Operational and incremental value streams
Juan Andrés Ochoa
Juan Andrés Ochoa
Fundador y CEO de Castor Evolución digital. Autor, podcaster, speaker, músico, navegante y filósofo novato.

One of my main achievements of this 2021 has been to learn to play the guitar a little. While learning, I studied Lean, Agility, projects and innovation, I came across an important revelation: people and companies have an operational value stream and an incremental value stream.

If we observe our daily life, sometimes we do the same activities and obtain the same results in different contexts or stages of our lives. In my case, for example, I have acquired knowledge by reading books for many years. That means that I don’t need to do new things in order to achieve it: I have it naturally embedded in my way of life. In other words, it is part of my operational value stream.

A different story is to play the guitar, doing it have been one of my goals for the last five years, and the key result for this year was to play—at least— four songs. (I must confess, I am obsessed with OKR’s).

Learning to play guitar is part of my flow of incremental value: I want to achieve something new that requires me to incorporate new skills and enables me to have new and desired experiences.

And here comes the underlying point: learning to play the guitar (generating incremental value stream), I saw myself having to:

    • To learn methods: strumming, plucking, and body postures.
    • To incorporate a new mindset: musical themes, rhythms, and times.
    • To get new knowledge: guitar notes, fretboard structure. In essence, it is about achieving new cognitive skills or abilities.
    • To get some tools: guitar, tuner.
    • To take time for learning. As I cannot outsource learning to play guitar to someone else, I had to stop doing other things, such as not playing Play Station or watching fewer sports and series.
    • Endure frustrations and persevering a lot through: finger cramps, the guitar not sounding the way wanted or imagining how it would. I confess that this is my third attempt, and I often thought I would not make it.

Nevertheless, eleven months later: boom! I was able to play four songs and meet my key result, and now I am finally on an excellent path to achieve my goal of playing the guitar. 😊🎼🎸

In my case, acquiring knowledge by reading books is part of my operating value stream, and playing songs on the guitar is part of my incremental value stream. 

How could this knowledge be applied in companies?

Let’s go back to Innovation, Digital Transformation, or Agility in companies. To achieve incremental value streams on initiatives or projects, one or more of the following aspects are needed:

    • Learning methods: Agility, Lean, or User Experience (UX / UI).
    • Incorporating new themes into the mindset: empathy, adaptability, capacity for association or analysis, and resilience, it all depends on what you want to achieve.
    • Acquiring new tools: software, locations, or equipment.
    • Having a lot of dedication in time on the part of collaborators, employees, and leaders.
    • Endure frustrations and constant perseverance.

This is where I find fundamental flaws in companies that want to achieve incremental value streams to generate improvements or innovations.  They want it without taking into account:

    • Reserving the necessary time of collaborators and leaders for these projects, initiatives, or transformations. Ideally, collaborators dedicate at least 50% of their time to each project in which they participate.
    • Incorporating people without the necessary knowledge. I often see Scrum masters or Product owners who do not have the necessary skills to perform the roles and have merely their titles as a way to compensate what they lack
    • The only certainty in innovation is that the team will have genuine uncertainty and carry with them many frustrations. In complex environments (see Cinefyn framework), there are only hypotheses. The sure thing is that to succeed; we are going to make mistakes and fall multiple times.

Incremental value stream enables us to achieve our goals

Seeing it like this, I realize that we are a bit delusional, right? Although people and companies have an operational value stream and an incremental value stream, we want projects, initiatives, and innovations to come to fruition without incorporating new tools, knowledge, ways of thinking, employee and leaders dedication time.

My suggestion is that we consider these aspects to achieve incremental value streams both in life and in our organizations.

Thanks to Wbeimar Vasquez and Jorge Abad for sharing their knowledge and inspiring me on this article.

The cover image was taken from: Diseño Vectores por Vecteezy

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