This is a chapter fromAmplio Development: The Path to Effective Lean-Agile Teams

Experience teaches nothing. In fact, there is no experience to record without theory… Without theory, there is no learning… And that is their downfall. People copy examples, and then they wonder what is the trouble. They look at examples, and without theory, they learn nothing. W. Edwards Deming

First Principles (Flow, Lean, Theory of Constraints)

First principles are principles that can’t be decomposed into other principles but stand on their own. They should apply universally or, at a minimum, state the context in which they apply. The first principles stated here apply virtually everywhere in knowledge work. Flow, Lean, and the Theory of Constraints help in understanding the cause and effect in knowledge work. The underlying belief is that first principles can both provide us with what to look at and that following them improves our effectiveness and efficiency.

Here are some first principles:

  1. We can complete smaller items faster than larger items.
  2. Local changes sometimes make the overall performance worse.
  3. We can’t manage what we don’t see.
  4. Delays in workflow, in getting feedback, and in taking advantage of lessons learned cause waste.
  5. We only see what we think and talk about
  6. People working beyond capacity creates delays in workflow and in feedback that create additional work to be done (waste).
  7. Handoffs cause a loss of knowledge and information.
  8. People doing the work have more insights into how it should be done than those managing them.

Underlying Mindset and Values

Our mindset and values filter what we notice. This is often called ‘cognitive bias.’ We must continue questioning our mindset and ensure it’s helping us.

  • Take a systems thinking point of view.
  • Assume you are working in a complex system and attend to the symptoms of complexity (lack of visibility and potentially non-linear events).
  • Have an attitude of doing things just in time.
  • Focus on the delivery of value to the customer.
  • Continuously improve your mindset by using both double and triple-loop learning.
  • Have a positive attitude towards management. If they are not cooperating, ask yourself what they do not see and provide that to them. Notice how this requires improving their understanding.
  • Respect people.
  • Those close to the work usually have the best understanding of what needs to be done.
  • Have those close to the work make decisions, but provide them with the information they need to make good decisions
  • Attend to and mitigate risk.
  • Use metrics to see if you are progressing in the right direction.
  • Recognize that work is not complete until the customer has received value from it.
  • Make learning a habit.

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