Focus On Flow

Helping an individual agile team interface with a waterfall organization is only a stopgap measure.  At some point, the level of noise and frustration generated between the team and the organization will wear everyone down. This will end up in a lose-lose outcome. Taking the three-steps outlined before today will reduce the conflict and pave the way for change. The steps suggested are:

  1. Prioritizing Work Entry (discussed in An Agile Team In A Waterfall World)
  2. Postponing Commitment (discussed in An Agile Team In A Waterfall Company – Postponing Commitment)
  3. Addressing Values, Principles, And Behaviors (discussed in Values, Principles, And Behaviors

To affect the direction of change and to deliver maximum value requires organizing people and teams around the flow of value in your organization. Modifying Steve Tendon and Daniel Doiron’s definition of flow a bit (from their new book Tame Your Work Flow which is being discussed on Re-read Saturday, “flow is the amount of work or value delivered per unit of time while speed is how fast work moves through the value chain.” The definition provides a framework to consider throughput using a systems thinking perspective (think big picture).  Steve and Daniel define 4 types of flow:

  1. Operational Flow
  2. Financial Flow
  3. Informational Flow
  4. Psychological Flow

Maximizing these four flows will deliver more value but will require organizing around the operational flow. This is often the most contentious step in adopting agile because most waterfall organizations group people based on specialty. Project managers in one group, coders in another, BAs, testers, and security people in other teams. There are all sorts of reasons for this approach to organizational design, the problem is that they cause workflow, prioritization, and contention issues. 

A value stream analysis provides the basis for organizing around the work.  Value chain, a term coined by Michael Porter in 1985, takes a high-level view of how value is delivered by an organization beginning with ideas and raw materials entering the organization through to the delivery of the product or service to a customer. A value chain plots a departmental view of transformation and shows the supporting groups that enable the transformation.  For example, a software firm decides on what software to build, creates software, markets, and sells that software, delivers that software, and then supports that software. These steps are the value chain. Human resources, facilities, and community services are examples of support groups that support and enable the value chain but are not central to the transformation and delivery of value.  Five critical questions value chain analysis  answers are:

  1. What are your products and services (I generally suggest focusing on one at a time)?
  2. How do products get to market?
  3. Do all products follow the same process flow?
  4. What are the most significant deviations in the flow of value to the market?
  5. What should you measure to assess throughput and flow?

Answering these questions, even at a macro level, gives the organization data that can be used to understand how to improve throughput and flow. One simple way to improve throughput is to reduce the amount of time work sits around waiting to be worked on. Handoffs classically generate stops and starts.  Leveraging cross-functional teams with faster feedback loops is a great way to reduce waiting time and improve information flow. One simple discussion starter is to use the visualization of the value chain with handoffs between functional silos identified. Ask whomever you are working with (even if it is only you) to help generate a list of suggestions for removing handoffs between functional silos. The outcome is a list of possible changes to the organization that will increase the focus on flow and reduce the friction between the agile team(s) and the rest of the organization.