Want to Increase Velocity? Remove the Friction.

One time, a friend of mine was dealing with some significant health issues so they ended up traveling to receive treatment at one of the top healthcare providers in the country. After the experience was over, they shared a valuable sentiment; that it is incredibly easy and straightforward to receive care at this location because a lot of the elements of friction and logistics are simplified.

For example, let’s say that you need to have an MRI, an X-ray, or a blood draw and a lab test. Instead of having to call a completely different organization to get that scheduled (which may not even be for another day or a couple of days), you can literally just walk down the hall and get it done.

Or let’s say that your doctor writes a prescription. A lot of times, this means the prescription has to get called into a pharmacy (which may not even be open), and then you have to go to the pharmacy, and then they’re not able to even fill the prescription. Well, in this case with the integrated provider, the pharmacy is just the room next door, and the doctor can walk over there with you to help get that taken care of.

And another example, instead of having to schedule lab work, yet again you just walk down the hallway to the lab to get blood drawn. Many times, when the lab work or MRI scan is done, it takes a lot of time and complexity to get that information back to the doctor. I recall having to personally go to different providers’ offices and get forms signed and take documents in an envelope back to another doctor so they could have access to the data. For my friend’s experience at this provider, all of this is done in a single building in a seamless way, and the reduction of all that friction and logistics overhead means that things can happen much more quickly.

In the past, I’ve talked about Colonel John Boyd’s aspect of the OODA loop and his assertion that the speed of the iteration defeats the quality of iteration. It’s not each individual adjustment or decision that’s being made that improves your outcome. Instead, it’s the aggregate of these individual decisions needs to be faster than your competitors; the overall velocity increase results in shorter deliveries for your customers.

I’ve been on a project lately that is following a typical software development lifecycle in an agile fashion. As part of the build/deploy pipeline there was a single key activity that must occur. Every time a developer wanted to make a change or an adjustment to a particular system component, that change to the baseline had to cross all the way across team boundaries to a different team who then had to review the change, approve it, and then implement the change in the development environment before it can even get back to the original development team to make use of the change. I pointed out to the teams that they have taken a key step inside the development lifecycle loop and introduced an enormous amount of latency by forcing this step across team lines. And this particular components requires updates very frequently…as in, almost weekly or even daily.

So what this project’s development lifecycle process has done is taken away one of the key advantages of agility, which is the ability to iterate changes quickly. Instead, this process is immensely slowing down the deployment lifecycle. This has enormous impact upon the engineering velocity for this project and development has basically slowed down to a crawl.

Think about this when you’re designing processes or when you’re working with multiple teams that interact. Look across the processes to where these iterative loops occur (such as in software development, RFP/proposal development, business process approvals, and so forth) and look to see where you can streamline them by removing those points of friction. Try to bring any iterations as close together within the teams or organization as you can. You will quickly find that you’re now implementing and executing with as much velocity as you can, and you’ll find that this will greatly improve your ability to deliver outcomes to your customers.

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