Understanding Flow Distribution – Getting Your Priorities Straight

Decision to do one thing is a decision to delay something else” – Dominica DeGrandis, Making Work Visible

Flow Distribution is the proportion of Flow items (features, defects, debt, risk) in a specific value stream that can be adjusted depending on the need to maximize business value. Set by the workers who know best about the current state of the value stream, as well as the talent and processes needed to support it, Flow Distribution helps development teams to have an important conversation with the business (Product/Line of Business owners) about how trade-offs impact the business. High Flow Velocity for features for a new product release is great, but often it comes at the expense of working on other items, like bugs and technical debt, that will undermine the value of the product moving forward. Flow Distribution helps get your business priorities straight.

The metric can also be set for an entire organization to deliver a high-level business goal. Bill Gates did this, for example, with Microsoft’s Trustworthy Computing initiative, focusing the company on risk and security improvements. If your organization is under threat from a more nimble company, for example, you may want to move from an old platform to the cloud, and optimize software delivery to bring new features to customers rapidly. This measure is tuned to the investment necessary for success in a particular value stream – and it is also the metric needed for refining investments over time.

Flow Distribution in Action

Case Study 1: Tailor your Value Stream to Deliver Business Results

At Tasktop, we saw a pattern emerge while working on Tasktop Hub. Creating the initial release required tremendous focus upon delivering the needed features in order to successfully launch on time. However, investing in more new features meant taking on more technical debt. Seasoned product managers will be familiar with this trade-off. For Tasktop, the time to market was more important than delivering new features faster after the initial release, so we decided that taking on the additional debt was the best path for this value stream.  

From our work with numerous Fortune 500 companies, we knew that post-release Flow Distribution could reasonably slow and so we were comfortable with the decision. Technical debt tends to compound and so organizations making this decision should be prepared to pay the piper at some point. You must decide whether this is a sustainable practice for a particular product. It is the business-level understanding of the current and future Flow Distribution that allows adjustments to business initiatives to be made. Its power is that it allows business leaders to do the same kind of planning that product and engineering teams already do as a matter of course.

Case Study 2: A Simple Change Leads to a Big Win

One organization, a large U.S. healthcare specialist, was suffering from a very high help-desk call volume for a product used by 22,000 clinical practitioners that was, in turn, impacting developer capacity for feature development. Most of the tickets were not software defects, rather a misunderstanding of new capabilities that could be resolved through conversations. However, this overhead was consuming a lot of bandwidth and slowing down the value stream’s ability to develop new features. 

One suspected that the weekly release of new capabilities and changes to workflows was too much for this user community of clinical practitioners to absorb. The hunch was clearly confirmed by their Flow Metrics. And by analyzing their Flow Distribution, they could see that their workload was highly skewed towards defects, with little left for feature work.

Using their hypothesis that the cadence of weekly feature releases was too rapid for the user community to absorb, they created a simple experiment to see if they could remedy the situation. They artificially slowed down releases to every four weeks, coinciding with a monthly newsletter. The newsletter, produced with the communications and training departments, called out all the things that would be changing in the upcoming release. Maintenance releases continued to be weekly. The result of this quick and simple change was that 95% of the tickets were eliminated, tripling Feature Velocity.

Measure what matters in software delivery…

Traditional organizations have no real form of measurement that can tell organizations if investments in their digital transformation are working – until now.

Flow Metrics—from Dr. Mik Kersten’s the Flow Framework™—provide business and IT leadership with a critical window into the enigmatic world of enterprise software delivery.

These business-level metrics provide a common language between business and IT so you can make collaborative decisions around software delivery to achieve innovation velocity.

Download this short guide to:

  • Learn more about each Flow Metrics
  • Measure what matters in software delivery
  • See real-life examples of Flow Metrics in action
  • Begin your journey from project to product
Click cover to download

Implementing the Flow Framework – introducing Tasktop Viz

Designed for the business user, Tasktop Viz offers a turnkey solution to implement the Flow Framework™. Translate improvements in flow into business impact, increase revenue, reduce cost and improve the quality of happiness of your teams. Learn more from our CEO and founder, Dr. Mik Kesten, on why there is such an overwhelming demand for the product.

Want to learn more about what Flow Metrics can do for you?

Drop us a line for an informal chat with one of our friendly Flow Advisors.