The One about Value Stream Mapping

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BLUF – Spending time to understand a problem as a team can be invaluable to forward progress and positive change.

This week I was fortunate enough to be led through a Value Stream Mapping (VSM) experience. Actually, I was really fortunate enough to have homie/work colleague Lt Col Vhance Valencia (currently serving as Commander, 673d Civil Engineering squadron) to lead the event for the team of 12 through three days of analyzing processes related to installation readiness at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson (JBER), Alaska. I’ve never experienced one of these events but heard great things about them, and I wasn’t let down. I’ll caveat up front that I didn’t expect that we would solve world hunger in three days, but rather I was impressed by the analysis process we walked as a team through. The deep thinking uncovered what I thought were the core issues we were facing, and we now have a framework to make forward progress with. Here are my quick thoughts:

Day One – Deep understanding of “As Is”

In this phase we wrote down the step-by-step process of how we as a team at large deal with day to day operations and transition to contingency operations. This process in similar to probably all bases, yet we have our unique…challenges…here at JBER. We broke down the process into steps, analyzed the steps for accuracy, wrote down barriers, and learned the Army way to depict priority movement of forces and aerial movements (thanks Z). Two important steps happened here: there was a highly (and probably unnecessary) emotional conversation regarding issuing guidance and following guidance. Basically, just because you write a plan doesn’t mean people will read it and it will work. Secondly, the art of physically writing down the process helped put everyone on the same sheet of paper. Literally, you can see the butcher paper hung with duct tape. I enjoyed the analog method of talking and drawing the process, and I feel the group was able to follow along and make sure the process accurately reflected reality. There were times we dipped into “it should be like…” conversations, but Vhance kept us on track at the task at hand. That conversation was appropriate for…

Day Two – Let’s imagine the “To be”

The second day started with a recap of day one, and then we were able to start flexing our brain muscles on what we thought was the right version of installation readiness. The timing of events/processes was in our heads already, so now we were able to talk about the “dream version” of our jobs. As we continued our conversations, we (read: I) had to tamper expectations of what people thought technology could do and in reality technology could do. Thoughts about Artificial Intelligence, apps (again, thanks Z), and I-word ideas are good to consider, yet need to be managed accordingly. The speed of the markers we were using weren’t going to magically produce solutions to fix our problems. In fact, the majority of our problems were people-focused, not technology focused. Human behaviors and tendencies would need to be overcome to get to our notional model. And if it were that easy, we would’ve addressed and fixed those barriers…right? Not really. That’s why we needed…

Day Three – Autobots, ROLL OUT (all about Transformation)

The team got to work on identifying the tasks that needed to happen to bring our “To Be” model to reality. We went through the exercise of analyzing which tasks were easy/high value (Just Do It) and those that were hard/high value and needed dedicated energy and time (Rapid Improvement Events and Projects). In addition, we discussed who would be the actual human beings assigned to tackle these tasks. Again, the personalities of the people involved was included in the calculus, which led us to weigh how easy or hard the task would be. Within the room of twelve, we came up with a plan that seemed logical and took reality into account. Timeframes, champions, updates, and other milestones were defined to give our plan some structure. Three days of work culminated into drawings on butcher paper and sticky notes that captures our passion and energy to fix this problem. But the hard work has just begun…because now we have turn those notes into reality.

In summary, I really enjoyed the event and will no doubt keep the idea as an arrow in my leadership quiver. There are tons of resources you can find on VSM and I highly recommend the event if you can swing it. Even better, find a Vhance to lead you though it. Or find Vhance, he was almost uncomfortably excited anyone says something that rhymes with VSM, hahaha!

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