{squeaky lean}

Get your wasted time back. Here's how!

Big company culture


"Right. I'm stuck. Before I can move on I need to get the editor, publisher, marketer and sales person to agree if I do it this way or that way. Lets check the diary. Ah, product meeting next Thursday. Only a week away! I'll add this to the agenda. In the meantime, lets start this other thing…After I eat cake"

Startup culture


"Right. I'm stuck. Before I can move on I need to get the editor, publisher, marketer and sales person to agree if I do it this way or that way. [stands up and shouts]. RIGHT YOU LOT – GATHER ROUND.
Ok. I can do it this way or that way. What should I do? [5 minute heated debate]. That way then. Fine. I'll get on with it..After I eat cake"

Now consider that this situation happens a lot.


  • Who gets their product out first?
  • Is speed to market all about how much resource you have?
  • Have you ever considered the average length of time your products just sit waiting, on their journey from idea to reality?
  • Isn't cake where the real money is?

Diagram: First section of a Value Stream Map for a real, award-winning (dontcha know) website

You can click/touch the image to see it better. I think.

Yeah, that's right. A Value Stream Map!

What the %$*@ is one of them then?

In this case, it's a visual representation of everything that needs to happen to a feature on this website to get it from 'Developer picks it up' to 'Live on site, in front of real people'. This  diagram isn't in fact the whole value stream map. It's just the bit I can fit into this post. About a quarter of it!

So first point of note: There is an awful lot of hoops to jump through for a feature on its journey from concept to glorious reality.

On the diagram you will notice a pink line running underneath the steps in the workflow. This is a time line. Numbers below the line are estimates of time it takes to actually carry out an action. Numbers above the line are estimates of time where nothing happens. Waiting time. Wasted time.

Second point of note: There is between 7.5 and 10.5 days of time in this value stream, where no value is being added. Wasted time. And as I said, this is just the first quarter of the whole workflow.

Pretty shocking. Very common.

Lets walk through it:

  1. Developer picks up a story (task)
  2. There's a half day of waiting before they get to talk to 'the business' about it and clarify what needs doing. Not actually that bad.
  3. There's about a half day's worth of discussion and clarification
  4. There's 2-5 days of waiting for a designer to become available
  5. The designer gets their stuff done in a day
  6. There's 5 days of waiting for the business to be available to look at the design
  7. And a day to sign it off
  8. (Assuming the business is happy with the design) There's 2-5 days of development
  9. And then it goes off to testing
  10. ….I'll spare you the rest

4.5 – 7.5 days of doing

7.5 – 10.5 days of waiting

I would suggest that before complaining about resource, this particular team should work on claiming back some wasted time. That way the extra resource will be more effective.

Areas to focus on:

  1. Get a 'Team in a Room' approach in place (see 5 lean principles big companies must relearn – this is no.5)
    The knowledge and authority required to approve things, doesn't seem to be around when it's needed.If the team are using agile, are the right people turning up to standup meetings in the morning? And regardless of that, is there a reason the developer can't just pick up the phone to the right person and ask them to approve things now?Is it in fact that the person with authority has too much to do? Or is it that in reality, this project isn't a priority for them? If the last point is true, then this project is going to be very tough.
  2. Design resource is a bottleneck. What can be done to improve this situation? Can the process be altered so the developer doesn't have to wait for design resource before they start development?
  3. The old assumption, that lack of development resource is the main limiting factor, clearly isn't true in this case. In fact, adding development resource to this team would increase the overall waiting time, more than the doing time.
The good news is, the team now know where to focus to make their delivery process faster and more efficient.
They know where their wasted time is going, so they can do something to get it back.

Further reading?

Try the Poppendiecks' books. Very good.

Wikipedia's Value Stream Mapping Page.

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By Kevin Heery.