Science & Technology

Three steps to making remote work visible during the Great Wait

As technology has augmented and reshaped the way in which we work, companies remain divided on the future of work – and more specifically, where we’ll work. Whether you’re in favor of a full-time return or persistent remote working, newly developed variants have undoubtedly thrown a spanner in the works for corporations across the globe.

Last month, Google LLC joined the ranks of Amazon.com Inc. and Apple Inc. in their declaration that they were delaying their office return until the start of next year. This move is indicative of a more widespread trend that has seen corporations discard their planned timetable in favor of a more flexible approach. In fact, a recent Gartner study found that the spread of new variants has forced them to reverse full reopening plans until 2022, in what has been dubbed “The Great Wait.”

Responding to the ever-changing current of the pandemic only accounts for one portion of the equation. With turnover rates peaking across numerous industries, many organizations are having to take into account the desires of their employees while also learning to center these predictions in an entirely new way.

Georgia-based compliance specialist Portia Twidt’s account of her resignation became an emblematic account of secluded professionals everywhere when she stated of her employer, “They feel like we’re not working if they can’t see us.” She spoke for a generation of newly minted workers from home unable to express how much of their work can feel intangible and at times invisible.

The way that we build software has transformed the way we view work. Agile has superseded app development and become a way that we view projects as a whole. With the route to routine office life becoming more unclear as the days go by, another mainstay of software development could potentially revolutionize how we translate hours into dollars.

What is VSM?

One of the fundamental processes found from the DORA State of DevOps research program to drive delivery and performance is the visualization of work from the idea right to the customer outcome. By visualizing your workflows, teams can gain a broader understanding of the true worth of their contributions. On top of that, managers gain the ability to track the real-time return on investment that new tools and workflows are bringing to the table.

This process, otherwise dubbed Value Stream Mapping or VSM, originally conceived by Toyota Motors as the Toyota Production System in the 1930s, tracks three core metrics to highlight waste and inefficiency. First up is the lead time of a project from its initial ideation. Then we examine its process time, accounting for the task’s duration without interruptions and under perfect conditions. Lastly, we view the percent complete and accurate (%C/A), signifying the proportion of times a particular process receives something from an upstream task that it can use without requiring significant rework.

The goal is to help people genuinely understand how both materials and, more importantly for the age of ephemeral work, information, flow in a productlike fashion to create real value.

How do you determine if VSM is suitable for your team?

Although there are undeniably strong parallels between the challenges we face today and the conditions that paved the way for VSM’s initial boom, the success of a tool lies in how we use it. To understand if VSM is suitable for your organization, start by asking yourself the following questions:

  • Can your processes be grouped into distinct families, and can you prioritize them? For VSM to work, you need to be able to understand what adds value to your output and what’s necessary to, as Dominica DeGrandis says in her critically acclaimed book, “Making Work Visible,” “keep the lights on.” As DeGrandis notes, “When the oil in the vehicle isn’t changed regularly, disaster is inevitable.” We need to be able to pinpoint which are the critical “always on” processes to understand which attributes are required to make an action a must-have.
  • Are you able to articulate how you want the future to look? Mapping the flow of value will chart a direction but not a destination. The current state map will give you a pulse check on the everyday places that you’re expending the most effort, but this doesn’t award you any benefits unless you can chart a course for where you want to increase or decrease value. Embark on a VSM process with a sense of your goals for where you want to produce value.
  • Can you record accurate and reliable data around work completion? All systems are only as robust as the data with which we provide them. For VSM to work, you need to install a way of visualizing processes that doesn’t hinder your day-to-day output levels. Even if it’s just a Trello board, the data is your friend. If you’re able to track the lead time between your projects and put a number to opportunity cost, then you might be able to reap the benefits of VSM.

When it comes down to it, VSM isn’t about putting your employees and their output levels on the spot; it’s about making sure that everyone in your business is working from the same lexicon. When we all get used to speaking different languages, things are bound to become lost in translation.

These tactics work best when all the people on your team position themselves around the problem of lost value, deciding to unite against a shared problem or in pursuit of a common goal. Whichever side of the fence you sit on during the debate on whether or not office work can indeed resume in the format that we’ve come to expect, optimizing for value is certainly going nowhere.

Jessica Cregg is a developer advocate at LaunchDarkly, a software feature management platform located in Oakland, California. She wrote this article for SiliconANGLE.

Photo: StockSnap/Pixabay

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