The Value Stream Picture – Developing the Leader’s Mental Model

If you are reading this, then you have likely taken many steps down the path of continuous improvement. Some of these steps may have been forward and some may not have been. This is part of the journey, but is there a way to reduce the number of steps “backward”?

Pascal Dennis in, Getting the Right Things Done, talks about the importance of mental models. We have all seen how organizations function when there is not a shared vision in organizational direction, but we rarely talk about organizational alignment. Many of us function in the business structure we have inherited but not necessarily the business structure we would want.

The easiest way to see if we share vision and alignment is to have our people draw a picture of how our organization works and then compare these pictures. This simple lesson is instructive in seeing a shared (or not) alignment and also defines the scope of that alignment. Can we see in this picture how we cross the “wall” from the office to our production environments? If we, as leaders of our organization, draw inter-related functional groups (traditional departments) then we may not be able to see some paths that could be chosen in our improvement journey. How we see our organizational alignment and direction can directly correlate with how we see opportunities for improvement.

Seeing process outputs flowing across our existing structure hints at alternative strategies to support these processes, and it is this Value Stream Picture that can help us align our lean tools to actual process outputs. This vision flows from our planning steps through the value-added execution steps of our processes and ends at our customer’s door.

Adding a dash of pragmatism to this vision is likely to be necessary. Not all organizations can easily be painted from the first stroke to the last stroke as a non-stop process flowing entity. There are embedded batch processes or capacity/machine limitations we live with and these assets are shared across the organization. This should not stop us from seeing a different organizational structure but should challenge us to manage these in a manner that would support flow through the rest of the company.

Process improvement applied to a Value Stream Picture tends to take fewer miss-steps as we are always focused on the output of the process and not any individual component of the process. We can also see team initiatives as they relate to organizational success and our people can see how they not only fit in the big picture but impact it. By developing our Value Stream Picture, we provide the opportunity to meaningfully develop and engage our people.

We may want to take an opportunity to step back and revisit value stream mapping and create a picture that we all share.



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