To some degree, we are all pretending.

Executives pretend that they are always accountable and that they can hold others so merely by talking about it. Managers pretend the same thing. Individual contributors pretend that they are the only ones who are accountable.

There seem to be so few among us who consistently practice true 360 degree accountability. We’ve all played a hand in creating this culture. Is there any hope to chart a course to a saner and more authentic organizational culture?

Downstream, Without a Paddle

In the last few years, we've heard a good amount of talk from the DevOps community about the costs of the current cultural model of “crap rolls down hill.” It’s still questionable whether old-school enterprises will do what is necessary to improve the lives of individual contributors and employees in general, much less those in “downstream roles” like IT operations, QA, customer support and release management. 

Just as the Lean/DevOps movements helped enterprises “unforget” the teachings of statistician and quality expert W. Edwards Deming, the same movements have been pulling the works of Harvard professor Michael Porter to the forefront, particularly his work on value chain analysis.

Value chain analysis can be used to help drive efforts to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of activities and processes that add value to a raw material. Value streams are both similar to, and different from value chains. 

Where value streams are higher level process and system maps that identify how customer value is ultimately created from raw materials, value chain analysis requires a more rigorous and detailed analysis of each of the individual processes that go into creating the value.

When combined together, value chain and value stream maps provide an understanding of the interconnectedness between the downstream systems, activities and resulting value propositions that keep customers engaged and satisfied with your products and services. Value chain maps help to define how improvements will benefit process metrics, while value stream maps help to define how improvements will benefit customers.

Each of these maps have the potential to drive greater enterprise results and enterprise accountability at every level of the modern business. Value stream mapping provides transparency into how an overall system cannot be improved without improving the weakest parts of a system, while value chain mapping provides details for how an individual improvement will ultimately benefit the enterprise.

Can a Map be a Paddle?

When attempting to craft great experiences, designers know to envision them outside-in, and build them inside-out. 

This is where the value maps come into play. Service design practitioners have been using end-to-end value maps to develop products and services that create the inside-out view necessary to drive improvement throughout the value chain, rather than just the ones with sex-appeal (i.e., the point of purchase).

When cross functional teams consistently use the value maps as touchstones and communication vehicles for the work they do, executive leadership will almost always be able to grasp the context of any individual project or effort. Over time, brittle points in the value ecosystem will become more and more obvious, which will drive accountability upstream for subpar business results.

What Goes Up Will Come Down

I have never understood why management teams thought they could hold employees accountable for improving results, while ignoring making improvements to the system where value is created. 

With value maps I no longer have to wonder — because the answer is irrelevant. When transparency is consistently applied through value stream analysis, the macro-ecosystem will take over and drive improvement to the areas where the most manual labor and unplanned work are applied.

When appropriate attention and effort are applied to improve the forgotten parts of the value stream, individuals whose roles interact in these processes not only become more productive due to system improvements, they also become more accountable to deliver improved results. 

Pretending or not, self-accountable or not, these distinctions may cease to matter if the maps do their job — pointing the enterprise to make improvements where they matter the most; improving the value delivered to the customer by empowering the people who make it all happen.

And if we're lucky, maybe the often heard slogan “people are our most important asset” will take on a meaning beyond lip service.

Title image by Matthew Clark