Friday, April 1, 2011

Supporting the Value Stream

By Al Norval,

Where is value created?

In the value streams where people change or transform the functionality of materials or services into things which our customers are willing to pay for. It isn’t created in the staff groups that live in Corporate headquarters. Yet, the question often comes up – who is there to serve who?

Wouldn’t it make sense for staff groups to work on problems that eliminate waste from the value streams. This allows our people to spend more time creating value for our customers. Alas, often this isn’t the case. Instead we see staff groups acting like petty bureaucrats making and enforcing policies that take people away from doing value added work in the value streams and spending their time on things they weren’t trained for or filling in reports to managers in faraway places who would never dream of going to Gemba. Why? It’s easier to ask someone to fill in a report for me.

A recent example that comes to mind is a large multi-national company that downsized it’s HR dept. Now all inquiries about benefits, job postings, and in fact any HR policy were to be handled by the Team Leaders and the Shift Supervisors. Without the depth of training and experience to handle the issues that come up, these folks now spend large portions of their day chasing around searching for answers to questions raised by Team Members. The rate of improvement has slowed down but they did reduce costs in HR.

Wouldn’t it make sense to do things the other way around. To focus on eliminating everything that takes away from front line people doing value creating work for our customers. Isn’t this the real role of support staff – to support the value stream and the people in it.


  1. Good anecdote for HR and operations. Key enabler is organizational structure tied to operational objectives. Company objectives must tie to individual objectives then managers become coaches to achieve common results. What a concept! HR is not a back office siloed support staff but tied to operations as a critical enabler...

  2. Absolutely! Jack Welch used to say that his VP of Human Resources needed to be his right hand person so that company Policies and Structures were aligned to the Strategies.
    This makes it easy for people to do the right thing and create value for Customers.

  3. Upside down management! The CEO is at the bottom of the pyramid supporting the next level and so on until you get the front line staff who are viewed as THE most important workers...they are closest to the customer.

    I did some work with a company that changed the name of their Head Office and renamed it the support centre. Visionary thinking and courageous change management

  4. caFine comment, Lilly -- thanks. Calling head office the Support Centre crystalizes the proper relationship between staff functions & the value stream.

    A common symptom of Big Company Disease is the proliferation on non-value adding "support groups" -- engrossed in activities of little value to the customer.

  5. I really like the idea of calling Head Ofice and Administrative functions the "Support Center". Puts everything in perspective. We're all here to eliminate/ reduce waste so people on the front lines can create more value for our customers

  6. Usually Lean starts in the material/service flow Value Stream and through this journey the Help/Info support structure is installed for a Department, like Welding Department or Emergency Room. Help/Info also gets installed horizontally at the proper levels of Team Lead, Group Lead, Manager between Welding/Assembly or Emergency Room/Lab. Now the Value Stream functions as it should to support flow of value to the Customer and Help/Info hierarchy matrix is clear with no jumping around the Gates between roles.

    The Support Groups need to align their Organizational Structure to this matrix of Help/Info to support to flow of value. Certain Groups are Centralized or Decentralized, it becomes very confusing who is peer to peer. Also the underground network makes it more confusing, “As Welding Manager, I will escalate to V.P. of Sales – we used to work together years ago” – now the hierarchy is very muddled . Once the matrix is determined, defining Roles and Responsibilities vertically and horizontally is much easier for Help/Info chain with Gates. This is a huge gap that exists in most companies, strong Lean Companies have this Roles & Responsibility Matrix by Group and Level to dispel Fog and support Value-Add People.

  7. Ron - great example of using the 4 Rules of Lean to define the matrix. Rule 2 talks about connections being direct, binary and self-diagnostic. When we do this, our responsibilities in the hierarchy become defined and the fog gets dispelled. We rely on the system instead of personal relationships we've formed in the past. Noe we can all focus on our main objective - providing value for our customers.