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Continual development in small steps

Continual development in small steps

One of my resolutions for 2020 is to go out and get books to read, for self improvement – all in the name of getting better at stuff!

One of the books that I’ve read is The Phoenix Project (billed as a novel about IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win). It’s been a real eye opener as to how we may currently go about projects, and what would be a much better approach. The thinking behind it is to look at how to best use DevOps.

Incidentally Tricia Sinclair has recently started talking about DevOps, and is REALLY knowledgeable on the subject. I’ve had many conversations with her, and her breadth of information and understanding is second to none. I’d really recommend that you go check out her blog at https://triciasinclair.com/.

There are several ideas/concepts that I’ve taken out of it. One of the main ones (as far as I’m concerned) is about continual improvement, and doing this in small steps.

It’s not about massive changes in life. It’s about identifying something (small) that can be changed/modified, and implementing a new regime around it, or a new way of doing it. This way you can train yourself into a new habit, which will take you forward. Once it’s settled in, pick something else, and then work on that.

The effect will be gradual, but it’ll be noticeable in being better at whatever it is that you’re addressing. It doesn’t just stop there though – improvement in ONE area has shown a noticeable marked improvement in OTHER areas as well across the board.

This concept doesn’t just apply to personal habits – it also applies to technology. Gone are the days (for most people!) when the next updates and/or items were released just in new product versions, or major updates.

Yes it’s true that there are two major releases each year for Dynamics and PowerPlatform (Spring/Fall), but the Microsoft Development Teams don’t work on items and then queue them all up for the major release.

Instead there are items that are released as soon as they’re ready (take a look at this blog for an example of this). This is why you’ll be using the system, and suddenly notice that you don’t have as many steps to carry out, or something looks better and works faster, etc.

Every member of the team should feel that their input is valued, and able to be used – this will reinforce the team status. In the Toyota Way quality takes precedence. Anyone at all, even a ‘lowly’ factor worker, is empowered to stop a production line when they’ve identified a problem.


One of the items in the ‘Toyota Way’ is called the ‘Toyota Kata’. This is a skill-building process to shift our mindset and habits from a natural tendency to jump to conclusions, to a tendency to think and work more scientifically. It’s not difficult to pick up, and recommendations are to practise it for only 10 minutes a day!

Everyone knows that making small improvements everyday is good and everyone wants to do that. But the following questions arise:

  • What to improve?
  • How to improve?
  • How will I know am improving?

The Toyota Kata comprises of 4 steps:

  • Plan. Draw up a list of things to do over the next period of time (one or two weeks). Establish objectives and processes required to deliver the desired results.
  • Do. Carry out the planned items. Small changes are usually tested, and data is gathered to see how effective the change is.
  • Check. The data and results gathered from the Do phase are evaluated. Data is compared to the expected outcomes to see any similarities and differences. The testing process is also evaluated to see if there were any changes from the original test created during the planning phase.
  • Act. This is where a process is improved upon. Records from the “Do” and “Check” phases help identify issues with the process. These issues may include problems, opportunities for improvement, inefficiencies and other issues that result in outcomes that are not optimal. The root causes of such issues are investigated, found and eliminated by modifying the process (as part of Plan in the next cycle).

Work in the next cycle Do phase should not create recurrence of the identified issues – if it does, then the previous action was not effective.

The most obvious manifestation of the Toyota Kata is the two-week improvement cycle at Toyota itself, in which every work centre supervisor must improve something (anything!) every two weeks. Mike Rother (who wrote the book for Toyota Kata) says ‘The practice of kata is the act of practising a pattern so it becomes second nature. In its day to day management, Toyota teaches a way of working—a kata—that has helped make it so successful over the last six decades.”

My resolve is to do this – not only on my personal items, not only in my work environment, but also with the clients that I work with.

Let’s go out there and use this to make things better for everyone. Let’s challenge our clients and see how this can enable and empower them? Sounds crazy, right – but it could actually bring a massive benefit to project/s. Sit down with the business team/s, and get them to identify one point (that’s not too big) that can be (quickly) worked on (try using the 80/20 rule). Do the work on it, release it, and then get them to do it again. See the results and benefit from it!

Note: Don’t get them to build too much of a backlog around this, as release items may cause one or more of the backlog items to be non-relevant anymore!

You could even get managers to give a reward for coming up with ideas around this concept that have a major noticeable effect on productivity etc.

By bringing these concepts together, our clients (along with ourselves) can better understand what’s happening, bring better suggestions to the table in order to build better systems, and a much higher working co-efficient will evolve, empowering everyone!

By EY Kalman, Solution Architect at ANS

Discover more of EY’s blogs.