Kurt's Blog

November 19, 2013

Book Review: The Principles of Product Development Flow

Filed under: Book Review — Tags: , , — Kurt Häusler @ 11:26 am

This will probably be a short review, as it has been some months since I have read the book. This book is really dense with information. Many people find it very difficult and suggest reading his previous book first. In fact at the Kanban Leadership Retreat we had a session called “Dumbing Down Don”. I had read his previous bookreviewed it here and heard the author Don Reinertsen speak probably 3 or 4 times at conferences before I read the book. Also his ideas were already well known to anyone in the “Kanban community”, so I felt well prepared and didn’t find the material particularly challenging. Actually challenging is the wrong word. I didn’t find the book particularly difficult to understand. It does however challenge much mainstream thinking in the area of the economics of product development management, so in that sense it is indeed challenging.

Flow

This is probably the best book I have read so far this year. It was an easy 5 stars on Amazon and Goodreads. I continually recommend it as the most important book for anyone using Kanban to read. Assuming one gets training or manages to understand the basics through experience or other sources, I might even consider it more important for Kanban practitioners than David’s book. The third Kanban core practice, Manage Flow, is one of the hardest to grasp, and this book is essentially the guide to this practice.

The biggest takeaway for me was the material on understanding the true costs of product development. Too many places I have worked at think cost is a simple matter of counting the hours a developer spends pushing buttons on a keyboard. This book helps highlight the importance of paying attention to other types of costs, particularly the costs associated with queues and the cost of delay. I also really like the way he brings things back to real numbers, as in financial numbers. That is something many in the agile community for example seem to avoid or at least overlook. In a lot of ways Don Reinertsen reminds me a lot of Tom Gilb. Another concept in the book that has occupied my thoughts lately is the asymmetry of payoff functions. This is the idea that we cannot expect every product to meet our desired expectations, and in fact often only a minority of products can be or should be fully leveraged in order to fund the less successful ones. Basically we should recognise and accept that most of our products will not be hits and kill them as soon as we have invested enough to realise that they will not be hits. The minority of hits should be successful enough to fund the investment in the non-hits. This is standard practice in the pharmaceutical industry for example. The question that haunts me, is how can software development service providers leverage what we know about the asymmetry of payoff functions. Service providers earn the same regardless of the level of success of the product. Could this be changed? Should we price software development services according to the level of success the product reaches in the market? It is a dysfunction splitting the organisation developing the product from the organisation that realises the value of it? One thing I am convinced of is that most software development service providers spend way too much time, effort and money on products that will not meet their market expectations. It still seems unintuitive for a software development service provider to kill a “project” that is not meeting its financial expectations, and this needs to change. Too much development capacity is wasted on such low-value work.

This book is definitely a must-read not just for Kanban practitioners, but anyone involved in developing products, especially at a management level.

Oh that reminds me, another thing that I really liked is that he uses the phrase “Product Developer” in places where we might expect to read “Manager”. He does this all through the book when discussing decisions that need to be made. Now in the real world the old “Taylorist” split between manager-thinkers, and worker-doers still exists. Even in software development. The idea that a e.g. Software Developer will be involved in an investment decision based on concrete financial information is still very foreign, but one that I see as a desirable and necessary future, and the language in this book assumes and hopefully reinforces this ideal future, which really appealed to me.

May 2, 2012

Review of Works new Krups Nespresso Coffee Machine

Filed under: Review — Tags: , , , — Kurt Häusler @ 12:30 pm

 

So work got a new coffee machine this week. A Krups Nespresso pod thing, and I was the first one to use it, and would like to write a few short comments about it.

I also made a video of me playing with it:

Krups Nespresso

Now I feel I better clear up my prejudice by way of a disclaimer. I was already biased against these pod machines, and super-automatic espresso machines, but I thought I would try and keep an open mind, and not let my prejudice get in the way.

First Impressions / Appearance: Well I had seen these things before, so there was no real “wow look at that” moments. It was pretty much what one would expect. You could look at it and know what most of the bits were for, but not all. I saw a quick start guide, but it assumed you already knew what every part was, which I didn’t so I had to read the full manual anyway. The design is pretty average, but that’s ok, Krups isn’t (as far as I know) famous for its design. It uses 3 different types of plastic, grey, shiny metal like, and see through. It follows a typical shape for an pod, or fully-automatic espresso machine, with a central upper bit letting coffee fall into a cup below, with a drip catcher underneath. A cup warmer, and a milk frother have been slapped on to each side.

Usage: This is where it falls short. It is extremely difficult to get the pod in correctly. You are supposed to lift up the lever at the top, put a pod in, close the lever and go. Afterwards you lift the lever and the used pod is supposed to drop into the holder below. Unfortunately it doesn’t work like that. You lift the lever up, put the pod in, and the pod drops straight through to the bottom. You can kind of close the lever half way and put the pod in but then it might sit too high, and you will only get water. You have to kind of hold the lever half closed, put the pod in, then slowly open the lever the right amount to let the pod slowly drop down into the correct position. It is very easy to let it drop, or to close it with the pod placed to high, or close it so only one side of the pod gets pierced. This wasn’t just my experience, when I arrived at work this morning two co-workers reported the same finding. I actually ended up wasting the first pod, it got pierced 2 times on one side, but not the other, no matter how I tried to get it into the machine. My 2 other attempts worked however, once I managed to get the pod in properly.

Taste: Now I dunno what is inside these pods, whether it is normal ground coffee, or some sort of instant stuff, but it seems far too small compared to the amount of ground coffee normally required for a single espresso shot. I had wasted a “single origin” pod, so my second attempt was a lungo pod. I made a lungo with it, and I didn’t like it. It was very weak, and had a bitter tinge like it was over-extracted. You could see as the coffee was coming out that it was only coffee colored for the first 2 or 3 seconds of the 50 second shot. Once I flicked the crema away, it looked watery. This morning I had a normal espresso pod, and it was acceptable, didn’t taste over extracted, was better than the typical crap spewed out by a super-auto, but was still very weak, and inferior to most other coffee I drink whether Aeropress, filter or an Espresso made my a talented barista. It certainly didn’t feel like a nice, thick, strong espresso that I could turn into a decent americano, like I usually do, in fact it was more like an espresso sized americano.

Cost: I don’t know how much this one cost, and I couldn’t find the exact model on google shopping, but similar ones (with the milk frother, but without the cup warmer) cost between €150-€200. For me this is over-priced. I would rather spend that much money on a decent grinder.

Edit: Woah wait a minute, stop the press, after a bit of googling, I found the model we have, and it costs €550! That is obscene compared to the much better coffee experience you could buy spending that money on other coffee gear. Heck you could probably get a decent grinder AND a good enough semi auto espresso machine for that money that would produce coffee 5 times better!

Conclusion: I don’t like it. Mainly because it doesn’t taste as good as other types of coffee such as Aeropress, proper espresso, even filter. I also don’t like the idea of aluminum pods, which could encourage Alzheimers, and lead to waste. Nespresso offer some recycling system, but how much energy is wasted shipping around these pods, used and unused, cleaning them, reprocessing the aluminum etc. Also Germany already has a tradition of the recycling bin for packaging, and also machines that accept empty bottles and give you money for them. If you can’t put these pods in the normal recycling, then I can’t see any alternative system, especially one which doesn’t give a deposit back, catching on here. They will probably end up not being recycled. Unfortunately people at work will use it instead of our usual filter machine, at least until the novelty wears off, or the pods run out, and its not worth cranking up the filter machine for one person, so I am basically stuck with drinking it for now. At least I have my Aeropress at home. I am also concerned about whether buying pods is cost effective compared to buying and grinding beans.

I give it a 3/10, because I did manage to get a drinkable (but not particularly enjoyable) coffee out of it, and it did taste a tad better than the typical super-automatic swill.

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