Have you ever felt like you were throwing work over a wall and wishin’, and hopin’ and thinkin’ and prayin’ to get a response? Have you ever uttered the phrase, I have no idea what they’re thinking, regarding a colleague or a group? Or maybe That department? What do they even do all day? Do you feel like you just might be building the Tower of Babel?

It might be time for a value stream mapping workshop. 

In one of our recent webinars, Phil Gardiner, Bryan Vaughn and Eric Obrien brought up a secondary but powerful benefit of value stream mapping: alignment. The activity of mapping out value streams brings people together, forces important conversations and brings different perspectives to light. 

I’ve seen this in action myself. In my first ART launch, I helped facilitate an in-person mapping exercise with a government contracting group. Yup, real walls, real sticky notes, real people. It started slow, with one or two people hesitantly, carefully adding each step. The stickies were in tidy rows on the whiteboard-painted wall. 

“Is that right?” I started pointing and asking, encouraging people to join the sticky brigade. 

One by one, someone would get up, say something along the lines of “Well no, not exactly,” and start adding stickies, moving things around, even grabbing markers and writing on the wall. 

Soon, the tidy rows turned into an active mess, spaghetti & meatballs on the wall. There were sticky notes on top of sticky notes, arrows and circles, multiple handwriting samples, things crossed out, then rewritten. The participants were talking to each other, asking each other questions, arguing a little, agreeing a little more, and generally connecting. 

“This is amazing!” someone commented. 

“What’s that, getting all these steps down?” I asked. I was genuinely concerned about the rising disarray – how the heck would we ever capture all this? 

“No, this. Everyone is talking to each other.”

“Don’t they usually work together?” I asked, like a sweet summer child.

“No!” multiple voices answered, laughing. “I’ve never seen these people working together like this,” the original person told me. “This alone is worth it.” 

The “worth it” described was more than communication or collaboration or team building. It was creating alignment – a shared understanding of what work is involved in bringing value to customers. From there, you can create more efficµient ways of working – but you can also create empathy  and cooperation across the organization to help make new work efficient from the start.