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April 2, 2024

Foreword to Flow Engineering by Karen Martin

By IT Revolution

The journey toward organizational excellence demands commitment to value, clarity, and flow. This requires establishing a clear target, aligning stakeholders, and optimizing workflow. In my two decades of experience with value stream mapping, I’ve seen countless examples of the impact this practice can have in empowering organizational change. I wrote Value Stream Mapping in 2013, and the practice continues to grow in popularity every year. Despite its recognized value, a gap exists between value stream mapping as an aspiration and real-world implementation. This book targets that gap, offering practical guidance for any organization.

I first met Steve through LinkedIn in 2020, and I met Andrew shortly after. We immediately recognized a shared passion for thinking of collaborative work in terms of value, clarity, and flow. We shared stories about incredible results achieved through value stream mapping in all sizes and types of organizations. We found that we shared a commitment to sharing those stories and what we’ve learned by using value streams as a model for work.

I was introduced to value stream mapping as a diagnostic, design, and prioritization tool for improving work systems. As I started working with clients to begin to “see” their work systems in a fact-based, data-driven way, I realized that value stream mapping was more than a “tool.” It’s an essential management practice with benefits far beyond creating flow across interconnected functions and work teams. It also addresses these common organizational problems:

  • Siloed decision-making and work design that slows an organization’s ability to deliver value to its customers, become agile and responsive, and create high-performing environments.
  • Friction between leaders and entire branches of an organization due to misaligned strategic goals and priorities for improving how the organization operates.
  • And not understanding how work flows—or, more commonly, doesn’t flow—across the organization.

In an increasingly complex and interconnected business landscape, organizations of all sizes face myriad challenges as they strive to scale without losing their way in the process. The complexities of modern enterprises often lead to misalignment, inefficiencies, and a lack of clarity, hindering the organization’s ability to effectively and efficiently deliver value to its customers. As we navigate these challenges, it becomes increasingly evident that a holistic approach to understanding and optimizing organizational workflow is essential but often missing.

The power of value stream mapping lies in its ability to provide a balance of both visual and data representations, constructing a useful representation that corresponds to a complete business workflow and layering on information about performance and effectiveness. This shared visual representation of the work process serves as a focal point for team discussions around performance improvement. Rapid implementations of value stream mapping serve as a quick and easy on-ramp for more detailed and comprehensive maps as buy-in increases. Davis and Pereira say: “Map quickly, show promise, go further.” The goal is to create a visual, supported by data, that quickly reveals specific improvement opportunities.

Value stream mapping is not only a visualization exercise but also a method of communicating visually. It allows teams to collectively establish a shared mental model of the goal of their work and the method for carrying it out. This seemingly simple exercise provides individuals with the mental context needed to work effectively as a team. The apparent simplicity of a value stream map abstracts a complex collection of perspectives and data, yet this simplicity enables clear representation, conversation, and focus. Simple isn’t easy, but this book provides step-by-step guidance to navigate the complexity of building these simple maps. Andrew and Steve have presented Flow Engineering as a clear set of practices that help to distill the complex reality of collaborative work into maps that make the invisible visible and reveal hidden insights on the most impactful improvements. This not only enables effective action but also teaches essential Lean and Agile principles by putting them into practice.

Flow Engineering offers approachable, flexible, and scalable practices to address the challenges of scale, visibility, and misalignment in modern organizations. By providing a simple, digital-native starting point on-ramp to effective action through value stream mapping, it meets teams where they are today: distributed, distracted, disoriented, and disconnected. With it, teams can gain a comprehensive understanding of their workflow, identify improvement opportunities, and align their efforts with the value they can deliver. The book serves as a guide to align stakeholders, identify opportunities, and implement performance improvement in complex organizations. The insights and practices shared within these pages will empower leaders to enable focus, clarity, and collaboration as catalysts for meaningful and sustainable action.

—Karen Martin, 2024
Author of The Outstanding Organization and Value Stream Mapping

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