Interview with Joshua Kerievsky on the Joy of Agility — It’s Not Just for Software Companies


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Joining us for Episode #475 of the Lean Blog Interviews Podcast is Joshua Kerievsky, the founder and CEO of Industrial Logic, one of the oldest and most well-respected agile consultancies on the planet. 

Since 1996, Joshua and his global network of colleagues have helped people in teams across many industries leverage the wisdom and power of modern product development methods. An early pioneer and practitioner of Extreme Programming, Lean Software Development and Lean Startup, Joshua most recently crafted “Modern Agile” to help people and organizations benefit from a principle-based approach to agility.

Joshua is passionate about helping people produce awesome outcomes via genuine agility. He is an international speaker and author of books including most recently, Joy of Agility: How to Solve Problems and Succeed Sooner.

In today's episode, we discuss how “agility” doesn't strictly mean “Agile” in software. How was Joshua inspired by leaders including former Alcoa CEO Paul O'Neill? What can all kinds of organizations learn about the art of evaluating experiments in ways that lead to more improvement and greater innovation?

Questions, Notes, and Highlights:

  • What's your “origin story” when it comes to these methods?
  • Agile is an adjective… “ready ability to move with quick, easy, grace” — resourceful and adaptable
  • It's not just about speed, but also quality?
  • Do you recall when you were first introduced to “Lean” — was it via “Lean Startup” early days?
  • The Industrial Logic name?
  • “Process” sounds bad? Why is that?
  • Toyota – enabling bureaucracy vs. limiting bureaucracy
  • SAFE experiments
  • Paul O'Neill admiration – safety 
  • 2012 The Power of Habit book
  • A Playbook for Habitual Excellence
  • What does safety mean in software?
  • The risk of mistakes — expensive $$ decision… small tests of change???
  • The art of evaluating experiments? Keep going? Pivot or persevere?
  • For those who don't know, what's “agile” vs. what you describe as “agility”?
  • This is NOT a book about software development
  • Driving out fear?

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Automated Transcript (Not Guaranteed to be Defect Free)

Announcer (1s):
Welcome to the Lean Blog podcast. Visit our Now, here's your host, Mark Graban.

Mark Graban (12s):
Hi, it's Mark Graban, welcome to episode 475 of the podcast. It's May 17th, 2023. Our guest today is Joshua Kerievsky. He is the founder and CEO of Industrial Logic, and he's the author of the book, Joy of Agility. Now, if you don't work in software, don't let the word agility scare you away. This is not a podcast about quote unquote agile software development, even though that is, you know, Joshua's background. And it is part of what we're gonna talk about today. We're gonna talk about agility more broadly based on his background with lean and, and continuous improvement. I really think there is something that this episode offers for everybody who's interested in learning and improving more quickly, being more nimble, and if you will, agile as an organization.

Mark Graban (1m 1s):
So, for links to more information about Joshua, his company, his book, and More, you can look in the show notes or go to Thanks for listening. Hi everybody. Welcome back to the podcast. I'm Mark Raven. Our guest today is Joshua Kerievsky. He's the founder and CEO of a company called Industrial Logic. They're one of the oldest and most well-respected agile consultancies on the planet. So since 1996, Joshua is global network of colleagues, have helped people and teams in many industries leveraged the wisdom and power of modern product development methods. He's been an early pioneer and practitioner of methods, including extreme programming, lean software development, and lean startup.

Mark Graban (1m 44s):
He's crafted an approach called Modern Agile to help people in organizations benefit from a principles-based approach to agility. So we'll get to explore that today. Agile versus agility. His most recent book of, of his many books is Joy of Agility. So my mistake, sorry about that. Joshua, thank you for being here. How are you?

Joshua Kerievsky (2m 7s):
My pleasure. Thank you, mark. A pleasure to be on your show. Yeah, well,

Mark Graban (2m 10s):
So there's a lot to talk about and, and I think we'll preface for, for listeners here, agile or agility. We are not speaking, we think only to people in software companies. Agreed.

Joshua Kerievsky (2m 23s):
Oh, very much so. Yes, yes. Agility is an adjective and it predates any, any kind of thing that happened in the software field.

Mark Graban (2m 31s):
So we'll have a chance to explore all those key differences here. So please keep listening if you are from other industries. We're gonna be talking about ideas from manufacturing and applications into all sorts of other settings here. So, you know, Joshua, as I, as I often do here, I, I like to ask people their origin story. Sometimes it's, it's easily framed as a quote unquote lean origin story. I'll let you take that. Whatever direction with whatever terminology fits for you.

Joshua Kerievsky (3m 1s):
You know, I'm, I think I, my origin story would just be, I think I've always been interested in continuous improvement, you know, long before I heard the term kaizen, but it's always been in my nature of just look for improving things. And so that has applied to many things in my life, whether it's being a kid, learning how to skateboard and trying to get better at it or, or, you know, a craft like software development or writing or, you know, parenting a anything where there's a chance to improve. It's, it's been part of my nature. So anything that's, you know, in that vein is important to me. I, I love lean, love, all the principles and, and practices and the, the models and, and agile.

Joshua Kerievsky (3m 49s):
I love a lot of agile. I, I don't like the agile that most people hate, which is the cheesy over commercialized certification factory, kind of agile. But real agility is something that I love, cuz you, you want, you want your surgeon to be agile in the case of an unexpected situation. You want your lawyer to be agile. You want, we, agile is the good thing we want, we want to be agile. So yes, that's kind of my, my urgent story.

Mark Graban (4m 18s):
Yeah. And, and not to play the, what, what's the dictionary say, game here, but I mean, how do you define agile and agility? So, for example, I do a lot in health work in healthcare. So for a surgeon to be agile, what would be some characteristics or examples or, or even from other industries to be agile?

Joshua Kerievsky (4m 39s):
Yeah, I mean, so, you know, the definition is in the dictionary. It's from, I like the Miriam Webster dictionary definition of, of, of agile. Agile is an adjective. So, you know, it's gotta, you know, be associated with some noun. An agile team, an agile surgeon, agile lawyer. Agile means characterized by a ready ability to move with quick, easy grace, or having a quick resourceful and adaptable character. Either one is, is really a good definition. And so you can apply that definition to pretty much anything.

Joshua Kerievsky (5m 19s):
So I think in the, the book that you helped to put out there to edit, I think the book about Paul O'Neill on excellence, I have a copy, I don't mean to be ducking out of screen, but yeah, A Playbook for Habitual Excellence, A Playbook for Habitual Excellence in that, in that book, I love the story about they taught, they found like 20 some odd different ways. That, was it something being so blood, blood draw, drawing blood or, or

Mark Graban (5m 52s):
I think it was probably the story related to managing central lines with Dr. Rick Shannon. Ok. Like 20 different ways for different people to do basically the same work.

Joshua Kerievsky (6m 1s):
The same work. So, and then, you know, so that that's, that's not graceful. It might be quick and easy for someone to do it that way, that way they learned. But if there's 20 different ways and it, it leads to mistakes that there's no grace there. It's not graceful. And, and you know, so basically to me, you know, lean might call it standard work, you know, but that finding that way to do something with quick, easy grace is not easy at all. Not easy, but it's wonderful. And, and my father had, you know, open heart surgery back in last September, you know, and you know, obviously you, you want your surgeon to be incredibly nimble and agile in, in the space of the operating theater if things can go wrong.

Joshua Kerievsky (6m 50s):
It's, it's, it's a wonderful idea. And it al mostly comes down to like, how, how crafty are you? Right? What's your craft of you? How deep of a practitioner are you? And so forth.

Mark Graban (7m 2s):
Yeah. I mean, thinking about surgery and again doing, I mean doing so as an engineer, you know, you think of, you know, they, they, they should have a method, they should have a plan, they should have standard work. That said, people in healthcare are fond of saying things like, every patient is unique. And that may be true only to a certain extent, but you know, what, what happens? What's the plan for when things don't go according to plan? How nimble, how agile, how adaptable are they to a situation where they discover something about the patient's condition that they didn't realize, or, you know, something is going wrong, whether it was caused by a mistake or not.

Mark Graban (7m 43s):
They, they also need to Yeah. Be agile. Yeah.

Joshua Kerievsky (7m 47s):
Right. Exactly. So it's, yeah, it's basically that, that ability to deal with the unexpected and to to be able to just accomplish things very, very, you know, quickly, easily, and gracefully. Yeah.

Mark Graban (8m 3s):
And, and you know, I mean, it would be interesting, I mean, it's a thought experiment. If the phrase lean manufacturing had been, let's say, if they had dubbed it agile manufacturing, and sometimes people use that word agile in manufacturing, I think just sep as, as more of that adjective or that goal,

Joshua Kerievsky (8m 20s):

Mark Graban (8m 21s):
Not meaning, you know, software. But you know, when you talk about quick, easy grace, you know, to me that that sounds like you're talking about not just speed, but quality customer focus I think is implied in that. But then the other part about resourceful and adaptable, that makes me think of like, you know, kind of classic Toyota, thinking of the cliche, putting creativity before capital, you know, and Toyota had to be very resourceful because they couldn't throw money at problems back in the fifties and, and then adaptable, you know, to me that that sounds like kaizen and continuous improvement. So it sounds different words for maybe the same ideas.

Joshua Kerievsky (8m 58s):
I I believe it's all in the same, the same category of stuff. Like, you know, there, there are people that in the lean community are like, oh no, I don't do that agile stuff, you know, and there're agile people that basically don't know anything about lean, unfortunately. And yeah, I think ultimately all this stuff has a common denominator and, and is is basically all focused on the same things, you know, I mean I'm, I'm reading a book right now on tennis and it's basically talking about the scientific method of, you know, probing and experimenting on, on, you know, out there on the tennis court when you're trying to figure out how to win in a match. And you've gotta pay attention to your opponent and you have to like, try things and experiment and probe.

Joshua Kerievsky (9m 40s):
And it, it's like you could, I could be reading a business book, you know, but it's, it's talking about tennis strategy. Yeah.

Mark Graban (9m 47s):
Well that, that sounds like another scenario. I mean, I used to play tennis like through high school, never at a, a high level, but I mean, I think you, you would come into a match with a game plan, let's say if you know about your opponent by high school tennis, you're lined up against some random kid. You may, you don't know their name even barely. But, you know, it seemed like it would seem like at the professional level, they've seen each other play, they've played each other. They could watch tape. They might say, alright, I'm, I'm, I'm gonna pick on you, you know, Joshua's got a weak backhand, so that's my game plan. I'm gonna try to hammer everything to his backhand that might be known. And that might be, but then maybe you've worked on your backhand, maybe that's no longer true. Or maybe, you know, I think, well you're, you're really a, a baseline player and now you suddenly start playing servant volley and I wasn't prepared for that.

Mark Graban (10m 34s):
Right. So how, how do you adjust in the moment, right? That's

Joshua Kerievsky (10m 36s):
Right. Yes. In fact, I mean, I was, I, several a couple years ago, Chris Everett was, was, you know, announcing one of the female tennis matches and she said, she mentioned that that player's Agile, you know, and I was like, oh, this is interesting. I'm gonna, I'll send her my book. So I actually sent her a copy of Joy of Agility and she, she enjoyed it. So, oh wow.

Mark Graban (10m 55s):

Joshua Kerievsky (10m 56s):
It's, it's applicable, it's broadly applicable. These these ideas.

Mark Graban (11m 0s):
Yeah. And, and was she, was she wonder cuz you could be agile, you could be quick on your feet or agile quicken your thinking or adjustments in Match, do you think? Do you know, did she mean both in that context?

Joshua Kerievsky (11m 13s):
Yeah, definitely. I mean, I think any anyone you know at the height of tennis is, is aware of like the importance of thinking and the, the physical body. It, it's, it's, there's so much mind body stuff now too. I mean, and I mean these professional players, a lot of them have, you know, thought coaches, mental coaches, whatever you wanna call them to help them, you know, with the psychological. And I, I think just the other day I heard Chris Everett say it's, it's so much a mental game that people don't realize how much of a Mitel game Djokovic is famous for saying Nok Djokovich famous for, famous for saying everyone has a good, has good strokes and good this and that. It's the mind that, that that's where the differences are.

Mark Graban (11m 56s):
Hmm. Yeah. The talent, the physical talent and physical ability gap might not be as broad as that mental toughness.

Joshua Kerievsky (12m 3s):
That's right. Yeah. And that ability to problem solve. Yeah. Right. That ability to problem solve and fi So let's say you're not playing your A game. Great. What's your B game? What's your C game? How do you figure out this thing? So the great champions are able to do that, and it's not unlike what organizations need to do to solve their own problems. You know, it's, it's, we're we're constantly in the business of solving problems and breaking through, if I say break on through to the agile side

Mark Graban (12m 33s):

Joshua Kerievsky (12m 34s):
With, with apologies to the doors.

Mark Graban (12m 36s):
Sure. Well, I wanted to ask you, you know, also Joshua, you know, for one, the name of your company Industrial Logic? Yes. Like what, what's the origin of that name?

Joshua Kerievsky (12m 47s):
Oh yeah. Well, in the mid 1990s, a company was birthed that started doing some just incredible things. And it was very visual and it was called Industrial Light and Magic George Lucas' Company. And, and we're still around today. Back then, you know, we were seeing, you know, special effects in the movies that just were astonishing. You know, you just, you had never seen anything like it. And, and it was made by i l m, industrial Light and Magic. I would love the name of the company. I just thought that is a cool name. So when it came time to name my company, you know, I wanted to play on that a little bit. So, you know, and then Logic's just always been a part of programming and stuff like that.

Joshua Kerievsky (13m 31s):
So that's how that came together.

Mark Graban (13m 33s):
Yeah. So it's not because there were roots in doing software for manufacturing companies?

Joshua Kerievsky (13m 38s):
No, no, not really. It was really more like just, I, I liked the industrial light and magic name, so I also wanted a name that wouldn't be too coupled to any given method, you know, like it wasn't, yeah, it was, it was intended to be, you know, a name that could, could last.

Mark Graban (13m 55s):
Yeah. That's funny. I'm, I'm a quote unquote industrial engineer, you know, was the name on my degree. And there are some we say like, oh, that sounds like a really dusty, you know, outdated degree, like, you know, like from horse and buggy days or something.

Joshua Kerievsky (14m 11s):
But I don't, so I think it's cool.

Mark Graban (14m 14s):
I do too. I do too. Yeah. But there's, there's another word though, maybe, you know, more importantly that, that I hear people in healthcare kind of poo poo. I've, I've heard people in software kind of do the same and that, and that word is process that you think of standardized work or what, what's the plan? What's the process for the surgeon in their work? What's the process that supports them by providing the correct instruments that are properly sterilized and clean? And there's a lot of process, but, you know, in healthcare, you know, think people leap to thinking process means overly rigid and it, it seems like I've heard people maybe with what, what I think, I mean, it's a perception, I would think it's not at all true.

Mark Graban (14m 59s):
That process means you're overly rigid. I mean, what, what do you run across? Do you run across people in software who are like, oh no process That sounds bureaucratic or limiting or, or bad.

Joshua Kerievsky (15m 9s):
Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. Process can be a bad word for a lot of people. It's, some would say don't focus on process, focus on outcomes. Some, some do think of process basically means I don't get to choose, I don't get to exercise my creativity cuz I have to follow the process. So it can lead to kind of like a, a way of being a, a automaton, some forms mechanical kind of, I just follow, I think it's, you know, I like to think about Coach John Wooden, right? The famous coach of, you know, he was a Hall of fame basketball player and hall of fame coach and considered one of the greatest coaches o of the 20th century.

Mark Graban (15m 52s):

Joshua Kerievsky (15m 53s):
UCLA Bruins. Right? So he would say, you know, he didn't, I, I don't think he used the word process at all for sure he didn't. But you know, he focused on the mechanics of the wooden style of playing, right? John Wooden style of playing. And that was, he'd say, I'm more of a practice coach than a game coach. I focus on practice in what we want to do. And when it comes to the game time, there's not much I can do. It's already gonna happen. What's gonna happen is gonna happen at game time. Let's, let's focus on that practice time. To me, they were practicing their process and that process was to help their players be adaptive as a whole.

Joshua Kerievsky (16m 35s):
I mean, we can go on and on about what, what he taught them. I, I talk about in the book a fair amount, but it's, to me that's really what it's about is, is being practiced in the ability to be agile, to be graceful under pressure, to to be adaptive quickly when, when necessary. That that kind of, that kind of practice, that kind of process is great. Yeah.

Mark Graban (16m 59s):
But you know, back, you know, to that idea of, of, of process being helpful or, or being limiting. Like I I I think of, you know, Toyota language, I've heard, I, I think they've, they've talked about what they call enabling bureaucracy or limiting bureaucracy. And you know, I think there are a lot of settings where standardized work or process a lot frees you to make decisions that are necessary in the course of your work. You know, having standardized work in healthcare certainly doesn't mean every minute of the day is scripted. Like a, a repetitive 62nd job cycle might be on an, an assembly line.

Mark Graban (17m 39s):
So, you know, when people say like, well, we can't let the standard work, you know, it's gonna tell people to check their brains at the door. I'm like, well then let's, let's not tell them that like, that that's our, our human choice. Or if so, well it, it lean says we have to do, we have to treat every patient exactly the same way. I'm like, well, lean doesn't say anything. Like, come on. Like, like, let's use principles, but, and let's not, let's not take it to an extreme. But do, do you run across other, you know, similar mindset or concerns when it comes to agile or things that are more in the software and entrepreneurship space? So like saying, well, this method says, as opposed to being able to think and discuss and decide as a team.

Joshua Kerievsky (18m 21s):
Yeah, it, you know, you don't want it to be stifling. And, and so I think you're, you're in terms of enabling, you know, are, are really wonderful. I mean, it's, it's, you want, you want people to feel enabled to potentially try something better, right? So break out of the process, try something better, right? So, you know, permission to experiment if, if you, I think if people aren't experimenting, you know, regularly, then you're not growing. So, you know, you ought look at how often are we experimenting around here. Now those have to be safe experiments, especially in a, in a medical field, but, and, and in in business as well, right? You, you can't, you can be careful betting the entire company on an experiment.

Joshua Kerievsky (19m 3s):
You know, you want safe, safe, productive experiments. So yeah, I think it's, it's important to have an enabling, I, I probably wouldn't use the term for bureaucracy, but, you know, but, but again, you know, in a large company that exists and, and there's, there's those things are there for good reason, right? Those, those policies and procedures, they're there to protect probably the company and, and the customers of the company. But they can become stifling, you know, general Motors basically ended up having so many safety checks that it became stifling for them, right.

Joshua Kerievsky (19m 45s):
And, and they realized at some point that it was just not helping. They had to rethink it. Right.

Mark Graban (19m 51s):
Well, there, there's, there's rules versus, you know, culture. So maybe let, let's, let's bring the conversation back to, to Paul O'Neill, who you had mentioned earlier. And we're recording this on April 20th. It's two days past the third anniversary of, of his passing. So I've, I've been thinking about Paul O'Neill a lot this week. As, as some of our colleagues have, tell, tell, I mean, how, how did you get exp I'm always curious, like how did you get exposed to him and, and to his ideas?

Joshua Kerievsky (20m 25s):
In 2012, I read Charles Duhigg's book, the Power of Habit, and there's a wonderful chapter in there called the Ballot of Paul O'Neill. And I just basically went nuts for that chapter. I just, I loved the whole book. But that particular chapter, I had to read it again and read it again and started to say to myself, you know, he transformed this 100 year old industrial giant, which in the 1880s, right? 1886 is when they started, they, they invented the aluminum melting process at Alcoa, and they were a monopoly. They were, they were actually broken up later on in the twenties or thirties as Monopoly.

Joshua Kerievsky (21m 9s):
So that's what birthed Alcan in Canada was a separate company. It used to be part of oa. But at some point decades later, they were, they've lost, lost their way badly. They would fight with the unions, they had poor quality, they were not innovating at all. Workers were unhappy. It was a mess. And Paul O'Neill was the first non Alcoan to step into the CEO role. And he basically transformed the place with this, with this singular focus on worker safety. So, you know, the story, that's what blew my mind reading about that in, in Charles Duhigg's book.

Joshua Kerievsky (21m 53s):
And I thought, well, you know, we've been doing this with agile, with, with extreme programming, for example. We've been really focusing on safety. We just haven't made safety a, like a first class word that we use a lot. It's in the, it's back there kind of hidden the word safety. So I started to really see that what he was talking about really applied to what we do in software. And then I ended up reaching out to people at Alcoa and discovering some folks there who worked with, you know, with Paul O'Neill. And eventually I ended up interviewing Paul O'Neill a couple times.

Joshua Kerievsky (22m 34s):
So that was, that was just a, a huge career highlight for

Mark Graban (22m 38s):
Me. But I I, I'm, I'm putting you on the spot here. We talked about this before recording. You interviewed him, but you haven't published it. You're working on that, right?

Joshua Kerievsky (22m 47s):
Yeah, I, I interviewed him and yeah, I didn't publish those interviews yet. We transcribed them and I, you know, I definitely have used little elements of, of what I learned in those inter interviews for sure. Right. There were things he told me about that had not been published in any books. And so they're in my book, joy of Agility, I just didn't publish the raw transcripts and all that stuff. Sure. But I, I do want to be getting that out there, breaking it up and giving the audio and all that stuff. So that's coming. Yeah. Yeah. There's a lot, lot of great gems in there.

Mark Graban (23m 27s):
Yeah. And I, I I'll certainly help, you know, share that in different ways when, when you have that available. I mean, I had the opportunity, this was going back to episode 1 24 of this podcast series to interview him, and I'll, I'll put a link onto that. Yeah. In, in the, in the show notes. That was probably from about 10 years ago. But what a lot of what he said, you know, it's just really timeless. I mean, it's, it's principles based.

Joshua Kerievsky (23m 50s):

Mark Graban (23m 51s):
It, and, and it's, and I think that's what makes something a principle, is that there's a certain timeless element that you can point back to of, you know, well, why are we making safety a priority? There's a number of principles there. And that went beyond well, it's a really clever pathway to driving the stock price up. Well, well, no, I mean, that ended up happening. You know, there's what, what he called, you know, if he used that phrase with you or not? Well, this comes back to the title of, of the book you mentioned, or we talked about a playbook for habitual excellence. Like his idea was doing the things that are required as leaders and around the culture and around problem solving and respect to, to really drive measurable safety incidents down.

Mark Graban (24m 35s):
Those are the things that are also going to help you to produce better quality, better on-time delivery, lower cost. So, you know, as, as, as an end result. And, you know, and there was some influence from Toyota on Alco and Paulino. He came in with a certain set of principles, including nobody who works here should get hurt. And announcing that on his first day and announcing it to the Wall Street analyst, which I think the, the Duhigg book talks about it, like how unusual that is.

Joshua Kerievsky (25m 4s):
Oh, yeah. Oh yeah. Just like they went running outta the room to tell their customers to sell, not sell the stock, because he got a crazy man at the helm now talking about worker safety. Yeah.

Mark Graban (25m 14s):
It was 1987. So I think people were running out to a bank of payphone is the visual, if the younger listeners can try to picture what that would've been. Yeah. But, but I mean, so what, what does safety mean in, in software? Is it ergonomic keyboards and, and good shares, or is it there There's gotta be more to it than that too, right?

Joshua Kerievsky (25m 34s):
Yeah, I mean, like, you know, I, we talk about the safeties, you know, like plural, the, there, there's all kinds of safeties and it's not specific only just to software, right? We, we, we spend a lot of time on psychological safety. And I, and I know it's become a buzzword. We were interested in it long before it became a buzzword and, and still are very actively helping our customers understand what it means and practice it. So we, we have a, you know, people that are absolutely, they, they love to teach this stuff. And so psychological safety is one, there's information safety, right? You don't want your information floating out there, you know, there's obviously, there's just normal security that we talk about in terms of, you know, securing your, your software.

Joshua Kerievsky (26m 20s):
There's, you know, some people think of job security or safety, right? Like, is my job safe? How can people feel that they're not, you know, on the verge of losing, losing work? I mean, I remember having a conversation with Paul O'Neill about this. Some of my questions were, were a bit, you know, personal in terms of how I run my business. You know, we had been struggling with how do we, we market, we're not very good marketers, we're engineers, you know, so, you know, I was asking him some questions about stuff like that. And the topic came up of just like, hiring. And, you know, his view was that if you hire someone, you are hiring them for the long haul, you know, otherwise they ought to be a contractor.

Joshua Kerievsky (27m 6s):
It sounds very basic and obvious and, and, you know, but it fit perfectly with my values. You know, so that's what we've been doing for years. And, and it's like, but we've made our mistakes where we have hired someone that wasn't quite a fit, or we couldn't afford them. And so then it didn't work out. And it was like, in hindsight, I'd been like, well, probably didn't do enough planning there to make sure that this was the right fit, that we could afford it for decade, a decade or more, whatever it is, a long haul. Some stuff like that. So, so I don't mean to get off the topic of your question, but there's no, it's

Mark Graban (27m 39s):
Fine to

Joshua Kerievsky (27m 39s):
Me. So many safeties, you know, so there's, you know, obviously financial safety. I think sometimes we build things that probably cost more, you know, to, to build or to maintain than they actually come, you know, cost in terms of revenue. So like, how can we be, you know, cognizant of the costs. A lot of engineers are shielded from the finances, almost like children, right? And I find that to be very sad because I think if, if engineers know more about the costs of things, right, they can be better problem solvers. So, you know, financial safety, it goes on and on.

Joshua Kerievsky (28m 21s):

Mark Graban (28m 23s):
But somebody you said there, Joshua reminds me of a point you made earlier when you're talking about the risk of mistakes, making an inexpensive capital investment or a big purchase decision that runs the risk of that being an expensive mistake. And that might be a mistake no one wants to admit because it was expensive, and we get into a bad cycle there. But tell, tell us, you know, your, your thoughts on the idea of how small experiments, small tests of change safe experiments might minimize, if not eliminate the risk of making that bigger, more expensive mistake.

Joshua Kerievsky (28m 60s):
Yeah, I mean, you know, lean startup talks a lot about, you know, capital efficient experimentation. And that's a fancy way of just saying quick cheap experiments. We've done things where, for example, we've put up a fake feature. So basically it looks like a feature in the software, but if you click on it, it says, oh, we haven't built this yet. How interested are you in this feature? Okay, now, if we did that all the time, our customers would hate us. They'd be afraid to click on anything. So it's, if that's one of many different testing techniques, you use it once in a while when you need it. But it's an example of not building the, the software upfront and instead doing a quick, cheap experiment online with real people in order to get more information rapidly and then make a decision, should we invest in this or not.

Joshua Kerievsky (29m 47s):
That, that's an example, right? There's all kinds of other, other examples where you just do some paper prototypes and ask people to walk through some kind of a, a process to see would this be a little more efficient for you? All you're using is pencil and paper or other like online techniques that do the same type of thing. So there's, there's tons, there's a whole, there's all books on like how to test business ideas. And I, I I just think again, that that spirit of experimentation's so important.

Mark Graban (30m 17s):
Yeah. There's a difference between knowing that we have a solution to go implement because we know it's going to work, as opposed to this mindset of we have an idea, let's go test it. What's, you know, and I think this is where people have misunderstandings about lean startup and Eric Reese tries to correct people or proactively do so it's not about being cheap, it's about faster, less expensive cycles of learning.

Joshua Kerievsky (30m 44s):
That's right. Yeah. I'm careful. Exactly. Exactly. Yeah.

Mark Graban (30m 47s):
Correctly. Correct. So we can do the same thing with a process improvement in a hospital or in a workplace. Like instead of knowing it's right and going and spending a lot of money, it takes a little bit of humility to go like, well, let's go test it cuz maybe we could, we, we might be wrong or we might not fully understand it. Let's do a small test, let's learn from it. And that, that requires a certain psychological safety to go try something and, and learn instead of just being hellbent on proving your idea. Right. You know, failure is not an option kind of thinking.

Joshua Kerievsky (31m 19s):
Yeah. In, in the book, I, I talk about a story from Amazon where a summer intern came in and noticed this is early days of Amazon, right? So noticed that during checkout, there wasn't any kind of last minute offers. Like, Hey, you could also buy this or buy that, right? Like, you know, when you go to the grocery store, there's like magazines and candy and various things. Apple counter, right? When you're checking out this is it, this would actually, his idea was this would be even cooler. Cuz we know what's in your cart. Hmm. Digitally, right? We know. And so we could, we could basically say, oh, you're buying these tennis shoes, you might be interested in this tennis racket or whatever. And so, but his idea was shot down by a senior VP just shot down.

Joshua Kerievsky (32m 3s):
They said, listen, during the checkout process, we don't wanna mess with anything. We just wanted to go smoothly and we don't wanna like, you know, interfere and get them.

Mark Graban (32m 14s):
They're saying, no friction, don't add friction to the buying experience.

Joshua Kerievsky (32m 18s):
That's right. Right. Yeah. So he was shut down. However, Amazon had a kind of environment where you could test your ideas analytically, quantitatively. And so he just spun something, some write, wrote some ugly code and, and just to see what would happen. And it was very promising. So promising that they said, well let's, let's actually now try it in a production environment on a tiny percentage of Amazon customers. And that showed not only promise, it showed that they were losing so much money that if they didn't build this thing, you know, they'd be foolish. Like, so they ended up creating a team and building it. And you know, that's, that's an example, I guess of, of an envir of a company that has invested in empowering people to experiment even when folks don't agree,

Mark Graban (33m 6s):
Right? So that intern had a hypothesis we could call it, like, it sounded like a pretty reasonable idea. The senior VP may have had a hypothesis of like, well, we're gonna see higher cart abandonment rates and you know, when, when you have that battle of opinions, usually whoever's higher in the hierarchy

Joshua Kerievsky (33m 25s):

Mark Graban (33m 26s):
Wins the hip hop. Where either one of 'em could have been wrong to some extent. But then having that ability, if not permission to go do a small test of change, let's say, okay, increase sales part abandonment rate, I don't know, like even if it was down a little bit net net or no, the abandonment rate was up, you know, you might be net net better off. And like that comes back to, you know, psychological safety as Tim Clark and others describe, you know, is, is the best idea winning out as opposed to the highest ranking person. That's a sign that you have not just psychological safety, but good, good problem solving, good experimental business practices.

Joshua Kerievsky (34m 5s):
Right? Exactly. I mean, and, and I'll just give a counter story, which is, you know, we, we tried subscriptions on our e-learning software at some point. We have our own e-learning software and we tried subscriptions and we tried it, we really gave it a shot. It was a good year and a half of trying. And then we realized this is just not, not working and it's not helpful and let's, let's get rid of the subscription concept altogether. And then fast forward several years later, new people join the company. Have you thought about subscriptions? Oh, I'm not. You know, and then that's where it's tricky cuz it's like, you don't want be a know-it-all and like, no, we're not doing subscriptions. Sorry. Great idea. We're not doing it.

Joshua Kerievsky (34m 45s):

Mark Graban (34m 45s):
Tried that before and it didn't work that we

Joshua Kerievsky (34m 47s):
Tried that before. It didn't, we tried that before it, but we did try it before and it didn't work and we don't have a lot of economic runway to, to burn again, trying that same experiment. And it wouldn't be largely different than what we had already tried. So that's a case where it's like, you know, I don't even need a, a quantitative experimentation in an environment because we've already done all that work and it, it did show us that didn't work. You know, so I, I mean, you know, there's times when I think you have to, you know, find the right balance there between Yeah,

Mark Graban (35m 19s):
Well I mean these, yeah. Balance is hard to find. So let's say evaluating an experiment are, is it not working or is it not working yet? I mean there, there, there's a lot of gray area. And so we had a hypothesis that this would be better. It doesn't seem to be better. So is our hypothesis that people are coming up a learning curve, we're going through a productivity dip, but it's going to get better. So let's persevere, let's, let's stick with it versus, you know, back to lean startup language. I guess, do we pivot? Do we give up? Like what, what's the, the a and the plan, like, plan, do, study, adjust, like is it a adopt, adapt, abandon? You know, there's, there's lots of different, as you could throw in there.

Mark Graban (36m 0s):
There's, there's so much art and gray area to that and I, and I, and, and I don't know, without psychological safety and the ability to try things and be wrong, like it just seems like there are too many traps where I'm gonna be super cautious and not try new things, or I'm gonna give up too quickly or like, that that all seems really suboptimal to the business if I have to always be right.

Joshua Kerievsky (36m 23s):
That's right. That's absolutely right. Yeah. I mean, I, I think, you know, I've had kids and so like, you know, you, you want them to, when they're learning to walk, you want them to fall, you want them to try things on their own, but you're not gonna let them do it by a staircase, right? Yeah. So there, there, there's the fine, there's that. Yeah. Where does it get to be actively dangerous to, to do that experiment versus, you know? Yeah.

Mark Graban (36m 46s):
I I I hope nobody has ever filmed a TikTok video of Baby's First Steps on the edge of the Grand Canyon. No.

Joshua Kerievsky (36m 52s):
Yeah. I mean,

Mark Graban (36m 53s):
No, no, no.

Joshua Kerievsky (36m 54s):
Yeah, so, you know, I, I it's the, the, so in, in the book, I just wanna mention that since I'm a huge fan of, and I know he was really, really into this dignity and respect for people, right? That he'd say if he didn't have dignity and respect for people, one of his three major questions that he asked for habitual excellence is, are people treated with dignity and respect every day without regard to their race or educational background or this and that and the other thing, and it's an, it was an important, hugely important part of his thinking, so much so that in my book, it nearly became one of the mantras, there's six mantras in the book, and one of them used to be something like treat people with dignity and respect.

Joshua Kerievsky (37m 42s):
Slowly but surely that that morphed and changed. It, it goes back to that definition of being quick, easy and graceful. So what I realized at a certain point was that if you're graceful, that means you're graceful with people too. And you know, it's not always possible to be graceful if you're not in imbalance. So imbalances being unstable, coming to work and being, you know, off center, these are things that lead to the opposite of dignity and respect for people. They can, you know, people can feel disrespected or whatever cuz you know, you're, you're not balanced or there's not a balance of like experiments and, and standard work.

Joshua Kerievsky (38m 28s):
Right? So balance became this word for me that became so utterly important. I hadn't realized the importance of balance to agility or to high performance, how important that word is and how much Paul O'Neill fixated it on it for his co for his players offensive balance, defensive balance, player size, balance.

Mark Graban (38m 49s):
Are you talking about John Wood? Sorry, John Wooden. John

Joshua Kerievsky (38m 51s):
Wooden, sorry, yes. John Wooden. John Wooden would get, you know, he was obsessed with balance and he'd say, the only reason I'm obsessed with balance is because balance is, is prerequisite for speed. You cannot be fast if you're not in balance. And so be balanced and graceful became the mantra. And that is to me, you know, echoing what O'Neill would talk about when it came to treating people with dignity and dignity and respect. You've gotta be, you've gotta find the right balance. You've got to be be graceful and then, then the right things tend to happen.

Mark Graban (39m 29s):
Right? Right. Because I mean, it's, it's an outcome from principles and having, you know, when people talk about culture, you know, it's this question of like, you know, if it's a global company and you, you go and talk to people at different sites around the world, like how consistently do they talk about certain things or are there certain stories that tend to pop up over and over again? You know, it's a good sign of like, and I've, I've run across a lot of former oaa people and they're is very consistent of, of stories they have of their interactions with Paul O'Neill or interactions that they witnessed or observed of like being as respectful to the person working at the front desk as you would to an executive.

Mark Graban (40m 14s):
You know, that, that respect is, you know, I think from his standpoint, something that you, you granted as opposed to, you know, I think there's a darker view when people are like, oh, respect needs to be earned. Okay, well that sounds like you're, you, you judge who's worthy of respect Then that to me, that's, I don't, I, I wouldn't subscribe to that leadership model as opposed to, you know, Paul O'Neill's idea of respecting everybody. Now there's stories, and I'm curious, he told you and is are, are documented in these different books, he would challenge people, right. Respect doesn't mean being nice or soft or easy. I mean, he set, this might have been one of the original big hairy, audacious goals of zero harm,

Joshua Kerievsky (40m 56s):

Mark Graban (40m 56s):
Right. So you gotta push people, you gotta challenge, you gotta hold plant managers to standard. And, you know, you know, Paul famously gave out his phone number Yes. To frontline employees. Said if your safety issues are not getting resolved immediately, here's my home phone number. Yep. And I'm sure that first time he got that call, I don't know the details of it, but I'm sure that plant manager wasn't happy with the phone call he got.

Joshua Kerievsky (41m 18s):

Mark Graban (41m 19s):
Right. But it's not, cause Paul O'Neill, I don't think love if he yelled, I don't, there there's some leaders who love yelling at people cause it's an expression of power. But I think Paul O'Neill was trying to use his power to help the vulnerable people who didn't have any power. I mean, I don't, maybe that's a too, I mean,

Joshua Kerievsky (41m 37s):
It was an absolutely remarkable thing to give his home number and, and the story of, of that worker calling him late at night in Connecticut, it's in my book because it's such an utterly remarkable story of, of how that all was handled. And you know, I mean, back to the whole respect thing, I'll, I'll just never forget the story from Zappos, which is when they interview people, they'll put 'em through interviews all day long and then they'll put 'em on this little bus to take them back to, you know, their hotel and this is their bus. It's a Zappos bus or van, whatever the heck it is. Right. And then you've probably heard this, but you know, the person will, the person driving the van or or shuttle whatever, will then come back to the office after dropping them off and they'll interview that person.

Joshua Kerievsky (42m 23s):
Say, well, how, yeah, how did they treat you? Yeah. Right. So again, back to like, how do you treat everyone, whatever their rank is with dignity and respect. I mean, the things that Paul O'Neill did to remove special privileges for executives, you know, like executives used to fly to New York City, stay in a, in a apartment owned by Alcoa, take their families to Broadway plays and stuff all in the company's dime. And, and you know, he just completely eliminated this. He got rid of the golf course for the executives. He, the cafeteria that was only for executives. This is going away. You know, someone would say, wow, he was a, he was a complete maverick.

Mark Graban (42m 60s):
Yes, yes. And and there's different dimensions to this. So there's big expenses and there's the little ones. So the one story that I've heard him tell was that, you know, every morning the executives got like a free Wall Street Journal and free coffee and Danish. And he would ask, well, do we give that to everybody? Right? And the answer of course was no. And he's like, I think our executives can afford those things. Right? Right. We're paying them well and then like with the golf course, I've, I've heard how there, there, there was not just the expense, but like on day one in that job, he realized that that golf club had very discriminatory exclusionary membership policies.

Joshua Kerievsky (43m 37s):
Right? Right.

Mark Graban (43m 38s):
And so back to principles, he was like, we are not going to pay for that. And, and, and my recollection of it is that he, he came to the club and said, I think it was, you're going to admit a black member and here's, here's the AOA executive who I suggest is the first member. You know, so there, there was some, if you will, social activism, but back to the principles of what message does that send to your employees if word gets out that the company is paying for a golf club that discriminates?

Joshua Kerievsky (44m 9s):
Yeah. Yeah. I mean, just, just incredible stuff. I interviewed a guy named William O'Rourke. Hmm. So you

Mark Graban (44m 17s):
I know, I know. Yeah. I've met, yeah.

Joshua Kerievsky (44m 19s):
Yeah. An amazing guy. And his stories are are, and he worked directly with Paul O'Neill for years. He worked, you know, he, he's also an incredible leader and amazing person there. And the stories he told about dealing with what he dealt with in Russia, you know, where, you know, basically they're trying to op, they, they, they took over these smelting aluminum plants there and

Mark Graban (44m 39s):
Formerly state run. Yeah,

Joshua Kerievsky (44m 41s):
Yeah. Formerly state run where, where average of five people would die every year. And they completely transformed it. But he had to deal with the pressure of having a whole bunch of equipment sent to Russia and sitting there in the warehouse is not moving because they wanted him to pay bribes and he wouldn't repay bribes. Incredible integrity. Right. Another part of O'Neill's approach is just extremely high integrity. This is a part of the agile movement that I can't stand is I think there's a lot of integrity issues when it comes to like these chief little certifications that, that were put out there many years ago and are not at all, you know, associated with quality or excellence or anything just like that.

Mark Graban (45m 21s):
That's a problem in Lean six Sigma circles just the same.

Joshua Kerievsky (45m 26s):
Yes, yes.

Mark Graban (45m 27s):
Or it, it can be. So there, there are so many parallels. It's funny, I mean we're in a lot of ways talking about different industries, different settings, but a lot of it comes back to these very familiar themes and principles. And I, and I think that's what's powerful is the ability to learn and transform ideas poly help people in healthcare. You alluded to this earlier, that these principles are applicable as opposed to the trap of copying tools. Right. And is this, so there's a, a word, a a phrase I've heard related to agile, and I think it applies in other settings, but I want ask you to explain it what is meant by cargo cult agile?

Joshua Kerievsky (46m 5s):
Yeah. I mean it's just, obviously it's just you following some formula or recipe that you think that worked elsewhere and you copy it and try to apply it and usually doesn't work. It's, it's often just, you know, superficial or, or you know, rearranging this, the seats on the Titanic, it's not at all addressing the underlying issues and stuff like that. So it's, yeah, it's unfortunate, but it does happen I think everywhere. And I, I've read, and in my book I quote one of the leaders in the lean field of who said that, you know, he's disappointed in where lean has gone because for, to a large extent, people are doing little changes, always little changes and never lean leaps.

Joshua Kerievsky (46m 47s):
And I think it's James Womack, I, I who said this basically criticizing the, the lean movement and just saying, you know, we missed it at some point. We lost this ability to do these leaps. Know the Japanese railway system that led to the bullet trains another thing Charles Duhigg wrote about. Right. That was an incredible leap in, in how we think about railway, you know, speed. It's a huge leap. And, and so a lot of people talk about small changes. Small changes, small changes, and they're great. Small changes are great, but also maybe how do you get bigger changes to happen to

Mark Graban (47m 21s):
Well there's, there's, there's, there's that piece. And, and, and it, it's an and we can do small changes Yes. And we can do bigger Exactly. Revolutionary changes may be built on, you know, small tests of change. But I think there's this other trap of not just certification or thing a, a mis a misframed problem statement where executive thinks, well the problem is the workers, so the workers need training so that they can be more lean, quote unquote, or they can be more agile or they can be safe. I'm like, well, wait a minute. Like, I think a lot of it really, it starts with the people if you were to look in the mirror, you know? Yeah. And, and that's harder to get people to accept. I think it's, it's, there's some human nature.

Mark Graban (48m 2s):
Unless people are mavericks, they're gonna wanna blame others instead of look and say, what's my role in creating this and what do I need to do to change the culture? Whether that's a culture of safety or a culture of agility or both.

Joshua Kerievsky (48m 16s):
That's right. So it comes down to like your, your, are you, are you, is your nature one of kaizen continuous improvement or not? You know? And I think if it's not there, you know, it's gonna be a problem for the organization. And you know,

Mark Graban (48m 35s):
I mean, I think these things can be taught. I mean, we could have a, you know, a separate nature versus nurture discussion, but I think the issue then is when an executive has decades, I mean, this goes back to a deism, I think it was something like decades of experience means nothing if it's decades doing the same thing over and over. The same wrong thing over and over. I'm paraphrasing

Joshua Kerievsky (48m 54s):
Right? That's right. Yep.

Mark Graban (48m 56s):
Harder to change the more set you are in mindsets and behaviors and you've succeeded maybe even in spite of some of those. But it feels like you've succeeded because of those,

Joshua Kerievsky (49m 8s):
Right. Yeah. And it's easy to have blind spots too. So like, this is where diversity is so important, right? Having diverse perspectives around you, having the humility to be wrong and, and listen to others. There's just so many ways that we can improve our, our and, and just caring to improve like healthcare. I mean, my gosh, you know, it's, it's like imagine how the world could be different if we were better at healthcare. I mean, in, in addition to like, you know, helping people not even ever have to go to the, the doctor cuz we're doing the, the work necessary to keep 'em healthy in the first place. Yeah. You know?

Mark Graban (49m 45s):
Well, gosh, okay, so we're almost up on a time limit here, so I don't wanna start to wrap up. And again, Joshua CEVs Joy of Agility is the book. I mean, this is great fun. Maybe we have you back at some point. There's there's so much we could explore. And I, as a final point real quick, you know, within the book of the mantras, one of them that stood out as very Deming esque, it's very O'Neil drive out fear, make safety a prerequisite to protect people and pave the way for high performance. Maybe I'll just leave it to you, you know, for kind of a, a final thought on, on that mantra.

Joshua Kerievsky (50m 20s):
Yeah. That's a complete hot tip to Deming and, and, and O'Neill driving out fear being our, our such an important part of our job, right? Whether that's psychological safety, you know, the fear of speaking up. We have to, we have to prevent it. The, the, the fear of experimenting. We have to drive out fear in, in, in an economy that's kind of slow. How do we help drive out fear there? What do we do? How do we behave in, in such a way, how do we make products or, or provide services that drive out fear so that people aren't afraid of using those products or services. They, they, they feel confident in them. This is the secret, this is a major secret to success is, is driving out fear.

Joshua Kerievsky (51m 2s):
So I I, I bow down to those folks and you know, like to just, my stories are in the book are very much ping homage to all these great thinkers. It's just, I wanted one place to go to have a bunch of these stories that even young people could and and experienced people could go to, to say, yeah, this is really what they were talking about. Yeah.

Mark Graban (51m 22s):
And I had flipped real quick. Oh, I had found the magically found the O'Neill page, but shoot, yeah, I, I see that it's in there, but lots of, you know, short chapters and a lot of great ideas in here. So I hope people check it out. Joy of Agility. Joshua Kerievsky, thank you so much for being a guest. Really appreciate it.

Joshua Kerievsky (51m 40s):
Thank you so much, Mark. I'd love to chatting with you and anytime.

Mark Graban (51m 44s):

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


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