A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. That is true in this Knowledge Age more than ever. When we encounter issues in our work, we need to look at ourselves and our team to see if our own understanding or approach is a contributor. Likewise, every success we have is attributable to our team.
Teams are not just collections of independent contributors held together by management. They share a common goal and a common vision, where every person plays a unique role. Actions that undermine or jeopardize team dynamics are particularly harmful. The product we create is what provides value to customers, but the team is the structure behind the product.
Cybernetics is one of the earliest terms used to describe the interplay between living beings and software architectures. A more recent term is “sociotechnical systems”. Software is just a codification of shared ideas that can be executed by machines. Collaboration allows us to validate or refute ideas. It also allows us to recombine ideas in new and powerful ways. Just as human collaboration unlocks new possibilities, the collaboration of humans and machines has a multiplicative power that is driving the modern IT revolution.
People’s backgrounds, influences, and thought processes vary significantly. So it can be challenging to combine two people’s ideas into one cohesive view. In a similar way, each new addition to a technical system needs to be properly integrated to work harmoniously with the existing system.
Over time, teams build shared understanding, values, and patterns of behavior. That’s where the magic happens. Ideas, values, and practices can build a momentum of their own that can become decentralized across an organization. This replicability of ideas gives them a power similar to that of software. This opens up the possibility of achieving things that could never be achieved in isolation.
This is part of the power of building value stream maps. A cohesive, accurate value stream map brings the whole team onto the same page. It provides a visual representation of something that was previously only represented conceptually or verbally. Suddenly, a team can look and see in general where weaknesses are, where strengths are, and where obstacles are. There is less ambiguity when data and metrics are right in front of our faces.
This means, crucially, that the whole team has a common point of reference. We can be aligned in our shared goals because we have a clear understanding of our current shared position. A tool like a value stream map takes the most important information pertaining to the whole team and makes it explicit, in one place. In a sense, you can say that value stream maps are a conversation tool. They make the conversation explicit. They take what is hidden and make it visible.