VA/VE is the strategy!


Why do entrepreneurs succeed, and then their companies fail? Or conversely, why do so many dominant companies keep succeeding although their customers hate them while new competitors never take off?

There is an inherent contradiction is any human organization since – well, since humans organized, from villages to bureaucracies to capitalistic enterprises. The organization but balance:

  • Mission: the service it provides for society, what it is we’re all here to do in the end.
  • Business: keeping the organization alive so that it performs its mission.

To succeed at the mission, everyone needs to remain committed, flexible and fully engaged. However, succeeding at the business means accepting that the poor stay poor, the rich get rich, the insiders use the institution to line their pockets, feather their nests and all systems start working for their own sake rather than for the mission.

At the extreme, the mission becomes an alibi for the institution to reproduce itself as it is. How many times do we feel that doctors see us as an opportunity to practice medicine, not to try to heal us? Or teachers see our kids as opportunities to teach, not to develop young people into successful adults?

The business of the mission always corrupts the mission. In lean, the business of lean reverts lean to taylorism. Yet, without taking care of business, there is no organization to cary out the mission, as mission needs financing, staffing, organizing and so on.

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Is there a cure to this condition?

First you can reflect:

In lean, the first step is to “hansei” – self reflect. If we look back over the last year, how much did we take care of pushing the mission further, and how much did we play to running the business? Can we spot the inevitable mission creep (there will always be one, the question is which one)?

And then improve:

  • Value analysis (VA): which problems are we solving for customers in products/services in production right now?
  • Value engineering (VE): which problems are we solving in products/services for customers tomorrow in products/services currently being designed?

Looking at you list of VA projects right now, you can immediately see the real focus of your organization – mission or business. Looking at the list of VE topics you can see where you are taking your organization.

Combined, VA and VE topics are the strategy – not the strategy on the slides for the boardroom, but the real strategy that will be enacted on markets.

VA/VE links both dimensions of the mission/business contradiction of organizations because problems can be either mission-based, business-based or both. Compromise is unavoidable. The powerful must be cajoled and bribed. The plumbing must be fixed. IT will always do its own things, regardless of what internal or external customers want. It is what it is.

But we can fight to keep the balance tilted towards the mission, whilst giving ourselves the ammunition to deal with the business, and this is essentially what focusing on VA/VE can enable us to do.

Its never easy to refocus on the mission because every single time, the business guys will tell you to shut up about the mission already – we just need to make this deal, sign the account, purchase this system, pay this guy more if we want to hire him, accept the terms to do business in this country and so on. But if we only listen to the business guys, we get lost, and our audience no longer recognize what we stand for and customers move away – and once that link is broken, the business soon follows. It’s not easy, but it’s simple: what are we here to do? How can we do it better?

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