Short Motivational Stories: An Interview with Zoran Vujkov, an Agile Coach and Consultant
In today’s edition of our short motivational stories, we’ll be speaking to Zoran Vujkov, an agile coach and consultant who uses Nave to help his clients increase the efficiency, productivity and delivery speed of their operations.
Sonya: Welcome, Zoran! Could you tell me a bit more about what you do now?
Zoran: I am an Agile Coach and consultant. I help companies become more efficient, effective, productive and thus deliver quality software products faster.
Sonya: What brought you in that direction? Was it the market demand or did you feel like you can give more to your customers?
Zoran: I was a software engineer for more than 10 years, during which I lead many teams. But, at one point I realized that you can’t fully help your team unless you challenge the company structure and processes and identify the areas that slow your team down.
Teamwork flows through a system. Without understanding how that system works using metrics, you would struggle to find the best way to achieve sustainable improvement.
Workflows improve as we reduce the number of work items in progress, which in turn
reduces the time to complete each individual work item. To enable the work to flow smoothly from the idea to the delivery, workflow variability should be addressed, understood and reduced.
You can’t improve your team’s operations unless you know the production flow of that team, and unless you establish a stable and predictable system of work.
Sonya: Do you believe that the problem is bigger than that and it all starts with managing both the overall value stream and the internal business processes?
Zoran: It depends on the size of the company. Smaller companies (with just one or two teams) have less need to support explicit processes, whereas bigger ones should definitely focus on optimizing their workflows and value stream.
Sonya: What’s the reason behind this? Is it because of the lack of transparency or communication that arises when organizations start to grow?
Zoran: The main causes that lead to this situation are a lack of a clear goal or vision, transparency, effective communication and efficient collaboration.
Sonya: You discovered Nave about a year ago, could you tell me more about the struggles that you faced back then?
Zoran: I learned about Kanban a long time ago. I realized that to help a team become more productive and functional, it is critical to understand the main flow metrics – cycle-time, lead time, throughput, WIP and flow efficiency.
When it comes to making future predictions, based on my vast experience, working with over 200 teams and a dozen of companies, I believe that estimating is a waste – probabilistic forecasting is the way forward, and establishing stable systems leads to achieving predictability.
Back then, I wanted to find the right plugin for Jira to be able to achieve this concept. I tried a few but they were extremely difficult to set up and use. After many years, I came across Nave. Now, Nave is a key part of my secret Agile tools.
Sonya: Was it a hard transition, switching from managing workers to managing the flow of work?
Zoran: To be honest, I don’t see it that way. It is about leading people and helping them deliver better results for their customers – to do that as effectively and efficiently as possible and to keep the team motivated and happy.
Lots of people these days talk about the happiness of the team. My question is, how can a team be motivated and happy if they don’t efficiently deliver quality products, which satisfy their customers?
I am a big believer in the idea that teams should have a well-established software engineering culture and dependable software craftsmanship. Teams should implement a stable flow of work that’s consistently measured and improved. That way, teams have transcendent purpose and autonomy to self-organize their work.
Sonya: What is it that organizations need to understand or believe in, in order to adopt a data-driven approach to managing the flow of work, in your opinion?
Zoran: First of all, organizations need to understand that, regardless of how much effort they put into analyzing requirements, envisioning architecture or design, trying to improve estimates or creating a “perfect” plan, things will change and they won’t be able to deliver products by merely following that plan. All these elements are just one big guessing game.
Instead, organizations should rely on their historical performance. Using a data-driven approach to manage the flow of work leads to evidence-based decision making and to more predictable systems as well as a greater chance of success.
Sonya: What’s the biggest challenge that businesses meet when trying to adopt a data-driven approach to work?
Zoran: There are major struggles I’ve noticed – the old-school-thinking and the belief that estimating produces accurate results, the challenge of achieving cross-functional, self-organizing teams that have been working together long enough to produce accurate historical data to be analyzed, just to name a few. The continuing belief that better utilization of people’s time is the most important metric is a huge misconception.
I think that the misunderstanding of Little’s Law and the assumptions surrounding Little’s Law is also a big concern. Having tools, like Nave, to help teams collect their data and present it in the form of actionable metrics is a big advantage.
Sonya: So why do you think they are not getting there? Where does the resistance come from?
Zoran: I would say it all comes down to the leadership in the organizations. When there is no good leadership, people either believe there is no need for change or they get scared. When you don’t understand why a change is needed, what is the goal to be achieved and what the expectations are from you, it only leads to resistance. Very often there is no support from the top, managers simply don’t trust their people.
On the other side of the coin, many businesses expect to just be able to copy someone else’s story and for that to work for them as well. That never has a happy ending. Organizations should recognize that value generation is what’s most important, not an individual’s utilization.
Sonya: What do you want to see more of today’s businesses?
Zoran: To be honest, focusing on workflow management is already a big step for many companies. For the time being, I wish people would question the way of working that was used in the 20th (or even the 19th) century. This is the 21st century, the century of technology and innovation. We are delivering great products, but we can still do much better and we can deliver even greater products more effectively and efficiently.
The kind of transformation that I would like to see in today’s businesses is a recognition that the software industry is unique, and that it is inappropriate to try to apply tools and practices from the past.
We also need to better focus on customer’s needs, instead of being too busy with fixed scopes or due dates. Software craftsmanship is the main foundation needed to successfully build products. Organizations need to understand that.
In addition, businesses need to question the following: is the ‘project’ still necessary in the software industry? How can estimation help their efforts? Effective collaboration between the business and technology departments is what makes the difference and as such is extremely important.
Nothing beats a good team! In a team that has all of the necessary skills and has good chemistry, when they are given the opportunity to reveal their full potential, you will see an efficient production flow, measured by actionable metrics. If you want to be Agile, these Agile principles should be part of your thinking, your culture, as well as your way of working.
Using Nave to adopt Agile principles is a focus that goes a long way towards harnessing your team’s efforts in a more efficient manner. Adopting a data-driven approach to future predictions, and eliminating the need for estimation, helps organizations to deliver products faster, more efficiently and far more effectively.
Meet the Author
Sonya Siderova is a passionate product manager and a driving force behind Nave, a Kanban analytics suite that helps teams improve their delivery speed through data-driven decision making. When she's not catering to her two little ones, you might find Sonya absorbed in a good heavyweight boxing match or behind a screen crafting a new blog post.