Aligning Decision-Making with the Value Stream

Real transformation involves changing decision-making such that the timing and content of those decisions maximize the flow through the value stream. When the flow of value in a value stream slows down or otherwise becomes clogged, it is always a good idea to inspect the alignment of decision-making with the flow of value. All too often, decision-making becomes decoupled from the flow of value, and actually impedes it. The decision-making becomes the bottleneck. 

To “transform” the results, therefore, the following axiom applies: 

No matter what kind of change you are seeking, and no matter what method you use to try to manifest that change, 

Until and unless there is a change in the way decisions are made, there is no genuine “transformation” of anything at all. 

In any “transformation,” therefore, what is actually being transformed is the decision-making.

The Use of Scrum Transforms Decision-Making 

Consider the use of Scrum for improving the process and results of software development. When a team in an organization adopts Scrum, what actually happens is the following: 

• The existing rules for decision-making are discarded

• The rules of Scrum replace the existing rules for decision-making. 

• If Scrum is implemented properly, all decisions are now made in alignment with rules of Scrum as defined in The Scrum Guide. These rules align decision-making with the flow of value. 

If Scrum is not implemented properly, then the way decisions are made and who is making them does not actually change in any meaningful way. This means that decision-making continues to be out of alignment with the intent of improving value stream flow. 

This is vitally important to understand. There is no “transformation” unless and until the way decisions are made is aligned to support (and do not in any way impede) the flow of value. 

If we utilize the Theory of Constraints, and do value stream analysis, we will quickly notice that the way decisions are currently being made is often a very big impediment to the flow of value. That is, the decision-making as it stands has little if anything to do with maximizing value-flow. Indeed, if the way decisions are made could be redesigned to better support the flow of value, we could improve more quickly by satisfying more customers much faster. This is achieved by removing the primary block to the flow of value: the way decisions are being made. 

Around the world, on a daily basis, thousands of software teams in hundreds of companies are achieving more value delivery and higher rates of value flow by replacing their current decision- making system with the Scrum system of decision-making. For them it is a new and better decision-making framework. The new method of making decisions improves the flow of value through the software development value stream. The use of the Kanban Method and the decision-making rules found in that system also produces improvement in the overall of flow of value. 

The moral of this story: the way decisions are currently being made is often the primary obstacle to the flow of value. Align decision-making with improving flows of value through the value stream and you will experience immediate improvement in most of the flows (value, revenue, quality, etc.) that you are actually measuring. 

There’s Only One Problem 

Changing the way decisions get made is not as easy as it looks. Let’s consider the idea of introducing Scrum into a software development team in your organizations. Let’s introduce it as the new decision-making schema (the plan) for how decisions get made. Let’s assume that we simply introduce that team to Scrum, and assume that the team is willing to use it. 

Here is what immediately happens: 

  • Stakeholders and executives continue to assert authority over most (or even all) important decisions that affect the Team. 
  • Managers of the Development Team members continue to direct the work of the individuals that report to them, in effect interfering with the implementation of Scrum. 
  • Performance reviews that are based on individual performance continue to influence the behavior of Team members. This behavior is at odds with the Scrum method (because the fundamental unit in Scrum is the team, not the individual.) The policy that guides performance reviews is now an impediment to the use of Scrum decision-making.
  • The Team itself is not a problem, since we are assuming they are in. But, if the Team was never consulted about the change, and some of the individuals on the Team do not really agree to the rules of Scrum, then there is some resentment on the Team about the imposed and mandatory use of Scrum to guide their work.
  • Departments that were previously authorized to make certain decisions are no longer making those decisions. Now the people occupying the three Scrum roles are making these decisions. It is safe to say that the people previously making these decisions are not happy that Scrum is now being used for making those decisions. 

As we can see, “transforming” a software development team is not quite as simple as it sounds. That’s because changing the way decisions get made is not as simple as it sounds. There is a lot of preparation and pre-work that is needed. This work includes: 

  • Preparing executives and stakeholders and customers and anyone else who is affected by the Team. (The people in these roles need to understand what is expected of them to support the change, and agree to do what it takes to support the use of Scrum by the Team.)
  • Preparing the managers of the individual employees who work on the Scrum team. (These managers need to understand Scrum, and agree to align their behavior to support the use of it by the Team.) 
  • Preparing the Team for Scrum. (This includes getting the agreement and “informed consent” of all the members of the Team before starting with Scrum.) 
  • Preparing the leadership of the organization to receive information on impediments for removal. The impediments are obstacles to the teams’ goal of delivering working software in a predictable and reliable manner. Getting the executive leaders ready to receive and remove these impediments is an essential first step. (Scrum provides a very clear protocol for identifying and removing impediments.) 

And while changing the way decisions get made at the team level may look difficult, consider how difficult all of this is going to be, when the time comes to scale this change across the entire organization. 

Your Company Is Not Ready for Transformation of Any Kind

Your company has built up all kinds of “structures” that support the current misaligned, out-of-sync, inefficient decision-making that is impeding the flow of value in your value streams. Some of these impeding and problematic structures include: 

  • Departments with budget and decision-making authority
  • Department Heads who approve spending, hiring and firing
  • Existing policies such as Performance Review policies
  • Current reporting structures (formal hierarchies) 

What’s obvious is that most of the people holding authority in your organization have a vested interest in keeping everything the way it is. Every employee with any kind of authority whatsoever is, by definition, invested in the status quo. It includes the roles, rules, artifacts and events that are currently in place to support decision- making. Your departments, your budgeting and HR policies, your current reporting structures…all of this existing structure conspires against any change in the way decisions get made. 

Changing decision-making to support and not impede value stream flow is a complex and difficult undertaking. 

Inviting Leadership is the Solution 

Ideally, all impediments to the flow of value are identified and removed, and your organization experiences 2X, 3X and 4X improvement in some key and measured business outcomes. For this to happen, people who are currently invested in the status- quo must be enlisted to help. Because if they are not, they will consciously and unconsciously resist the change, a change that is redefining many job descriptions. 

So, you do actually need to enlist everyone, especially those with a big stake and a vested interest in the way things are. 

Especially those who currently have substantial authority to make decisions in your organization! 

And so, the key question becomes: how exactly will you enlist them? 

Inviting participation in the design and the introduction of the change is the best way. By issuing invitations instead of impositions, you can and will achieve the following objectives: 

You will: 

  • Be able to confidently and clearly determine how ready the organization is for change
  • Identify those who are willing to help
  • Identify those who are not really supporting the change right now
  • Gain traction, by differentiating between willing and unwilling participants, and by working with (and through) the willing participants

The Inviting Leadership method, with its focus on opt- in and 100% voluntary participation and the ability to produce immediately actionable feedback, is one of the fastest ways possible to reduce resistance to the changes you are planning.