When you think of value stream transformation, what are the most common desired outcomes that come to mind? Shorter lead times? Higher quality? Reduced expenses? Expansive thinkers often go beyond these classic performance indicators and aim for improvements such as shorter-to-market time for new products, greater market share, smoother acquisitions, and less painful annual budgeting cycles. These are all noble pursuits that can be accomplished more easily through the proven practice of value stream mapping. However, in our experience, the deepest transformational benefits from well-executed value stream mapping activities are often people-based.
In a recent interview with Ron Pereira of Gemba Academy, I shared a common outcome of value stream mapping efforts: organizational healing.
In my view, improvement and organizational transformation are deeply psychological. Looking exclusively for tangible results ignores the reality that people are psychological beings. Being aware of and playing into human psychology can be tremendously healing—for both the individuals involved and the organization-at-large.
There are two key conditions value stream mapping helps create that are wickedly effective in achieving quantifiable performance improvement and are also humanistic at their core:
1. Leadership Alignment
The word “alignment” has been bandied about so much that it has achieved buzzword status. Buzzword or not, leadership alignment is critical for achieving outstanding performance. And it’s often missing.
In our initial work with leadership teams, they’ll often declare, “Of course we’re aligned!” But when we listen to conversations, observe body language, and learn how an organization solves problems, we often see moderate to high degrees of leadership misalignment over issues that are fundamental to an organization’s success. Appearing to play well in the sandbox with one’s peers is not a valid indicator of what’s going on psychologically. And, what’s going on psychologically in every leader’s head is directly tied to how well the organization will perform.
Alignment is NOT present when one leader believes the organization should offer a new service or move into a new geographic area, while another believes the organization should focus on fundamentals. Alignment is NOT present when one leader believes that a certain type of work belongs in his/her part of the organization and another leader believes it belongs elsewhere. Alignment is NOT present when one leader believes that one part of the organization is under-performing, while another leader doesn’t see it.
Value stream mapping helps a leadership team align around organizational purpose, strategic direction, annual business goals, and improvement priorities. It provides a powerful forum for leaders to gain clarity, focus, consensus, and commitment.
Done well, value stream mapping shines a light into cobwebbed corners of an organization and allows them to be cleared. It surfaces the truth—unequivocally and unapologetically. It reveals the cracks in a company’s operation, the financial model it uses, how it sells its goods or services, and how it treats its suppliers, customers, and employees. It uses facts to challenge leadership biases and misperceptions. But it also creates a safe haven for the crucial conversations that need to occur so that the organization can heal itself and accelerate its journey to excellence.
With a newfound understanding of reality, leadership teams typically come together in profound ways. (It also surfaces very clearly when a leader will remain misaligned and needs to find a new home!) With a shared commitment for the future state and the improvement priorities needed to get there, they morph into a cohesive, collaborative whole that spreads to the frontlines and fuels the transformation process.
2. Easier Work
The second outcome that speaks to the human side of value stream mapping is around the work itself. Respect for people is a core tenet of Lean management and goes far beyond how one is treated in meetings, in hallways, and in the cafeteria. In fact, the greatest measure of how much respect for people is present in an organization is the degree to which each individual can succeed in doing his/her work and fully utilize his/her knowledge, skills, aptitude for learning, and creative potential (KSAC).
Unfortunately, in many organizations, people are forced to work with kludgy work systems and processes that make it impossible to be successful, no matter how well-intended and highly skilled one is.
To make matters worse, people are often blamed for problems instead of first looking at the systems and processes that created the environment for the problems to occur.
Gathering a leadership team together to understand the current state of how value flows (or doesn’t flow) to customers creates a powerful venue for seeing how difficult it can be for staff to be successful. After the current state discovery process, many leaders have admitted that they were embarrassed by what they learned. But while developing a deep understanding of the current state can be sobering, it provides the leadership insight needed to launch true organizational transformation.
The process of streamlining workflows, closing gaps, correcting disconnects, and reducing redundancy and rework provides not only greater value for external customers, but a more humanistic and respectful work environment for the people who deliver that value.
Value stream mapping is far more than a tool to achieve quantifiable business performance improvement. It’s a management practice that helps build an appetite for surfacing the truth, solving problems, resolving complacency, and designing a better tomorrow. It helps an organization realize its full potential. And, done well, it deepens understanding, heals relationships, and brings a human side to business.