At the root of the discipline of value stream management is a common language that brings business and technology leaders together. After all, the only way to deliver value to customers is to make sure everyone involved understands what value is and how it’s measured. Keeping teams on the same page requires everyone to understand what they’re reading.
How can a common language contribute to a better bottom line?
Dr. Mik Kersten, Tasktop CEO, bestselling author of Project to Product, and recent guest on Episode 4 of The Flow Sessions says this commonality is so crucial because until teams speak the same language, they can’t understand each other’s problems. He notes, “Take WIP (work in progress); it’s a Kanban concept. Technologists were using [the term], but whenever they brought it up with senior business leaders, eyes glazed over because they didn’t understand it.” What these teams needed was a simple language that made it easy to convey the challenges of technologists in terms their business peers would understand.
New language encourages people to think differently and enables change, even though the new terms may convey familiar concepts. As Steve Pereira, host of the podcast and founder of the value stream management consultancy Visible says, “language has to be understandable. It takes time [for organizations] to fit new ideas into their worldview. The Flow FrameworkⓇ is one concrete example of metrics and language that link technology teams’ daily work to the organization’s strategic goals, most often set by business leaders.”
The Flow Framework® and organizational design
The Flow Framework uses Flow Metrics as the common language that translates the gap between technical and business problems. It helps business and technology teams alike address the chronic and recurring challenge Kersten sees over and over again in his engagements with enterprise IT: in over 1,000 value streams, 20% have too much Flow Load — or far too many work items in progress.
When teams can’t articulate the impact of this problem on actual business outcomes (like a delay in the time to market, reduced revenue, or poor quality), the problem remains misunderstood, and worse — goes unsolved. Value stream management platforms like Planview Viz® are a way to surface and address these issues by linking business metrics to flow metrics and visualizing them for multiple audiences.
In the webinar, Kersten and Pereira also discuss the fact that just as organizations need a simple language to measure and manage flow, they also need a framework for organizational design. Modern organizational designs, like those described in the book Team Topologies, along with value stream management, are simply ways to align teams more closely with their internal or external customers. Pereira describes the shift to these models as one “where products are interwoven as value streams throughout the organization so waste and friction can be identified and released and [organizations can] unlock collective flow that facilitates personal flow that keeps people, healthy, engaged, and productive.”
From a common language to aligned decisions
What’s important is not language, value stream management, or flow for its own sake, but rather how all these factors combine to improve outcomes and decision-making at all levels.
Overhauling the existing complex, heterogeneous tool infrastructures isn’t typically possible, or even productive. Today’s tools are specialized and fit the needs of the wide variety of people who use them (product managers, project managers, developers, testers, etc.); the key then, is not to change how and where people work, but instead to give them the means to connect across their toolchains and value streams.
Value stream management, flow metrics, and modern organizational design offer the opportunity to change how people think and to break away from outdated, dysfunctional work structures. And while it may be daunting, there are tools to help; Kersten and Pereira agree, that the most important thing is to start — to map and instrument your value streams, establish common metrics, begin the improvement cycle, and celebrate the successes along the way.