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Improvement Service

An important job of managers is to build an environment in which teams deliver and improve. Managers should provide an improvement service and an organizational improvement backlog can help. An improvement item can be an impediment, improvement, or experiment coming from the teams. Managers review the Improvement Backlog in regular meetings and decide on actions to implement the improvement items.

Managers and other non-team-members should not add items to this backlog unless it’s been agreed with the teams. This avoids the common organizational disease of managers and “quality specialists” creating their own busywork.

Adopting improvement backlogs and ‘service’ often fails and exposes misalignment amongst managers, and not understanding their role in a LeSS organization.

Some tips to get an improvement service working:

  • Do them!
    Not doing anything about the improvement items is the greatest failure in adopting an organizational improvement backlog.
  • Use retrospectives to create improvement items.
    The prime place for discovering new improvement items is the team Retrospectives and the overall Retrospectives.
  • Thoroughly discuss and filter improvement items.
    Not all of the improvement items are real improvements. Some are local optimizations—improvements that do not improve the whole system but only one perspective. Two common local optimizations are (1) functional local optimizations, and (2) assumption-based local optimizations.
    Improvement items that might be local optimizations are valuable as opportunities for learning and expanding perspectives.
  • Avoid improvement teams; use normal teams.
    Organizations commonly create improvement teams and task them with only implementing improvement items.
  • Avoid improvement projects; use the Product Backlog.
    Involve regular teams, and offer improvement items to them via the Product Backlog. This way, all the work is visible on the Product Backlog and continuous improvement becomes the normal system.
  • Initially create the improvement backlog in a workshop.
    Create your improvement backlog in a workshop where a diverse group of team members analyze previous and existing obstacles.

The most frequent cause of the collapse of the improvement service is failure to actually do the items. This causes frustration in the teams and distrust towards managers. When this happens, managers need to stop and reflect and ask themselves, “What kind of service do we provide?”