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The Fast and the Predictable: the power of Value Stream Mapping

Is my organisation delivering change at pace, repeatedly and predictably?

This is a question I hear asked more and more in today’s rapidly evolving digital world, where businesses are struggling to keep up with the challenges and opportunities driven by the need for technology. Whether through dynamic market conditions, demanding customer expectations around ‘experience’, the need for a competitive edge or dealing with complex and highly regulated environments, it’s tough to deliver change efficiently and predictably.

We are long past the time where it is acceptable spending 8 months documenting business requirements, then a further 12 months designing and developing a solution, only to find out that the need has changed, the benefit is no longer relevant or what has been delivered is simply not 'fit for purpose'.

Companies who have turned the corner, and are now Agile (with a capital ‘A’) have fixed this right? They are flexible to the changing needs of the organisation; they are delivering value to their end-customers much quicker and at a higher quality…

As Head of Delivery, in a digital consultancy that helps clients to evolve their capabilities, my team and I are constantly looking at supporting struggling technology teams adopt modern engineering, architecture, lean/agile (note the small ‘A’ this time) and product management practices. I am 100% certain that this is the right approach, but I think it’s fair to say there are varying degrees of success out there.

The need to continually improve ways of working simply doesn’t disappear once you are agile or product-led, so I go back to my original question… how do we deliver change at pace, repeatedly and predictably?

The key is to look at ways to improve the flow of change in your organisation – reduce organisational inefficiencies and remove activities that add no value.

Anyone who has read “Team Topologies” by Matthew Skelton and Manuel Pais (if you haven’t, I would strongly urge you to), will recognise the need to look at the fundamental design of the organisation to ensure that that teams are stable, set up to minimise the impact of cognitive load, and ultimately enable stream-aligned teams to deliver value quickly and promote fast flow.

However, this can feel like a mammoth task ahead, especially when the structure of the organisation is well established. This is where I believeValue Stream Mappingcomes in.

A concept that was originally rooted within the Toyota Production System (although fully developed in the 90’s by Mike Rother and John Shook in their book “Learning to See”), Value Stream Mapping is a visual tool to highlight the flow of change through teams, and more importantly pinpoint where inefficiencies exist that reduce the pace and predictability of change.

By performing Value Stream Mapping (VSM), your organisation will be able to:

  • Visualise the Process– whether a simple or highly-complex change, the VSM provides a clear image of the end-to-end processes within the change team.
  • Identify Inefficiencies& Reduce Friction– by mapping each step in the process, the Value Stream Map shows where there are sources of friction (e.g. bottlenecks or areas of process waste where no value exists) and pinpoints where actions to address or alleviate are necessary.
  • Optimise Resources– the VSM will highlight where individual or teams are underutilised or over-burdened, thus enabling teams to redistribute to create a more balanced workload.
  • Mitigate Risks– areas of inefficiency are risks to successful delivery, thus identifying these will allow teams to proactively address or reduce the impact of the risks.
  • Increase Predictability– by clearly visualising the value stream, teams can establish more accurate estimates and plan more effectively, managing customer expectations and ultimately improving trust.
  • Improve Collaboration– the Value Stream Map encourages cross-functional collaboration by fostering a shared understanding of the entire change process.
  • Promote Continuous Improvement– by regularly looking at how processes flow within the organisation and highlighting areas to optimise, you will be promoting a culture of Continuous Improvement, increasing pace & reducing waste.
  • Improve Customer-centricity– by understanding the value stream from the point of view of your end-users, technology can align better to customer needs and expectations, so you can prioritise what really adds most value.

So how do I map the value stream?

Developing a Value Stream Map, requires a certain level of sponsorship and permission to scrutinise and document cross-functional processes, right from ideation through to the release of value.

Typically, this starts by mapping the current state, including key activities, information flows, and decision points (e.g. governance approvals). This should also include gathering quantitative engineering data such as cycle times (e.g. the amount of time a team spendsactuallyworking on an item, up until the product is ready for shipment), lead times and wait times at each stage.

Once the baseline data has been gathered, identify the key bottlenecks, delays, and areas of process waste. Look for redundancies, handoffs between teams that may be unnecessary or could be streamlined, or areas for process optimisation (such as automation, parallel processing, or improved collaboration between teams).

This will form the initial scope for improvement – implement relevant actions and monitor progress against the baseline data. As per any agile change - implement and then iterate, continuously improving along the way.

So hopefully, this gives you a flavour for how organisations can start to unlock predictability and improve the flow of change through Value Stream Mapping.

If you want to know more, or have experience of using VSM’s in your organisation that you would like to share, please comment below and I would be happy to discuss.

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