Making Pragmatic Promises

Many people have a fear of making a promise. They worry that if they don’t keep their promise they’ll look bad. They also know that things out of their control may come up and stop them from doing what they promised. The result is they say things like “I’ll try” or just nod when someone tells them they need something. This basically avoids any real commitment. But there is no real collaboration if there is no commitment to working together with accountability.

We need to rethink what many of us hold a promise to be. If we agree that a promise to do “x” is:
· An agreement that I will do ‘x’ unless something beyond my control happens
· If something beyond my control does happen, I will do everything within my control to counteract it
· I also agree to let you know at the earliest sign that something beyond my control might happen

This enables us to work together, and do our best, without guilt. Note, that agreements like fidelity, are always within your control. So there is no ‘out’ here for that.

Agreements with each other are promises about how we are going to act. How are we going to collaborate and work together? About communication and intention. We need to agree with each other about what they mean and that we will keep them.

Value Streams Are Not Business Processes

There is a difference between value streams and business processes. While there are some similarities, the differences are very important. Especially when going into an organization that thinks they understand their value streams because they have documented their business processes.

One major difference is that business processes are what you are suggesting doing. Value streams are what is happening.

There is a lot of value being lost by conflating these two, good, concepts. This post points out some of the differences. One difference is merely focus. A shift from process to flow of creating value. Value streams are based on lean thinking – business processes stand alone. The context of lean thinking creates a focus on time and value. This reflects the importance of attending to Edgar Schein’s observation that “We don’t think and talk about what we see, we see what we are able to think and talk about.”

Here are some specific differences:

  1. value stream mapping can be used to untangle value streams – that is, not have them cross each other. This occurs when people are in the same value stream
  2. value stream mapping can be used to improve the value creation structure of an organization
  3. value stream mapping pays particular attention to the delays in workflow and feedback
  4. value stream mapping shows what is. You can also create a future value stream map to create guidance for improvement.
  5. value stream mapping is useful to identify the constraint in the workflow
  6. value streams have an integrated way of identifying if a change will be an improvement to the workflow (i.e., the factors for effective value streams)

It may be that business processes can be modified to include this but I prefer an approach that inherently does it. We have seen too much of what being intentionally incomplete does – not many people fill in what should be present.

Think You Have No Control? Try Making it Worse

This post is a thought experiment – please don’t do anything it says.

Many people feel as if they have no control over their situation. Let’s look and see if this is true. Consider something you feel totally victimized. Something you can’t improve. Now consider, what you could do to make it worse. Anything? I’d suggest that if you can make it worse by doing something, you can look to see to what extent you’re already doing that and go in the opposite direction.

Maybe you’re a developer, and your customers are always changing their minds. You feel out of control. It seems that no matter what you do you can’t improve things. Ah, but can you make them worse? Maybe don’t ask them any questions, but do the first thing that crosses your mind. Or finish the entire project before getting any feedback?

 Or, if you’re a manager and your people don’t listen to you, try yelling at them. Stop listening to them. Don’t look to understand what they are trying to do. Getting the idea?

The thing is, if you really have no control, clearly there’s nothing you can do to make it better. But being out of control also means you can’t make it worse, or else you’d have no control. When you realize you can make things worse, you’ve identified the dimension of what makes it better.

For whatever reason, human beings are wired to see how to make things worse more easily than seeing how to make things better. Use that skill in reverse.

<< Part IV: Coaching for Improvement

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