Why Flow? A light framework for business agility

Business people collaborate with a wall of sticky notes behind them

Enterprises are challenged with fast changing markets but there are many techniques they can use to respond. Why another? The first thing to stress is that Flow is not a methodology as such. It is a philosophy and a light framework for bringing change to an organisation. The specific change we aim at is to help companies to act more quickly and to do so with greater confidence in their ability to create value.

If you do not have an answer to these five questions then Flow is for you:

  1. In a fast changing world, what might create success, or value, for customers, as their needs change too?
  2. Can we be surer of identifying that value and getting it into the flow of work quickly?
  3. What is blocking customer-relevant value from being created at pace
  4. Can we remove these blockers so that value is created efficiently?
  5. Can we do these things at scale, with sufficient scope and speed?

Waste or value?
Organisations tend to focus on waste reduction rather than on becoming as pro-value as possible. That means they are not ready for the scale, scope and speed we see from front runners.

Waste reduction is now a regressive focus. It means we often design more waste into processes, products and services because of our obsession with stripping out activity rather than adding in value.

There are five big waste-focus enemies that Flow can help you address.

Goal misalignment

Where we have applied the Flow framework we have found that as many as 30% of projects sponsored by the C-Suite do not relate directly to corporate goals and could easily be cut with no impact on value creation.

Upstream blind spots

Another source of waste occurs when leaders push projects into the flow of work without a clear enough indication that they will bring success to customers. Lean innovation has increased this risk. It usually means projects get commissioned without sufficient insight into what is emergent within markets and what is changing in customer needs. The lean cycle of build, test and learn takes too long and has inadequate external market reference points. Staff end up working on projects that they know are duds and see startups begin to blindside the enterprise.

Big decisions

Many big decisions become big sources of waste for large companies. Grand schemes to replace infrastructure, replatform, go to the single view of the customer or do AI become a sink for pouring in resources that will never come out as value. In Flow we talk of small steps to big strategy. In particular in cloud migrations, we have seen tens of millions of dollars created in weeks by using Flow as a framework for work redesign.

Asset reuse

Many organisations reinvent the wheel constantly. In one client engagement when we were discussing a specific new project we ran an asset discovery workshop that highlighted something extraordinary. In two areas of emerging market need, the company already had products on the bench that were only three to four weeks away from being designed up for launch. Discovering and logging existing assets that are relevant to a new need is rarely done but is a powerful boost to the speed if innovation as are parallel strategies like copycat innovation and ecosystem development (where partners take on part of the burden of innovation).

Process as a blocker

And finally waste is generated by the use of processes and techniques that are inappropriate for getting new tasks done. We live in an economy where many tasks, in AI, big data, Cloud blockchain, IoT etc are being done for the first time. We do not have the luxury of repetition. What that really means is we have to focus on finding the right process for the right task at hand, rather than rely on yesterday’s routines.

Most organisations typically create waste in ways that they don’t see. Conversely they pay to little attention to a full-stack approach to creating value. Lean and agile techniques are ultimately waste reduction techniques as is Six Sigma. By adopting these techniques “value” is not adequately explored as a set of ideas and behaviors for targeting corporate resources at what the customer wants next.

These types of errors are proving costly and will not help leaders to respond adequately to the flexibility, agility and dynamism of Asian competition.

“In the US and Europe, we talk about the agile development. We really embrace that, day-to-day. We have a small and nimble team, that’s why if we feel like, ‘Hey, this is a great model. We want to do it.’ We have a quick discussion, we feel like, ‘Yeah, this is the right direction, do it.’ Literally, we make it happen.”

Sherri Wu
Head of international e-commerce business development at Alibaba

The Flow Framework

‘Flow is simple but change is not. In order to effect change you cannot rely on any one technique: design thinking, lean innovation, design sprints, scrum agile or project management. All of these have value but you organisations need a context for their use, i.e. knowing when to use which technique most effectively.

They also need a culture that can forge value from different techniques and from more autonomous work processes.

And all this should be placed within an end-to-end framework that starts upstream by exploring changes in customers’ needs and success factors and targets innovation effectively.

Flow is a framework for those requirements. The Flow agile framework:

  • Helps support a visual, autonomous and accountable work environment
  • Provides techniques for agile portfolio management at the executive level
  • Helps you make decisions guided by authentic customer centricity with a focus on emerging market segments and microsegments and integrating feedback into work process design
  • And value-based innovation, through asset discovery and asset reuse, partnerships and ecosystems
  • With a higher level of attention to a socially supportive work environment
  • Shaped by more relevant goal setting
  • Using real time process design
  • And a faster cadence of delivery and interaction