Purpose

Making decisions on how to do our work is complex. We need a guide to help us see which of two or more options is better. One way to do this is to see what resistance, or impedance, the value stream has to creating value. The value stream impedance scorecard (VSIS) indicates how well we are doing and whether a new way of working will be an improvement.

Why

It is not always clear how to improve how we are working in complex systems. A guide that can help us make better decisions on whether a change to our way of working will be an improvement or not is helpful. The Value Stream Impedance Scorecard (VSIS) predicts whether a speculated action will improve the current situation. The decision is guided by taking actions that improve the vectors and avoiding actions that make them worse. The contention is that the more we abide by these vectors, the greater value we will achieve.

While suggested changes still need to be validated, with a deep understanding of the VSIS, we can make changes with high confidence 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.

Description

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 tacit knowledge –what you know but are not always consciously aware of knowing it. Consider what factors you are looking at. For example, are people talking to each other? How busy are they? See if any of these factors are present in both situations but pointed in different directions

Consider how consistent these tacit judgments are in different places. While each may appear different, there is a set of actions that should be taken that make places easier to work in. That value stream impedance scorecard is a suggested set.

The Value Stream Impedance Scorecard assesses how much resistance there is to identifying, creating, and realizing both business and customer value based on observing several factors. These factors relate to what work is being done, how it is being done, and how people are organized to accomplish it. Each factor is called a “vector” since vectors define a dimension and an amount.

These vectors are:

  • Are small items of high value being worked on?
  • Are queues being managed to reduce delays and handbacks?
  • Are we getting quick feedback?
  • Is the quality of the product high? (includes both behavior and how it’s built)
  • Are workloads of people within their capacity?
  • Is all work and workflow visible?
  • Are people organized in a way that reduces waiting for others and handoffs?
  • Are development teams primarily working in one value stream?
  • Are people attending to the value streams?

They are asked in the form of a question to see the direction of what helps (yes answers) and what hurts (no answers). The selection of these particular vectors is not sacrosanct. And, to be candid, they have changed a little over time. This set was selected based on the following factors:

  1. Is each vector clear, and can it lead directly to action that will lead to improvement?
  2. Does the set of vectors we choose to use provide us with enough information to make good decisions for almost all challenges faced by teams doing knowledge work?
  3. Is the number of vectors as small as possible?

In other words, are they of use while providing coverage and not being too complicated?

Most people find these vectors more easily understood if formulated as an action to do. The VSIS vectors formulated as actions to take are:

  1. Build small items of high value.
  2. Manage queues to reduce delays and handbacks in the workflow.
  3. Get quick feedback.
  4. Focus on high product quality – both from the stakeholders’ perception and from how the product was built.
  5. Keep workloads within the capacity of the people doing the work.
  6. Keep all work and workflow visible.
  7. Organize people and have them make agreements on how they work in order to reduce waiting for others.
  8. Have development teams work primarily on one value stream. Organize people who have to support multiple teams to work on as few value streams as possible while still remaining appropriately loaded.
  9. Have people attend to the value stream.

A deeper “why” the Value Stream Impedance Scorecard is 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 both the wrong things and in the wrong way. Therefore, attending to the VSIS can enable us to work without delays and not create a lot of extra work we don’t need to do. Therefore, attending to the VSIS enables us to eliminate the creation of waste.

 Key point

It is worth considering that there are two different types of waste. The first is work we didn’t need to do over planning.  The other is work we created that we now need to do but which didn’t need to be created in the first place—fixing bugs, for example.

The Vectors Work Together

It is essential to notice how the vectors 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 daughter’s seminal book “The Choice”  and contends that complex problems are more straightforward than they look if one knows where to look.

The value stream impedance scorecard provides a holistic view by attending to different aspects of a system. This makes it very useful.

How we will use the value stream impedance scorecard

The VSIS will be used in two ways.  First, it will be used to help identify what we’re doing that 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 violates the VSIS, then we likely shouldn’t try it.

Examples of Each Vector

  1. Build in small increments of high value. 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.
  2. Manage queues and focus on finishing to reduce delays and handbacks in the workflow. 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 that 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 important that this handoff also be managed to avoid the work being handed back later.
  3. Get quick feedback. Communicate with product owners as often as practical. Build things in a way that enables quick feedback.
  4. Focus on high product quality – both from the stakeholders’ perception and from how the product was built. 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.
  5. Keep workloads within the capacity of the people doing the work. Avoid having people working on too many things. Don’t overschedule people with work. Allow people to “pull” work when ready instead of pushing work onto them.
  6. Keep 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.
  7. Organize people and have them make agreements on how they work in order to reduce waiting for others. Cross-functional teams are one way of doing this when they are practical and achievable. Consider delays, handoffs, and handbacks to be symptoms of a poorly organized team structure.
  8. Have development teams work primarily on one value stream. Organize people who have to support multiple teams wo work on as few value streams as possible while still remaining appropriately loaded. When people do need to work in multiple value streams, manage what they work on with Kanban boards.
  9. Have people attend to the value stream. 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.

The value stream impedance scorecard in three sentences

Build in small 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).

Continuously learn with value stream management (9).

Reflection on how the Value Stream Impedance Scorecard tells us if we’re following first principles.

While keeping the list of vectors of the value stream impedance scorecard (on a printout of them or on the screen), go back and look at the first principles chapter earlier in this book. See how consistent the VSIS is with them.

Quantifying the vectors of the value stream impedance scorecard

This section is just a beginning of a decomposition of the vectors in the value stream impedance scorecard to quantify them. Note that quantification is a precursor to measurement. While measurement is often good, it is not often necessary. This is especially true with the value stream impedance scorecard. Its vectors typically act in unison in coherence with Dr. Eli Goldratt’s notion, as first espoused by Isaac Newton, that the world is in harmony.  We don’t usually have to make tradeoffs between the VSIS vectors. This means that as long as we’re improving them we don’t need measurements to see if one is doing more harm than good.

A quick, incomplete, quantification of the VSIS vectors is:

  1. Build small items of high value: stakeholders, value, size, speed.
  2. Manage queues to reduce delays and handbacks in the workflow: # of items in queues, size of items in queues, number of queues. 
  3. Get quick feedback: time until get feedback, what you’re getting feedback on.
  4. Focus on high product quality – both from the stakeholders’ perception and from how the product was built: quality of product’s behavior, quality of how product was built, quality of product regarding the ability to change it.
  5. Keep workloads within the capacity of the people doing the work: capacity, workload,
  6. Keep all work and workflow visible. Visibility of work, visibility of working agreements.
  7. Organize people and have them make agreements on how they work in order to reduce waiting for others: cross-functionality of primary working groups, number of handoffs, required.
  8. Have development teams work primarily on one value stream. Organize people who have to support multiple teams to work on as few value streams as possible while still remaining appropriately loaded: number of value streams people are in.
  9. Have people attend to the value stream: scope of value stream.

Assessing how cross-functional teams are consistent with the value stream impedance scorecard

The cross-functional team is the ideal case for building new products. Let’s see how having one reflects the VSIS.

Build small items of high value. This is independent of whether we have a cross-functional team or not. Notice how such a team would be able to create and build value, however.

Manage queues to reduce delays and handbacks in the workflow. With everyone focused on building the same product, a cross-functional team could work together to have few delays.

Get quick feedback. Cross-functional teams not only will be able to build items quickly and therefore get quick feedback, but they will also be able to get quick feedback between each of the steps.

Focus on high product quality – both from the stakeholders’ perception and from how the product was built. Achieving high quality requires everyone to agree on what that is. A cross-functional team is likely to be more aligned here than groups from multiple teams working together.

Keep workloads within the capacity of the people doing the work. It’s easier to gauge the work the team is able to do when they pull it together.

Keep all work and workflow visible. Keeping work visible across a team is much easier than across multiple teams. However, just having a cross-functional team doesn’t guarantee this.

Organize people and have them make agreements on how they work in order to reduce waiting for others. Cross-functional teams can avoid delays by coordinating the work to be done with each other.

Have development teams work primarily on one value stream. Organize people who have to support multiple teams to work on as few value streams as possible while still remaining appropriately loaded. Cross-functional teams are intended to be used for one product – one value stream.

Have people attend to the value stream. With cross-functional teams much of the value stream is in the team.

Using the Value Stream Impedance Score Card: A Case Study

Many organizations have the challenge of not having a well-defined intake process prior to adopting agile. A lot of work is happening, but people aren’t sure what the work is, who is doing it, or at what stage the work is in. The table below illustrates how doing this adversely affects most of the vectors of the VSIS. And severely as well. In this mini-assessment, we turn the VSIS actions statements into questions by adding “did we” in front of each one.

Is VSIS being followed? Y N
Did we build small items of high value? unlikely
Did we manage queues to reduce delays and handbacks in the workflow? X
Did we get quick feedback? X
Did we focus on high product quality – both from the stakeholders’ perception and from how the product was built? X
Did we keep all work and workflow visible? X
Did we organize people and have them make agreements on how they work in order to reduce waiting for others? X
Are people organized in a way that reduces waiting for others and handoffs? Unlikely
Did we have development teams work primarily on one value stream? Did we organize people who have to support multiple teams to work on as few value streams as possible while still remaining appropriately loaded? N
Did we have people attend to the value stream? N

 

Side Notes

VSIS Is about the impedance, not how to change it

The value stream impedance scorecard is focused on what helps or hurts the flow of value. It intentionally leaves out factors like how we got here, or how we can change it or what factors help change it. These are critically important. They have been left out because we want the VSIS to be a measure of the resistance and an indicator of what we can do to improve things. We will deal with these other issues of how to change things to later chapters in this workbook.

Key Points

  • We can use each of the vectors to see how well we are doing
  • The value stream impedance scorecard provides 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 Value Stream Impedance Scorecard provides us with questions to see how well we are doing. Each of these questions points out whether we are following the first principles of knowledge work.

 

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