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What value stream management can do for your culture

Matt Saunders
17 December 21 DevOps
Value stream management
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When initiatives fail, it’s easy to blame methods, leadership, or inadequate tools. But often the real reason can be that despite showing successes in many areas, failure is due to not thinking broadly enough. 

For example, an agile transformation combined with a DevOps transformation may make significant improvements to software delivery. But by focusing on the wider picture – of how value is delivered to customers by mapping and improving these streams – organisations can ensure that they experience the full benefit of all of these initiatives, and deliver greater value faster to their customers. 

In this article, we get you up to speed on what Value Stream Management (VSM) is, how it can help your organisation, and why it’s so important. Then we explore how VSM supports your culture to change, keeping your transformation on track. 

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What is VSM?

If you’re still catching up, and need a little VSM refresher, then it’s important to know what a value stream actually is. It’s an end-to-end sequence of activities where work, materials, and information flow in a coordinated and streamlined manner to deliver value (products, services, results) most effectively.

Value stream mapping is a strategic and operational technique used to see how customers derive value from what you’re doing. This exercise visualises how potential changes could affect the value customers receive. It will show, for example, the delays between triaging a problem, a fix being written, and the fix being deployed to production. 

This technique is useful, but alone it’s not enough. To effectively identify waste, reduce process cycle times, and introduce process improvements, you need to implement VSM. This lean business practice determines the value of software development, and delivery efforts and resources, and helps you codify your maps into a decision-making tool. This data is best gathered and visualised using a VSM platform.

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What does VSM help organisations do?

VSM helps you understand the flow of work across the value stream – from an idea’s inception to its deployment – and realise how long it takes to deliver value to customers. It provides data and insights around constraints, bottlenecks, capacity issues, redundant work, and any other waste that is preventing goals being achieved.

It gives you a detailed appreciation of end-to-end flow, enabling your organisation to have data-driven conversations, estimate the value of your work – now and in the future – and improve the speed and quality of feedback loops. The insights derived from VSM can give companies an edge over their competitors.

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Why is VSM so important?

VSM means adjusting how your organisation thinks and embracing a continuous improvement mindset. It centres all your workflow around business goals, looking at where processes can be refined and more value can be added for your customers.

Value streams take into account work across the whole organisation – all functions and departments – with the aim of eliminating waste and encouraging collaboration. VSM provides visibility, helping everyone understand all the various dependencies and details across each value stream, and standardising work. This knowledge, about how different teams work and their associated tasks, helps drive quality and speed improvements with minimal cost and risk. 

Where agile helps to increase the speed of value creation, executing work over shorter time periods and delivering value through customer feedback and iteration, it’s lean VSM that’s more focused on end-to-end delivery. Working in tandem, both are focused on continuous improvement, increasing quality, and giving people the tools and practices they need to satisfy customers and add value.

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How does VSM impact culture?

One of the biggest benefits of VSM is the impact on culture, as it legitimises multiple teams and departments working closely together to focus on the flow. This leads to continuous improvement across the board and a marked shift from project to product thinking. Where VSM has been most transformational is when it’s leveraged to make ongoing change – from speed and quality to efficiency and performance. 

Here are a few key considerations when it comes to VSM and your corporate culture:

Stakeholder buy-in

For this to take off, VSM cannot be the purview of one team or department, as the majority of delays you will find will straddle teams or departments. Stakeholders should come from across the value delivery chain. Lots of wide-scale projects like VSM don’t succeed because there isn’t widespread support. As you roll-out your initiative, make sure you continue to collaborate, inviting people in and demonstrating how VSM creates value for your customers.

Supporting cross-functional teams:

By making a clear connection between work and the business’s goals – rather than the priorities of individual teams or departments – VSM helps support the existence of cross-functional teams. Once silos are removed, and the inefficiency that comes with them, IT teams can pull from all available people and resources to deliver the most value, rather than whatever is most convenient.

Increased collaboration

A more collaborative culture is a cornerstone of an agile, lean organisation. VSM helps align everyone around common goals, ensuring they see the value of their work, such as a single user story, towards achieving those goals. With more visibility into what other IT teams are doing and better communication, they can understand how their work impacts others, and collaborate accordingly. 

Facing resistance

Culture is key to successful transformation, but making big change can be tricky. Your enthusiasm for VSM might be met with reluctance, resistance, or indifference. Some won’t see the benefit or relevance that VSM will bring to their work, but don’t sideline these people. VSM is not an IT project, it’s an organisation-wide initiative, which depends on support from every level of the business. Appoint VSM champions among the leadership to advocate for the shift and appoint the necessary resources. Persevere, and soon everyone will start to see that eliminating waste and generating customer value has real benefits.

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From what to why

As VSM becomes more commonplace, the discussion has shifted from talking about what it is, to why organisations should be doing it. The impact on your culture is one of the biggest benefits it brings to any organisation. It works in tandem with your agile and DevOps efforts, supporting an increased demand for fast, better quality software delivery, while maintaining a balance between your business goals and existing resources.

To find out more about value stream management and how it can help your digital transformation, download our free eBook.

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About the authors

Matt Saunders

DevOps Lead in the Office of the CTO at The Adaptavist Group

Matt Saunders is the DevOps Lead in the Office of the CTO at The Adaptavist Group. After being trusted with a root password as a Sysadmin long ago, he now helps teams make the best use of people, processes, and technology to deliver software efficiently and safely.