What does the coin represent?

We’re about to play Featureban and we’ve reached the coin slide.

Redwood Photography, via Flickr CC BY-ND 2.0

“Everybody needs a coin – have you got one (or access to one)?”

Inevitably, some borrowing and lending ensues. “An exercise in trust, this bit!”

“Can you think what the what your coins might represent?”

Chance, you say? Decisions?

Those are both good answers, but not precisely the one I was looking for. Apologies for using a piece of jargon (we really do try to keep that to an absolute minimum), but the coin is a source of what we call ‘variation’.

I’m sure that nothing like this never happens in your company, but let me tell you about an effect I’ve noticed elsewhere. Sometimes, a 1-day piece of work becomes a 2-day, 3-day, even 8-day piece of work. Something we thought would take a day, takes eight! Shocking, isn’t it! But you never see it here, right?

Joking aside, it should not be surprising that in our line of work we see plenty of variation. How often do we start a piece of work with just a sticky note or email’s worth of information? Does anyone really know at this stage what’s involved? Of course not. And even after we dig into it, there are always new things to discover (it’s not called ‘knowledge work’ for nothing), dependencies to manage, people changing their minds (for good reasons as well as bad), bugs, absences (planned and unplanned), and so on.

Would it not make sense then to manage our work using systems that comfortably deal with variation – embrace it even – as opposed to pretending that it doesn’t exist or unfairly blaming people when it manifests itself? That’s what we’re going to experience in our game.

Some of you will get frustrated by this variation. Use that feeling! We’ll learn how to go about doing something about it too.


In all fairness to Mr Deming (see On not teaching PDCA for why I have some making up to do), variation is a word forever associated with the great man. “Understanding variation” is part 2 of his 4-part System of Profound Knowledge.

What if we put agreement on outcomes ahead of solutions?

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