Teams are continuously discovering how every layer of the software production process affects the outcome, leading to software development model experimentation to achieve efficiency.
Subsequently, methodologies like DevOps have emerged, targeting greater speed of software product improvement by increasing the synergy between development and operations teams. As much as 70% of organizations are expected to be using value stream management by 2023.
However, with a new sleek approach comes the need to institute a robust process flow that consists not only of optimized processes but also structures them in the most coherent and effective order. This is where value stream mapping comes in.
What is a Software Value Stream?
A software value stream refers to the journey from the point when a software product is in its simplest form up to when it amasses enough value to be on the market. Depending on the amount of value-added at any one point, it’s possible to view smaller sets of actions within this journey as value streams, which basically encompasses the question of how you get from point A to B in the development journey.
Why are Value Streams Important?
By focusing on software value streams, team leaders can gain a better understanding of every process and how it relates to others, the tools and people involved, etc. With value streams, you can easily visualize the way resources flow through different processes.
Managers can analyze every process and identify inefficiencies that slow the team down or lower the quality of output. Project heads can also discover procedures that have zero or negligible contribution to the desired outcome.
Through value stream mapping, leaders can pinpoint flaws like crowded decision-making where numerous people have to sign off on an idea regardless of their role in the idea, the level of dependence between various team activities, contention over who calls the shots on a plan, etc.
Why Value Streams Can Fall Short
Even when teams adopt DevOps strategies, value streams can fall short of expectations.
When development, testing, and operations are combined, it can take a while before everyone becomes aware of how others can help them achieve better results. So while organizations make efforts like developing and testing concurrently, collaboration doesn’t really take root.
It doesn’t make much sense to expedite tasks without establishing the assistance required from other teammates to make those tasks run smoother. Without drawing a clear intersection of various members’ roles and creating mutual goals, silos will continue to exist and everyone will contribute in their own way irrespective of whether it’s the most effective way.
While value stream mapping can be helpful in pointing out waste, there tends to be a focus on workflow. This isn’t a bad thing, but it can be a slippery slope to neglecting human actions and focusing on procedures.
Team leaders end up in scenarios where they eliminate redundant steps and reroute info without considering human capabilities. Sometimes people fall behind when it comes to tasks like approving requested changes, distributing relevant work materials, etc. Without curbing the waste people create, shaving processes and making them leaner will quickly hit a results ceiling.
Some team members also stick to old ways of doing things, failing to embrace newer tools that make work easier and subsequently slow down everyone who has to participate in a process.
When managing value streams, it is not uncommon for managers to focus on the efficiency of a process while sidelining effectiveness. Some processes may be set up to run with the least possible resistance, but doing things fast doesn’t always mean they are being done right.
Every process evaluation should be partly based on results and any recommendations on optimizing the process should aim to do away with defects. Without a strong link between actions like testing per cycle and value stream mapping, malfunctions in software can hurt productivity. Failure to resolve defects promptly can adversely affect value stream success.
Team members often fixate on making product features run the way they were intended to, gauging their success by how well they solve the problem they were made to answer. In doing so, they forget about security vulnerabilities within the software.
The longer these vulnerabilities go unnoticed, the more likely they are to cost the organization when they’re discovered. If the product is already in the hands of the consumer, its stable performance won’t matter if they know they were exposed to attacks or if a data breach happens. Fixing such issues while under scrutiny can be quite chaotic and expensive.
Lack of Continuity
For many team leaders, once there’s a picture of the current state of processes in the value stream, they establish how to get to the future state and stop there. When this happens, value stream mapping becomes more of a theoretical portrayal of the development journey rather than a practical exercise on improving this journey.
A value stream that doesn’t facilitate rapid learning and application of those lessons to improve the way things are being done will likely have stagnant results. Team members will operate on obsolete information and this will result in a failure to extract quality output from any process.
How to Fix a Broken Software Value Stream
Fixing a broken software value stream is paramount to achieving a successful end goal. So let’s take a closer look at the precise steps it will take to do so effectively:
- Project managers should put together engineering teams that can deliver business value. Defining business value in parallel with a customer’s definition of value, teams should encapsulate it in a product, then test and deliver with minimal dependence on other teams.
- Get every process in line with the organization’s overall goals and find out what value it adds that the customer wants. Identify the wasteful processes and do away with them or remove the attributes that make them inefficient.
- Understand how both the product and information move through the value stream. Information should flow in a way that accounts for the organization’s structure. When information reaches the relevant actors, you stand a better chance at improving processes.
With product flow, you need to compare the output with the flow of resources to determine whether the outcome matches the effort. Create meticulous records for each improvement, particularly the amount spent on it. This will help you know where to apply effort first (usually those that come with more value than the resources spent on them). Once you exhaust these, you can move on to improvements that add substantial value but require great investment.
- Through the PDCA (Plan, Do, Check, Act) cycle, teams can stay ahead of problems by developing a plan for issues needing action after checking to see the effectiveness of a solution they applied.
- Avoid impulsive responses. If you find a solution after a major catastrophe, you may reduce the likelihood of another scenario like that, but you won’t address the underlying behavior that could manifest differently in another area. Value stream management should have its own roadmap that continues whether there is a major problem or not.
- Use value stream mapping metrics to get a better read on how accurate your projections are. If a newly developed feature is to be tested within a specific duration, measure the actual duration of the test and calculate the gap between your expectations and reality.
This comparison enables you to know by how much your processes are lacking, the amount of improvement made with each iteration, and also shows the flaws in your projections.
- Managers should pursue deeper collaboration between various teams and ensure that every member involved exercises a considerable level of transparency.
- When teams start working together, you should determine all the ways in which their goals overlap and help team members by providing the support they need to complement each other’s roles and create more value while at it.
For more information on how to improve your value stream, you can read more on the value stream optimization process in this previous post.
Value stream management can’t be a one-time thing, especially for organizations dabbling in Agile project management. It also must be guided by the larger picture of the organization’s goals and managers need to find ways to translate these goals into process-specific results at every stage. They should also be able to come up with actionable tips on how every member can participate in the elimination of inefficiencies along the way.
Regardless of how much a particular effort simplifies the work of development, testing, and operations units, leaders should track the value it eventually adds for the customer. There should be a clear path from action to added value and managers should work to empower teams so they can continuously refine their actions to produce more value at whatever point in the software development cycle.
Co-founder of Buildingbettersoftware and Agile Leadership Coach
Søren Pedersen is a strategic leadership consultant and international speaker. With more than fifteen years of software development experience at LEGO, Bang & Olufsen, and Systematic, Pedersen knows how to help clients meet their digital transformation goals by obtaining organizational efficiency, alignment, and quality assurance across organizational hierarchies and value chains. Using Agile methodologies, he specializes in value stream conversion, leadership coaching, and transformation project analysis and execution. He’s spoken at DevOps London, is a contributor for The DevOps Institute, and is a Certified Scrum Master and Product Owner.
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