The book, Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown, tells the story of the 1936 U.S. Olympic Rowing Team claiming victory in spite of significant obstacles. They did this by leveraging the talent of their rowers, coxswain, and their technologically advanced boat to find a SWING, where all of these pieces worked together to propel them to victory.
In business, we can reach a similar state wherein our People, Processes and Technology work together to optimize our FLOW.
Last time, we looked at how we can activate the People in our organization to optimize our FLOW. Today, let’s look at how we can optimize FLOW by activating our processes. We can do this by visualizing our value streams, standardizing our definition of done, and automating your manual steps.
Visualizing Your Value Stream
The processes that a business uses in its daily operations are too numerous and complicated for anyone to be able to understand on their own. This is where visualization comes into play.
By making our processes visual, we can gain a better understanding of them and how they can improve. But how do we make them visual? There are many ways to do this, but one of the most common is value stream mapping.
Value stream mapping involves charting a value-creating process that your company takes part in. For example, turning a customer’s request for our product into a fulfilled order.
You do this by defining the triggering customer request and endpoint. You then record every step along the process, how long it takes, and how much time there is between steps.
Once mapped, it becomes easy to see where delays are happening and address them. For example, you might notice that website mock-ups take few days to finish, but spend weeks waiting for approval in a manager’s inbox. This could prompt you to schedule regular approval meetings to minimize how long mockups are waiting for approval.
Key to this being successful, however, is ensuring that processes are visible to everyone, not just upper management. Making processes visible to all employees gives them the opportunity and incentive to find solutions on their own.
Nobody likes to see that they’re the ones blocking the FLOW. Making the map visible incentivizes people to limit delays they have control over.
When your value stream is visual and your organization commits to streamlining it, the results can be staggering, and you can potentially even double the speed that you deliver value.
While there are many methods to streamline your processes, visualizing those processes with value-stream mapping is an essential first step for any business.
Standardizing Your Definition of Done
One often overlooked way to improve your business’ process is by standardizing definitions and steps. When standards are absent, miscommunication is bound to occur and will stop the FLOW.
For example, a supervisor might ask a developer if they’ve finished the new webpage. If the developer just finished coding the page, she might honestly answer, “Yes!” But, the supervisor may have interpreted this to mean that the page was also tested and is ready for the website.
While misunderstandings like this may seem minor, they can become serious FLOW blockers. The supervisor from our previous example may assign the developer another page to work on before testing the original page. This would delay progress until someone finally realizes that the first page needs testing.
One solution to this problem is to establish a definition of done. According to Agile Alliance, this is a list of criteria of what needs to be completed before a task is considered done. This eliminates ambiguity, thereby preventing unnecessary delays from taking place.
Besides this, establishing a definition of done also eliminates many quality issues. Achieving a consistent standard of quality requires consensus on what a finished product is. A definition of done gives your team clear criteria for what their end goal is. This gives them a clear target of quality that they can aim for.
In short, a standardized definition of done removes ambiguities in end product criteria. In doing so, we improve both the speed that we deliver value and the quality of our finished products.
Automating Manual Stages
You can also leverage your business’ processes by automating tasks that don’t need human input. Not every task is the best use of person-hours. Automating these tasks will reduce process time, freeing up employees to contribute elsewhere.
Take, for example, testing a website. The process of manually testing a large website could take a week or longer. Humans are only able to work so fast and competing responsibilities may delay their work.
In contrast, an automated website-testing program might be able to test the same website in a matter of minutes.
Additionally, when you test that website manually, testers may overlook significant bugs. Automating this step greatly diminishes the chances of missing these. This further improves the quality of our end product.
By embracing automation, we can ensure that our person-hours are being spent efficiently. This ensures that everyone is pushing the FLOW forward to the greatest extent that they can.
By visualizing your value streams, standardizing your definition of done, and automating your processes, your organization can activate the potential in your existing processes to optimize the FLOW.
It’s important to note that, while these methods can produce dramatic initial results, they’re not meant to be one-time solutions. You can always find more places to reduce waste in your value stream. You can always refine your definitions of done and raise the bar for quality in your organization. You can always find new ways to automate manual steps. The key to truly optimizing your FLOW lies in a continuous dedication to improvement.
EIT has an incredible track record for helping our clients begin this journey of continuous pursuit of improvement and optimization. For more information on what EIT can do for your organization, click here.