When it comes to achieving predictability, it’s the collaborative effort that brings everything together to deliver sustainable results. Sustainable predictability comes with effective management of the flow of work.

You need to manage your workflows effectively to be able to deliver value to your customers consistently. That’s where flow metrics come into play. Flow metrics are the main driver behind process optimization.

Flow metrics provide all the means to enable continuous improvement, but that doesn’t come without its challenges.

The Problem: The Fear of Micromanagement

When first introducing flow metrics to a team, the immediate and most common reaction is fear. Fear of micromanagement.

Flow metrics bring transparency throughout your entire value stream. It becomes obvious how much time certain work items take to be finished. Flow metrics reveal where the bottleneck in the system is and where most of the delays occur.

By having all of that information directly exposed in front of you, your team could easily assume that you will hold them accountable for every inefficiency revealed by the metrics.

The fear is real. 

The first sign that your team feels threatened is when they start resisting. They become defensive or, in the worst scenario, they remain completely quiet.

You should act quickly and bring forward the facts before even introducing the concept. Let’s look into the strategies that will help your team embrace flow metrics.

Meet Their Objections: Managing the Flow of Work and Not the Workers

Here is the most reasonable one. Managing people using flow metrics is simply irrelevant. The goal behind achieving sustainable predictability is to deliver value to your customers in a consistent and predictable manner. When it comes to delivering customer value, it all boils down to optimizing workflow efficiency – not an individual’s efficiency.

It’s not the performance of the team that causes the delays, it’s their inability to move the work down the funnel due to impediments outside of their control.

Considering your team works on more than one item at a time, a task will wait until the people responsible for each activity in the workflow have the capacity to start working on it. Furthermore, the item will accumulate more waiting time due to any additional work that comes in between, any bottlenecks, any external blockers, and any defects moving back and forth in the process.

Looking at wait time is usually the easiest and cheapest area to investigate first when it comes to process improvement. It’s not about managing the workers, it’s all about managing the flow of work.

Make that explicit.

Flow metrics enable you to identify the states with the longest waiting times and the obstacles causing that behavior. The main idea is to start working upon their prompt resolution.

Some of the most common reasons behind long waiting times are inefficient management practices, lack of capacity, internal dependencies and external blockers just to name a few. None of them relate to your team performance. The fact is, the performance of your delivery flow will always be limited by the performance of your slowest step. This means that your entire delivery flow will be stuck in the bottleneck of your process, regardless of how high-performant your team is.

Managing flow means building the foundation of an explicit decision-making process and removing obstacles down the road to enable self-organized teams.

Put the Benefits on the Table: Flow Management Fosters Greater Autonomy and More Reliable Decision-Making

Using flow metrics to micromanage people is pointless. On the contrary, flow metrics actually enable greater autonomy.

Flow management suggests adopting explicit policies to manage the work. Teams have the ability to make their own decisions following the established decision-making process. This approach provides a higher level of transparency and everyone on the team knows what they need to do in each scenario.

By understanding the data behind their flow metrics, teams will focus on finishing work rather than starting new work. They will be united with the same goal in mind – delivering results in the most efficient way possible.

Autonomic teams produce more reliable results. If the team includes a mix of subject matter experts, then each person brings a different perspective, and the team members help one another reducing the chance of failure and ultimately improving the collaboration within the team.

Today’s talent wants the freedom to collaborate, participate, and innovate. 

By adopting flow-based management, you directly communicate to your team that you trust and respect them, and you enable them to exercise leadership skills. They will be able to see how their work brings value and how their efforts contribute to the success of your business. Effectively, you’re creating a culture where employees have the power to shape the company’s decision-making process.

Once they begin collecting and analyzing data, they’re likely to find that it’s easier to reach a confident decision about virtually any challenge they might encounter. Data-driven decision making is logical and concrete in a way that gut instinct and intuition simply aren’t. By removing the subjective elements from their decisions, your team will build confidence in both their own contributions and your company as a whole.

Without data, you’re just working off hunches – you may feel like you’re successful, when this may not actually be the case. You can’t argue with the numbers. Flow metrics provide evidence that clearly points in the direction to focus your efforts. Then, by having the data to back up your point, you can help your team understand it and fix those problems. Those are real, tangible benefits that they will be able to embrace.

Help Them Get Started: Introduction to Flow Metrics

Introducing flow metrics starts with the main three metrics – cycle time, work in progress and throughput. Start measuring them and evaluate the stability of your system using the Cumulative Flow Diagram. That’s more than enough.

Every step further should be a baby step. Let your team determine their own learning pace. The most important part is to learn from your mistakes and celebrate your wins. Make each and every one of them count. At the end of the day, you all have the same goal and you are all looking towards the same direction – delivering customer value in a consistent and predictable manner.

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