Creating and Funding Pipelines of Decisions

In the Lean community, there is much talk about identifying Value Streams. For some organizations, I think this gets hard to understand in practicality. Yes they can identify the end point where a product or service comes out and the first few steps backward are easy and then the complexity of its construction takes over as it enters the more complicated structure of the hierarchy. This is especially true in knowledge work or creative construction of a product as opposed to a manufacturing line.

(Bear with me as I span two metaphors here… Pipeline which is a construct used often around continuous delivery of a value stream. And rivers, which I will use as a construct for decisions being made that flow into one another.)

I would propose the fundamental difference is that what we think of as a pipeline is a set of decisions that get made. Using the decisions, allows an earlier view into the pipeline. If you were to map this out for one pipeline of decisions in the current organization, it may look more like a river with a set of tributaries connected by some canals.  This is because even though the production has been pulled into teams, the earlier decisions get spread across many functions still. Simply put, each pipeline then would be its own river system. The linear model of a pipeline isn’t all that linear when mapped against the current reality of the organization.

Some decisions though are connected within a single river (canals connecting within a single set of tributaries) and some go across multiple rivers. These canals are important to distinguish. We’ll return to them shortly.

Some of these decisions are made very close to or simultaneously in time. Often these are not independent. So as a first act, let’s think where some of these simultaneous, dependent decisions could be grouped. This might become a ‘team’; thus rather than having decisions shown as canals between tributaries, I now have just one stream where these decisions get jointly made.

An example? Sure – deciding on the exact vision, and thus its scope, for a proven need to be worked; this is very easily shaped by how much funding is available. This could be a team of business/mission (need), marketing (when it may be needed by…), IT (this team is the best fit and this is their capacity in terms of throughput), and financial personnel (we can shape the funding in this manner).  This team can set the scope based on funding, throughput, and team capacity and the business (with marketing perhaps), can establish a vision for this congruent with the organizational vision.

Where decisions now truly go across “rivers” become integration points where people need to work together. Some may even be in the early stages. Going back to the previous example. The team that is shaping this need has it as the next #1 priority to be enabled for the organization; the resulting financial decision may impact how the #2 priority may get shaped (worked by another team).

The resulting rivers (representing the full pipeline) aligns teams along the entire pipeline resulting in services or products and now better represents sets of decisions.

If you hadn’t guessed it yet, this is where many of what were the traditional managers fit; they get embedded in these teams to help make decisions for shaping the flow of work as opposed to directing groups in how to do their work. They use the broader knowledge of other value streams to know when new integration points (canals in our metaphor) may be needed between them. They receive retrospective input from teams downstream so they can improve how they make decisions. They also balance between what teams are starting anew to what they may have to maintain.

Based on the size of the portfolio the organization can maintain simultaneously will dictate how many of these teams may be needed. It’s possible a team such as this may shape work for a few pipelines or be a part of just one. The pipeline is based on downstream capacity as represented by throughput.

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