Book cover: Tame your Work Flow

Tame your Work Flow

Those that control work entry, control the health of a team, and at a product level, the health of the organization. Messrs. Tendon and Doiron discuss portfolio and work entry in Chapter 13 of  Tame your Work Flow. Putting my biases on the table I believe that Reinertsen (Product Development Flow) and Leffingwell et al. (Scaled Agile Framework Enterprise) have advanced the discussion of portfolio prioritization immensely with the concept of the Cost of Delay. That said, Steve and Daniel, advance the ball even further. The sad part of the conversation is that most organizations that I have insight into leverage brute force politics to prioritize portfolios and are subject to suboptimization within silos.

The first of several takeaways (and perhaps the most important) in this chapter is that prioritization without explicitly accounting for the constraint in the process is suboptimization. As we have seen in earlier chapters, work that is released into the system in advance of what the constraint will absorb will gum up the works. This is easier said than done because most organizations are awash in conflicts of interest. Tame you Work Flow, highlights the negative impact of bias injected by these conflicts but what it does not suggest how to stop them. I had several conversations about this chapter with colleagues this week, they recounted multiple scenarios in which work jumped the queue (not good in the subway but great when it helps you make your bonus). I even had an executive suggest that if anyone really wanted this type of behavior to stop there would be consequences to the behavior more than a mild “tut-tut.” This person also suggested that if they wanted blatant cheating in US college football to stop they would make the penalties significantly larger. Unless executive leaders own their own culture rational value or profit-driven prioritization is theoretically interesting but as rare as a white buffalo. Steve and Daniel suggest changing how bonuses are recognized and how budgets are allocated. I would add that cooperative decision making and the maximization of overall organizational value delivery have to be critical promotion criteria. 

Every group of work (project, program, or product) interacts with the constraint differently (review the chapters that covered the simulation). Once upon a time, I worked in the basement of the headquarters of Gold Circle Department Store (at the time a competitor to Target – now defunct which is a story for another time). We were an early adopter of relational database technology. The work used a fairly classic waterfall approach (it was cutting edge at the time) and because the technology was new, the database step was ALWAYS the longest (it was the constraint). All of the top priority projects required DBA resources while those further down (but not a lot) the list did not require this resource (they used VSAM and other technologies). Only the top priority projects were started all of which had to compete for the constraint. It took the leaders of the software group about six months of status reports to determine almost nothing was getting to production other than small enhancements and defect fixes from the team that were not on the top projects.  

Simply put, there are lots of prioritization techniques; ROI, ouija board, Cost of Delay and more. Some are better than others but until you incorporate how the constraint is engaged you will not be able to address financial throughput. Using this approach provides numbers that allow organizations to consider how to maximize the flow of value for the business. I use the word consider because most have to address the culture to actually use the data portfolio prioritization can deliver. 

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Week 1: Logistics and Front Matter

Week 2: Prologue (The Story of Herbie) –

Week 3: Explicit Mental Models 

Week 4: Flow Efficiency, Little’s Law and Economic Impact 

Week 5: Flawed Mental Models  

Week 6: Where To Focus Improvement Efforts 

Week 7: Introduction to Throughput Accounting and Culture 

Week 8: Accounting F(r)iction and  Show Me the Money 

Week 9: Constraints in the Work Flow and in the Work Process 

Week 10: Understanding PEST Environments and Finding the Constraint in PEST Environments 

Week 11: Drum-Buffer-Rope Scheduling