hope that all the projects pop out with great success and it doesn’t work that way.

BJ: That’s the two things that Scrum@Scale or agile at scale do so well. They have this system of it’s called the product owner. It’s this system of how do we keep focus on what we need to do and not overcook ourselves, so there’s that whole system of focus there, and then it’s got what they call a scrum master cycle, which is that cycle of overcoming impediments and delivering and improving rapidly. It’s the two ingredients that these organizations need to actually achieve insane things and not overcook their people or create bureaucracy. Yeah, it’s funny.

I actually think Scrum@Scale is the ingredient that could help so many of our environmental and social-oriented organizations just go to a whole new level, but it’s going to take some re-engineering because most of them, like you say, are bureaucratic and also, at the same time as being bureaucratic, they’ve also got people that can be overcooked.

BH: I think that goes, at the system level, it also goes back to the funders and the agencies that are giving out money or donating and they’re asking for things that are non-agile. They want to see detailed program plans out for year five and you’re like we don’t know what it’s going to look like then. If we’re really making adjustments and meeting the needs of the customer, how can we possibly predict out what things are going to look like in five years from now? what waste of time and it’s going to be so inaccurate and it’s going to take up all these resources just to show somebody that here’s a plan that we have zero confidence in, but that gives them the confidence to say, “Oh yes, let’s go do that. That looks great.”

Instead, if they understood that, they would say, “Let’s start small. Let’s get our first MVP or our first contact with a customer, and let’s find out what they need what. What exactly do they need right now?” I think I’ve seen some really interesting stories where the plan from the non-profit was this; what the customers actually needed or the people in need was something way simpler and easier. You would’ve have wasted all that time providing the wrong solution for the wrong situation, so I think that it’s almost a necessity too that everyone involved in this philanthropic work or working on these big issues has to understand the thinking around that.

BJ: Yeah. I think with definitely that experiment, learn, adapt is it, but there’s a technique called large scale planning that can keep those more traditional people happy at the same time as allowing a company to really move fast. I’ll explain it how Willy Wijnands does it for eduScrum. Willy Wijnands has a company called eduScrum that is deploying scrum and agile into schools. The way that he describes large-scale planning is that you’ve got this vision or this goal for the future and he calls it the mountain. It’s the mountain we want to climb. And then what we need to do is we need to take that mountain and we need to break it down into the big boulder chunks, break it into some boulders, and these are the big, chunky things we think we could do.

And then we need to prioritize those and go which one’s most important now do we think? let’s talk to our customers a bit, find out, okay, and then let’s just break down the boulder that’s most important now. Let’s break it down into pebbles and rocks, these small bits of work we’ve got to do. What we can do, but, we can go back and we can show our board and the government and anyone we need to this line of boulders and we could predict when these will be done, and then we can start executing this boulder in an agile, fast, experimental way. And now, if we do agile well, we’re actually going to start tackling these other boulders sooner. What the market’s going to see is us delivering work faster and they’re going to be like, “You guys are amazing! Wow, look at the impact you’re getting with helping this community or helping the planet here, but also, you’re actually delivering your plan faster.” Yeah, that large-scale planning, I find, is the link pin to helping that traditional waterfall-style project type thinking but also enabling a team at the front line to be autonomous and fast and agile and learn.

Someone may be thinking, “But, Brad, one of those boulders might need to change,” and yes, it will, but by then, you’ve got such good data from what you’re learning at the front line, you can rapidly put together a business case and go to whoever it is and say, “Hey, we’ve learnt this. This is happening. That’s happening. We’ve actually got to adapt one of these boulders. Our bad, so sorry, but wow, look what we’re going to get by this new boulder here,” show vulnerability, make it your problem. Yeah, that’s the tip, everyone. You can find that online, large-scale planning, you’ll see techniques on it but I love Willy Wijnands’ technique of mountain boulders, rocks, pebbles, sand.

BH: That’s great. I like that too. That’s really cool. I think that’s a good transition from that waterfall to a more agile system as well. Yeah, we’ll get some links for maybe a lot of these resources you’ve mentioned and I’ll put those in the show notes here too.

BJ: Thanks, Brion.

BH: Man, we’ve already gone an hour here. Sorry. It’s fun when we are getting into it here.

BJ: Well, the same with our conversation, mate. It was a great one.

BH: So you have the podcast and then just what other things are you working on, kind of looking forward in the terms of sustainability? I guess what do things look like going forward for you, and then maybe just mention a little bit about your podcast, and then we’ll probably wrap up there.

BJ: Yeah, great. So my whole driver is how do I help organizations create a better future? so if I can help organizations become amazing cultures of high-performance agility and performance, and then focused on creating better outcomes for customers, the planet, and themselves, I’ll feel that I’m creating a better future for generations to come, my kids, but also everyone’s kids and the planet. My driver is just that if the next generations to come can have a planet and an economy that’s at least as good as what we got now, I’m stoked. I won’t be around to know it, but I’ll be happy.

But to do that, to me, it’s two things. It’s how do we share knowledge and get knowledge out there, and so that’s hence the podcast, but it’s also then how do we help coach and achieve change because knowledge is not the gig. It’s actually applying knowledge that’s the gig. It’s sort of that knowing-doing gap, and so that’s where a lot of my effort’s going into now. It’s like, yes, of course, I can get around and I can work with individual companies, but there’s only so much capability that one person like yourself, Brion, we’ve only got so many hours in a day.

My whole experimentation, like I run Scrum@Scale with what I do and my whole focus is how do I enable more rapid, easier learning, but then also coaching and support to deliver adoption and actual outcomes in companies on scale. And so, of course, at the moment, it’s largely knowledge, so write books on agile sales, which is that whole sales and marketing agile application to create better outcomes for people and the planet, but then the podcast and I’m really experimenting a lot now on this whole piece of that coaching and support bit scaled to be able to create better outcomes more cheaply, faster, and easier for organizations, so stay tuned to that. That’s the journey forward.

BH: Nice. That’s really cool. That’s why I like talking to people like you that have this bigger vision and mission out there and just trying to be motivating and also lead people through. There are structure and systems there that can be helpful. It’s not just about everyone get a mission of being good for what, what did you call it, happy people and a happy community?

BJ: Yeah, simply creating happiness.

BH: Yeah. It’d be great if all the companies in the world adopted something like that, but that’s half of it maybe. The other piece is now how do I execute on that, and I think you’ve shared a lot of great techniques and examples to get people thinking of ways we can go after some of these really important issues.

BH: Yeah. Well, thanks, Brion. I really appreciate being able to come on the show. People can reach out to me if they want through LinkedIn, Brad Jeavons. I’ve got an unusual last name, J-E-A-V-O-N-S, so it’s easy to find me. And also, through the podcast, which is just, and you’ll find me.

BH: Great. Thank you so much, Brad. Anything else you wanted to add?

BJ: Brion, I might put up on the website, there’s a few tools and resources there that people can get hold of on different things we’ve spoken about there. It’s just at

BH: Okay. Yeah, I’ll put all those links in the show notes and then, yeah, we’ll have this put out pretty soon.

BJ: Thanks so much, Brion. Really appreciate it.

BH: Thank you so much for your time, Brad. It was great talking to you and let’s stay in touch.

BJ: We’ll do it, mate. Cheers. Bye for now.

BH: Bye.

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