As I wrote yesterday about some upcoming Rallying adventures, I get to work on some exciting projects. A recent one is the “Agile for Business” book which is being put together in an iterative and incremental manner. Bob Gower, who is spearheading the initiative, wrote a blog post last month about the background to the book.
Flow is the result of doing the thing right. It is the regular and smooth progress of work from its initial concept to its final consumption.
Work that progresses in large chunks, in a stop-start manner, does not have flow. It’s the work that progresses in small pieces, in a continuous manner, that ultimately creates the kind of flow your organization needs. By reducing completion time and enabling greater predictability and reliability, it’s this kind of work that builds trust and fosters creativity and innovation. Moreover, reducing utilization and creating spare capacity, sometimes referred to as slack, allows a greater ability to respond to changes and surprises. After all, we don’t run our servers at 100%, and we know how well traffic flows on a grid-locked road! This spare capacity is what gives us time to spend on continuous improvement and innovation.
Working on smaller and fewer pieces of work helps minimize delays and generate faster feedback. Think about a slow, sluggish cargo tanker compared to a fast and nippy speedboat. Further, balancing demand against capability, and not starting more work than you can complete, means that work isn’t left hanging around and depreciating. Imagine the pileup caused by trying to push a chain of paperclips across a table versus the smooth flow created by pulling them across.
So how does an organization go about actually achieving flow? Focus on progressing and completing a smaller number of smaller pieces of work. Make that work, and its flow, visible in a physical shared place, and when work becomes blocked, encourage teams to resolve issues and concentrate on finishing it rather than starting something new. When aspects of the workflow are identified which mean that the work does not progress as quickly and smoothly as you would like, invest time in improving the workflow in order to develop future capability.
While this may appear to reduce the amount of time one is kept busy, it’s important to remember that busyness and productivity are not the same thing.
Measuring activity, in terms of utilization, will not create great results. Instead of focussing on the worker, focus on the work product, and measure work outcomes by things like throughput for productivity, lead-time for responsiveness, and due-date performance for reliability. These are all appropriate measures of flow.
Stop starting, and start finishing.