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.

Pulse Meetings Are Short, Effective and Fun

Pulse meetings are short, daily standing meetings where a team plans their work with the help of a Pulse board. Pulse meetings are more interesting and more effective than standard meetings.

Pulsmöten med visuell styrning och jidoka

Pulse Meetings for Planning and Managing

Pulse meetings are a way to plan, organize and manage an organization. Instead of following traditional management philosophies, by holding Pulse meetings it’s possible to utilize the variety and uncertainty that exist in an organization. Pulse meetings are based on the lean principles of visual planning and fault tolerance (from the concept of jidoka). A Pulse board is required to hold a Pulse meeting.

Traditional planning never makes it past the planning stage in many cases and creates a lot of administrative work but doesn’t add much or any value, since you can’t predict the future. In stark contrast to traditional planning, visual management entails a dynamic planning by a team in the situation they are currently facing. When working with knowledge an activity window is used where post-its visualize the flow of “to do – in progress – done.”

Fault tolerance (jidoka) entails the inclusion of methods that enable the team to handle unexpected effects that the “butterfly effect” might cause and establish resilience and revitalization. Not making use of fault tolerance may lead to regrets about decisions, stress, conflicts and, most commonly, long lead times.

At Pulse we use goals and plans but they are open, meaning they are accessible through the network of Pulse meetings. Since the flow of decisions through the network of Pulse meetings is constant, contradictions and unexpected problems can be resolved within a few hours to a couple of days.

For strategy and development the management team, product management, resource management, task management and development projects use Pulse meetings (see example here). Pulse meetings may also be used for other areas such as sales, commission, delivery and acquisitions.

Pulse Meetings Replace Other Meetings

Pulse meetings replace many other meetings. A Pulse meeting is held standing in front of a board with visualized information and is rarely longer than 15 minutes. Despite the fact that meetings are frequent, total time spent at meetings will actually decrease dramatically.

Finally, most participants are very pleased with Pulse meetings.

Visual Management Of Multiple Development Units

Visual management is a decentralized way of working in which team and project participants plan and manage their own work. Participation is necessary but can take place in different ways.

Visualization is a powerful tool that when used correctly can coordinate the work of both a team as well as the whole operation. Visualization requires some rules for cooperation between groups to work: updating the project status should be easy, highlighting problems must be simple to do and there can’t be any delays that would cause information to become old and unreliable. Also, it’s important to be able to see when the last update was made and this information must be available to everyone involved.

The Pulse Board

By following the requirements stated above, physical boards, Pulse boards, become superior to an IT-based system. By writing down the meeting times on every board everyone can see when the information was last updated. If the group holds daily Pulse meetings at 8:45 am, the board was updated during the last Pulse meeting. Events that have taken place since then can probably not be seen on the board. By using post-its that are moved in an activity window we can see what is being worked on and what has been recently completed. You also get an understanding of how quickly the group attains results and if the group, or a person, takes on too many tasks at the same time. The board shows which activities the group’s members need to deal with next, which is necessary when assigning work. You can also see if the group has any problems that need to be dealt with. With an overarching plan you can also see their progress so far and if it’s in line with previous aims and goals of the schedule. All of this is kept updated with very little administration and is easily visible to everyone simultaneously.

Furthermore, if all Pulse boards are gathered in one Pulse room you then in just a few minutes you can get a complete picture of the organization and its current challenges. However, this assumes that everyone works under the same roof. How does Pulse work when work is spread out over several locations?

Visual Management of Multiple Development Units

It’s common nowadays that product development takes place in many locations around the world and there is a need to coordinate efforts in projects and strategy work. This is also true for many businesses that utilize the Pulse guide. I’ve noted that the better the visualization and interaction works in one location the easier it is to coordinate with other locations. The internal interaction furthers a common understanding of plans, problems, expectations and opportunities. This is of great use when coordinating work with other development units. This leads to the conclusion that cooperation between development units works better when more units use the Pulse method.

If a company’s suppliers and clients also use Pulse it’s even better. If so it’s possible to easily coordinate in the same way with the as between development units.

A good video-link (meaning a clear picture and a minimal time-delay between image and sound) eases communication between units. Remember that it’s more important to film the participants of the meetings rather than the Pulse board. The information shown on the board and the one that groups wish to share between locations already exists digitally since it’s part of overarching shared plans and not small details on post-its.

As I mentioned previously, each group member will not participate in every Pulse meeting. However, since the meetings are frequent (daily to weekly) it’s not that important if a meeting or two is missed. It’s quick and easy  to be updated on what happened in the last meeting by studying the Pulse board. Since the teams are self-organized the meetings will be held even if the project leader or chairperson is absent.

To sum it up, visualized management between several development units is easy with Pulse.

Visual Decision-Making Structure

The visual decision-making structure is the foundation of an agile network organization. The organization is visualized through the network of Pulse meetings in the Pulse room.

Organigram-hierarki

“Let me show you our organization” are words you might hear when first meeting a company as a job seeker or potential business partner. The picture that is oftentimes shown is that of a hierarchical structure. You can see which departments are organized under the CO and the different staff. If you look closer, the names of managers and personnel appear. The organization that is shown is based on people and their relationship towards each other. However, today it’s rare that a single boss can make all of the important decisions; instead they are made during board meetings.

Hierarchical Linear Organizations

Hierarchial-organisation-network

The organization chart doesn’t show what discussion forums already exist. You can only vaguely imagine a management team and departmental meetings. Additionally, cross-functional meetings that are necessary for the organization are missing. Production might have planning meetings, quality service meetings and daily management meetings. Within projects there are project meetings, board meetings or a product board. Besides daily management, these are not frequent meetings, maybe just weekly or monthly. They take place sitting around a meeting table with no aids besides presentations and summaries shown using a computer and projector. When the projector is turned off, accumulated picture disappears. Since a hierarchical structure is dependent upon people developing the organization, individuals are supposed to carry the knowledge and decisions between meetings. Here it’s possible to see big gaps in the structural level since the individuals move around in different spheres that don’t overlap and have a tendency to forget. It doesn’t help if individuals reappear in different meeting constellations when issues and decisions aren’t being shared between the meetings as well. Information and feedback don’t flow through the organization; they tend to stop and get lost between different decision-making forums. This creates frustration since the meetings both take up a lot of time and the decisions are unclear or non-existent due to the lack of up-to-date information.

Visual Decision-Making Structure Using Pulse

Agile-network-organisation-hubb

With a network of Pulse meetings a visual decision-making structure is established in the Pulse room that has the capacity to make decisions quickly with the help of up-to-date information. The Pulse meetings are frequent and are part of the same feedback loop in order to create a decision-making network that moves questions, decisions and information to the right forum. The Pulse boards are left after the meetings are over and remind the group and other parties of what decisions were made at the previous meeting and any new unfinished business.

The organization is constructed by institutions (the Pulse meetings) and the connections (questions, decisions and information) that exist between them. It’s this network that creates a visual decision-making structure.

The connections are partially supported by people yet Pulse boards have a crucial role to play. When a problem comes up it’s possible to take care of the problem by writing on a Post-it and putting it up on the appropriate Pulse board. The Post-it will remain on the boards until the problem is dealt with and how the problem is being handled can be traced by looking at the board. Information and feedback flows through the decision-making network and is used daily by the participants of the meetings to act, interact and relay information.

The Pulse room, Pulse boards and the Pulse meetings create an integrated and continuing flow that processes information. In other words, the Pulse guide has created an agile network organization.

Agile Network Organization for Demanding, High Tempo Work

The agile network organization is a new way to run an organization. An agile network organization can handle complex, high tempo tasks.

During the years we’ve worked with implementing the Pulse guide at various businesses we have learned holding more Pulse meetings and involving more people in the Pulse network will improve results.
In order to understand what a network is and how it differs with the approach during the Industrial Age, Foton lab has put together the following video:

Pulse is a network organization where certain nodes have more contacts than others and therefore more influence.

Agile-network-organisation-hubb

Random Networks

At an ordinary organization without a Pulse network, spontaneous interaction between people occurs in order to solve tasks. Some of this interaction is recurring and partially institutionalized through meeting forums. However, a large part of the interaction is random. The connections that exist between different parts of the operation are weak and information and demands are lost on the way, leading to loss of energy and more disruptions.

Agile Network Organization – Guided Networks

An agile network organization institutions are established that are supposed to handle all work and questions, both recurring and unique. Within a visual decision-making structure the institutions take the form of Pulse meetings. These are by necessity cross-functional so that information and interaction can spread to the relevant parts of the operation. Additionally, there needs to be enough institutions to handle demands and problems as well as have the knowledge and capacity to deal with them. For example, questions about technical choices are dealt with primarily by the developers of the projects, while questions about what investments are the responsibility of management. However, both these questions will affect each other, which makes it vital for information to flow between Pulse meetings. The greater the frequency of Pulse meetings and the greater the proportion of the operation involved leads to greater transmission of information throughout the organization.

Channelizing Energy

I like to explain the transportation and flow of information within an operation by comparing it to energy being transported through waves. Waves transport energy from the wind over large distances without transporting the water itself. Only a small current occurs when the wave passes by. It’s only when the wave hits the beach that the current breaks since the top and the bottom can’t move at the same speed anymore. When the wave breaks, the energy of the wave is lost in turbulence. The flow of information within an operation works in the same way: as long as information can be transported through the operation there are only small losses of energy. However, as soon as there are no connections between different parts of the organization the flow of information will slow down. The wave of information breaks and energy is lost in the form of stress and conflicts.

In order to turn an organization into an agile network there must be enough nodes with frequent intermediate connections and a network focused on letting management direct resources. Therefore, how the the network is created and where the nodes are established is important in order to ensure efficiency and adaptability.

Cross-Functional Work and Network Organizations

The best way to create cross-functional work is with the help of a fractal, shell-less network. This kind of an organization is quick and agile.

Cross-functional work (for example, projects, Scrum and management groups) are nowadays normal aspects of most operations. However, this was not the case when I started working in the early 80’s. Back then collaboration between different functions was handled by management and it wasn’t common even for engineers that had the same roles to talk about work with each other. Nonetheless, even at the time the complexity of the tasks was so great that managers were finding it difficult to handle collaboration effectively. The solution to this turned out to be projects.

Cross-functional Work and the Challenge of Decentralization

There is a saying that “yesterday’s solutions are today’s problems.” Projects led to faster and more effective communication between different groups (i.e., acquisitions, marketing or production), however, at the same time management lost influence and perspective of what was actually going on. When we analyze different companies, we can see many new problems popping up: overload from taking on too many projects and tasks at the same time, lack of clarity in decision-making and unclear goals.
Project models of the 90’s were built around standardized work-processes and push planning yet these created more problems than they solved. Every project is more or less unique and needs to create its own work methods based on the situation at hand. Projects are also much more effective when utilizing visual management (pull). What was missing from the project models was what the network between people should look like. The networks became random, which made them unreliable and inefficient. However, these types of networks were the only known ones before the turn of the millennium. Then small world networks and shell-free networks were discovered and these changed everything.

Agile Network Organizations

Tvärfunktionellt arbete
The Pulse meeting is a node in the network. Certain Pulse meetings are n (hubs) with many contacts. Certain Pulse meetings are hubs with many contacts.

Most of the time a shell-free network belongs to the small world network category. A small world network is a network in which the distance between people is short, regardless of a person’s  function or position. We create a small world network through implementing Pulse as an agile network organization.

A problem within Pulse is never more than 2-3 steps (Pulse meetings) from the managing director. A shell-free network is never fractal, which means that it looks the same everywhere. This makes it easy to adjust the network according to needs. A new project is added as a node in the network and is removed when finished. The same method assures us that any node can be added and removed without any taxing changes to the organization

What we refer to as nodes are different types of Pulse meetings that create permanent and temporary institutions. The network consists of the collaboration that happens between the different Pulse meetings where needs, decisions and results flow between them and a cross-functional work is created. Through a network of Pulse meetings a new formal organization with greater efficiency, shortened lead times and greater understanding is created and we call this an agile network organization.