Value Stream Management

April 06, 2022

What is Value Stream Management

Value Stream Management (VSM), also known as Value Stream Mapping (VSM) is a methodology used in many industries, but most often in relation to software development. It helps to identify waste, improve processes and their cycle times and subsequently reduce development times while streamlining workflows and boosting quality.

For anyone familiar with lean methodologies, this may sound familiar, since it’s considered a key part of the lean toolkit. Yet, VSM is gaining traction beyond lean practitioners. Software developers are realizing that the goal of software delivery is not simply accelerating timelines. According to Forrester, “shifting their focus from outputs to outcomes is providing greater insight than velocity alone.” In the same report mentioned above, using value stream management (VSM) tools, Forrester customers noted that “once armed with better data, insight, and business connectivity, they were finally able to make meaningful improvements to their AD&D processes.”

The roots of VSA can be traced to Toyota, well-known for its manufacturing processes. Toyota first leveraged VSM (even before they called it that) to outline the processes required to create and deliver a vehicle. It created a process that analyzed every single step involved to optimize them and removed nonessential ones.

VSM’s Role in Software Development

Leveraging Value Stream Management, software development managers analyze all relevant activities that go into the creation and support of software – from when users request new features, designers create the functionality and engineers build the software, to when it’s shipped to the end-user and supported. They then look for areas across this journey to identify where waste can be eliminated.

When it comes to software development, waste most often refers to time or resources.  It can come from many areas, such as when extra features are created that were never expressly required by users; or from features and functionality that miss the mark because user feedback was never secured in the first place. It also can come from not properly documenting investigations when software fails or contains bugs. Likewise, when there is staff turnover or project teams change, there can be waste from a lack of collaboration or sound project management. In fact, according to MoreSteam, total cycle times consumed by non-value-added activities are in excess of 80 percent.

Why VSM Matters 

While Value Stream Management has been around for some time now in many industries to reduce costs and cut out waste. The renewed focus on VSM brings out the collaborative benefits of the approach in order to ultimately boost the user experience. 

By dissecting different steps in the journey to software delivery it removes siloes and empowers teams with an understanding of the complete software development journey – not just parts of it.  As an article in TechBeacon points out, “software developers are unintentionally harming their organization’s overall efficiency because they simply can’t see the big picture. In this case, what they don’t know can hurt them.”  Leveraging value streams, project teams can see the big picture, what is working and what is not, and where, so that they can focus their energies on rowing in the same direction to improve quality, deliver value, and better meet end-user needs. 

The Key Steps to VSM

While there is a very specific methodology to conducting a formal VSM program, there are some broad steps that are required along the journey.

  • Identify the problem that needs attention. Maybe customers are complaining because there are too many bugs in the software; or upgrades are not keeping pace with changing user needs. Leveraging user feedback, it’s important to isolate the problem and then work across all development steps to identify areas where not enough emphasis is being placed, or, where too much emphasis is being placed needlessly.
  • Secure the team, set up the training. It’s important to identify who your VSM team members will include within the software development team and provide the VSM training to effectively learn how to conduct mapping and analysis.
  • Properly document what is seen. As you study processes, activities, and workflows, it’s important to record key observations each step of the way firsthand. You shouldn’t rely on employees who might not be objective, but record your own observations, by visiting each department.  The end-goal is to accurately identify weaknesses and strengths in processes in order to improve software quality.
  • Analyze the value stream map. The actual VSM process is quite specific and collects information in very detailed data boxes and timelines. After reviewing this you can map out an ideal process that can lead to better product quality, reduced waste, and greater efficiency. Once you’ve done this you can carry out the new plan and continuously monitor KPIs and adjust accordingly.

Software development is an intricate process with many steps, that most often take place far from the customer. Utilizing a Value Stream Management approach, software development makes customers part of the process.  By understanding user needs and gathering user feedback, and then analyzing each step of the process to address any issues standing in the way of progress, the user becomes part of the delivery cycle –  and quality becomes the software differentiator. 

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