Thursday, November 14, 2013

La Russa Agile Innovation #2 of 17 - Radiators: Collect Key, Simple Data
Yourself & Share It With the Team  

The Intro to this series of posts exposes the generally-unknown fact that Major League manager Tony La Russa is one of the two main management sources from which Agile/Lean product development erupted.

Perhaps nowhere does is this secret so exposed as it is in the Agile and Lean practice of "information radiators" or Kanban, simple forms of data exposed to the team simply but inescapably, with as little and as simple technology/techniques as one can make it.

There are two reasons for this: the better-known and the lesser-known reasons.

The better known reason for these information radiators is shared accountability for results. Think those organizational United Way "thermometer" mimicking cut-outs that stand in reception areas to show everyone how much money is pledged and how much more there is to go to get to the target. The measures or specifics must be understandable across both the team and management.

The lesser known reason is when you give up sophisticated automation on the collection side and do it instead with low-tech tools, you are less intermediated from the source. That is, the act of writing on graph paper with a pencil or pen reifies the information in your memory, clarifies possible points of connections or patterns.

On the surface, it's an odd thing that Agile Software Development, which is all about producing high-technology artifacts leans strongly towards lowest-functional-technology to support its processes. But delegating the "thinking" to technology exposes you to the Peavy Principle, that is, that every technology added enables new abilities while disabling existing ones. So as a manager or a team leader, it's important to collect meaningful information yourself using measures that have meaning to you, and then share them with the team.

As Tony La Russa explained in his recent book, One Last Strike: Fifty Years in Baseball, Ten and a Half Games Back, and One Final Championship Season, he's started doing this even when he worked for the first baseball team to use computers in the dugout, Roland Hemond's Chicago White Sox. He had learned from one of his own skippers, Dick Williams when he was a young player for Williams' 1968 Oakland Athletics.

In La Russa's own words (p.118):

I was yo-yoing between AAA and the big club. {snip} During the brief times I was up, I was able to pick up several very important points and strategies relating to leadership and managing from the A's manager. {snip}

It was Dick's advice that led me to the practice of filling my lineup cards with game notes. The very important after-game review revealed many winning nuggets because they were all part of thos cards. You took actual game info, added insight, and came away with "stuff" about your team, your opponents, and what had decided the game just played.

Dick Williams was someone I knew as a baseball writer and later as an acquaintance and someone I talked baseball with a couple of dozen times, twice for over an hour. In the times we spoke face-to-face, he was managing the Seattle Mariners, and he'd sometimes rifle through his lineup cards to find or shape a point. These information radiators aren't just for private use, they are for information sharing.

Agile and Lean owe a lot of what makes them tick to Baseball in general, and La Russa and one of his mentors, Dick Williams, than it's inclined to share.

ASIDE: La Russa has the reputation as an anti-data guy, which he is not, because being anti-computer and anti-data are not synonymous. Sure, there are plenty of BITGODs who hate both data and computers, and plenty of contemporary Sabermetricians who love both data and computers...but those two dualities are not locked immutably together like Woody Allen and the Windsor Light Condensed typeface. La Russa always used data as part of his problem-solving, critical-thinking algebra. He just used Williams' note taking model as his radiator instead of an Apple ][ or other electronic tool.

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