Tag Archives: DevOps

The Mythical Value Stream Manager

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For decades, the lean community has been talking about the importance of creating and managing customer value across the value stream. A value stream is comprised of all the activities performed to create, manage and deliver value to customers. It includes all the wasteful and broken processes we have come to accept as inherent in the way the work gets done. A key player who focuses on coordinating and aligning the efforts of all pieces of the value stream is the value stream manager. Their goal is to get everyone working together and aligned toward the common goal of optimizing their entire value stream. I like to call this character the “mythical value stream manager” because they are described in books, but seldom seen in the wild – much like a unicorn.

This person is the master coordinator among silos, conflicting priorities, constrained resources and localized performance. No small task as most people focus on improving that small piece of work they have been assigned to and seemingly have control over. Can you really fault anyone for trying to make things better? Lean teaches us waste reduction, minimizing variation and addressing overburden as ways to improve flow. It’s no surprise that we attempt to apply these methods and tools to our own work first!

But herein lies the problem as well as the opportunity: local improvements do almost nothing to improve value stream performance and often negatively impact overall flow of the same value stream the team intended to improve!

Good intentions gone awry

I worked with a company whose Document Control Department decided to make improvements to their work processes with the noble intent of improving the flow of customer value. The company had been experiencing many delays in updating controlled documents (work instructions, drawing and technical specifications). The focus was on the time it was taking to process change requests and deliver updated and accurate documents to the appropriate work groups. The current process was taking days and sometimes weeks and crippling production and service levels in departments across the company. The team had received lean training and requested the help of a lean facilitator to guide them through an improvement effort.

After a focused 3-day effort, the team generated a series of countermeasures intended to address the blockers in their workflow which slowed or stopped their work. They rolled out the changes and measured the impact. Success! The total time it took from start to completion of their section of the value stream went for days to hours to minutes. The team held a party to celebrate the amazing results. They invited the departments whom they delivered they worked for. Surprisingly, no one attended!

A few people from the team were curious why no one came to the celebration. They paid a few people a visit and quickly found that the improvements they made had shifted work and problems to the very people they were trying to serve! Instead of impacting the flow of value across the value stream, they had optimized their flow by shifting the non-value added work to others. One team member shared, “What we discovered was that we had taken out the trash from our work flow  and dumped on our neighbors’ front yard! To make matters worse, we then threw a party and invited them to share in the fun. Our efforts were well intended, but we completed screwed things up!”

Without a person focusing of the flow of the value stream, how can we expect leaders and front line contributors to coordinate their efforts to create improvements that ultimately impact the customer? When so many of our performance measures are focused on local results, how can we understand and support value-stream level outcomes?

Why we don’t have value stream managers

If we accept the importance of creating flow and the impact of a designated value stream overseer, then why are they so rare? There are many reasons (excuses) that come up including: 

  • It’s not my job to focus beyond my area of responsibility
  • I’m busy just keeping my head above water
  • My numbers are good, go pick on someone else
  • I agree it’s important, but don’t step on my turf and try to influence my program
  • My incentives determine my focus and my behavior
  • Who needs more responsibility without authority? This is a fool’s errand!

Whether you agree with these points or not, they’re real in the minds of many.

What can we do about it?

When leaders understand and appreciate the potential impact of a designated role focused on managing the value stream to improve the flow, quality and value at the speed of customer need, they may be willing to run an experiment. Create the role, provide clear goals and boundaries, socialize the change and gain support, gather baseline performance measures, run a trial for 90 days, re-assess performance by comparing to baseline, reflect on the results, share the learning, take your next step based on the learning. Sounds easy! It’s not.

  • Identify a pilot area where you can test the effectiveness of value-stream focus
  • Socialize the idea with every part of the stream (all the silos, vendors, departments, customers, managers and leaders (start with the leaders)
  • Recruit a person who is willing to take on a temporary role of value stream manager – they’ll need a mandate to make things happen – this might be in the vocal support of the CEO or GM
  • Plan on getting it wrong, learning from mistakes and making adjustments based on the data

Measures help people align

What works best to align people across the value stream is the use of value-stream level metrics that everyone is measured by. When everyone is playing off a common scoreboard, they shift their efforts from localized to global results. Here’s a few examples:

  • Value stream percent complete and accurate
  • Value stream cycle time
  • Order fulfillment rate
  • Returns

Give it a try

If you  want to make a serious impact in your improvements, consider shifting your focus outward to a value-stream level perspective and find someone who is willing to take on the role of value stream leader. They’ll have to work with others based on what makes the most successful sense to the value stream rather than a single department or functional area. Approach this work as a learning experiment and expect many check/adjusts along the way. Good luck!

Until you shift to a focus on value-stream level performance, most improvement efforts are destined to miss the mark as they will shift waste and inefficiencies to another part of the business. Customers won’t feel the difference, even if you are celebrating the results! But what if your competition is focusing on value-stream improvements? From your customers’  perspective working with you, if things aren’t getting better, they’re actually getting worse.

I wrote this back in 2019 for the Lean Enterprise Insitute and a friend contacted me to share it again – Thanks Lisa!

The Third Way of DevOps: From Knowing to Being

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This post was written for DevOps.com

Why is the Third Way of DevOps so difficult to master?

We all know the feeling. You’ve seen an opportunity to improve things and genuinely want to do something about is. But you soon feel the clarity and anticipation draining out of you. First there’s the pressure of the day job. Then there’s the inertia of your co-workers who are oblivious of, or indifferent or hostile to, your ideas. And finally, as if these concerns weren’t enough, you’re faced with the difficulty of unlearning old habits and developing new ones. You wonder why you bother. In a way, it’s a bit like a lottery: You buy a ticket fully knowing that the odds are stacked against you, but it’s the worth it for the uplifting short and illusory dream that it might just happen.

This is, of course, all about the Third Way of DevOps—creating a culture that fosters two things: continual experimentation, which requires taking risks and learning from success and failure, and the understanding that repetition and practice are the prerequisites of mastery. It all sounds great in theory, but why is it so difficult to put into practice?

Information Abundance  

It’s not due to lack of knowledge and skills. We have more information available to us and more easily accessible than ever in the history of our planet. We can thank technology for that. But has it really made us more effective at what we do? If I know something and don’t apply it, how is that so different than not knowing it at all? If I know how to read but choose not to, how is that so different that not knowing how to read? If I don’t use what I know, how long will I retain it and how will I integrate it with the other things I know? Most importantly, can and will I apply what I have learned to make things better?

Lifelong Learning 

We have been learning and studying all our lives in an attempt to make things better: our ability to understand IT, frameworks, methodologies, capabilities, practices, work processes and, of course, tools. Consider how many thousands of hours you invested in school, self-study, read out of curiosity, listen to podcasts and do work-related training and certification. Most of my friends proudly describe themselves as “lifelong learners” and one claims the day they stop learning shall be the day they die!

Training in Skills

We’ve also invested considerable time and effort into improving ourselves so that we may work more effectively with others: communication skills, teamwork, shared rituals, structured problem-solving, leadership and coaching all fit into this category. Who (in IT) has not been a part of some Service Management, Lean, Agile, Scrum, Kanban or DevOps training? After all of our training, you’d think we’d be further along than where we find ourselves.

Knowing and Understanding 

Knowing and understanding are not the same thing—I can know the Four P’s of IT Service Management (People, Process, Products and Partners), yet not view it as a lifecycle model and understand that to obtain the benefits of this knowledge, my team must determine the roles of people and objective of work of processes and then implement tools to automate the processes enabling people’s roles and tasks.

Understanding and Doing

Nor are understanding and doing the same thing—I can know that structured problem solving is based on the scientific method and can be broken down into four stages (Plan, Do, Check, Adjust). I may also understand that structured problem-solving is preferable to the reactive educated guesswork my team engages in whenever it encounters a problem. But if we do not change our behavior when it comes to problem-solving, our understanding will not manifest as action.

Doing and Being 

Neither are doing and being the same thing—I can be doing something and still not have internalized it so that it becomes who I am. I can know the core principles DevOps (engage in systems thinking, amplify feedback loops, foster a culture of experimentation and learning). I may understand that all three principles must be applied to foster a sustaining DevOps environment. I may be even be holding initial planning sessions with my team during which we map out the DevOps value stream, identify bottlenecks, create feedback loops and introduce changes to create a create a culture of experimentation and learning.

Moment of Truth 

But what happens when we meet with our next P1 incident? Does the knowing, new understanding and behaviors get tossed aside while we fix the problem, or do we hold fast to the new way of doing things as we grapple to not only remediate the incident but to view it within the context of DevOps?

So, What’s a Person To Do?

The velocity and degree to which we can move from knowing to being determines how effectively we can apply what we know. Here are a few things you can do to smooth the transition from knowing to being and help put the Three Ways of DevOps into practice:

  1. See and feel the potential impact from moving beyond knowing to being
  2. Use the uplift to get motivated
  3. Take action by changing something within you and your team’s circle of control
  4. Reflect on the fact that you have realized potential (this is very powerful when you share it with your team)
  5. Check and adjust based on the outcomes of step #3
  6. Allow the feedback from the previous step to motivate you to carry on!

Curiosity and Humility

This approach requires a certain attitude. One of curiosity and humility. You need to be inquisitive so you keep striving to understand. And you also need to be unassuming and you see yourself as having plenty of room to learn and grow; being deeply (almost obsessively) interested in what’s going on and how things could be improved; trying to be aware of and to set aside any preconceived ideas—adopting a beginner’s mind.

To Be Continued …

In our next post, we’ll explore specific steps you can take to leverage The Third Way of DevOps and make tangible progress based on what you know and don’t know, understand and don’t understand, and do and don’t do.

This article was co-authored by Mark Smalley.

How Lean IT can help drive growth

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The lean process improvement principles that have driven transformational change in areas such as manufacturing, accounting and supply chain management are making big waves in yet another sector: information technology.

Today, many companies are actively seeking the benefits of “lean IT,” seeking to drive out process waste and streamline workflow, turning to lean icons such as Toyota and Honda for inspiration. At The Ohio State University Center for Operational Excellence, for example, an entire community has formed for IT leaders seeking to drive efficiency and effectiveness through lean practices.

The stakes are simple but high: When IT stops, the business stops, and when it flows, it positions the business for success. But the sector – with its complexity, cross-functional interdependencies and conflicting priorities – presents a “perfect storm” of distinctive obstacles for leaders. Moving forward with a transformation, particularly in IT, requires a clarity of purpose, an alignment of people, and a sharp focus on the processes that create value for customers.

Accomplishing all of these takes more than just a set of lean tools – it requires a shift in behavior, driven by leaders equipped to change a culture.

All transformations begin with a look at purpose. A shared purpose is essential to create and drive a common intention, alignment and commitment. Everyone in the IT organization (as well as the business) needs to be very clear on why we are in business, why we are transforming and where we are vs. where we need to be. Without a widely understood and collective purpose that people can clearly see within the context of their daily work, everyone is left on their own to identify what matters most and determine what they should do (or not do) about it.

The next component is people. While clearly a central ingredient in building a highly effective organization, people also are the source of the uncertainty, disengagement, mistrust and political gamesmanship that can plague a workplace. When we treat people with respect and create systems and processes that position them for success, we cultivate trust, engagement, teamwork and high levels of performance.

In the hands of our people are the processes that represent the work we do to fulfill the mission of our organization. When processes are undefined, unclear or not consistently followed, the effort required, the time it takes, the quality of the outcomes and the frustration of staff and customers all become highly unstable and inconsistent.

Too many organizations fail to step back and examine these elements of the bigger picture, which ultimately serves as the “True North” in the lean transformation process. Companies that have “pockets” of improvement – islands of lean in a sea of waste – often lack understanding around a shared purpose, for example.

To truly keep momentum moving, organizations need fearless leaders at the core of their process improvement teams. If they stop leading the charge, improvement work and the underlying transformation immediately begin to taper off. If they succeed, the possibilities are endless.