Salesforce has become a large company, and large companies can have a tendency to become stagnant, slow, and process laden. Some people started to notice us going down a similar path and decided something needed to be done so we didn’t share a similar fate. A multidisciplinary group of engineers, agile coaches, and technical writers at Salesforce organized an event called “10 days of Kaizen”.
Hold on; let’s take a step back. What is Kaizen? In short, Kaizen is the practice of continuous improvement. It has been used in Japanese manufacturing for years and has been a large part of Japan’s competitive success.
Many people associate the phrase “a Kaizen” to mean a formal team-based project often called a “Kaizen event.” These events are typically a week long and are facilitated by a consultant (often an outsider or sometimes a facilitator who is an employee of the company holding the event).
Kaizen does not need to be formal, however, and for the “10 days of Kaizen”, we chose to just focus on the spirit of improvement. We invited everyone to participate in a series of internal blog posts and associated roundtable discussions. We focused on ways to make our jobs better, easier, more productive, and more fun. It was wide open. We looked to see if there were processes that we could change, techniques that needed to be explored, as well as big issues that weren’t being discussed.
The first “10 Days of Kaizen” was such a success, we did it again. But, one of the principle takeaways from doing it a second time was that ten days wasn’t enough for all the ideas that were coming out. We needed to instill a culture of continual improvement.
We needed 365 days of Kaizen.
For an organization as large as ours, that can be quite a daunting task. So how are we doing it?
The things we do everyday build the culture. Culture happens no matter what you do, but building the culture that we really want takes care and feeding. Just as we need to iterate, fail fast, and apply learnings from a technology or product perspective , we need to do the same from a cultural perspective as well.
Continuous improvement does not have to take a huge amount of time, or feel impossible to do. It is not about making big changes, but a mindset of always looking for ways to make things better, and then actually committing to action.
Listen to the People in the Trenches
If we are driven solely from the top down, we lose the majority of our knowledge and we lose the leadership of the experts in each area of our product lifecycle. Many great ideas come from those who are directly engaged in the process, technology, and teamwork. So, it’d be a mistake to ignore these voices.
Not just with your team, but across teams. Learn not just about your role, but other roles. Listen to users, customers, sales reps, site reliability, documentation, and all the other teams that support the product. Try to place yourself in the greater organization. Don’t limit yourself to your official domain.
We can also learn from new hires as they learn from us. They bring new ideas and perspectives with them. They may have done things that we have yet to do.
Complaining is easy. Try something instead. One of the advantages that we have is a strong agile software development culture: Try something, fail fast, apply the learnings, and iterate. It’s a huge key to our success. And it can be applied to more than just the development process.
Give Me an Example
Okay, this is all great, but how about an example of how this has helped? You may have heard about our Opportunity Open Market where anyone in the Tech & Products organization has the opportunity to change teams every 4 months. This program was originally suggested by an engineer, tried once, and was hugely successful. Even with that success, it has gone through many iterations, several of which failed. Those failures were used to inform future iterations and it is currently one of the best perks we offer to employees.
What are we missing? What are you doing to encourage the practice of continuous improvement in your work or life?