What is Pulse? A Short Introduction

What is Pulse? Pulse has daily stand-up meetings, visual management and planned demonstrations that give feedback. Pulse encompasses the whole organization.

If you visit a company that works with Pulse you will find a Pulse room where the walls are covered with white boards filled with information, referred to as Pulse boards. If you look closer at these boards you’ll see that several of the boards look alike. These are the Pulse project boards. There are also a lot of boards that stand out. On first impression, the Pulse room might seem messy. In addition to printed plans there are post-its, colored magnets and handwritten documents.

What is Pulse?

Vad är puls?
Pulse meeting in session

If you spend the morning in the Pulse room you’ll notice people gathering by the Pulse boards every so often for short Pulse meetings. During these short meetings they discuss what has been completed, what work is currently in progress and what needs to be done next. At the same time they update their board. The meeting participants use the post-its during the meeting. By moving them between different headlines they can show which tasks need to be done, are being worked on or are completed. The groups work together well and are alert. Everyone participates in the discussions and helps update the information on the board. After a couple of minutes they leave. Some people return for other meetings but no one participates in all of the meetings.

If you were to return on Friday morning you would also see Pulse meeting but it would be a different kind of Pulse meeting. Now it’s the management of the organization and the project managers that take center stage. During several subsequent Pulse meetings they deal with the serious problems that have been encountered within the projects, plan resource distribution for the upcoming week and discuss strategic issues. Pulse boards are also used during these meetings and are kept updated throughout the meetings. The meetings are short and information is kept flowing between the meetings through the participants and the use of post-its.

It becomes clear that the Pulse room is a kind of central dispatch where the organization as a whole can coordinate and decisions are made to keep the company running. The information on the walls also helps the participants interact. The Pulse boards create transparency so that everyone can see how the other teams are doing as well as the status of the organization as a whole. The Pulse boards also demonstrate the impressive number of projects which are completed every year.

What Isn’t Visible Using Pusle?

Will putting up some white boards in order to complete projects at a faster pace increase the pulse of an organization? There are some ingredients in Pulse that are not visible from the outside.

Projects and tasks are started in order to realize a strategy. Exploring which projects to begin in order to realize reach long-term and short-term goals is an ongoing process which is achieved using groups of commercial and technical executives that hold daily Pulse meetings. They give the outlines of the results that the projects are supposed to deliver and by doing so determine the direction of the organization’s development.

The groups are self-organized. This means that they are expected to act within their own authority. The outline of the project is made up of the goals that have been agreed upon. The project’s overreaching plan is developed by the people who will be doing the actual work and be a part of the project group. It’s an important prerequisite in order for the team to be self-organized and able to effectively work together during the Pulse meetings. The plan shows which results will be turned over during the project and the displays will guarantee that the goals have been reached.

Results Are Attained Through Interaction

The more people interact, the more obstacles and problems are discovered. A majority of these the issues can take care of themselves during the Pulse meetings. However, some are outside the scope of the projects’ authorities and need to be taken up at the coordinating weekly Pulse meetings. The pace of the projects is dependent on the knowledge that problems outside their authority can be handled quickly by the management of the organization. It’s here that the coordinated weekly Friday Pulse meetings play a vital role.

Producing results is more important than having a lot going on. If you start too many projects and small assignments at the same time then work will slow down, which will decrease output and increase development times. It’s important to know how many projects the company has the capacity to maintain and the rest will have to wait.

Further Reading

Learn more at This is Pulse. Also, see the Agile Pulse, a simplified version of the Pulse guide.

Lean in Practice for Projects

Lean in practice means self-organization with visual management and jidoka. When you’re more organized, it’s more likely that your work will have greater value.

In a previous post I defined lean as a concept for creating self-organization. This means visual management and a “take-things-as-they-come” attitude (jidoka). When a system becomes more organized, you’ll be more likely to see valuable work being created.

Lean In Practice – Visual Management and Jidoka

Visual management and “take things as they come” (jidoka) are two principles. A principle is something that will be achieved. A method tells us how to achieve a principle. Many descriptions of lean are based on methods and not the fundamental principles and this can lead to confusion.
In production, workcells are defined by the flow of material. The workcells can be linked together with a method called Kanban. When the different parts become more linked to each other, the system as a whole becomes more organized. Here is a short clip (1m20s) that demonstrates how Kanban works in production.

Methods are very valuable tools but methods that work well in one context might not work at all in a different one. For example, production methods can seldom be transferred to strategy and development, since there are no recurring repetitive flows. This is why we use other methods in strategy and development that link together actors and allow them to be more self-organized. For example, when working on projects, daily stand-up meetings in front of a Pulse board may be used for visual management.

Lean In Action – Pulse Methods

activity-window-postits

In the picture above you can see an activity window on a Pulse board. The window is divided into three parts: to do, in progress and done. The project group meets every day and discusses what they will work on based on what is on the board. This way of working is called pull. With pull, a demand for results is created in the same way Kanban is used for production. In classic project management, a plan which describes who and what should be done at what time is needed. To work based on such a plan is called push. The problem with the push principle is that we can’t predict the future. Plans that go far into the future have a high level of insecurity and lead to interference and wastefulness. Management and staff spend their days putting out fires. Pull only plans for a few hours at a time, which leads to less interruptions.

Push is also an example of how an exterior actor prevents self-organization. This doesn’t mean that planning is unnecessary nor impossible – only detailed plans are impossible. Comprehensive planning is possible as long as you are aware that there will always be faults in these plans. Comprehensive plans are necessary in order to know what should be on the To Do list. With Scrum, a prioritizing backlog is used. With Pulse we work with a comprehensive synchronization plan. However, management of daily work isn’t based off of this plan. Instead, it’s based off of the current needs that are visualized on the Pulse board that’s used during Pulse meetings.

Yellow and Red Post-Its

Planning determines which yellow post-its will be used in the activity window. The red post-it illustrates a way to handle unexpected problems that come up, jidoka. These problems must be handled quickly and efficiently.

When using lean, oftentimes the project members themselves plan and manage their work. They do this through putting up post-its in the activity window and through moving the notes on the board as the work progresses. The appearance of the board tells the group about its current needs and what they have to do in order to move the project forward. By moving the post-its on the board, it’s possible to see lean in action.

Unbalanced Workloads

Workloads within strategy and development are always uneven and need to be balanced. In order to handle this issue, the activities posted in the To Do section are not assigned to any single individual. Matchmaking between individual and task takes place at the Pulse meeting. Distribution is done by the individuals themselves in the form of taking notes. The role of the project leader is to make sure that no one is overloaded and this can be done by making sure that no one takes more than 1-3 post-its.

Lean In Action Depends on the Context

To summarize, lean in practice can look different depending on the context yet the underlying principles are always the same. When it comes to lean for strategy and development we have defined what we see as the foundation of lean in product development.