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By Nader Talai • January 6, 2017

What's really slowing you down, and how to visualise the value flow?

Are you managing your people or managing the work?

We have been trained and conditioned through our daily experiences to manage people as opposed to managing the work and the system of work.

What we should be doing is managing and changing our system of work, this is hard but is where we should focus to improve the value flow!

I want to be a KMP, reserve my seat.

I want to manage the system of work but how and where do I start?

Step 1: Visualise your value Stream

Step 2: Measure your capability

Step 3: Make your working policies explicit

Step 4: Tackle the sources of delay

Step 5: Build a daily improvement cadence

Visualise your value stream


Starting with the customer, who is the customer (customer segment, user) of the service, create your customer personas. It is important that you understand who is the ultimate customer for your service, how they will interact with it and what is the problem you are solving for them.

Even when you work in a larger organisation and work is given to you resist the temptation of just building stuff without knowing who it is for and why you are doing it. 


What is the outcome from the customer perspective, the customer perspective is the key here? How do they define value and success?


Now we know who the customer is and how they measure success and the problem we are addressing we can look at the service.

In our organisations we are too quick to start the build or delivery because it is our job, we will serve our organisations and customers better if we start with the customer, purpose and success measures.


Visualise how the service is delivered, start coarse-grained and refine as an when needed. You after the major steps in the workflow, our free value stream visualisation dialogue will guide you on how to do you value stream mapping.


Get your free value stream mapping guide!


Measure your capability

First, you need to know your types of work, let us look at an example to make it easier.

At a Post Office people come to 

post letters

post parcels

Government services, for example, Passport application

Travel money

Travel Insurance

These are our types of work; we may choose to treat posting as one type of work so whether it is a letter or a parcel we will treat them as the same type of work. 

Now we know our types of work we can measure our capability for each type of work. What we want to know is how long does it take us to service the work, work item lead time and how many we can do in an hour, work item delivery rate, how many people working.

Arrival rate

The other measure we need is the arrival rate or our rate of demand, how many customers do we get per hour? For a Post Office and other retailers, they will most likely need to know this per hour of day and month and look for patterns as this may impact the staffing. For example lunch time peaks, Christmas peaks.

Waiting Time

When the arrival rate is greater than our delivery rate we have to wait, at a post office, this is easy to see as we can see the queue of people in front of us, in knowledge work, this is not the case and is another reason why we need to visualise our value stream. When we visualise the work and represent the work items by visual tokens, we can see what is going on and how much work is in progress, where it is waiting. 

How long do I have to wait?

When I join a queue like the one in a Post Office I measure how long it takes for me to move in the queue, I do this for four times as follows. The first one I ignore as I do not know when the staff started serving the person who just left. The next three will give me a good indication of how long I have to wait; I know how fast people are served, i.e., the lead time and the number of people ahead of me I can estimate my wait time and decide if I want to stay or leave.

Classes of Service

When I get to counter to post a letter, the Post Office offers me, three classes of service,

Second Class

First Class

Next Day

The class of service is the indicator of how they will service my request, the routeing and delivery schedule. There is a cost associated with the different class of service, and I have the choice to pay more for a faster service when I need to. 

Make your work policies explicit

Defining and visualising the work item types is the start we also need to make our working policies explicit and visible.

When we make the policies explicit and written, it allows people to question it, improve them and achieve a consistency of approach.

Here is an example

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Tackle the sources of delay

Work Item times, visualisation of the value stream set the foundations for us to start addressing the causes of delay. We can see where the work is gathering and where it is flowing. Measuring work item ageing will provide the additional information needed to act. 
At a supermarket when you approach the checkout tills, how do you decide which checkout to use?
Here's what I do
If there is one free, I'll go for that
Otherwise, I'll go for the one with least number of people in the queue.
So when we want a faster service, we look for least number of people. For knowledge work, this translates to the least number of items in progress.
Here are five steps to reduce delays
  1. Reduce the number of items in progress
  2. Make the work item the first class citizen 
  3. Build quality in your ways of working
  4. Focus on finishing what is started
  5. Work at a sustainable pace

Build a daily improvement cadence

Review your visualisation of the work at least once a day. Work with your team to focus on finishing the work that is started and remind people that the work item is what we focus on and make sure it receives the service it requires to complete.
Review work item ageing, what is waiting, is it forgotten?
We have walked through the steps required for you to Visualise, Stabilise and Optimise your system of work. Here is a summary


  • Visualise your flow 
  • Visualise your work item types
  • Measure your lead time and delivery rates

Get your free value stream mapping guide!


  • Use your measure to estimate when you are likely to deliver
  • Measure work item ageing
  • Establish work in progress limits


  • Build a daily improvement cadence
  • Act on the sources of delay
  • Review and improve ways of working
  • Reduce failure demand

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