Chairman and COO of ConnectALLa value stream management software company.
I was recently a guest on a podcast and discussed value stream management: the mechanisms for mapping the value stream, understanding the flow and eliminating waste. I thoroughly enjoyed my session and felt the moderator ask me some great, thoughtful questions.
I talked about one of my favorite quotes famously attributed to Peter Drucker, which is, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” While I totally agree and have taken that approach my entire professional career, another of the quotes I shared was, “You don’t control something if you don’t measure it.”
To this I would add, “You’re not managing anything most effectively if you don’t remove the barriers that negatively impact your progress.” Those obstacles are like rocks. You can’t speed up and reach your targets smoothly until you’ve pushed your rock (or rocks) out of the way.
As I pondered this issue, I was reminded of: Sisyphus, a figure from Greek mythology who was sentenced to forever roll a boulder up a hill in Hades. As he approached the top, the boulder immediately rolled back down. That’s similar to how the bricks in your value stream work. If you don’t eliminate them, they will continue to cause problems.
Tackling rocks in your value stream
I started my career in the manufacturing industry, where value streams are everywhere. Every finished item that provides value, whether it’s a single part or a finished assembly, goes through a series of processes. When I worked for a company that made turbine blades, the various components of those blades went through a series of cells on the factory floor where they were made (e.g. extruded), ground/polished, tested, etc.
If each item cleared a cell, if problems arose that were not addressed at the time, they would eventually become rocks, as in the example above. The rock can be as small as a burr on a knife, but if not removed or pushed out of the way, the entire production process can be compromised. In the worst case scenario, the defective part would end up in the finished assembly with potentially serious consequences.
Fortunately, such a “burr” in the business world is unlikely to cause catastrophic damage, but that doesn’t mean it won’t have a devastating impact on your final product, be it software, food service, or even real estate.
During any additive activity, where something of value is created, there will always be stones. Teams can roll those rocks aside, roll them forward, or pass them and ignore them for now. However, since they fail to deal with those rocks, they will eventually be forced to deal with them. Meanwhile, they collect process-related “debts” (in the software industry we call it technical debts) that slow down processes and potentially affect quality.
Find your stones wherever they hide
Complicating matters further is that manufacturing has the advantage of being highly repetitive, which is not the case in many industries (including all three of the above). Consider real estate: A deal evolves over time, with aspects like necessary repairs, seller concessions, and other elements of the sale that are in flux until an agreement is signed. Even then, late change requests from the buyer or seller may necessitate another “iteration” of the deal. (Ironically, real estate is a lot like delivering software in this way). The main conclusion is that any impediment can become a rock at any time. For this reason, eliminating the “bricks” as they appear is critical to achieving the best possible result.
In my experience, it’s better to hit the pause button and deal with the stone right away. Whether it’s a manufacturing process, software delivery cycle, real estate sale, or any other process-driven activity, business leaders need to tackle and remove their bricks as quickly as possible.
Regardless of your industry, business model and/or key processes, bricks are everywhere. Recent business challenges have also added a few bricks.
I hope that the outcome of the difficulties of the past will be more stones being removed in other areas. I also hope that entrepreneurs in all sectors will share their inspiration and insights with each other to emerge stronger. In recent years, I’ve been amazed at the amount of collaboration I’ve seen between business leaders struggling to navigate their way through a highly uncertain time.
In today’s world, where challenges abound, from staff shortages to the rapid evolution of digital technologies, we can all share insights on how to make our businesses more productive, efficient – and less ‘rocky’ – even if we do. do not. t do the same.