Tangled Environments

Tangled Environments

by Patrick Adams | Jul 18, 2023

In this episode, Ovidiu Contras and I discuss tangled environments and how to work through them effectively.

What You’ll Learn:

1. What’s your Lean career path?

2. What’s a tangled environment?

3. What are the challenges in improving work in a tangled environment?

4. What helped in guiding teams to significantly improve work in the tangled environment?

5. VSM for non-repetitive work? How is that working?

6. Any recommendations for those wanting to try this in their business?

About the Guest: Ovidiu Contras is a Lean Coach and Author. He has Authored 2 Books: Navigating the Lean Transformation and Untangling with VSM, both reflecting his own experiences. He has been involved in more than 20 years of Lean, as a continuous improvement employee.


Click here to connect with Ovidiu on LinkedIn

Click here for The Lean Solutions Summit 


Patrick Adams  00:00

Hello, and welcome to the Lean solutions podcast. My guest today is Avi contrasts. Avi is a lean coach and author, he actually authored two books, navigating the Lean transformation and untangling with value stream mapping, both are a reflection of his own experiences, over 20 years of lean as a continuous improvement employee. So I’m excited to have you on the show. Welcome to the show, Avi.

Ovidiu Contras  00:59

Thank you for having me, Patrick, really appreciate it.

Patrick Adams  01:04

Yes, I’m looking forward to diving in here. Because before we hit record, we were chatting a little bit about tangled environments, which is what we’re going to be talking about today. But you know, similarly, you and I have both worked in organizations where, where we had some challenges and some struggles with CI deployments. And so we’ll dive into that today. I’m excited to hear some of your experiences. And speaking of that, obviously, some of our listeners, maybe don’t know, you or your background, I gave a little bit of a bio, but can you just maybe walk us through your lien career path and kind of help us understand a little bit about your background and experience?


Absolutely. So very short. I started my career started back in 2000, when I got my, you know, the classical certification from for Lean, and Six Sigma. And then I, I started professing that, and got some some successes with savings, and so on and so on. But then sometime after I just learned, while, I learned the hard way that I was doing everything I was doing, I was doing it wrong. So, you know, it was just, it happened when I met my sensei. And I realized that it’s not tools, it’s not tools, tools, tools, I was in love with tools beforehand, you know, and I was completely forgetting about the people, respect for people, you know, so you could see it even in my behavior. So when I met my sensei, that’s where it was this big, you know, change in my career, it’s my aha moment to say, hey, there’s more to this than the tools and after that, after some successes in in the manufacturing environment, you know, where you can go, you walk on the gamba, and you see, you know, the parts and everything, it’s easy to see the waste. I was the I started to be exposed to the tangled environment, you know, that you were mentioning before. And as I was entering this new territory, for me, I find it extremely exciting, and, and the fact that you have a lot of, you know, Lean principles that apply to that. So lean principles are universal. So tangled environment, it’s not an exception, except for the fact that no one was really into it. You know, and from that perspective, I started doing these these improvements, and have some significant results, like padding lead times for 80%, you know, stuff like that. So, just to say that I evolved from being a manufacturing, you know, CA specialist to something more, you know, in transactions, you know, in environments where the product is hard to see. Sure. So that was that was a challenge at but This motivated me to go into it. So my first book is is about all my experiences. My second book is mostly from these tangled environments.

Patrick Adams  04:48

Very nice. And so obviously, I mentioned that you were a continuous improvement employee. What were what were the titles that you held in your 20 years of lean and what industry are To be working in.


So I was working in consumer products, I worked in research and development, actually, I worked in aerospace. So very different industries. And my titles were lean by blackbelt. I was continuous improvement employee. I was Kaizen promotion office, you know. So, again, the names changed according to the company and the program that the company had. Sure, but these were like, and now the lien coach.

Patrick Adams  05:39

Okay, got it. And just obviously, people can hear we, I would say, I think it’s 52% of our, our listening audience is from is US based, but clearly, you your language is a little bit different. So where in the world are you calling in from just so we can give everyone perspective on where you are?


So Montreal, Canada? Yes. Probably not very far from your location. But that’s great. It’s still in North America?

Patrick Adams  06:16

Yes, absolutely. It is North America. And you talk to me a little bit about tangled environments. And you know that that’s a term that isn’t used regularly in the corporate world that I’ve heard at least. So can you help our listeners to understand what it is that you mean, when you use the term tangled environments?


Yes, absolutely. And what I would like to give this here a, a simple example that illustrates what a tangled environment is. So let’s say let’s say, there’s a lady called Claire, and she’s a supplier account manager for a multinational company that manufactures and develops, you know, very complicated products, let’s say, up to 50,000 pieces go into that product, you know, okay, so they’re just got a call from one supplier that provides critical a critical part and the supplier tells Claire, look, Claire, I’m sorry, I won’t be able to deliver your, your parts because you didn’t pay the invoice. So without payments, I’m not going to be able to send you more products. So first thing, Claire is in panic, she’s in panic. Now. Second thing, she just goes into her system into the enterprise resource planning system of the this very big corporation. And she goes there and she looks at Okay, so is the PIO released is my Pio. What’s the history of my purchase order? And it was a purchase requisition was the supplier name correct in there. And then after an hour or two, she talks with the buyer and the buyer tells her Oh, yeah, it was a small thing here, but we’ve corrected it. So Pio is okay. Now, this does not ask the question, right? Why is not paid? So unfortunately, she has access in that ERP system just to supply chain screens, you know, because of the all sorts of security reasons, you know, because in this process finances involved, right? So she picks up the phone, and then she calls accounts payable. Hey, did you received an invoice? Oh, yes, we received an invoice. And then she starts interrogating. And it’s not just one single person that can give her an asset, you know, is, you know, is all of these details of the invoice according to the PIO? I mean, is there any mismatch in between them? So, they couldn’t find that the beginning and then, you know, as hours go by, and as could even days go by, there’s some sort of pressure that comes even from the production people. So emergency calls come from the production, hey, our stock is depleting. Where are the new parts? Well, we didn’t pay them so please, we’d need to find out what’s happening. So then all of a sudden, this goes to the escalation thing, you know, and then it’s late night meetings with the with higher management, to oh, what’s happening and then off Because politics come into the plate, and then people show Oh, it’s you know, it’s you look what you did. And you know, all of these office politics go on in here. So where it gets really, really stressed, you know, at the end, she finds out that the invoice, it’s okay, and everything’s fine, then. But this does not answer the question. So what Claire does after she has to go to production, to see if the parts were received or not, did we have a receipt for those goods that were supposed to come? And then, after another day, another 233 days, she finds out from the clerk, that, yes, the parts arrived, but then we didn’t when they looked at the invoice and the parts, well, the invoice came first. But what does that this does in the system is it blocks the payment, because, hey, we received an invoice, but we didn’t get the parts. Right. So So, so this is an example. And now Claire goes and unblocks this and then the payment is made. And you know, all the drama is set aside. But you know, this is this is like a short, short description, what a tangled environment is. So if I were to get just the big points in all of this is it’s first of all, it’s a multifunction environment, right? You had accounts payable, you have production, you have supply chain, you have the buyers and everything. It’s knowledge workers in general that are in this type of environment, the work advancement is tedious and convoluted. You know, it’s not always straightforward. Well, it’s never straightforward. It’s tedious and convoluted, the product in itself is hard to see. Because everything happens in the information system, right. And the product transforms, right. So in our case, the product is the payment to the supplier, right. But it starts with a purchase order, it transforms into an invoice, it transforms into a receipt of the goods, and then it transforms into into the payment. Right. And, of course, in this environment, you have office politics, and a lot of wastes that are flourishing. And I can give some other examples like new product development. If you look at new product development in the complicated product, for instance, or aircraft development, right. Software development, you know, that’s the same thing, customer engineering, it deployment of new projects, or banking or supply chain transactions or insurance, you know, all of these have these traits of tangled environments. I hope that answered the question.

Patrick Adams  13:21

It does. It does. And I think there’s probably many people who are listening that are like, oh, yeah, that’s me, that’s my environment. That’s that’s the area that I work in. Again, like you said, it doesn’t matter, the industry, those types of challenges are, you know, prevalent in many different areas. And so, you know, even while you were saying that, I was thinking to myself of other examples that would fit perfectly into that, that same scenario. And there’s obviously more challenges that, you know, that come with that type of tangled environment, like you’re saying, what would you say, you know, when it comes to improving an area like that, you know, obviously, you worked in, you know, some tangled environments, and you are part of the team that was improving some of those environments and and your book on tangling with value stream mapping, obviously, hits on that. So what would you say would be some of the challenges that maybe you experienced or that others are experiencing, when it comes to improving work in a tangled environment?


Yes, I would say the first big obstacle is the fragmented process ownership. You know, in clear example, we clearly see that we have three departments that are involved in all of this, you have supply chain, you have production, and then you have finance. Okay, but what this means is there’s no owner for the end to end. You see, so no one no one has the Oh ownership from the PIO to receiving the part, you know. And when you try to improve this process, of course, you can improve within supply chain, you can improve within finance. But the big game comes when you go across, right? So, from that perspective, it’s very difficult to have all of the stakeholders sitting at the same table, because if Claire goes to supply chain supply chain says, I’m fine. Everything’s fine with me. If she goes to accounts payable Accounts Payable says, oh, no, everything’s fine with me. She goes to production? No, no, everything’s fine with me. But in the end, the supplier didn’t get the invoice. You know. So people perceive they don’t have the problem. So when it comes to put them together to resolve something, it’s very difficult because they say, No, no, I don’t have anything to bring to this. So please, I have some other important things to do. Yeah, sure. So

Patrick Adams  16:13

I’ll just say to me, you know, I worked it as a supervisor over a one department within a larger value stream in an organization that, I guess would fall under your definition of tangled environments, where they didn’t, they also did not have one owner over the entire value stream. And I remember, you know, for me, personally, I had certain metrics for my department that I needed to hit in order for me to get promoted in order for me to get paid more, you know, so for me, it was like, Well, you know, I’d like to care about the challenges that you have on both sides of my department. But at the same time I’m being I’m being incentivized to make sure that I get product through my department as quickly as possible, which is causing this huge logjam and, you know, at the downstream from running the the upstream department out of product. But I’m incentivized as the supervisor to do that, right. So obviously, you you understand the challenges that come with that. Yeah, I can add to the experience that you’re talking about.


Exactly. And that’s, and that’s the thing, this is where office politics come into play, you know, because let’s say, You’re that supervisor that wants to get promoted, then you’re gonna do whatever is in your power to bring your performance metrics to the hire. But the problem is your performance metrics are related to your department with the overall cost, right. So true. That’s it, so then people are gonna take no matter what means, you know,

Patrick Adams  18:03

in order Yeah,


  1. Exactly. So the second biggest challenge in all this is, the work advancement is extremely difficult to be seen. As we saw in the simple example, Claire, and the others need to navigate through maybe a couple of dozens of screens, you know, and they might even need to look at paper in file somewhere in order to gather all the information so you don’t know where the product transformation is, you know, in the big picture. So that’s the other very challenging thing in all of this. So how you visualize this, when you try to improve is extremely important.

Patrick Adams  18:51

Right. Well, and that that’s leads to my next question, right? Because obviously, those are two massive challenges that probably many of our listeners that are working in these tangled environments are also having themselves. But the question is, how do we get out of it? How do we how do we begin to untangle the, you know, the value stream that you know, or the the challenges that we’re having? And so I guess the question would be what, what helped guide you or guide? What can help guide teams or our listeners to help improve, you know, on some of these, these tangled environments?


Yes, so. And it was not easy, I’m just starting to say that it was not easy, you know, because of that. But there were moments where I succeeded to have everybody at the same table. So now, the first condition was there. So yay, let’s go ahead. Right, but now, I was not able, as I was trying value stream mapping, for instance. Okay, so I pulled off my manufacturing Value Stream Mapping books, and we started mapping that way. And the trouble was, by the middle of the exercise, people wouldn’t recognize their world there. And at the end of the exercise, we couldn’t get anything, you know, so, so that got me thinking that something’s wrong here. You know, so, that helped me then find a method to go over it, the vs virus to mapping exercise, and to make it such that people, you know, can see exactly what’s happening, and then they can improve the work. Right.

Patrick Adams  23:02

Okay. So you, you’re saying that at the end, the example that you’re giving us, you had a value stream manager identified that oversaw the whole value stream, that was the first.


So it was not as easy as that. It was, I got the buy in for the three departments to participate in the value stream mapping exercise.

Patrick Adams  23:25

Okay. So we were able to get everybody together, or an agreement to get together and actually step back and look at the big picture, look at the entire value stream. Exactly. Okay. And, and so that value stream mapping was obviously the the tool that you decided to use, and walk us through that, that that process, what did that look like? For let’s just say someone like maybe Claire, I don’t know if this is the same example or not, but someone like Claire, you know, a worker, someone who is working inside of one of those three departments, what did it look like for them to walk through that entire process? And did it work?


Yes. So first of all, the first questions that we asked for, okay, so what activity you are doing at this point in the process? And then the first answer was, it depends. Okay. So, we go we go further second step in the process. So, now what happens here? Well, it depends. And then we went to the third step in the process. And then, of course, it depends. And you know what, Patrick? They were all right. They will, all right, because the complications of the systems, you know, and the complication of the type of job they’re doing, this is not repetitive work that we’re talking here, you know, oh, Oh, you have this widget and you need to screw this widget and you know, we have the cycle time we have all of these good measures there. No, it’s not in here. So when we started doing this, and we tried to put the boxes, you know, with information about the process steps, it was a complete failure.

Patrick Adams  25:23

Wow. You know, obviously, Avi, you pulled out the books, like he said, and it was like, Okay, do these things. And you were like, Okay, wait a minute. It’s not working. Like you guys said it was going to? How many of us listeners out there that are like, oh, yeah, because you sit in a classroom, and it’s easy to talk about it in the classroom, or it’s easy to, you know, read about it in a book. But when you go out and you actually start applying the principles, things are different sometimes, right? Like you said, this is the experience that you had things are different, well, oh, they didn’t talk about this, or they didn’t mention this challenge that I’m having now. Or, you know, whatever, fill in the blank. And I think there’s so many of us that are listening in that are probably in that same boat where they were, you know, something like that didn’t work exactly the way they said it would in the class or in the book. And so this was the case for you being that non repetitive work. And so what did you do? What does Ken VSM work for non repetitive work? And what does that look like?


Oh, excellent question, Patrick. And, of course, I, I paint a lot. It was painful. And it was not the first shot that that that everything went smoothly. But I went back to, to the basics. And I asked myself the question. So what’s the value stream map? Well, at the basic of the basics, you have your activities flow, you have your information flow, and you have your timeline. Right. Right. And then I was thinking, okay, so manufacturing, what’s important manufacturing? Well, it’s very important to know, what’s your tack time, you know, how you respond to your tack time, how many operators you need for this, you know, so it’s this very, very, very big focus on the activities flow. And you have boxes, I’ve seen boxes with at least 12 measures in there, you know, even the value added or non value added, put in there. So then I asked myself the question, so if I were in Claire’s shoes, what would talk to her? Well, for Claire, she she sees things completely different, is now I need to talk to this person, now I need to talk the other person, now I need the decision from here. Now I need to make sure that this screen shows me this, I need to go in that screen. So the focus is completely different. The focus is to the information flow, not to the activities flow. So with this realisation, because in all of this, as I mentioned at the beginning layer, she’s stressed out, you know, but how do you put in a value stream map that someone is stressed out or is frustrated? Right? You know, so this is where I started using, you know, the stickman in red color, with the dark cloud, the bout above, above the head, okay, saying that this person is frustrated. And you know, what, if this person is frustrated, and that person gives specific indications to perform work to another person, it’s a trigger to perform work. So, for instance, you have a big governance meeting with all hire management in that meeting. And then one of the, you know, the leader says, Hey, you just need to go and do this. You know, that’s absolutely a trigger to perform work. And that’s very important to be be recorded in the map, you know, but everything in this, you know, it’s information flow. So, use red for information flow and black for the activities flow. So I realized that in in this type environment, where where I had like, you 12244 the activities flow versus information flow sorry, two to one. Now it’s the reverse. So I need to have more in the information flow then in the in the activities flow. Why once? Once we put this on paper, I would have people coming in, first of all, they would scratch their heads. So what? Oh, it’s me that runs from here to here. Ah, now I understand. Oh, yes, I was frustrated here. Yes, we have so many meetings to do this. And people started effectively, you know, feeling the map, you know, oh, that was me. It was very interesting, dynamic that built as we were building the map, you know, so, right. It’s an ownership, that that that starts there, it’s a commitment that starts there at at the map, you know, well, we all know, the map is just wallpaper if we don’t do anything. But without commitment and engagement, even the actions won’t lead to what we want, you know. So this is how I, how important the information flow is in this, in this type mapping.

Patrick Adams  31:29

So powerful. And, you know, one of the things that you said, Avi, about, I was envisioning the people walking in and looking at the map on the wall, and just the power of getting that out of everyone’s heads, or, you know, taking this entire value stream, putting it all together on one wall, and allowing them to stand back and look at that, and envision everything or see everything in one big picture. There’s just so much power in that, especially for those organizations that have never done anything like that before. And to be able to bring those teams together and have them, you know, help have those open discussions about what’s happening in their department and how that affects the next department. And in so on, I have to imagine that those conversations around that map, were just so powerful. Can you share with us any, any Aha, that some of the team members had, you know, for? Again, I don’t know if Claire’s a real, real person or not, but I’m just thinking like about Claire, staying in front of that map and having an aha moment, or hearing things that other people are talking about and how that affected her? Can you share with us any examples?


So a quote from from a person in, in, in, in a workshop like this saying that, Oh, this is what I’m telling for the past 10 years, but no one listens. You know, and this is so so telling, I got stick this this remained in my head, you know, because these people that live in entangled environments, they complain, because life is not easy, right? Because all of the things that happen there, so they go to their managers and managers, very distracted persons. Something enters this ear goes out the other ear, you know, if it’s not the problem at hand tissue also. And they are labeled as complainers. Oh, that person is complaining, it’s complaining is complaining, you know? Right. Why? Because this is just verbal. Now, the same person tried to put this their complaints in PowerPoints with bullet points. The problem was, after 10 slides, they forgot the first what was on in the first nine slides, you know, so it doesn’t stick. But when you have, as you just mentioned, not one wall, but four walls covered with all the chaos that goes on, you know, even for a very busy executive, it’s gonna take milliseconds to recognize that something’s wrong. Right. You know? So, other quote was, I can’t, I can’t believe what we’re doing to ourselves. You know, so, these are, these are clear indications that people now can see the issues. They can experience them in, in a very, you know, direct way, which shows the importance of that visual that that’s in front of them. I don’t know if that answered your question.

Patrick Adams  34:54

Absolutely. No, it does. It does. And I think about those who are Listening in that are working in similar environments, you know that they would consider the environment that they’re working in a tangled environment. And on top of that they’re working in an industry or, or an organization where they don’t have repetitive work. And so they’re resonating with these examples and the things that we’re talking about. Avi, do you have any recommendations? For those who say, Yes, that’s me? And what what do I do? You know, because maybe they’re not familiar with value stream mapping, maybe they maybe they don’t feel like a traditional Value Stream Map would fit or work for their organization? Because it is not repetitive work? Or it’s, you know, it fits with what you’re saying? What recommendations would you have for some of those who are listening in that want to try this in their business?


Right. So my first recommendation would be, don’t even think starting, if you didn’t cover the whole process ownership, you know, so if you don’t have the acceptance and the commitment for the parties that are part of of that stream, sure, don’t even start, don’t don’t even start, it’s not worth it, people are going to be there, and there’s going to be more frustration, some are going to come are going to go, you know, so it’s not gonna work. And I’m telling you, by my own experiences, you know, we had once an BSM exercise like this, and they were saying, you know, what, we’re busy. So we had one person from one department coming at one hour of day, then we had another person from another department coming at another other the other day, you know, so first of all, it took a long time to put the current state in place. Second, guess what happened when we said, Okay, so now is the revision of the entire value stream map. So please come, they showed up all. But you know, what happened? No one agreed with what’s on the map. Yeah, no. And then so. So it was a waste of time. From from, from from everybody. Why? Because we didn’t have the ownership and the commitment at the beginning from all to do to do all of this, you know, right. Very important. Yeah, they’re very important. The other, the other thing that I would recommend is, you have your ownership, you perform the exercise, everything’s nice. But then you have your value stream improvement plan, but then no action comes after. There’s no bigger disengagement means for the people than not actioning, whatever the people suggested, that needs to be done.

Patrick Adams  38:12

So true, you know.


So I was in, in this other exercise. And as part of the preparation, we looked at how many times we tried to tackle that before. Six times, times they tried. And they say, oh, no, it’s not working. It’s not why it was not working, because they didn’t have the resources and they didn’t have the money to put in the actions in, in place. You know, so, it’s good to learn these things beforehand, then after but the only thing that I’m saying, Please execute the actions from the, from the improvement plan, because otherwise, people are just gonna be totally disengaged, and they wouldn’t like to be in another improvement effort later.

Patrick Adams  39:11

Right? Right, it becomes a complete waste of time. It’s it sabotages your your CI efforts in your organization, for sure. 100% 100%.


And then it’s, it’s the fact that you have to have a reliable source to guide you through this process. You know, so So, so I had my sensei, but my sensei was not in the tangled environment, but I could follow his the sensei thoughts as as I put this new method in place, you know. So look, look out for look out for for references for for this tangled environment, and make sure that you are following some of the recommendations that are in there?

Patrick Adams  40:03

That’s right. And IBM, I’m also assuming that meant much of this is laid out in your your most recent book on tangling with value stream mapping? Correct?


Exactly, exactly. So the book covers covers everything from preparation to execution and to follow up. It’s comprehensive. And it’s written through the experiences that I’ve been through.

Patrick Adams  40:35

Okay, good. And are both your books navigating the Lean transformation and untangling with value stream mapping? Are both of those available on Amazon? Or is there a website that that we should send people to?


So there’s Amazon? Yes. And the online stores, where, where there’s books. So my first one is, is mostly on Amazon. The second one is Routledge, productivity Press book. So it’s all over the place.

Patrick Adams  41:08

Perfect. And what we’ll do is we’ll drop the links to both of your books into the show notes to so that people can go directly to the show notes, click on the link and grab one of your books, or both of your books. There. Is there another way if anyone has further questions about your experience? Or about your books, or this process, where what’s the best way for them to get a hold of you.


So I’m on LinkedIn. So if you if you look for a video contrast on LinkedIn, you can find me there. So you can contact me and we can have chats if

Patrick Adams  41:50

that’s great. I appreciate you sharing that. And we’ll we’ll put that into the show notes as well. So if anyone wants to reach out to you, they can connect with you. There are the it’s been great to have you on I love the conversation I have your book is in the mail. So I’m looking forward to reading it. And and then I’d love to catch up again. Maybe we can dive into some of some of your other experiences that are in your first book navigating the Lean transformation. I’d love to talk about you know, some of the challenges that you’ve had. You know, growing up in CI your 20 years of lean, I’m sure there’s lots of good stories that we can talk through next time you’re on the show.


Most definitely more than I would really like that. And again, I want to thank you for this opportunity. Really appreciate the angles that you bring to the Lean community.

Patrick Adams  42:45

Thank you Abby, I appreciate it.


Meet Patrick

Patrick is an internationally recognized leadership coach, consultant, and professional speaker, best known for his unique human approach to sound team-building practices; creating consensus and enabling empowerment. He founded his consulting practice in 2018 to work with leaders at all levels and organizations of all sizes to achieve higher levels of performance. He motivates, inspires, and drives the right results at all points in business processes.

Patrick has been delivering bottom-line results through specialized process improvement solutions for over 20 years. He’s worked with all types of businesses from private, non-profit, government, and manufacturing ranging from small business to billion-dollar corporations.