Flow in different forms is crucial to speed up your delivery

Do you recognise the struggle of transforming your organisation? Where to start and what the aspects are that really make sense if you want to transform it into a high performing organisation? In this series of posts I want to address 5 principles that must be part of your organisational foundation and way of thinking. These are 5 crucial principles I’ve learned in the past few years from organisations that feel the urge to transform and are willing to make some sacrifices.

5 Crucial Principles that create the foundation of your high performing organisation:

  1. Flow in different forms is crucial to speed up your delivery
  2. How feedback loops will radically change your improvement cycle
  3. Strongly focus on the improvement of secondary processes
  4. Autonomy of teams cannot be given, it must be created
  5. The simplification of your products and processes will lead to faster value

Every post in this series will address concrete examples to find the principle in your organisation, an explanation why this principle matters during a transformation and finally, some practical suggestions to start today.

Flow in many shapes and different forms is crucial to speed up your delivery

You may have heard of flow before, flow as a state of mind, a magazine or a diagram to represent a certain process. There is more. If you break flow down in the view of organisational transformation, flow is about the efficiency of moving and processing units in a steady stream. A unit is a broad concept and applicable in many aspects of your organisation.

Do you want to increase the productivity in your organisation? You aim to deliver more value, for example by creating more and better IT systems? Not only must your IT department focus on more delivery. It is the total organisation that enables the value creation. You have probably improved the IT teams. They are likely already running liked high performing assembly lines, but if nothing is coming in very structured, they are doomed to fail. If your customer has a request, but it takes months before you can answer his questions, the flow in your organisation is most probably blocked.

Production via your production teams is one of the foundations of your organisation and a way to earn money. This department produces value for your customers as soon and as fast as possible. Flow is therefore crucial and bottlenecks in the production lines need to be solved. To get a better understanding of how flow is expressed in your organisation, let’s take a closer look to see some examples.

Some examples

discoverFlow of code to production

How long does it take to push code production? Are you aware of how the process is designed from the developer’s laptop all the way to production? This is one of the basic flows in your organisation that needs to be optimised. If the developers can push code to production quickly in minutes to an hour instead of days up to weeks, a lot of bottlenecks are already solved in this improved flow.

The second aspect of code to production is looking into your code. Ask a developer how many parallel branches there are. How long do they already exist, and what is their lifetime? Both the amount and the lifetime say something about focus, flow and dependencies. In this case less is more. If you have a few branches that are open for a short period of time, your code creation will start to flow.

Flow of activities on the team boards

A great indicator of flow in your teams is to go to the team boards. Observe them early in the morning when nobody is in. And go to the teams when they have a session at their team board. What do you see? How many items are they doing compared to the number of team members? And what is the lifetime of the actions in Doing? Again, for both, less is more. Only a few tasks in Doing means a focus for the engineers. If they can solve stuff in a day, they are able to create faster value. Bottlenecks around them are already solved in this case.

Flow of stories on the backlog

You can imagine that it is hard to achieve flow if you first produce an Opel with your assembly line and second a Toyota car. A lot of changeover time will be spent to reconfigure the assembly line.

If you have a close look at your list with upcoming work items (product backlog) how many various categories are there? How many applications needs to be worked on at the same time? If you can reduce this by, for example, sorting them in a different order or removing items, the changeover time will be reduced dramatically. People can work time after time on the same type of issues. This will enable flow in your whole organisation.

This is why flow is crucial

ideaFlow enables fast delivery to your customers

First of all, if you have flow at all levels in your organisation you can respond quickly to the customer’s needs and deliver what is needed. You can simply add new insurance products, change the design of your app to increase conversation ratios, and adapt to governmental requirements, and respond to upcoming payment standards. How long does it take before you have processed a customer’s wish?

Focus on flow solves bottlenecks in your organisation

If you’re focused on flow at all levels, you’ll be amazed how your organisation will start performing. Assume the teams are your production engines. How many bottlenecks do they face? How difficult is it to go to production, to make use of an acceptance environment, to pass the security gates, to get a new laptop, to get the right business roles to start working, just to mention a few? With a focus on solving bottlenecks first, you’ll challenge the processing time tremendously.

With flow it’s more fun shipping time after time

It’s more fun to have a high-speed value delivery in place. Imagine from the customer’s perspective, a wish is realised in days instead of months. Imagine a developer is happy because code is pushed to production in seconds with just one single click. Imagine your strategic stakeholder who was always blaming IT because it takes so long. Now, his roadmap is realised quarter by quarter. Smiling people are all around the place as a result of flow in your organisation.

How to start with the creation of flow

footsteps_icon_smallFirst off all, my suggestions are not a recipe to be executed in the exact same order. It’s what I’ve discovered and can increase the flow in your organisation. Some suggestions sound silly, are not as concrete as you might expect, or are too obvious, so please try them and discover what’s working and what’s not.

Support the teams with continuous delivery

To speed up the delivery of IT teams, high performing, robust and scalable continuous delivery pipelines with proper pipeline orchestration is the number one flow enabler for the engineers. Automating whatever is possible will reduce changeover time, handover moments, waiting time and many other appearances of waste.

Remove the change management process

Waiting for days or even hours for manual approvals? Immediately stop doing this. Some suggestions: simplify your landscape until alignment is no longer needed, ask yourself the question if the checks are really needed. What’s left: automate the checks and improve your monitoring to have early detection in place. Your developer shouldn’t be aware of a change management process. With continuous delivery is in place, it must be like a click on a button.

Start in the middle and expand upwards and downwards

Where should you start with the focus on flow? Start on the team boards. These boards perfectly demonstrate the flow in your organisation. The amount and the time items are on the board reflect your organisational behaviour. The improvements will be found down the stream in your continuous delivery pipelines and the way of working if it comes to single piece flow and “work in progress” limits.

Focus upwards to your backlog, but even further to the list with customer features and strategy plans. A focus on flow and preferably single piece flow, all the way to your strategy papers will enable your whole organisation to flow.

Start discovering and challenge the processing time

You don’t know upfront which part of the process is the slowest or what activities hold the biggest bottlenecks. Therefore, continuous improvement is crucial. However, also for continuous improvement you need focus. If you focus on processing time and try to half the processing time every quarter, you will definitely solve bottleneck after bottleneck.

One priority list from senior management

It sounds very plausible since we have so much to do as an organisation, that we have multiple priority 1 issues to work on. Our strategic program consists of several high priority streams and we must realise all of them together. As soon as multiple priorities at the same time have an impact on one team you must revise your priority setting. Teams with more than 1 priority are constantly switching between tasks, depending on others and feeling the pressure to deliver (overburden). Choose one priority and ask the team to finish this first.

Real flow in your organisation starts on your strategic roadmap and priority setting.

Flow and the relation to other aspects.

Flow is not something in of itself. It is entangled in many other aspects of your organisation. To transform your organisation into a high performing organisation these are topics strongly related to flow and will speed up your value delivery:

  • More focus on solving complexity instead of managing complexity
  • Reducing code and architecture complexity will remove waste
  • Measure reality and avoid spreadsheet management
  • Focus with your improvement plans by solving bottlenecks one by one.

Finally, feedback loops are enormously valuable to discover bottlenecks in your organisation. In the next post, I’ll describe how feedback loops are the second principle in the foundation of your high performing organisation.

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