This is a chapter from Amplio Development: The Path to Effective Lean-Agile Teams
Provide us with a way of looking at complex situations where we can make decisions based on a few factors. Making decisions on how to do our work is complicated. We need a guide to help us see which of two or more options is better. Factors for effective value streams indicate how well we are doing and whether a new way of working will be an improvement.
It is not always clear how to improve our work in complex systems. It is helpful to have a guide that can help us make better decisions on whether a change to our way of working will be an improvement. The set of factors for effective value streams presented in this book can be used to predict whether a speculated action will improve the current situation. The decision is guided by taking actions that improve the factors of the scorecard and avoiding actions that make them worse. The contention is that the more we abide by these factors, the more excellent value we will achieve.
While suggested changes still need to be validated, with a deep understanding of the factors for effective value streams, we can make changes with high confidence that they will be an improvement. Otherwise, we’ll be left to try things we have less than full confidence in. This often leads to stasis in our methods as people don’t like to fail. If an intended improvement doesn’t manifest itself, the issues we look at will provide us with learning.
Time for reflection
Consider when you were introduced to an organization where your immediate reaction was, “Wow, this place is cool. I can see why they get so much done!”
Now consider when you were introduced to an organization where your immediate reactions were, “Wow, this place is horrible. How do they get anything done?”
You are likely reacting to your tacit knowledge –what you know but are not always consciously aware of. Consider what factors you are looking at. For example, are people talking to each other? How busy are they? These factors are likely present in both situations, but in one direction, they are being done well, and in the other, they are not.
Consider how consistent these tacit judgments are in different places. While each may appear different, a set of actions should be taken that make places easier to work in.
The factors for effective value streams indicate how well we’re doing in specifying, create, and realize business and customer value based on observing several factors. These factors relate to what work is done, how it is done, and how people are organized to accomplish it.
The factors for effective value streams are:
- Are small items of high value being worked on?
- Are people attending to the value streams?
- Is all work and workflow visible?
- Are we getting feedback quickly?
- Are people’s workloads within their capacity?
- Are pull methods being used?
- Are development teams working primarily in one value stream? Are people who have to support multiple teams working in a way that does not cause delays for those they are supporting?
- Are development teams primarily working in one value stream?
- Are people organized in a way that reduces waiting for others?
- Are people being managed properly?
- Is the quality of the product (both its behavior and how it’s built) high? Including from both a behavior and construction point of view?
 A handback is when one person hands some work to someone else, and then later they come back and hand it back or ask questions about it. This shows up as work moving backward in the value stream.
They are asked in the form of a question to see the direction of what helps (when answered with yes) and what hurts (when answered with no). The selection of these factors is not sacrosanct, and they can be adjusted as you learn and for your context. The factors have the following characteristics:
- Each factor is apparent and can lead directly to action that will lead to improvement.
- The set of factors provides us with enough information to make good decisions for almost all challenges faced by teams doing knowledge work.
- The number of factors is as small as possible while providing good coverage.
In other words, are they of use while providing coverage and not being too complicated?
A deeper “why” these factors for effective value streams are so important
Doing things poorly will slow us down. But consider that other things are taking place as well. For example, not getting quick feedback will create extra work for us since we’ll make a mistake and work on the wrong things and the wrong way. Therefore, attending to the factors for effective value streams can enable us to work without delays and not create much extra work we don’t need to do. Therefore, attending to the factors for effective value streams enables us to eliminate the creation of waste.
All but the last factor are based on following first principles. The last factor is driven by the fact that we want to create value for our stakeholders.
It is worth considering that there are two different types of waste. The first is work we didn’t need to do, for example, overplanning. The other is work we created that we now need to do but only because we created it—for example, fixing bugs.
The Factors Work Together
It is essential to notice how the factors work together. As you improve one, it either improves the others or makes it easier to improve them. For example, notice how working on small items will help us achieve quicker feedback. This is consistent with Dr. Eli Goldratt’s (creator of the Theory of Constraints) view that work principles are harmonious. He called this “Inherent Simplicity” in his and his daughter’s seminal book “The Choice” and contends that complex problems are more straightforward than they look if one knows where to look.
The factors for effective value streams provides a holistic view by attending to different aspects of a system. This makes it very useful.
How we use the factors for effective value streams
These factors can be used in two ways. First, they will help identify what we’re doing causing our problems. The second way it will be used will be to verify if a new practice being considered to replace a current one will be an improvement. If the change works against these factors, we shouldn’t try it.
Examples of Each Factor
- Are small items of high value being worked on? You accomplish this by working on small items that will provide value in and of themselves or are small slices of functionality that will provide feedback. We’ll learn business artifacts that will assist with this later in this book.
- Are people attending to the value streams? When making decisions look at the overall effect the action will have. Local optimizations rarely affect overall value add unless the action relieves a constraint.
- Is all work and workflow visible? Have all the work being done visible. Also, have the agreements of how you are working be clear to everyone.
- Are we getting feedback quickly? Communicate with product owners as often as practical. Build things in a way that enables quick feedback.
- Are people’s workloads within their capacity? Avoid having people working on too many things. Don’t overschedule people with work.
- Are pull methods being used? The teams doing the work are the ones who best know how much work they can handle. Pulling work either in a flow or timeboxing manner sets the overall workload within which the rest of the work can be managed.
- Are delays in the workflow being managed by reducing queue size and avoiding handbacks? Attend to the number of items waiting to be worked on. While you need enough items to be ready to be worked on, having too many causes delays in the workflow. One way to manage queues is to lower the overall number of things being worked on. One way to accomplish this is when someone finishes something, they look to see what else they can finish instead of starting something new. Queues occur when work is handed off from one person to another. It is essential that this handoff also be managed to avoid the work being handed back later.
- Are development teams working primarily in one value stream? Organize people who are needed to support multiple teams working in as few value streams as possible while remaining appropriately loaded. When people need to work in multiple value streams, manage what they work on with Kanban boards.
- Are people organized in a way that reduces waiting for others? Cross-functional teams are one way of doing this when they are practical and achievable. Consider delays, handoffs, and handbacks symptoms of a poorly organized team structure.
- Are people being managed properly? Is micro-management present? Are people being given the context within which to make good decisions?
- Is the quality of the product (both its behavior and how it’s built) high? Get clear on what it means to achieve a requirement before working on it. Use the feedback when you complete anything to ensure you’re working on the proper functionality.
The factors for effective value streams in four sentences
Build in small value increments (1), with few delays in the workflow (2) to get quick feedback (3) and high-quality products (4).
Achieve this by keeping all work visible (5), avoiding too much work-in-process (6), focusing people on one product (7), and having them work together to avoid delays in the workflow (8).
Have people be organized so that people don’t have to wait for each other (9), and provide proper management to people (10).
Attend to the quality of the product, both in how it works and how it is built (11).
The factors for effective value streams are about what works, not how much resistance there is to change.
The factors for effective value streams are focused on what helps or hurts the flow of value. It intentionally leaves out factors like how we got here, how we can change it, or what factors help change it. These are critically important. They have been left out because we want the factors for effective value streams to measure the effectiveness of our practices and indicate what we can do to improve things. In later chapters in this workbook, we will deal with these other issues of how to change things.
- We can use each of the factors to see how well we are doing
- The factors for effective value streams provide a way of determining if a change in actions will improve the effectiveness of our value stream
How We’ve Manifested the Purpose
We started this chapter by stating, “we need a guide to help us see which of two or more options is better.” The Factors for effective value streams ask us questions about how well we are doing. Each question points out whether we follow the first principles of knowledge work.
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