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InfoQ Homepage Interviews Examining the Roots of Agile

Examining the Roots of Agile


1. Good afternoon and welcome. This is Shane Hastie with InfoQ and I am here with Satoshi Kuroiwa, Kiro Harada and Kenji Hiranabe. Gentlemen, thank you very much for spending the time this afternoon with InfoQ. Could I ask you please very briefly to introduce yourselves?

Satoshi Kuroiwa: I am Satoshi Kuroiwa. I've worked for Toyota more than 30 years. Now I retired from Toyota 7 years ago. Now I am a Visiting Professor of Kyusyu Institute of Technology and also chairman of a non-profit organization related to information technology and also to the Toyota production system.

Kiro Harada: I am Kiro Harada. I have different title now: I am an Agile coach at Odd-e and I work on implement Scrum in Japan and then the fact that Agile likes to see "gemba" - go and see what happened, that is where I met Satoshi Kuroiwa - I wanted to see what happened when TPS with IT was developed. Then I also have a title as consultant at The Information Systems Institute where we specialize in enterprise system development. So we like to see large scale development, Agile is embraced right now.

Kenji Hiranabe: Hello. I am Kenji Hiranabe, I am from Japan. I am passionate about building community in Japan. So the Agile community in Japan is growing, but not as large as what we see here, so I am enthusiastic about making Japanese community. I am also a book translator, co- translated, "XP Installed" or "The Art of Agile Development" and Mary Poppendieck's "Lean Software Development" and so on. And I am also a tool vendor of Change Vision and I am making visualizing software including mind mapping.


2. Satoshi, if I may, you came to the Agile 2011 Conference to tell us something about the roots of Agile in terms of the Toyota production system. TPS was in many ways the motivation for a lot of what became the Agile methods. TPS is 30 years old now. Is it still relevant?

Satoshi Kuroiwa: TPS is now a evolving as a tool of information technology and you say 30 years ago the basic principle of the production system was constructed, but now is evolving using information technology. TPS consists of many tacit aspects of knowledge. The American researchers published many books to translate the tacit knowledge to explicit knowledge. So I am very pleased to know these kinds of books. But there are many other tools or ways to make a software development. The first is Toyota production system - not the focus is on the visibility of the whole system, for example the production line from the material to the finished product. So I think for this software development I expect to develop some tools to understand the whole system.


3. So at the moment we are missing some of this whole system view? Could all three of you comment on it?

Satoshi Kuroiwa: In Japan almost all software development based on the waterfall system, the technology is separated, so the focus is on one part of the software system. So I think it's not a whole, the people's motivation is low.


4. So the focus on a single small component (one step) demotivates the individual in the process?

Kiro Harada: I have a comment on that. Toyota has been making automobiles; so if it had made just a good engine, just a good engine, just good seats, that's not well. They need the whole car to runs safely, nicely, comfortably. So that they need to know, even though it's a parts manufacturer, they know they will use some part of a specific car so they know the whole picture view. But it's still for the car manufacturers that the car itself is just not good enough. So as a part of the environment they have to be fuel efficient or the emissions or the noises, so a car manufacturer needs a more broader and wider, a bird-eye view of it.

Instead of considering the software environment, we have more and more specialized components, split processes. Instead of viewing the whole system it seems like we are getting into a smaller specializing part, losing the whole view and as Kuroiwa said, many people lose motivation to do better and comfortable work.

Kenji Hiranabe: That might be a Japanese specific problem, maybe, because there is a user here and we subcontract things and so the whole picture is lost now, everything is broken down into pieces and we gather it together in a Waterfall way. Maybe Waterfall is still alive in Japan, 90 % is a waterfall.

Kiro Harada: More the problem is that the layers have contracting approach.

Kenji Hiranabe: I think it's changing.

Kiro Harada: It's changing right now, but are used to having the same [way of doing it].

Kenji Hiranabe: But what he is saying is that even if we use Agile methods, Agile approaches, we sometimes can narrowly focus one iteration or one month iteration or a small focus, but he wants to have that whole view, to have all those energies concentrated together.

Kiro Harada: It's controversial about Toyota at manufacturing. They concentrate their own work, make it complete, only the good parts are delivered to other following processes. At the same time the people will need the whole picture, which is very difficult.


5. The person doing the small piece of work has a focus on the quality of their work. But they have that in the context of the whole product and the whole process that goes beyond just the delivery, for instance, of the vehicle, but into the environment and the other things that you touched there.

Kiro Harada[translating Satoshi's answer]: We are talking about the situation of Agile there. Japan has been a country that lasted the same group of people for a long time, so we have tacit culture to have teamwork. So basically in the TPS based on teamwork the team will be a group of people that work together to deliver. In software industry it used to be developed in the United States where there are areas of specialization, so individuals need to deliver something that can be varied each one by one. So that techniques was in the software probably optimized for individual task delivered. Then, concerning the situation of Japan, maybe we just know how the processes of software development, we are doing individual task. Now thinking that we are seeing Agile community here, Agile Alliance here, they know that teamwork is very important in software development.

Kenji Hiranabe: Satoshi said he was surprised to see so much teamwork things, human things. Originally in Japan that's so natural.

Kiro Harada: Yes, Japan can run what we used to do from the United States, and other countries.

When Satoshi visited NUMMI first joint venture plant of Toyota and General Motors and he was just surprised that the specific workers are so protective with their own region, never try to help other workers. That was a surprise for him.


6. Built into Japanese culture is this concept of collaboration and concern. Kenji, you in fact wrote an article recently about that very thing, about how that is inherent in the Japanese culture. So, how can we in the other cultures, those of us that are picking up these Agile practices, what can we do to improve that tacit knowledge and what have we lost in the translation of things like the TPS where we've tried to codify it and perhaps missed some of that tacit knowledge? We've written stuff down, but have we written down enough?

Kenji Hiranabe: I would answer first. Maybe tacit knowledge is tacit, so talk, eat together as a team, as a family. I mean there are very few foreigners in Japan. That means Japanese always talk in Japanese in a safe way, we're all family kind of mood in Japan, so we talk to each other, we eat with each other, we spend a lot of time with each other as a family. That kind of safe mood would have been the good culture soil where the TPS emerged. So It's kind of difficult to transfer that tacit thing to implement to the others.

Kiro Harada: I think Linda Rising has successfully grabbed some of the tacit knowledge writing a part on Fearless Change. She always said part of the culture was "Do food, eat food together." There are other parts - brown bag, a lunch box, go out together and I think she grabbed some part of it.


7. Do those social things together that create the family feeling?

Kiro Harada: Actually there is a shared experience, not only about shared working experience, but we know we have different interest, different behavior, different taste of fashion or whatever, but it is OK. I think it's a controversial stuff in Japan. Most of the people have the same color of skin, but still we say they are so different. In the US you have so many races, you already know that, but you used to say "They and we". So there is difference, but instead so we can go have food and go drinking together. So I think it's a good mixture, in Japan we like different and diverse people together in the team - it is actually better; but on the other side, the diverse people to get together, to do food together is very good for them. We are mutually learning I believe.

Kenji Hiranabe: We are still learning from the Western side thinking.


8. And hopefully societies do learn from each other. Any one or small piece of advice that you can give the Agile community going forward?

Kiro Harada: I will answer. I don't think I can advise the Agile community since I believe I am a part of the community. So what I would like to go forward is I think I'd like to know more different views, different ideas, different values, still we can communicate and discuss. As an agilist of software I'd like to make more and more mistakes so that we can learn more. So since we are under too much pressure to do success, to do better, I think to do better is just kind of something boring, making mistakes makes me curious, that is much fun, I believe.

Satoshi sometimes feels that the Agile community here or in the other regions are much better placed that since TPS was researched, analyzed and well documented as Lean, it's well abstracted out of the manufacturing focus. So Lean has application in various ways, and has eventually found a way in software, in Agile.

But by the community here in Japan TPS is considered a manufacturing practice and techniques or sometimes even Japan considers it to be a tool to get cost reduction for the subcontractors, which is not actually true. Then in Japan we have the problem about the productivity improvement in service industries including software; but the TPS just nearby seems like manufacturing, they do not care about it. So some of them are still learning Lean, that is translated back in Japanese even though they are very close. So maybe the Agile community here has a good position. They have that access to various kinds of knowledge, so they can try applying and then see how it works.

Kenji Hiranabe: Let me try like this. Think about Lean as tomato juice, extracted from tomato and tomato juice can be applied to a Bloody Mary, tomato juice can be applied to everything but TPS is like tomato. It's very good but in Japan all the things are tomatoes, so no tomato juice, no literature about tomato juice. So in Japan we are kind of having a difficult time. Lean is abstracted and it's applied to software and it's coming back to Japan so Agile software is coming back to Japan but Lean is still here - so confused.

Kiro Harada: Then some of the tomatoes are really green. Some very good tomatoes taste terribly better than tomato juice, but you sometimes get to eat green tomatoes, too.

Kenji Hiranabe: I have been working on translating good English books to Japanese, so that the Japanese developers can understand the Agile culture, as well as Lean.

Kiro Harada: I think translating a book is a very good starting point, even though there is a good report - like InfoQ - we still want to come here. [Agile 2011 conference]

Kenji Hiranabe: That is the point! We need some feeling, tacit talking to each other, mixture of language.


9. To create - as you said - that tacit sharing and understanding that comes from events like this one where 1600 people of like mind get together and share our ideas and thoughts.

Kiro Harada: You know you have complaints about speakers of the last session today, just like now, they got less participants but this one just started thinking about party, getting together, started chatting.

Kenji Hiranabe: That is the main event of this.

Kiro Harada: Yes. Sorry for the speakers of the last lot, but all the participants know the meaning of Agile conference.

Kenji Hiranabe: This time maybe 10-15 Japanese are here and every year we have a conference in Japan like Agile Japan inviting 2 or 3 American speakers or British speakers all over from the world - it's having a good mixture.


10. Gentleman thank you very much. Thank you for taking the time to talk at Info Q today.

Kenji Hiranabe: It was enjoyable time.

Kiro Harada: It was a pleasure.

Nov 03, 2011