How to create flow.

Flow is the new buzz. Each of us knows exactly what flow is. And how it feels. It feels great! You probably have even experienced it yourself. Great!

But flow in relation with work?  That is something else. It needs planning,  and changing work habits.

But we can create flow in our work environment. We are able to let work items or information flow through our work processes. Just look at the car manufactures. Their assembly lines are a perfect example of flow. But it took them many years and hard work.

The good news is that we can also implement flow in creative work places. Whether we create fancy apps or provide services. In HR departments, DevOps teams, back office, marketing teams, they all are able to create flow in their delivery process

Below I explain how you can start to implement flow.

Visualize your system to identify your bottleneck

    1. Identify Bottlenecks/constraints.
      • Draw a value stream map (VSM) to  visualize your system.
      • The VSM creates a common language to engage your stakeholders in your endeavor.
      • The value stream shows you the constraints. Probably you already knew the constrain (or had a good guess). But it is like handling risks, once they have been documented, they become somehow more real. This is also true for constraints.
        • Also good to realize is that you handle constraints with care. Even with more care then porcelain. It involves people. and the tricky thing is that people who are part of the constraint, became the constraint due to the system. Not of what they did or did not do!
  1. Eliminate constraints (not the people!)
    1. Exploit the constraint.
      • Let the constraint only work on the flow-impeding work.
      • Reduce the amount of incoming work using WIP limits to the level that the constraint is able to chew.
    2. Increase the constraint capacity.
    3. Find the next constraint.
  2. Ability to manage stakeholders that impact the constraint.
    1. The demand of work is defined outside your responsibility level. So in order to balance the demand with the available capacity, takes some diplomacy and persistence.
    2. Further downstream stakeholders are in need of your work items. They will claim your capacity is not fully used.
    3. Invite your stakeholders to some flow experience
      • Involving your stakeholders in a short Flow simulation workshop, combined with theoretical explanation on queuing theory may just do the trick to at least allow you to do an experiment with manage the work through WIP limts and other queuing theory techniques. (The Okaloa Flowlab simulations offer a range of different simulations that address all aspects of flow).

Some additional advice.

Start with flow simulations with some key stakeholders. They first need to understand the basic concepts of flow, queuing theory and WIP limits. This also let them experience the impact of WIP limits on the speed and reliability of their delivery requests.

On team level  create a stable input of work. Ensure that the teams grow into a stable delivery cadence. Use the team simulations to allow the team to experiment and experience flow in their own environment. You can use the actual work environment of a sprint to experiment with reducing WIP and allow the team to  become more stable and predictable in their  deliveries.

Next step is to let multiple teams that work to create flow of their combined teams. Run the cross team simulation as a start to have teams and product management experience and experiment addressing aligning capacity differences to a smooth delivery cadence.

Upstream, product management  (program or value stream level) implements a Kanban system that adheres to the same principles of flow as on team level. But here is one additional focus point.

Internal product management use WIP limits to effectively deliver a constant flow of work requests for the downstream teams.

From the perspective of the downstream teams product management takes care they have at all times sufficient work requests (options) available. This ensures that product management is never overstressed in producing sufficient work for the downstream delivery teams (quality, instable workloads up- and downstream). For the downstream  teams this means they have at all times sufficient work on their incoming backlog.  They are able to maintain a stable cadence.

For more information on  simulations  look at the available workshops in Europe on Okaloa. On May 19th we offer a public workshop  on the Okaloa Flowlab simulations in which we  specifically address implementing Flow or Kanban systems in SAFe environments and other scaling approaches.

 

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