One of the best resources about Pair Programming to date is Laurie Williams’ book “Pair Programming Illuminated“, as well as all the research she’s been conducting on the subject. At Agile 2008 I was lucky enough to meet her personally and present my experience report in the same slot as her’s. She showed us a video that was produced to teach Pair Programming to students at the North Carolina State University.

Although targeted to the University environment, the video is great and shares some important lessons about the Do’s and Don’ts of Pair Programming. If you replace references to teacher and teaching assistant (TA) with tech lead or project manager, I’m sure most of the advices will make perfect sense.

The video is really well produced and is worth watching and sharing. Please take the time to check it out and learn from someone who’s been not only doing Pair Programming, but also teaching and publishing research on the subject.

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My last session report on the series will be about the second half of the double session I attended on Friday afternoon, which was much more informative and funny. Kenji showed (with live translation) a 30 minutes japanese video about how a former Toyota leader conducted a plant transformation at a Sanyo cellphone factory in Japan.

It started with the successor of Taichi Ohno walking around the production line, followed by a bunch of people, and pointing out a lot of visible waste: unfinished products, piles of partially finished packages, and part-empty boxes. It really demonstrates the Toyota’s practice of Genchi Genbutsu, or “go and see for yourself”. By showing to the plant workers the visible wastes, he even claimed not having seen so much waste in a while :-)

His first approach to transform the plant was to physically reduce the production line size. He arrived on the next day and started to rip out the conveyor belt. The plant manager ran scared to the scene to see what was going on and was asked to get a stair and remove one of the signs hanging from the ceiling that read “Packaging Area”. The idea was to make the size of the production line smaller, so that people would have less space between then. That would require less people: the ones still working would have to do the job of more than one person, and the others could be moved to another department (such as product development).

As you would expect, the changes introduced some temporary chaos into the work place. Not everyone was happy with doing more than one job and the plant manager was worried they wouldn’t make their deadlines. After a heated discussion, he decided to go back to the old layout. However, he allowed that one of the workers participated in another improvement experiment: she would have to work alone in a work cell (yatai), doing the job who was previously performed by 6 or 7 people in the old production line.

At first, the time she took to assemble the cell phone was 2 minutes slower than the production line takt time. However, as she became more proficient, she started to suggest kaizen improvements, such as: raising the table and moving the pieces around to be closer to the place where they would be needed. Within 5 days, she managed to beat the productivity of the production line. The improvement was celebrated by the company’s leaders in an internal event, and she claimed that she felt that she could still improve and become faster.

My mains lessons from watching the video and seeing a lean transformation in practice were:

  • Any change introduces a temporary period of chaos, which may cause the process to be reverted before the benefits are realized. Read more about the subject searching for Virginia Satir‘s work.
  • Respect for People is clearly shown in the video, as the transformation leader stands besides the worker to support her while she is learning the new skills.
  • The differences between Western and Eastern cultures: even though she was unhappy at first with the fact that she would have to do the job of 6 people, she respectfully acknowledged the new job and gave her best. It’s also clear that the Japanese have a more holistic view: companies collaborate with each other to improve the country’s industry as a whole. One of the “incentives” raised by the transformation leader was that if the quality of their products didn’t improve, their jobs would move to China.

This is the end of my Agile 2008 session reports. I hope it proves to be helpful for those who couldn’t attend the conference. Feel free to contact me or leave comments if you want to take these discussions further.

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Kenji Hiranabe was awarded with this year’s Gordon Pask Award and 2 of his sessions were voted for a re-run on the last day of the conference, which he decided to present together. In this post I will summarize the first half of his presentation.

New Product Development @ Toyota

Kenji presented an english version of Nobuaki Katayama’s (a former chief engineer at Toyota) talk on a Japanese Agile conference. The video from the first run of this talk is already available on InfoQ, but there are some points that I think are worth highlighting:

  • Product development is a phased process: the first phase (getting the concept right) is all about creativity and insights to arrive at an overall vision of the product. For example, the vision for the Prius was not to be a hybrid engine car (this was a decision made later, at the design phase), but to be energy-efficient. According to him, this phase should take as long as necessary to get the concept right. The second design phase is milestone-driven and the chief-engineer has an overall cost buffer that he can use when making trade-off decisions during the development process. The third phase is going into the manufacturing line. This phased approach was somehow brought up again by Alan Cooper on his closing keynote (commented slides are also available online).
  • Leadership characteristics: Toyota doesn’t value leaders with a dictator attitude. What really surprised me is that they also don’t seek charism in a leader’s attitude. They should be there to enable teamwork and keep a constant focus on the macro view (product vision).
  • Bad news first: Toyota leaders don’t like to hear what is going well. They trust that everyone is doing their best to keep doing the good things. They are there to remove impediments and help solve the problems, so they cultivate a culture of always giving the bad news first.

Another interesting fact mentioned by Kenji is that, after his presentation, the chief engineer watched two experience reports on the adoption of XP and Agile in Japan. He said that, even though we are following different practices, we are applying the same engineering thinking. We use changeability in software to defer the chance of changing things to the last responsible moment. In manufacturing, repetition (as in iterations) is considered a failure. But we use tests to continually keep quality high, allowing for late changes to be implemented without incurring high costs.

Although software development is more like product development than product manufacturing, building a car is still something different than building software. We need to take care about how far we push our analogies. There’s definitely something to learn from Toyota and their product development process, but we won’t be able to replicate the same techniques and practices without careful thought.

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