The Value Stream Impedance Scorecard (VSIS) is a qualitative method of determining if a change to your system will be an improvement or not. It is used to predict whether a speculated “to be” state will be an improvement over the current “as is” state. It does this being guided by whether or not the change will improve value realization. Essentially it looks to see if the resistance to flow will increase or decrease. The VSI Scorecard should be used as a heuristic as change in complex systems is not predictable although it can follow patterns.
A note on complex systems is worth making however. Many times ideas that are intended to make things better don’t tend to work out. Improvements often end up not being improvements because they cause some interaction that was not anticipated. For example, putting a larger engine in a car may upset the car’s weight distribution and actually decrease performance. However, if one identifies something that is impedance overall progress, removing will often result in an improvement. This is conceptually similar to the theory of constraints where we’re not trying to improve things randomly, but rather to remove a constraint in a way that improve the overall system. There is a much greater level of predictably when one improves systems by removing known challenges than by trying to improve aspects of a system.
At the end of this chapter we’ll go through a few ways the VSIS can be used to make help make decisions on process improvements.
If you are not familiar with the concept of flow, I advise you to read What is flow? before continuing.
Many people follow frameworks that are intended to improve both the effectiveness and efficiency of their workers. Effective frameworks typically have practices that are forcing functions for good results. For example, iterations are a good way to manage work-in-process over the iterations time period. Each practice almost certainly is used to improve something about what, how, by who and when work is being done.
The question is – what is slowing us down and how can we see how to change things so they don’t slow us down. An aspect of product/IT development is that you need an understanding of what is slowing your work down. By lowering this resistance you will get more from your efforts. This is the purpose of the value stream impedance scorecard.
Systems-thinking tells us that most of the errors people make are due to the eco-system they are in instead of the individuals. That is, good people make mistakes significantly more often in bad systems than they do in good systems. For examples, testers who are located away from the development group that are given their work in big batches will not do as good a job testing as testers embedded with the development group. This does not mean that people aren’t important. It actually means just the opposite because people are important we don’t want to waste their time in bad systems and we need them to improve their current systems.
The approach therefore needs to be:
This article describes the Value Stream Impedance Scorecard
The Value Stream Impedance Scorecard
The Value Stream Impedance Scorecard is a way of assessing how much resistance to identifying, creating and realizing value (both business and customer) based on observing the system in which you are working, the work being put into the system, and how people are collaborating. There is great evidence to support the efficacy of this approach. Just as important, Lean Thinking provides an effective model for predicting what would lower this resistance. This enables us to make changes with confidence that they will be effective.
The contention is that the more impedance, the more extra work that is created. The key word here is extra. In other words, not only does the system slow us down, it creates additional, unneeded, work to be done as well. Examples of this is the thrashing that often takes place when software developed by different teams are integrated.
The Value Stream Impedance Scorecard is a set of quantitative measures of the resistance to work within a value stream. These measures include how work to be done is selected, sized and sequenced, the organizational structure of the people doing the work and the way the people do the work. These measures work together to help you drive improvements to lower the resistance.
The Value Stream Impedance Scorecard highlights factors that are out of line or are causing resistance. To address resistance, you conduct experiments to address one of the factors and then examine the results in the scorecard.
The Value Stream Impedance Scorecard and systems-thinking
The Value Stream Impedance Scorecard takes a systems-thinking view to the resistance to work within a value stream. The set of quantitative measures are intertwined in a strong positive loop when improvements are made and a strong negative loop when degradations are made. For example, increasing the number of items in play will have adverse effects on the other components of the scorecard.
This is one reason that Lean Thinking is so useful. There are seldom tradeoffs between its core mantras. This enables even a qualitative measure of the VSI of a system to provide a useful indicator of the challenges that will be encountered in a value stream. Understanding what causes a high VSI enables us to take corrective action to lower it.
The initial ideas of the VSI grew out recognizing that virtually all of the pioneering ideas that Net Objectives has created over the years were created to improve flow. Typically, we saw a challenge and understood the cause of the challenge was violating some Lean principle. We would come up with different ideas and those that reduced resistance to flow virtually always resulted in improvements.
Components of the Value Stream Impedance Scorecard
The Value Stream Impedance Scorecard is an attempt to quantify the challenges of a current value stream in a holistic way.
Here are the factors in the scorecard.
Exploring the Value Stream Impedance Scorecard
Consider each of these factors and what they might tell you.
Using the VSI Scorecard to improve Value Stream Impedance
The VSI Scorecard can be used in two ways to improve your value stream.
Use the scorecard to compare ‘as-is’ to ‘to-be’ value streams
When considering a change to how your value stream works (e.g., re-organizing the talent) you can compare the VSI Scorecard of your ‘as-is’ value stream to the projected ‘to-be’ value stream. It is surprising how clear the comparison often is. If it’s not clear an experiment can be run attending to the points that might be conflicting with each other. However, when the VSI Scorecard is combined with the Theory of Constraints, additional clarity is often achieved.
Look at the components of the VSI Scorecard to investigate possible improvements
You can improve value stream impedance by taking steps to reduce those structures, management, workflows and anything else that contributes to them. Here is a list of actions to take that can almost always lower value stream impedance.
Size, priority and amount of work
How teams are organized, geographically located, and who they report to
The sequence in which work is done
Work level inside the team
Increasing the following will decrease the VSI within the system
Pay down your technical debt
All of the above will increase positive feedback loops which will lower the amount of induced work.
Use Value Stream Mapping
Very often a quick look at the issues described in this article is sufficient. But a really effective way that only takes a couple of hours is to do value stream mapping. While it is true that Scrum will illustrate many impediments as its proponents suggest, with value stream mapping you can see them before taking any steps. This can help ensure you take more effective steps. But don’t overdo it. Getting started even in the wrong direction is better than not starting a change at all.
Attend to Culture when Making a Change
While the VSIS is intended to be a measure of the resistance in the system based on Lean flow, there is always a human aspect to organizational change – culture. Culture must not be ignored. If methods are being attempted that don’t fit the organization’s culture, expect resistance and subterfuge.
How to Use the Value Stream Impedance Scorecard
I have run across many people who wonder if a change is “OK to do.” This is natural since so many people started with Agile by learning Scrum and the typical certified training people discusses how you’re supposed to follow Scrum’s practices until you better understand it. Of course, when that occurs is never discussed. When you get an idea, run it by the value stream impedance scorecard and see if it raises or lowers impedance. If it lowers it, give it a shot. If not, see how the change could be adjusted so that it does. If not, see how the change could be adjusted so that it does. You don’t have to look at all aspects of the VSIS, just the key ones such as:
Creating software has several aspects to it:
* Deciding what to create
Although all of this creates a very complex process, only the first three are fairly unpredictable, the fourth is not.
We understand flow: Build small things quickly by removing delays in workflow, in feedback, and in using information. By attending to the theory of flow, teams can readily understand why and how they should do things. Teams no longer have to re-invent the best way to do iterative, incremental software development.
Although the value stream impedance scorecard can reasonably accurately tell us if the change is made if it will be helpful, there is no guarantee that if you decide to make the change you can really do it. And, there is, of course, the possibility that you haven’t noticed somethings that would affect the scorecard’s result. In a complex system, nothing is certain – just an hypothesis.
So, to best use the scorecard, consider it a way of deciding on experiments to try.
Exercise One – Review a Change You Made That Resulted in an Improvement
Consider a change you’ve made recently that resulted in an improvement. Look at the value stream impedance scorecard and see if it indicated an improvement if the change were made. If it did, then you have confirmation that the VSIS can be useful. If the VSIS suggested things would get worse with the change I’d appreciate it if you would send me a note. I don’t pretend that the VSIS is perfect, but it should indicate improvements and feedback like this can assist in improving it.
Exercise Two – Review a Change You Made That Didn’t Result in an Improvement
Consider a change you’ve made recently that resulted in things getting worse. Look at the value stream impedance scorecard and see if it predicted things would get worse. If it did, then you have confirmation that the VSIS can be useful. If it predicted it would get better, reflect on why you think that was. Was it that the change was a good idea but you didn’t actually implement it?
What can you learn from this? If the VSIS didn’t seem to work, I’d appreciate it if you would send me a note. I don’t pretend that the VSIS is perfect, but it should indicate improvements and feedback like this can assist in improving it.
Exercise Three – Consider Whether a Suggested Improvement Will Really Be an Improvement
While we never know for sure than an improvement attempt will actually work, the value stream impedance scorecard can often be of value in evaluating it. Consider a change to your process that you’re considering. What do these core questions tell you?
Take a look at the full value stream impedance scorecard if you are not sure. It may not be a good idea to try it if the VSIS is indicating it will decrease flow. But if it says it should increase flow, go ahead and try it as an experiment and see what happens.