In my previous blog on the fifth step in the series to an agile transformation we talked about how to manage your local value stream, which involves reviewing and streamlining the set of sequential steps in a single initiative, in order to accelerate results and deliver the best outcomes for customers and the business. A key transition in that step is a shift from aligning around project-based activities to be performed, to aligning around the target outcomes to be produced. This transition begins locally, where you can control it more directly, with an eye toward the bigger picture along the way.
Once you’ve done that for a few initiatives, you can adapt it more broadly and continue aligning around value for the entire system value stream — otherwise known as step six in the agile transformation process. That’s how steps five and six work together; one locally and the other for the bigger picture.
By examining the bigger picture of your entire value stream, including every initiative, program and process currently under way, you can identify roadblocks and inefficiencies that won’t come to light when teams are only focused on their own piece of that puzzle. Studying the entire organizational value stream will show you the full picture of how and where you are using your time and resources, and where delays are slowing down your ability to respond quickly to important new opportunities.
Addressing the system value stream is important because in every company there is always more to do than resources to do it. In order to be agile, you need a system for prioritizing investments that aligns with current strategic objectives, balances risk, and makes the most of limited resources. This is one of the most difficult steps in the agile journey, because it forces companies to take all the individual elements they’ve learned in this process and apply them company-wide.
Uncovering Hidden Waste In The System
Most firms have multiple value streams, collectively a system value stream, which include both internal and client-focused objectives and initiatives. To create a more agile and responsive overall system value stream, start by making a list of every initiative underway. That list should include the broad summary details about each initiative including the budget and timeline, the intended business value, how success will be measured, the owners or champions, dedicated resources, and risks that could prevent successful outcomes. This list will provide you with the core information you need to create a more-efficient and less-wasteful system overall.
Just like the process for assessing a local value stream, once your leadership lays out the list of every initiative and displays it in a single spreadsheet or document, it becomes much easier to identify overlap, inconsistencies, and hidden risks across the system. Some of the issues we often discover when we review the list and the system value stream include the following:
Multiple initiatives in different departments that are pursuing the same or similar goals
Initiatives that have too few dedicated resources to be delivered on schedule
Lingering initiatives that don’t have a clear value proposition, but have a champion high up in the organization who views it as their “pet project”
Experts who are committed to too many objectives to be productive, causing delays across multiple initiatives.
Initiatives whose success is dependent on a single supplier, resource, or difficult to source material, making them unacceptably risky
Stakeholders who make so many “small change requests” that the large objective for an initiative runs endlessly off track and misses critical deadlines
Key stakeholders, such as legal and compliance, who are not brought into initiatives until near the end when it becomes very costly to fix mistakes that they would have easily identified during initial outlines for the objectives
Stale business cases that are dependent on market trends or budget forecasts that are no longer relevant
Departments that constantly launch new initiatives without closing out or stopping the old ones
When each value stream is studied in isolation, these kinds of issues rarely become apparent; when you view them collectively, the problems become more obvious. The awareness this collective view brings to an enterprise is a key step to making changes that allow your operation to function with dynamic and responsive agility.
Together, We Are More Than Cogs in The Wheel
Remember, the goal of this exercise is not just to address problems in the current initiative line-up, but to eliminate the delays and blockages that emerge from the structures and silos that allow them to happen in the first place. To eliminate those issues, executives, managers, and teams should study the full list together, and jointly discuss the systemic problems that allowed inefficiencies and wasted resources to occur.
For example, if the legal team is consistently left out of the loop on initiatives, which can result in months of rework late in an initiative’s lifecycle, the leadership team might implement an early legal pre-review of every initiative’s business plan. They may also implement a rhythmic quarterly steering committee meeting to validate that current initiatives are progressing toward intended outcomes, and making the best use of resources, or to implement iterative feedback reviews to ensure value delivery is still achievable. Both of these can add immediate value by helping to sustain strategy and execution alignment, as well as reducing delays in receiving important feedback for effective decision making.
The rhythmic review process will also provide business and initiative leaders with a better understanding of the value their role can provide. When stakeholders start to see their initiative in the context of the system value stream, it makes them more conscious of the impact of their decisions, and may help them to question long held assumptions about whether an initiative should continue — and the opportunities that are being missed when the wrong initiatives win their unwavering support.
This review step can feel overwhelming, but it is the critical leverage point that helps a company truly embrace an agile way of doing business.
Up next: My final blog on this topic — Step 7: Achieving technical excellence.
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Andy Czuchry Jr, PhD is a proven business transformation leader with extensive experience driving strategic and operational transformations that significantly increase business-value outcomes for mission-critical objectives. Over the past 10 years of his 25+ year career in business and technology innovation, Andy has led nearly a dozen organizational transformations in national and global organizations spanning across all disciplines, both within and beyond the traditional agile core.
Andy earned Ph.D. and Master’s degrees in Information and Computer Science (Artificial Intelligence, with a minor in physiological psychology) from the Georgia Institute of Technology. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Dartmouth College in Computer Science and Mathematics with a focus in applied algorithm development. Andy maintains numerous certifications in the domains of Agility, Lean Six Sigma, and Program Management. He is the holder of two patents issued by the US Patent Office, as well as a recognized global leader with 20+ peer-reviewed papers published in elite business and technology journals and conferences.