What is Flow

Flow is a set of tools that help companies to be more agile and adaptive. Flow tools focus on enabling people to be far more value-focused, more collaborative, more customer-centric, and more strategic.

We do this by drawing on other traditions such as agile thinking, design thinking, lean thinking and Kanban. But at Flow Academy we have added in tools that have worked in practical circumstances, bringing about change and making companies function more effectively. 

The tools draw on practice, which is why we say Flow professionals are practitioners of change. To put it in a nutshell:

“Flow is an end-to-end philosophy for how to discover, manage and deliver value”

We’ll explain more about that on this page. Over the past two decades, being agile has become an imperative for most enterprises but many of the routes to agility don’t work particularly well. Enterprise Flow is a simpler and more collaborative philosophy than what’s gone before.

What do we need to go beyond agile?
The agile approach has proven to be of huge value but there are weaknesses that we need to move beyond.

There are three strands in agile thinking that can be counterproductive when applied in a corporate setting.

The first is to offer companies an agile framework (such as SAFe or Scrum at Scale). These tend to be rule books that run counter to the idea of agility. However, they do provide common work methods that can be valuable.

The second is to create a workforce with certifications that don’t dive deep enough into the new skills needed in agile settings. “Students: can acquire a ”masters” level of certification in agile techniques, like scrum, after only two days of study.

Our clients have often invested heavily in these avenues only to find that they are less agile than they expected or that their agile skills are limited to software development.

Will lean do as a substitute?
Lean thinking and practices owe their origins to manufacturing environments. They were applied to assembly lines and provided workers with tools to improve quality, consistently over time.

The idea of Flow emerges from this environment (more later). Lean began as an improvement framework but has become synonymous with waste reduction. And that has often meant reduced headcount during lean transformations or other disruptive measures that reduce trust at work.

In areas such as user experience design (Lean UX), lean has proved its value. Lean UX is essentially a tool for rapid design and redesign based on user feedback, as opposed to the use of requirements documents linked to deliverables. The idea is to keep designs flexible (or agile) rather than follow a requirements document religiously.

Lean startup is another lean tool. It refers to iterating product development through customer interactions with a minimum viable product. In our experience MVPs in an enterprise setting cause more trouble than value because they flood the innovation funnel with too much work,

You can see from this that lean is a triple edged sword. For some it means cuts, for others it means a new way to design products, particularly software, and for others, it is creating too much work.

So what is Flow?
Flow tools work at a strategic and a practical level but also at an emotional and social level. One of its unique elements is a strong focus on creating much improved social interaction and drawing out the collective intelligence of teams.

Flow also refers to the flow of value in an organisation. While that is a common feature of flow thinking, Flow Academy takes it a stage further and has a strong focus on aligning value as understood by customers, suppliers and employees. We are constantly thinking about the real meaning of value and helping clients to discover new sources.

We are non-doctrinal about how to discover, manage and deliver value. If Lean UX looks like the right tool then use it; if design thinking is embedded in your organisation, use that. Flow will also help situations where prescriptive frameworks, such as SAFe, have caused conflict, or it can be used to rescue poor transformation designs.

“Flow is an end-to-end philosophy for how to discover, manage and deliver value”

The visual principle
All of the work in Flow is visualised. We create wall visualisations of markets, customers, assets, innovations and ecosystems; as well as work portfolios, dependencies, risks, issues and even social interaction.

The purpose of visualisation is to bring people together in social settings to discuss markets, customers, workflow design, strategy, and teams. By bringing people together we draw out the benefits of collaboration, mainly enabling collective intelligence to be applied to corporate issues.

Value or product discovery
We use tools such as detailed market segmentation and CATE (our value discovery tool) to help companies validate their innovation before they invest heavily (and potentially knock IT off course with too many new projects).

Our value discovery process is available in a two-day workshop. It involves learning how to align the needs of a changing market with the innovation capacity of the firm.

We do it through good segmentation, understanding customer success factors better, knowing your own assets, targeting innovation and understanding your value ecosystem.

Value management
In recent years, lean startup has contributed to bloated work portfolios. In our experience at least 30% of projects in an enterprise are not contributing to corporate goals. To counter this and to rationalise work, we use a number of tools: The Executive Portfolio Wall, a Risk and Issues Wall, Dependency Walls, and Walls that foster the collective spirit of the teams (the Cool Wall, Thank You Wall, Jobs Wall).

Value delivery
It has been by far the most successful exponent of transformation and many IT shops are now using techniques like continuous integration, DevOps, microservices, automated and testing.

There is still a lot that can be done to optimise processes, however, such as bringing more customer feedback loops into IT so that work in progress is tested against real needs, using kanban to limit work in progress, and integrating IT more with product teams to make techniques like lean UX more effective.

The techniques we use have one purpose. To ensure that what goes into delivery is actually valuable and once it is there to ensure that it is delivering value early and often.

The Flow Generative Operating Model
Many of the issues addressed by Flow are in the context of a transformation from an old way of working, full of core platform incompatibilities, to a new and more digital structure of work. That transformation is often referred to as a switch from an AS-IS state to a future or target operating model (TOM).

We argue that fixed future states are not helpful because in reality the early stages of a transformation should be spent trying to understand your context, and part of that means understanding how your strategy and market opportunity will evolve and hence what new skills you need both to transform and to be successful in future.

We recommend that companies develop a generative operating model or one that allows them to develop the skills to understand context, change and skills.

Lighthouse projects and transformation sprints
In that context, we developed the idea of a transformation sprint and a lighthouse project.

The sprint is an agile concept. It means time-boxing an initiative (in our case 4 weeks to identify key issues in a transformation) and delivering value early and quickly. Effectively, we take just 4 weeks to create a design for solving a transformation problem. We do it in six overlapping phases, more on which can be found in the book.

Lighthouse projects are the output of the sprint. They are projects that can affect a structural change for the enterprise, demonstrate the value of new ways of working, early and often, and act as a learning environment so the team can flesh out the generative operating model.

These two techniques radically reduce the cost and timescales of change programs.®