Value stream mapping - the right choice for every DevOps-first org?

Value stream management. If you’ve spent any time on the internet as part of your job in DevOps, it will have become blatantly obvious that there are many people out there who truly believe you should be value mapping your way to DevOps bliss.

Main takeways

  1. Value stream mapping is very useful and complements DevOps
  2. It needs whole organization buy-in to work
  3. It also requires plenty of time and brainpower
  4. VSM needs to be maintained over time
  5. No time? Do an initial VSM assessment and use it as a snag list

As a productivity technique stemming from Japanese manufacturing and closely tied into the lean management model, some organizations out there are old hands at value streams, mapping and managing for some time already. If that’s not the path your organization has taken already, however, it might still seem an unfamiliar (and dare we say time-consuming) way to spend your DevOps time. 

So, is value stream mapping a DevOps essential, or simply a “nice to have - if you like that kind of thing”? We take a look.

Is value stream mapping useful in DevOps-first orgs?

Is it useful? That’s probably your first question and there is only one answer - sure, there’s no doubt - value stream mapping is very useful. DevOps looks to optimize business value and value stream mapping looks to find the problems with the flow of value. They are closely related and mutually beneficial. Value stream mapping is a tool that can help maximize and improve the contribution of DevOps.

Some thinkers in the field of DevOps feel even more strongly. Marc Rix, SAFe Fellow and Curriculum Product Manager at Scaled Agile, says that value stream management is THE most important tool in DevOps: 

“Business value is the ultimate goal of DevOps, and value begins and ends with the customer. DevOps needs to optimize the entire system, not just parts of it. Flow should be Lean across the entire organization, and Value Stream mapping is a Lean tool” .

Seeing value stream mapping through the same lens as visibility will help sketch out exactly where it lies in your world of DevOps. The method is another way of seeing where all the blockers, hindrances, and obstacles lie on the road to providing a seamless journey from idea to finished product. Many of these blockers will be ones that can be solved or improved by applying DevOps thinking - greater collaboration, fewer silos, automation potential, and improved visibility to name but a few.

​​WW_21Q2_CP_DevOps business value_blogpost_VSMimageVSM maestra, Mary Poppendieck, gives a masterclass on the subject

Is VSM the right move for your organization?

While there’s no doubt that value stream management is very helpful to DevOps-first teams and organizations, there are one or two things that deserve attention before you charge ahead. 

Much like DevOps aims to optimize the software delivery process from end to end, value stream mapping aims to chart it end to end. If there is limited buy-in across your organization, your results will be limited too. While both approaches are best carried out in a holistic way (across a whole organization), if there isn’t generalized take-up, DevOps can be applied wherever possible without ill effect. VSM, however, must be applied to the system in its entirety, or it is close to useless. Do you have this buy-in in your team? Without it, you may find yourself struggling.

Secondly, managing and mapping the value stream is no simple task. While there are apps, books, and videos to help you in your task, it remains a big job that gets bigger as your organization does. As an IT leader, you already have your hands full - do you really have the schedule - and mind - space to devote to the skillful maintenance of your value stream?

To map or not to map?

If you decide that value stream mapping is the right way forward for your situation, the actual mechanics of creating and managing one shouldn’t be problematic. The internet is awash with value stream mapping tools, plans, articles, and advice. There are books, videos, and even courses. You really won’t find yourself stuck.

Where the doubt will enter is in companies - perhaps smaller - that are unsure if they have the bandwidth or resources to complete and maintain the task along with their other responsibilities. At the very least, take some time to familiarize yourself with the theory behind it and some of the ways you might go about actually doing it in your organization.

While value stream management needs to be an ongoing process that takes account of changes over time, the initial completion of a value stream assessment can provide a good baseline and point of departure. The assessment can give you a list of areas or problems that need attention, many of which can inform the direction of your next steps in DevOps - sort of like a snag list for your organization.

Summing up

Value stream mapping and management is clearly an approach of huge value to most enterprises - and those that embrace DevOps solutions and tools have some of the best opportunities for solving the problems that it may reveal. 

Even so, much like DevOps, VSM works best when it can truly assess an organization on a global scale, taking all the aspects that contribute or detract from value flow into account. If that’s not possible, either due to a lack of buy-in or resources, it may be better to sidestep the process in the short term, instead of concentrating on the changes you already know will have an impact, saving your VSM energy for a later stage where more stakeholders are able to appreciate the fact that to be truly impactful, both VSM and DevOps work best when there is organization-wide cooperation.

Interested in finding out more ways that you can help bring business value to your company via DevOps? Download our free ebook, DevOps Business Value: prove it or lose it.

Free ebook: DevOps Business Value



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