Don’t Replace Your Thinking with Checklists

Yes , the title of this article uses a negative format and I completely assume it. Because it is,  first of all,  a “stop the massacre” cry. Stop the massacre of trying to melt people brains,  and pour it into compliance molds.

Michael Ballé ,  an inspiring Lean  expert,  said: “search for people involvement not for people compliance” .  I dream to change the world so this  becomes  a reality.

Image from “Spread Science” Blog 


(My) Agile Thinking Manifesto 


The thoughtful ideas of Michael Ballé just mentioned above,  gave me the incentive to seek my personal reference of principles that would make  Agile Transformation sustainable by people’s own free will and active involvement.  The focus on providing sets of checklists  was identified by Jean Tabaka‘ as one of Agile implementations  causes of failure

These two,  and my Agile adventures-experience,  gave me the idea of ( My) Agile Thinking Manifesto. The first principle lyes here :



Leverage people intelligence over checklists


When starting an Agile Implementation initiative,  one of the common requirement is a checklist of “something” (practices, IT tools, artifacts, virtues of the best Agile performer and so on) . Execution   of each element on that list is expected to ensure  “better than the best” organizations.  This  mindset comes from decades of “command and control” model , where some smart responsible people ( in charge of very important stuff) need to check if some other – immature by default – people,  “behave themselves” properly.

It is difficult both sides :  either from a management perspective where checking is the essence of control of compliance, or from teams members that were used to be told “how to do stuff” and wait “for the receipt” ( checklist) .


By the way , if you ever experienced cooking using a receipt, I wonder if the information that is in the receipt was enough for you to make great food ; just followed instructions , nothing more nothing less.

The reality of  trenches  shows that filling compliance criteria in  checklists does not  make great Agile organizations.


As cooking receipts, checklists are useful. You cannot ride a bike if you don’t have a bike.  I believe more in the checklists that teams build for themselves,  using their experience. I love my bike because I know how to handle it. I’ll do great cakes because I know how  a good composition and a good baked cake should look like

Looking for checklist compliance is a “termination short-termism” attitude (Michael Ballé, The Lean Manager”) . Checklist compliance lasts the time  of checking. People involvement  lasts  the time they will be proud of what they are doing.

As long as people are not involved to try things and challenge them afterwards ,  there is no success and no performance. And most of all, no hope.


Preserve hope,  do not to give-up your intelligence  for checklist compliance!



Disclaimer and Invitation


This “just another manifesto” about Agile mindset will not be  “just another checklist” that proclaims to be the “ultimate truth” about thinking . Nevertheless, if anyone want to step-in and contribute to it , you are more than welcomed!


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The story mapping : An Agile Gemba Walk through User experience

Image During the last exercise of story mapping I facilitated , while repeating the question “What will this user do next?What are her options?”  I realized that the user experience discovering approach that brilliantly story mapping implements is so close of Lean Gemba walk. Both are about understanding what matters for those that will be most impacted by our initiative : the user. Or let’s say in the Lean Way “The Customer Obsession”.


Here is the thought in a couple of steps

“Who will use the software : We are happy to present the characters ! “

Gemba walk starts  value discovery and value creation in an entreprise end-to-end activity:  discover what is the value in our activity and why ? An for sure, value is linked to the benefit that that activity will bring to the user. Fist of all : “who are you my customer ? “What is your day made of ? “

And then there is the “persona” game, the story mapping preliminary to understand how “profiling” the application user will help us understand the best solution that matches her behavior.

Story mapping is relying on  option of scenarios in regards with idenftied profiles of users.


” When entering the tool what will the user do first? “

This is how story mapping activity starts. After the first step , what are the options for the next one? What does this choice mean if we look closer?

Performing a Gemba walk , from a different perspective,  is a great tool to understand what happens on the (value) production chain. Now, we need to agree that value is the usability of the product for the one we are trying hard to build it ( dear user, customer, I do love you!).  And we are going to see asking the same type of questions :

“What happens now?” And next?” What are the problems that you may observe?”

Gemba walk and Story mapping are both extraordinary tools to reinforce understanding or , how a brilliant lean expert said once “extraordinary tools for learning to see”.


User experience and Value Stream : The complementarity 

Or put it in anoher way ,  t might sound like this : ” How will you use my product will help me improve the way I’m building it”

When the the story mapping exercise was over, I was surprised of this  elegant evidence:


Story mapping is a A Gemba Walk to gain user experience on the software I’ll be building

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