Experiment with the Melbourne Agile and Scrum Meetup community


This is a version of an email I sent to the 5000+ members of the Melbourne Scrum and Agile meetup group, in February. I’ve been involved in organising this group, along with others like Craig Brown, since 2011.

This post is intended to be a record to point people in the group to, if they need explanation of the the experiment, in subsequent months. I also intend to do a follow up post, with some observations.

There are also some FAQs about the experiment on the February 2018 meetup listing.

The eagle eyed among you, will have noticed that to RSVP for the meetup on 28 February, there is a $10 fee.


Here’s the reasons why we are trying this experiment.

There were a few issues that I noticed in the meetups in 2017.

1 – We were struggling to get venues…sometime it only happened at the last moment.

2 – Often the topic of the meetup was decided on, at a late stage.

3 – Although many people RSVP’d, there was a very large % of no shows.

I’ll briefly address points 1 & 2:

Venue/Catering – I’ve sorted out the venue situation, as Envato have kindly provided the venue and provided a small budget for catering, for the next few months.

Meetup Topic – The idea of the meetup is that group member should propose topics, and if they don’t have the expertise to run the session themselves, we crowd finds someone who can. For Feb and March, Brett and Daniel have stepped in…but we still need topics for April onward.


As far as I know, this group is one of the longest running (founded in 2008) and largest (5100+ members) in Melbourne/Australia. There have been over 100 meetups in that time. It was started by Martin Kearns, who sometimes still gets involved.

It’s always on the last Wed of the month, unless public holidays or other extraordinary circumstances prevent it. In recent times, it’s an open RSVP, often without a confirmed topic or venue. As there are 5000+ members, but limited physical space, it seems that people will jump in and RSVP early, but then are a no show for various reasons…not interested in topic, double booked, washing their hair. Some people change their RSVP, often at the last moment, or they don’t give any notice.

The net effect is that:

• people who do really want to come miss out,

• it’s hard to cater and plan logistics,

• volunteers who run the Meetups don’t know how many people will come which makes it difficult in cases where equipment is needed for activities.

So, to secure your RSVP for Feb 28, you will need to use Meetups system and pay $10. When you show up, you get the money back, or you can choose to contribute to catering (useful if we don’t have a catering sponsor) and/or contribute to a good cause (for this experiment, it’s Flying Robot School.) Also RSVPs will open closer to the date of the Meetup, preferably once the topic has been decided.

There’s more FAQ’s about this on the Meetup’s page, where you can also RSVP. You can also see the 1 experiment canvas I’m using, at the top of this post.

What we can learn from the lean car plant, NUMMI

“In remembrance of NUMMI” by Hugo90 on flickr 1

The car in the photo above is a a Chevy Nova that was produced in Fremont, California, at a factory that was known as the New United Motor Manufacturing Inc., or NUMMI. If you think it looks a bit like a Toyota Corolla, you would be right, for reasons that will become clear.

The story of NUMMI is a fascinating one, and I first came across it when the NPR radio series, This American Life, broadcast an episode about it. You can listen to the whole one hour episode in the embedded player, below. You can also go to the This American Life website to listen to the episode in 2 halves, or read the transcript. I come back to listen to it every few months, because it can tell us a lot about the nature of change, quality, empowerment, motivation, and culture in organisations.

Culture change

NUMMI was formed in 1984, from the ashes of a plant that GM had closed in 1982. General Motors reopened the plant, employing many of the same workers who had staffed, according to the United Auto Workers union, the former worst performing plant in the US. Employees of the defunct factory regularly drank on the job, had very high rates of absenteeism, and performed deliberate acts of ‘anti-QA’ sabotage, such as putting empty bottles inside car doors to annoy customers.

GM and Toyota had formed NUMMI as a joint venture to satisfy imperatives for both companies; GM needed to learn how to manufacture small cars cost effectively, with high quality standards, and Toyota to learn about producing cars in the US in the face of changing import laws.

Some of the American workers were sent to Japan to learn the Toyota Production System, and the results were remarkable. In a massive turnaround, NUMMI almost immediately began producing vehicles to quality standards that rivalled the Toyota factories in Japan that they had learnt from. The emphasis on quality inherent in the TPS, meant that employees became empowered to do things such as stopping the production line when they saw a problem, rather than allowing defects to build up and have to be fixed at a later stage.

“I believed that the system was bad, not the people” – Bruce Lee, union representative

Initially, the reemployed workers hated the idea of change, until they started going to Japan to view Toyota’s system at work. They were amazed at how empowered workers were in the Toyota Production System, and that people were expected to continuously improve, as a team.

“They had such a powerful and emotional experience, of learning a new way of working, a way that people could actually work together collaboratively, as a team” – John Shook, Toyota trainer.

The changed way of working and management, handed the NUMMI workers the opportunity to build in quality and to be engaged in problem solving and making improvements.

As Shook noted in a piece for MIT Sloan Management Review:

What changed the culture at NUMMI wasn’t an abstract notion of “employee involvement” or “a learning organization” or even “culture” at all. What changed the culture was giving employees the means by which they could successfully do their jobs.

‘No Problem’ is Problem!

The ability to highlight problems and fix the cause without placing blame on individuals, is a key learning. If fingers are pointed, people will have a tendency to pass the problem “down the (production) line” to make sure that there aren’t personal repercussions; asking “why” and not “who”. The American culture was, when asked how things were going, to respond “No Problem!”. However, the Toyota view was that saying “No problem”, was a problem itself. There are always “problems”, that if solved can spark improvement.

As Shook said when concluding his article:

The famous tools of the Toyota Production System are all designed around making it easy to see problems, easy to solve problems, and easy to learn from mistakes. Making it easy to learn from mistakes means changing our attitude toward them. That is the lean cultural shift.

What happens at NUMMI, stays at NUMMI

When GM tried to take the successes experienced at NUMMI to its other factories in the USA, it was generally a failure; at least for the first 10-15 years! Initially, GM sent 16 managers to California to start NUMMI, the ‘Commandos’, with the idea that they could go back to other parts of the company. However, there was no ‘master plan’ beyond that to extend this to other parts of such a large and complex organisation.

People at other plants didn’t have the same motivation to take on different ideas as the NUMMI workers had. “It’s a lot easier to get people to change if they have lost their jobs and then you offer them back”

To make real change, GM managers had to leave the US, and overhaul operations in Germany and Brazil, in the mid-90s. It took a decade and a half, a generational transformation, until there was a critical mass of people sufficient to change the whole of GM. To the point that by the early 2000’s, GM had what they called the “Global Manufacturing System”.

Continue reading…

Change and improvement

This podcast episode of the architecture and design show 99% Invisible from radio KALW in San Francisco appeared in my Twitter stream today via @kjscotland (Karl Scotland).

99% Invisible-30- The Blue Yarn by Roman Mars

I probably don’t have to tell you that the lean concept in software development is adapted from the automobile manufacturing industry. In this podcast episode, a really interesting case study is shown where continuous improvement by reducing “waste” was achieved at a cancer centre in Seattle by adapting the Toyota Production System to healthcare.

Here were some salient points that I thought were notable in this:

Change is hard

“When Dr Kaplan told his staff they were changing the whole way they operate…the response was not pretty…There was a lot of anger…led by the doctors of course”

Change is hard. The improvement at The Virginia Mason hospital was a multi-year project. The driver of all the improvements was the needs of the cancer patients (as well as the need to save money). However this butted against the desires of some of the doctors e.g taking away offices with good views. Changing from a doctor driven experience to more patient driven experience is hard.

A different angle

“We couldn’t conceive of it intellectually until we saw it visually”.

People think they are dealing with an issue intellectually but until they see the situation represented in a different way…using a blue ball of string and a map of the hospital in this example, they might not be able to see where improvements can be made.

Using a different approach identified that waste existed in the form of patients having to wait a lot but until a different approach was…no one identified this. It was just the way things had always been done.

Sometimes people need a kick start. In general, people don’t really like being told what to do, although IMO there are times when this needs to happen but that’s the subject of another post. Helping see issues for themselves allows them to then work with you and their colleagues to solve them.


“If you’re anything like me when you hear the phrase ‘management system’ part of your brain begins to shut down. Another part of your brain prepares itself for hearing either a load of complete nonsense or common sense tarted up with unnecessary jargon”

In many walks of life, issues can be over complicated by the use of  jargon. Speaking in plain language is preferable; be careful about introducing terms like “sensei” or “Scrum Master” for example. Providing some terms as a framework can be useful but you have to be careful about them getting in the way.

Effort = Results

Putting in the effort to change yields results, despite the difficulties. In this example, it saved money by making the hospital safer and by eliminating waste and (presumably) helped the cancer sufferers themselves, improving the clinical experience by considering their needs as a priority. User Experience design for healthcare.

Further reading

There is a book about the Virginia Mason experience called Transforming Health Care: Virginia Mason Medical Center’s Pursuit of the Perfect Patient Experience

Amazon page

Publisher page

Here is a review of the first 3 chapters over at The Lean Blog

Lean Blog review

I haven’t read the book but it’s definitely on my “To Read” list.

The 99% Invisible podcast seems pretty good. I’ve subscribed on iTunes and it’s also available on Soundcloud.