Monday, May 25, 2020

Visualizing your Team with the Team Constellation

Your team is real. It is made up of real people that support each other toward common goals. We often get so engrossed in our work that we forget the important connections and relationships across and beyond a team. What really is a team?  Emergn defines a team as having a shared purpose, compelling direction, complementary skills, shared responsibilities, and common performance goals. It is important to imprint the team in a visual way.  Equally important for a team to visual themselves is for those that support the team to be visually connected.  
One way to envision a team is through the visual Team Constellation.  The team constellation is a visual way to share who is on the team and who may contribute to the team.  The question is how to create the constellation? If you have a team room or area, you can construct one on a white board or on large poster paper, although in either case, I recommend using post-its to represent the people. I’ve had some teams print out small photos of their faces. For distributed teams, you can create a digital online constellation via a number of graphic or illustrative tools and place them on team sites or printed out so they can be shared.
I typically recommend a Team Constellation with three tiers as there are three levels of responsibility that typically are needed to embrace the team’s needs.  The first tier includes the core team who are committed to work directly on the product or service and meet the definition of team (in the first paragraph). They provide leadership for each increment, self-organize around the work, build the deliverables, and attend team ceremonies.
The second tier are the extended team that contribute to the team but are not fully committed. They may provide subject matter expertise in a specialized area or a missing temporary skill needed by the team to build the next increment. For work done in an increment, they should participate in any planning, stand-up, or demo related ceremonies.
The third tier are the stakeholders that support and advocate for the team.  Those in this tier, have an interest in seeing the team’s work become successful.  This will include providing sponsorship in terms of people and resources.  They help with communicating progress more broadly and may attend team demos to observe what is being build and may provide feedback. They may also help the team remove roadblocks beyond the team level.

Consider taking time to visualize your team via a team constellation. Take a moment to adapt the definitions of each tier. I suggest making it publicly available so that others understand those that work on and support the team. It can also help you solidify what it really means to be a team.  

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Optimizing Sandwich-making to feed the Hungry

Over the past two months, my family made 200 sandwiches each week for the hungry who were impacted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Outside of the New York/New Jersey area in the US, the Boston area is the next hardest hit by the coronavirus.  Many people in the underserved community lost their jobs and their ability to earn income. As the US doesn’t provide the same level of support as most European countries, there are many lacking food security. This is where my family wanted to help. The idea of helping the hungry was really the brainchild of my wife, through one of her friends. I am merely a cog to ensure the manufacturing of the sandwiches are optimized. 

When we started to make sandwiches, I immediately wanted a manufacturing line with the least number of bottlenecks to optimize the speed of making sandwiches. Sounds a bit geeky?  Yeah, that's who I am, that's what I do.  Per the illustration, we created 5 stations.
  • Station 1 is where multiple bags of bread was opened up. 
  • Station 2 is where scoops of egg salad are placed into pieces of bread. 
  • Station 3 is where the scoop of egg salad is spread across the bread and a top piece is added to form a sandwich.
  • Station 4 is where the sandwich is cut. 
  • Station 5 is where the sandwiches are stacked into trays.

In the first increment of the process, I opened the bags of bread in station 1 and put the scoop of egg salad on the bread in station 2.  In station 3, my younger daughter spread the egg salad and pieced the sandwich together. In station 4, my older daughter cut the sandwich and in station 5, my wife put the sandwiches in the tray, sealed the trays when they were filled, and staged the next tray.

After reflecting on how we did in the first increment, I realized that I may be the bottleneck as I had to open bags of bread in station 1, scoop egg salad in station 2, and pass that to station 3 where my daughter would sometimes be waiting.  For the next increment (i.e., the next week), we adapted a little bit for better flow.  This time my wife opened up the bags of bread in station 1, and I then could focus my effort in station 2.  This improvement helped reduce the overall time by 10% to create the 200 sandwiches. 

Upon approaching the third increment (i.e., the third week), I recognized with the adaption during the second increment, the bottleneck moved to station 3 where the spreading occurred which left the sandwich cutter in station 4 occasionally waiting.  For the third increment, not only would I scoop the egg salad onto the bread in station 2, I would occasionally spread it when I saw station 4 low on sandwiches to cut.  This helped us optimize flow and reduce the overall delivery time by another 8% by identifying bottlenecks and addressing wait states.

While it is an exercise in optimizing flow which gets my geeky side excited, overall it is really about feeding the underserved community during the COVID-19 pandemic. I’m proud of my wife and family for having the motivation and charitable spirit of making sandwiches that helps feed the many hungry families.  

To learn more about optimizing flow for faster delivery, visit Value Flow Quality at: