Posted January 21, 2014 by Joshua Kerievsky


Want to know what decades in the software field has taught me?

Protecting people is the most important thing we can do, because it frees people to take risks and unlocks their potential.

I call this Anzeneering, a new word derived from anzen (meaning safety in Japanese) and engineering.

Every day, our time, money, information, reputation, relationships and health are vulnerable.

Anzeneers protect people by establishing anzen in everything from relationships to workspaces, codebases to processes, products to services.

Anzeneers consider everyone in the software ecosystem, whether they use, make, market, buy, sell or fund software.

Anzeneers approach failure as an opportunity to introduce more anzen into their culture, practices, and tools.

By making anzen their single driving value, anzeneers actively discover hazards, establish clear anzen priorities and make effective anzen decisions.

Protecting People From What?

Anzeneers protect:

  • Software users from programs that hurt their ability to perform their job well, waste their time, annoy them, lose or threaten their data or harm their reputation.

  • Software makers from poor working conditions, including hostile relationships, death marches, burnout, hazardous software (poorly designed, highly complex, deeply defective code, lacking even basic safety nets like automated builds or automated tests), insufficient testing infrastructure, poor lighting, uncomfortable seating, excessive work hours and insufficient exercise.

  • Software managers from the stress and consequences of not delivering, insufficient insight into progress, poor planning and sudden surprises.

  • Software purchasers from software that damages their reputation because it doesn't meet expectations or isn't used.

  • Software stakeholders from losing large investments and marketplace credibility because of doomed software efforts.

An Agile & Lean Common Denominator

Anzen is a common denominator of every Lean and Agile practice.

Lean Startups protect our time and money via minimum viable products/features, validated learning and innovation accounting.

Extreme Programming's technical practices protect us from complexity, stress and defects via simple design, automated testing, continuous builds, test-driven development, refactoring and pair-programming.

Kanban protects us from bottlenecks and decreased flow via visualized work, limited work-in-process and classes of service.

Lean UX protects us from poor user experiences via interaction design and usability evaluations.

Retrospectives protect us from repeating the same mistakes.

Sustainable pace protects us from burnout, poor health and isolation.

Continuous deployment protects us from stressful, error-prone releases while enabling safe, high-speed production improvements.

Protecting people underlies every Lean or Agile practice.

Anzeneers make this protection their explicit, driving value.

Cultivating An Anzen Culture

When General Motors compared their safety engineering, enforcement and education to Alcoa (a leader in safety), they found that they were virtually identical.

Yet Alcoa had an amazing safety record and GM did not.

The difference was that Alcoa had a genuine safety culture.

Dr. Steven Simon, a student of Abraham Maslow (creator of the famous Hierarchy of Needs), invented the idea of "safety culture" in the early 1980s, when most folks thought he was nuts to be talking about such a thing.

He astutely observed that culture "supports or undermines your safety program" and "drives safe or unsafe behaviors."

For example, mixed messages about safety and performance (such as "We care about your safety, but please deliver as fast as possible") can lead people to work in highly unsafe ways.

Dr. Simon said, "The premise of culture-based safety is that the individual's behavior is a product of the group’s culture and particularly of the norms mirrored and modeled by leaders, formal and informal."

If you want to see new employees emulate unsafe behavior, have them work beside coworkers who routinely undermine or bypass a safety practice.

To cultivate a genuine safety culture, people must be empowered to uncover unsafe assumptions or shared beliefs and establish norms that drive safe behavior.

Safety culture work is now recognized as an essential part of safety programs in automotive, aerospace, energy, food, pharmaceutical and transportation companies.

And it is practically non-existent in most software organizations.

Anzeneering is here to change that.

To effectively protect people,
anzeneers must cultivate an anzen culture.

Such work involves embarking on a multi-year "safety culture journey" that is "grassroots-led and management-supported," as Dr. Simon says.

Future posts on anzeneering will share what we are learning about the safety culture journey from Dr. Simon and other leaders in the safety field, including Amy Edmondson, a Harvard Business School professor who is doing outstanding research and writing on team psychological safety.

Safely Taking Risks

Anzeneering does not mean playing it safe, since it can be inherently unsafe to not take risks.

Anzeneers figure out what is or isn't a safe risk.

They avoid faux safety: that which masquerades as safety but fails to deliver genuine protection for people.

Faux Safety: Not Speaking Up

Do you say nothing at all when you have a dissenting opinion because it feels safer to not speak?

That is faux safety, since your dissenting opinion could potentially be quite valuable and protect people from a problem.

In her excellent book, Teaming, Amy Edmondson describes how climates that are psychologically safe expect and welcome dissenting views.

What is safe for one person may not be safe for others.

For example, programmers who have job security because they write hard-to-understand code that only they can maintain/extend put colleagues at risk by being a single point of failure.

Genuine safety provides protection for ourselves and others.

Enabling Excellence

W. Edwards Deming's First Theorem says nobody gives a hoot about profit.

Managers who push profit over everything else rarely get the cooperation, motivation or outcomes they seek.

An early 1980s initiative to improve the quality of aluminum at Alcoa failed because it was a management-driven initiative with no real association to what workers needed most.

As Paul O'Neill later demonstrated at Alcoa starting in the late 1980s, when people are empowered to seek out and eliminate the greatest hazards to their health and safety, their performance improves, quality rises, and they feel safe to fail, innovate and pursue excellence.

Anzeneering at Industrial Logic

Anzeneering now defines how we work at Industrial Logic.

It's improving how we protect people in our training, coaching, development, teamwork, hiring, operations, sales and marketing.

While we were once agilists, we are now anzeneers.

We are helping our clients become anzeneers by helping them answer questions like:

  • What harms or endangers people the most in your software ecosystem?
  • What would need to change to remove or reduce those hazards?
  • What do people need to feel safe to take risks and explore their potential?

I will be giving a keynote speech about Anzeneering at:

If you attend one of those conferences I would love to meet you and hear about your safety journey.

I would like to thank the following people for reviewing and helping me improve this post: Pam Allio, Sandra Browne, Amr Elssamadisy, Chris Freeman, Alexandre Freire, Ashley Johnson, Tracy Kerievsky, Achi Oseso, Tim Ottinger, Miguel Peres, Ingmar van Dijk, Bill Wake and Ruud Wijnands.