Creative Tension

Creative Tension

When developing a Value Chain Map, as with any mapping technique, there is an almost irresistible urge to spin into the weeds.  There will be a tension between focusing on the details and remaining at a high-level in your overview. This creative tension, a term coined by Peter Senge, author of “The 5th Discipline,” is a scenario where disagreement ultimately gives rise to better ideas or outcomes. The goal of Value Chain Mapping provides a baseline for you to pull against. However managing the creative tension requires leadership.

Managing that tension begins with clearly articulating the goal or vision of the Value Chain Mapping exercise. The goal not only defines the analysis is done, but it also will help you determine where more detail will be counterproductive and less will not satisfy the purpose. The gap between the micro and macro approach creates an emotional and energetic tension that the team naturally will seek to resolve.

Techniques like the cyclic, short-term planning, daily stand-up meeting, and demonstrations will provide the team feedback mechanisms to help address the tension. Cyclic, short-term planning, like a sprint planning in Scrum, allows the whole team to use the goal as an anchor and to discuss the level of granularity necessary. For Value Chain Mapping projects of medium to high complexity, I suggest one week planning iterations.  For small exercises, a single planning exercise is all that is needed. Daily stand-up meetings provide a platform to perform daily planning, such as the appropriate level of granularity, while exposing any issues that are in the way of the team.  Finally, demonstrations, in which the team’s work products are shown and reviewed with the product stakeholders, provide a feedback mechanism to ensure the exercise stays on track.

Senge suggests that creative tension is an ally to driving change.  Like the three bears, the tension between a too high level and too low level Value Chain Map can be used to motivate the team to a level of analysis that is just right (to meet the goal of the exercise).