For a Friend – I Caused Stress and Anxiety via Value Stream Mapping

Value Stream Mapping Anxiety

I’ve just completed writing an article about Value Stream Mapping (VSM) and Management. In doing so, I reflected on my use and journey of VSM –  this great leadership practice of collaboration and improvement to help staff and customers obtain satisfaction. Satisfaction in the way people work and exceptional experiences for customers. I realized that: I’ve created anxiety and stress with my enthusiasm for VSM!

I saw this in my teams and as I reviewed the impact on clients. I observed that VSM sets high expectations on me regardless of my level, from Service Desk Manager to CIO to a coaching consultant. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll continue to practice and promote Value Stream Mapping for years to come, but looking back, even recently, I’ve seen how VSM can cause anxiety, chaos, and even depression.

Value Stream Mapping is stressful, but this stress can be managed, says @DanielBreston. Discover more in this article. #VSM #leadership #ITSM #wellbeing Click To Tweet

What is VSM?

Value Stream Mapping is the exploration of an agreed problem on a stream of work activities that provides value to others in the organization or customers. Leaders must be heavily involved in every step of the VSM journey as only they have the power to quickly make decisions that remove obstacles or change tactics toward a better future state. There are no business cases or the initiation of large projects in VSM. You:

  • Look at what is happening currently in the workstream
  • Design your dream future of what all of the tasks could be if there were no obstacles along with outcomes for customers
  • Plan the steps to go from today to tomorrow in small, iterative steps
  • Continuously observe the impact of change on the holistic flow of work
  • Celebrate success and effort
  • Bravely say no more, and we need to start afresh if what was initially considered becomes unviable.

Who is doing this?

Leaders in a 2-4 day facilitated session. All they need is a large wall and Post-It notes. This is macro level, so not a deep dive, but for some leaders, this is a revelation.

VSM paints a picture showing what we thought was happening based on our monthly reports was far different. It forces leaders to say: “Wow, our decisions have made things worse for our staff and customers.” VSM can be an unpleasant experience at the beginning or when leaders review a critical process.

The stress, chaos, and depression of VSM

VSM Picture

Let’s face it, the higher you are, the less you’re aware of what is happening on the ground floor. Few leaders exercise the mantra of being out in the field or with teams and customers 70% of their week. They depend on reports, escalations, or dashboards. They don’t check if they’re being told the whole truth and nothing but the truth. That is until it’s too late!

The VSM event (ouch) – pain in a table

Please read the table below. I can tell you that VSM events are ego events, and I’ve seen punches thrown, leaders storm out, finger-pointing, and all sorts of politics. You wouldn’t believe that 3-4 days with Post-It notes on a value stream that all the leadership team agrees needs help could be so emotional.

You would not believe that 3-4 days with Post-It notes on a value stream that all the leadership team agrees needs help could be so emotional – @DanielBreston #VSM #leadership #wellbeing Click To Tweet

The table below skims over some of the main activities of Value Stream Mapping. Do the comments and fears it includes sound familiar? The pressure on the VSM lead is enormous. The fear of the other leaders involved as they realize that they might be part of the problem is tangible. The impact on staff who have not been oriented to VSM is nerve-wracking.

What the VSM lead wants to doPeers reactionStaff reaction
Agree the problem, agree the metrics to be used to guide the analysis and innovation, place it in a charter, get it signedYou want me to help solve your problem? I don’t have the time or budget. OK, if I do spend the time and this fails, it is on your shoulders. And no way am I signing a charter that you plan to show staff. I don’t care if VSM is supposed to lead to transparency.They made a promise among themselves without asking us AGAIN. We can't do what we must do now so how the heck do we do this extra stuff?
Using Post-It notes or a sophisticated tool, over 3-4 days attend a facilitated event whereby the leaders involved in the workstream truly visualize the challenges and obstacles.3-4 days! No way! My calendar is full! I have someone that can report back to me and we can then see if this workstream has been correctly described. I can tell you now though, my area has NO issues! We are not the problem!They are in a VSM exercise. Looking at the metrics of time, how to introduce automation, how many of us are involved, how to get rid of us!!! DO they look at their ridiculous decision points or the number of CABs? Do they look at the why we are stuck? No, this exercise of current review is a plan for redoing costs, mainly us!
We need to dream our dream future. One where no obstacles exist and how we would want this flow of work to occur if we had the budget, people, skills, and tools.You just had us spend a day looking at what happens and we can clearly see where the issues are. Let's get on with fixing that. We have no budget and dreaming the impossible is a waste of time. You did say that time was a waste right?They had a chance to make it great. All they are going to do now is fix the small things completely ignoring the real issues. And when the band-aid falls off, replace us with AI!
OK! Now we need to look at how we get from the current to our dream future state. Small steps, iterative adjustments, and continuous review to ensure we are on track just like ocean sailors do when in a race.I have no issues to fix in my area. Let me know how it goes as you resolve the problems of others. As for continuous review, my review concerns right now are completing my agreed projects for the year so I can keep my job and get my bonus. This VSM stuff is not on my to-do List.The people that least understand what is happening are going to plan the tasks that will fix the problems we have. And who gets stuck with doing these actions? We do! When are we supposed to fit this into our work? We are short handed and over-worked as it is! And if things don't work, will they blame themselves? No, they blame stupid us!

For a Friend – you still need to try it!

My first use of VSM was in 1973. I was 19 years old and the Service Desk Manager at the third-largest bank in Texas. I’d never heard of Lean or VSM, and ITIL or Agile had not yet begun. I just knew we had challenges, and working together, we could overcome them.

I was lucky! My CIO and CEO, who also had not heard of Lean or VSM, appreciated my dilemma and supported my approach. Later in my career, VSM events did not go as smoothly. As a consultant or coach, I’ve had VSM events generate miracles and introduce disastrous consequences.

For a Friend – the unwanted effects of VSM success

For a friend, I went to Poland to help a CIO whose IT organization was not popular, and with good reason. IT was slow, unreliable, and used antiquated infrastructure and tools. They had the usual mix of ITIL governance and DevOps or Agile development. Doing more than one software release a quarter was only possible in a parallel universe.

The COO and CIO gave me one chance to show them VSM – to validate it as a leadership technique they should adopt. 3-4 days to show them why their staff orientation process took 11 days, and to create a new future and the use-cases to itemize each improvement!

With training, Value Stream Mapping is the best leadership technique to collaborate on how to resolve a problem in how things are done – @DanielBreston #ITSM #VSM #Leadership #Wellbeing Click To Tweet

Staff orientation was a much-despised workstream articulated by the COO when he said, “Every new employee at our bank immediately begins with a two-week holiday.” Security, facilities, IT, HR, and other management made this comment accurate. His challenge to his team was: “In one month, I want people to start working when they start working at this bank. If not, I’ll have a new set of leaders to make my dream reality.”

They woke up and accomplished the vision. The COO held a celebration party and then asked:

  • What was next?
  • When can you, as department or team leaders, next meet to improve our bank?
  • When will our staff be more satisfied with how they work?
  • When will we see customers rank us at the top of the experience tables?

The COO ended with, “If we cannot do this soon, I have the wrong people working for me.” We were meant to be celebrating, and people – staff and consultants – left confused and worried.

We improved things though

LeanIT meant new processes for change, release, testing, incident, and other capabilities. We used Value Stream Mapping to better understand what happened currently, such that we could derive a new set of practices based on incremental improvements.

VSM typically looks at how to:

  • Reduce waste in time
  • Create better value and quality
  • Replace redundant applications or services with new features incorporating automation
  • Restrict the number of meetings (killing the unnecessary bureaucracy)

However, addressing this list did not help improve staff and management satisfaction. So we added to each improvement effort two simple questions:

  1. Did this help make your work easier?
  2. Are you glad this improvement was performed?

We asked the management of all the teams involved in each stream and the staff. Every aspect of our VSM work was documented and put online to be seen, without restriction, by any bank employee. VSM became regarded as THE Improvement practice led by internal staff “coaches.”

Learn Value Stream Mapping from consultants and courses but ensure it's performed by the people it impacts, says @DanielBreston #VSM #ITSM #leadership #wellbeing Click To Tweet

My VSM methods of improving based on just-make-it-happen-soon became improve-and-check. We could have a successful new practice that was not adopted because it failed the satisfaction test. This was the amazing part: if staff said it made life harder, the change was dropped until they could regroup and create an agreed way of working. “This is what VSM should be,” said my friend.

My advice

Learn VSM from consultants and courses but ensure it’s performed by the people it impacts. VSM is stressful, but this stress can be managed. After all, it is a team effort of support, not a team sport of political boxing! With training, VSM is the best leadership technique to collaborate on how to resolve a problem in how things are done. The outcome will provide value to your staff and customers. Try it! And let me know!

IT Management Advisor at Independent

After 50 years of being or managing every conceivable role in IT, including CIO, he is heading towards retirement (his way of doing things). Daniel now facilitates challenging discussions and workshops for teams that want to benefit from technology methods (Shiny New Things) and needs a way to begin that journey. Daniel is also on the board of itSMFUK, helping others share their stories. Daniel also speaks at conferences such as SITS London, Service Space 2022 and itSMF UK 2022.

In addition, Daniel is also an Associate Consultant at ITSM.tools.

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