Rapids in Oregon

Messing up your value stream can put you on the rocks!

Mapping your value stream is an important starting place for channeling change and then for organizing around change. Mapping a value stream is a first step, not an endpoint. If your understanding of your value stream is wrong you will have the data needed to make all sorts of erroneous decisions. Two value stream mapping issues lead to incorrect mapping and later to compounding the error by making bad decisions for organizing work and for improvement.

  1. Issue: What we think we know is not what really happens.
    This issue is part and parcel of being human (that does not mean there is not a solution). Our memories are fluid and are synthesized from what we have stored in the past only when we retrieve information (described in a New Scientist article Oct 27, 2018). This compounded by the fact that each person sees or absorbs events differently. The perception of importance and the level of emotion both affect how and what we remember. Memory gets even funkier when we couple memory with time. The further away in time an event the more memory reflects what we want to have happened and less of what actually did. 

    Most value stream mapping events draw on managers or senior managers. They are supposed to know what goes on within their span of control and often have been promoted from within the area they are leading. The problem is that how the work is done today and how it was done in the past are not always the same.

    Another problem with memory noted by Daniel Kahneman in Thinking Fast and Slow is that System 1 Thinking takes a starting and ending point and then fills in the gaps based on our bias.

    Simply put our memories are not terribly trustworthy.

    Useful Solution(s):
    => Crowdsource the creation of the value stream. Get a small team together to map the value stream (use the Scrum team size limitations of 5 – 9).
    => Go to the Gemba – using non-lean words, go observe the flow of value as it happens. Use techniques that support a formal Gemba Walk. include multiple people on the observation technique, record observations during the walk and debrief as a team IMMEDIATELY after the walk. Seeing avoids memory traps and provides a common link for the mapping team.
    => The mapping team should include a diverse crosssection of people, a mixture of leaders, managers, and practitioners. Some consultants suggest keeping senior leaders out of the mix (they are too far removed from the flow) and others suggest not including practitioners (tend to provide overly detailed information).  Do not constrain involvement but rather ensure that someone facilitates the process to avoid the pitfalls.
  2. Issue: Not involving people who influence how work is actually done.
    This issue is related to the first issue but tends to reflect that teams and line-level leaders know how to flex or game the system that more senior leaders might not be aware of (or want to be). In the television show M*A*S*H, Corporal O’Reilly and later Corporal Klinger were the people who knew how to get things done. While these two are characters on a television show, they represent an archetype that exists in every organization I have ever studied. Excluding these people will rob the mapping process of deep knowledge and can cause resistance to change later.

    Useful Solution(s):
    => Find the “fixer” for key areas in the value stream and have them participate. In order to find these people use the simple expedient of going to an area and ask who you would go to make something happen. 
    => If those in the “fixer” role can not participate in mapping the value stream, use them as subject matter experts to review the process.  

Mapping a value stream can go off the rails quickly if you do not have the right people involved.  Avoid the inclination to tap someone to go off, map the value stream and report back when complete. This is a team sport, involving the right people will avoid spinning your wheels or worse.