Flow Chain by Bob Marshall

discussion1Flow Chain was a Meetup help by Agile Practitioners at Pearson’s given by Bob Marshall, known for his ideas on rightshifting. FlowChain is described by Bob as his model for how to organise a knowledge-work business along flow, synergistic and systems thinking lines. Organisations in the real world that have discovered and implemented (some) of the aspects of FlowChain include Reaktor (Finland) and Motek (California). Just to clarify Flow Chain is a framework to surface issues, not a methodology to resolve them.
Inband Improvement

Bob started with a Pecha Kucha, which is a deck of slides with one idea per slide, he spends 20 seconds per slide and then at the end we vote on what we want to learn about and then we spend about 10 minutes per topic voted for. These included:

  • Product Development Flow chain – How can we run organisations that are focused on new products?
  • Idealised Design – How would you rebuild a company if you were doing it all again?
  • Theory of Constraints – The company is only as strong as their weakest link
  • Companies are Organic – As the organisation perceives and accepts its organisational self-structure, more of its organic experiences, replace the present value system.
  • The Red Queen Effect –  Also referred to as the Red Queen’s Hypothesis, Red Queen or Red Queen’s race, is an evolutionary hypothesis. The term is taken from the Red Queen’s race in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass. The Red Queen said, “It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.” The Red Queen Principle can be stated thus:
    In reference to an evolutionary system, continuing adaptation is needed in order for a species to maintain its relative fitness amongst the systems being co-evolved with.
  • Politics – Want to reduce the politics, keep calm and focus on priorities.
  • Covalency:
    – What is the need of all the stakeholders?
    – Can all of these be achieved?
    – What needs to be done to achieve this?
    Tom Gilb has done a lot of work in this area to ensure people quantify requirements properly
    – What isn’t working at the moment?
    – How does the organisation build products?
  • Single Piece continuous flow –  Agile methods are one or more steps nearer to the ideal of ‘single piece continuous flow’. BUT… they are inherently limited because they continue to create & disband teams, to establish & abandon value streams, to create and throw away know-how, at every opportunity. Need to keep this knowledge, not lose it.
  • In band improvement:
    – Plan, Do, Check, Act PDCA
    – Meaning sprint planning, do the work, retrospective and then feed in the output of the retrospective for the next sprints.
    – Toyota product development process was a good example of learning how to improve their process
    – Operational Value Stream Owners request something. This causes a backlog to be created, there are a pool of people who can work on these. Item moves into WIP (work in progress). The ideal item size is 1-2 days for 2-3 people.
    – In band is feeding back into the process of how that item can be better, an improvement suggestion and this can then be added into the backlog.
  • Evolution – Seeking the ideal
  • Emergence – Flocking behaviour, one alone isn’t great but together complex behaviours can happen. Pack is better than single.
  • Systems Thinking
  • YANGI – You ain’t going to need it
  • Self Organisation
  • Prog.nosis

Book recommendations:
The Phoenix Project
The Goal
Learning to See

The meeting was good and there were very interesting discussions from it, but it is one thing identifying the ideal solution, it is another to be allowed to implement it. How are these conversations broached, especially if you are a third party implementing as it suggests that you didn’t do it right the first time? I think you need to have a very open channel of communication with your customer and upfront book in time regularly to deal with technical debt and improving the deliverable. It would be good to hear from companies that are using this methodology and how it is working for them.


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