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May 14, 2024

The Five Maps of Flow Engineering

By Steve Pereira ,Andrew Davis

This post is adapted from the book Flow Engineering: From Value Stream Mapping to Effective Action by Steve Pereira and Andrew Davis.


Introducing Flow Engineering

Based on the need to enable effective collective action, we’ve developed a series of mapping practices to help teams arrive at shared clarity that we call Flow Engineering. Flow Engineering embodies these activities as a structured set of visual mapping exercises that draw out insights and align the efforts of a group of collaborators. If you can host a board game, you can host these mapping exercises.

Flow Engineering builds upon mapping’s benefits to go beyond engagement, alignment, and focus. It enables effective collective action.

Flow Engineering allows us to identify value by connecting current state context to a clear target outcome. It connects that outcome to specific benefits for customers and stakeholders. It keeps that value present as a north star so that contributors can make the best decisions about what will help boost and uncover value through their efforts.

Flow Engineering allows us to build clarity by making it easy for contributors to connect the dots from efforts, activities, and improvements to the most critical focus for the organization. Based on a more complete and holistic view of the full system of work, everyone can grasp their place in improving the system. The minimal design enhances clarity by avoiding a lot of less valuable context and noise.  

Finally, Flow Engineering allows us to enable flow not only by uncovering the constraint most affecting the flow of work but also by building relationships, which unblock conversational and informational flow across stakeholders and contributors. By aligning everyone to one target outcome, one stream, and one constraint, everyone can move forward together rather than against or away from each other. The concise format makes it easier for teams to step away from daily distractions and gain clarity, so they can come back to daily work with renewed energy, awareness, and focus.

Five key Flow Engineering maps enable the three elements of action:

  • Outcome Map: To identify your target outcome.
  • Current State Value Stream Map: To reveal the current state and constraints of your workflow.
  • Dependency Map: To identify dependencies by studying constraints.
  • Future State Value Stream Map: To create a future state definition of flow.
  • Flow Roadmap: To organize insights, actions, and ownership into an improvement roadmap.

These mapping exercises are designed to guide you through the essential steps to establishing team flow. They’re adaptable and extendable to meet the unique needs of your team(s). And importantly, they are quick, clear, and easy to execute, allowing teams to remain agile and move at the speed of change.

Outcome Mapping

Outcome Mapping is a collaborative workshop to help a group of stakeholders clarify value (i.e., their primary goal and direction). Its goal is to focus the team while surfacing doubts, testing assumptions, and enabling the emergence of new insights. Just like with the other maps in Flow Engineering, Outcome Mapping accelerates change efforts with only a modest investment of time and forethought. Outcome Mapping helps the team start to define a clear roadmap toward the value they seek. It answers the following questions:

  • Does everyone clearly understand our target objective? 
  • If another issue disrupts our focus, is it clear how to prioritize?

When you make your primary outcome clear, teams understand what’s safe to ignore. This helps teams clarify what’s in or out of scope, how much detail is needed, and, most importantly, how everyone can contribute to making the target outcome a reality.

There are five stages to Outcome Mapping:

  • Outcome Discovery: What is our target?
  • Defining the Target Outcome: What goal(s) do we want to achieve?
  • Defining Benefits: Why does this outcome matter?
  • Defining Obstacles: What could get in the way?
  • Defining Next Steps: How are we going to proceed?

It’s possible to create an Outcome Map within a quick conversation to clarify, align, and drive action. A rough Outcome Map could be expanded into a more detailed map at a later date; it’s a living document that over time individuals can (and will) edit, comment on, or vote on.

Current State Value Stream Map

Flow Engineering is a lightweight method for teams to improve flow throughout their ways of working. At the heart of this method is understanding the team’s real goals, looking at how they currently work together, and then ideating on possible flow improvements. Our second type of mapping, Current State Value Stream Mapping, helps teams find this clarity.

A value stream is just a pattern. Where this pattern appears, you can apply a consistent set of practices. Your organization is a collection of value streams; they’re just not visible without mapping. Everything from hiring, customer onboarding, and support to roadmap definition, mergers and acquisitions, and quarterly planning can be treated as a value stream with either an internal or external customer. That means we can map, measure, and improve flow in all of these areas and more. 

We identify a value stream by identifying the customer and working backward by asking, “What do we do that allows a customer to receive value?” Then we ask, “What do we do before that?” and so on, until we reach the inception of the workflow. Identifying and getting clarity on the value streams that make up your company reveals the invisible network of relationships and activities that actually drive your business. With Value Stream Mapping, we can collectively build clarity on how value is created in a process so that information can be used to reduce waste. 

There are five stages to Value Stream Mapping:

  • Stream selection
  • Add activities
  • Add timing
  • Add dimensions
  • Highlight constraint

Through these stages, we gain a clear understanding of the workflow most relevant to the target outcome and where to focus for the greatest improvement. 

Dependency Mapping

The purpose of Dependency Mapping is to dig deeper into areas of the value stream that appear to be constraints in order to build clarity on the process and metrics of that part of the stream.

Nothing exists in isolation. Value Stream Mapping shows how each role or part in a process fits into a broader whole. Importantly, Value Stream Mapping can also reveal the impediments to flow for a team. An exhaustive Value Stream Mapping process would include fine-grained process mapping and detailed metrics gathering at every step in the process. But the rapid Value Stream Mapping done in Flow Engineering does not require detailed metrics on each step of the value stream. We intentionally sacrifice precision for speed and ease. We aim to gather just enough information to identify a critical constraint. 

Dependency Mapping is specifically designed to improve the resolution on this critical constraint so we can identify precise remedies. Dependency Mapping also gives us a chance to investigate the chain of dependencies that contribute to the critical constraint. 

The technical equivalent to this practice is a “trace,” such as a stack trace of a running application or tracing the route of a packet through a network, allowing you to discover and then debug a problem by isolating a general area and then digging deep. With Dependency Mapping, we also aim to gather just enough information to uncover viable opportunities for improvement. We’re not aiming to map every dependency across every stage of the Value Stream Map. Instead, we’re aiming simply to run a trace on a problematic section of the flow so the return on invested time and effort is extremely high.

One of the biggest risks in any improvement initiative is improving the wrong thing. It’s wasteful to improve part of the process that doesn’t have a significant impact on the whole. It’s also wasteful to gather more data than necessary to determine where improvements can be found. The purpose of Dependency Mapping is to challenge our assumptions about where problems lie by digging deeper into likely hot spots.

There are five stages to Dependency Mapping:

  • Start with constraints.
  • Zoom in on a constraint by creating a sub-Value Stream Map.
  • Identify hot spots.
  • Identify direct causes for hot spots.
  • Dig deeper into the constraint.

With these stages, we gain a clear understanding of the dependencies most impacting the constraint and which focal point within the dependencies will enable the most effective improvement.

Future State Value Stream Mapping

Future State Mapping is a way of enabling better flow by visualizing a desired target state and identifying gaps between it and your current state. A Future State Map adopts the same format as a Value Stream Map with two differences: 

  • It depicts an intended future state for the value stream rather than the current state.
  • It is annotated with the improvement opportunities required to get to that future state.

Future State Mapping supports the practice of the Improvement Kata. The Improvement Kata is a practice of continuous improvement (kaizen) through iteratively identifying a future target state (planning), working to achieve that state (doing), analyzing the new current state (studying), and adjusting the process based on observations (acting). This Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) cycle is also known as the Deming or Shewhart cycle. The goal is to establish improvement as a habit.

In this case, the Future State Map establishes the future target state we are seeking (Plan). The Flow Roadmap introduced in the next chapter offers guidance on how to move toward that future state (Do). After a predetermined period (typically three months), we reassess the current state through Value Stream Mapping to determine the effectiveness of our interventions (Study) and improve or adapt (Act). We then proceed to define a new target state, and the PDSA cycle resumes. As the team builds familiarity with the process, they can accomplish these activities more quickly.

Future State Mapping happens in four stages:

  • Review the target outcome and findings from previous maps.
  • Identify targets for improvement.
  • Redesign the stream.
  • Measure the future state.

Future State Mapping sets the target for improvement, particularly for enabling flow. We use it as a navigational aid to direct us from the current state of a stream to a desired future state. As with navigation, the bigger challenge is the incremental adjustment that is required along the way.

Flow Roadmap

It’s common for organizations to create roadmaps to help people inside and outside the organization get a sense of how they intend to progress. Product companies will frequently maintain both a Product Roadmap (depicting intended improvements to the product) and a Technical Roadmap (depicting intended improvements to their technology infrastructure). 

The Flow Roadmap focuses on improvements to enable flow across the value stream. The Flow Roadmap does not describe what you will create; it’s a plan for improving how you will create. Creativity and innovation are as important to workflow as they are to products. The Flow Roadmap is a plan for how to improve workflow.

Traditional roadmaps are useful communication and alignment tools to help inform groups and individuals about what they can expect in the future, but they don’t talk about how the future will happen. This “how” is the gap that Flow Roadmaps fill. Flow Roadmaps plot actions, experiments, and mechanisms to improve the way you deliver your initiatives, features, and traditional roadmap items.

There are three stages to Flow Roadmapping:

  • Identify improvement opportunities.
  • Prioritize each activity.
  • Sequence activities into a roadmap.

Creating a Flow Roadmap directly supports any other roadmaps you maintain, such as Product and Technical Roadmaps. The Flow Roadmap is a plan for a team to improve its capacity. By improving flow, we’re improving delivery performance, allowing all of our work to be completed faster and at a higher quality.

This approach allows for relatively quick prioritization and estimation. As with the other maps, the goal is not to define a perfectly detailed plan. Instead, the goal is to provide just enough clarity to take your next action (and then the next and the next) with confidence and alignment.

With clear definition and priority of action, it’s easier to create a roadmap you can feel confident in and that can impress even the most skeptical executive. The roadmap also provides a shared vision that every individual contributor can use to navigate in the right direction. 

Conclusion

Flow Engineering is about finding the fastest path to effective action. From within all possible goals, Outcome Mapping establishes which will have the greatest value. From within parts of their workflow, Value Stream Mapping and Dependency Mapping provide clarity on the one constraint that has the most impact. And from within all possible activities, Future State Mapping and Flow Roadmapping focus the team on what changes will unlock flow. This is a powerful way to achieve target outcomes and also prevents disengagement, disorientation, and distraction.

Read more and discover how to conduct each of these mapping techniques in the new book Flow Engineering: From Value Stream Mapping to Effective Action.

- About The Authors
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Steve Pereira

Steve Pereira has spent over two decades improving the flow of work across organizations. He’s worked through tech support, IT management, build and release engineering, and as a founding CTO for enterprise SaaS. He serves as lead consultant for Visible Value Stream Consulting, as a board advisor to the Value Stream Management Consortium, Chair of the OASIS Value Stream Management Interoperability technical committee, and co-founder of the Flow Collective to bring flow-focused professionals together. Since 2017, he has been developing and facilitating Flow Engineering to make flow improvement in large organizations accessible, collaborative, and actionable.

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Andrew Davis

Andrew is Chief Product Officer at AutoRABIT, focused on the next generation of DevSecOps on the Salesforce platform. He is also the author of the leading book on the Salesforce development lifecycle, Mastering Salesforce DevOps. He was formerly Senior Director of Methodology and Training at Copado.

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