You may wonder when it's worthwhile to examine or improve a value stream if it hasn't become a regular (quarterly) practice in your organization. Should we just do it? How can we convince everyone involved to take the time? What value stream should we look at?

Where should we dig in?
Where should we dig in?

It helps to think of specific qualifiers that we can easily relate to in order to quickly get a sense for ROI, and where to start hunting for bottlenecks. One that was recently mentioned in 'the Unicorn Project' was the idea of a 'lunch factor'.

What's a lunch factor?

In short, a lunch factor is the result of asking: Who do I need to take to lunch to make this happen?

If you've had a long and storied career in business, this might resonate deeper with you than if you're new to the game, but the analogy carries to meetings, phone calls, emails, documents, slide decks, approvals etc. What hurdles stand between you and a desired outcome?

You might think this is tough to measure because, as with most things; it depends. It helps to examine specifics when doing this kind of thinking, so take each of these for a spin and see how you do:

  • Deploying a change to production
  • Adding a new test environment
  • Doubling your platform resources
  • Rotating credentials
  • Abandoning daily standups

In an agile, cross-functional, empowered team these activities may not require any special approvals, they may either be self-service or require a quick slack message with some context. In larger, more complex environments with departmental silos, change management overhead, etc you may have to take a few people out to lunch just to find out who to take to lunch!

Rotating credentials

If we take #4 for example: If I don't have automation around my security credentials, and I want to change a database password for instance, I may be affecting many teams/products/services with that change. I may have to convince a lot of people that this needs to be done, and now, and at higher priority than everything they were planning to do before I dropped this on them. I may end up taking 3 product owners to lunch to catch up, find out what they're working on, and somehow squeeze in my request for the change. Then I have to convince them to accept it! Add to that the time to schedule lunch, and the follow-through, and you can see how this all adds up. Doing the mental exercise (or the actual measurement) helps reveal the friction in very real and tangible terms. We now have some data to identify the value we might see from credential automation. To more clearly measure the ROI, we can now map the value stream and find out in real terms where the challenges and waste are.

I hope this test helps quickly focus your thinking on some key opportunity or risk areas. It certainly helps me! Before I dive into a complex process I first try to visualize the path to anticipate challenges, friction or where I may find a shortcut. If it seems complicated, I often start with a rough value stream map just to record my understanding, and have something to share with others.

Cheap, Quick Measurements

What other measures can we reference to see what we might find in our value streams? Emails are another great, quick data point, as are meetings, and if you're using Jira (or a similar tool) it can allow you to trace a task, story or epic from start to finish.

With that, I'll leave you with a fun thought experiment for this week: Find out how much lunch one of your critical value streams costs.

You may just find a worthy bottleneck for your next dramatic improvement.