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Frame 3: End-to-End Flow

Far too often, providing customer value is thought of as a series of separate input-process-output steps, rather than an integrated flow of work through an organization. But if no one takes an end-to-end view of a customer problem or a product as it moves through a work system, customer problems fall into the cracks between departments, hard-earned knowledge evaporates at handovers, and the things that customers will really value get lost along the way. Developing an understanding of the end-to-end flow of work through a work system is fundamental to systems thinking.

One way to evaluate the end-to-end workflow through your system is to draw a process flow map—also known as a value stream map—of the end-to-end flow of a product or a customer problem as it makes its way through your organization. There are two reasons for drawing these maps. They help you

  1. Discover the reasons for failure demand, so it can be eliminated
  2. Find waste in the workflow, so it can be removed

Eliminate Failure Demand

Failure demand is waste. So the best questions to ask are "Why is the process producing failure demand? What can be changed to prevent failure demand?" In general, your bias should be against creating a process map for failure demand, because every activity on that map would be waste. But there are times when a process map for failure demand can help you discover how to reduce and eventually eliminate the waste.

Remember, all time spent handling failure demand is waste. So it is usually better to create a map of the process that creates failure, rather than mapping the process that handles failure. Your objective is not to handle failure demand more efficiently; it is to eliminate failure altogether. Before mapping the flow of failure demand, ask yourself, "What is causing the development process to produce failure demand in the first place? What can be changed in the process to prevent (or dramatically reduce) the failure demand?"

In particular, we recommend that you think hard before creating a process map for handling a change approval process. Customers don't usually see change approval systems as a value; they see the changes they need as a value, but asking for permission to make the change is annoying. If customers see your change request approval process as a nuisance, that process is handling failure demand. Instead of improving your change request approval process, consider why you should have one in the first place. A change request approval process for a system under development is usually a sign that the development process can't absorb new ideas or handle typical variation in your customers' situation. Perhaps you are making decisions too soon, or waiting too long to ask for feedback, or not leaving enough space in your plan to accommodate that feedback. Perhaps your customer engagement and collaboration practices are ineffective. Ask yourself, "How can we reorganize our process so it can discover changes more rapidly and accommodate changes more easily?"

Map Value Demand

A value stream map is a diagram of the end-to-end flow of value-creating work through your process; its purpose is to help you understand the workflow for value demand so you can improve your process. Usually a value stream map starts when a customer has a need and ends when the need is met; however, a time-to-market map may start when a product concept is approved and end when customers start realizing value from the product. Before you start a value stream map, use a time series chart, as we discussed in Frame 2: System Capability, to visualize the end-to-end flow time for an average item moving through your system. This is your current capability. The value stream map will show you how much of that time is spent actually adding value. 19

Find the Biggest Opportunity

The purpose of a value stream map is to help spot opportunities to improve your process capability. When you compare the value-added time to the total process time, you get a feel for how much better things could be. Ask yourself, "Why do we have so much non-value-adding time? Is it really necessary? What's causing it?"

Generally the biggest delays or loopbacks in a value stream map provide the biggest opportunity for improving the process capability. We recommend that you pick the most likely opportunity and tackle it. Forget the value stream map while you work on improving your process; you can draw a new one once you have changed the process.

Don't take the ratio of value-added time to total process cycle time (the process cycle efficiency) too literally. We find that after the process is improved, a new value stream map might show that the process cycle efficiency has decreased! Why? Because there was a lot of waste in the process that was not recognized when the first value stream map was drawn; once you get used to seeing and removing waste, you tend to find a lot more of it.

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