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Silos & Value Streams


Last night I did a repeat of a talk for a local agile group that I had first done about 5 years ago. The topic was “Silo Busting” and it was all about the nature of organizational silos and how to deal with them. The first time around it had been pretty popular and well received. Like many of the talks that I have done over the years, eventually I put it down to pursue other ideas.

But recently it occurred to me that perhaps I wasn’t done with this topic yet. I went back and looked at the original presentation. My understanding of things may have matured a bit since I had originally delivered the topic, but the fundamental ideas still held up well. In fact, if anything, I felt that organizational silos are perhaps more relevant today than they ever have been before.

So I decided to blow the dust off this particular presentation and try it out with a small audience again. In this case it was the local SEASpin group. They were a great group to talk with. I found myself relaxed and able to cover the material with comfortable pauses for discussion. And I suppose it was no great shock to find that folks had a lot to say about the silos in their organizations. That by itself was gratifying, but as we continued to talk, there were some new ideas that I hadn’t considered before.

For instance, five years ago, there wasn’t a whole lot of conversation about value streams and the dynamics of how they work. In some cases, value streams are organizational silos (or vice versa). Our collective understanding, largely due to the evolution of scaling frameworks, has matured considerably in the last few years. Now we talk about dependencies, optimal sizes, and the correct composition of value streams. These exact same concepts can also be applied to organizational silos.

The other thing that I realized was that we have a lot more ways to understand what is happening in silos than perhaps we used to. This is a bit more speculative, but given some of the recent ideas about emotions and thermodynamics I’ve shared, perhaps these offer us additional ways of thinking about how silos interact. When you look at examples from sociology like the Sherif experiment, it’s quite clear that emotions play a primary role in the creation and interaction of silos. Maybe it’s time we gave the emotional roots of silos more thought.

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