What You Need to Know About Value Stream Mapping for the Enterprise

Leading enterprises like Netflix, Uber, and Airbnb have demonstrated that the future of business lies in figuring out how to create value faster than competitors. This sounds good on paper, but enterprises can get hit snags when trying to move faster without creating more value in practice.
To address this gap, many companies are starting to leverage value stream mapping (VSM) as a kind of flashlight to look inside their complex software development processes to identify changes that might create the most value. VSM can also make it easier to see when new approaches improve or degrade how their software development process creates value.
VSM is a process for analyzing how value is created in an organization. It consists of a variety of techniques for making sense of the complex flow of information and deliverables that are anticipated to create value for customers, shareholders, and employees. The core ideas originated as part of “lean process improvement” in manufacturing, to identify waste and streamline production. The same ideas are being adopted to also improve software development lifecycles as part of continuous delivery and agile methodologies.

Connect Value to Metrics

Value is a relative term; it can imply different things, depending on management goals and their strategy for augmenting metrics like improved traffic, engagement, conversions, sales, or customer experience. Once a team has identified particular goals, VSM can improve enterprise agile management to see how a portfolio of products aligns with these and how particular features augment or detract from them. On the execution side, VSM can make it easier to identify how a new feature request is coded, tested, and deployed at every part of the process.
One simple example might be to look at an organization interested in improving the value delivered via its online presence related to improved customer experience. There are two sides to this:
1) Measuring the value of portfolios of products and the way individual product features are implemented
2) Measuring the speed at which new value can be delivered
On the capture side, they might want to start with a process of measuring customer experience, such as and online survey like Net Promoter Score to correlate customer experience with their use of existing and new features within their product portfolio. At a strategic level, management could see how well their existing portfolio lines up with customer experience as a baseline. As new features are introduced, subsequent measurements could indicate what is adding to or reducing value.
On the value delivery side, they can look at how a feature request flows through the software development lifecycle: from a developer implementing a feature, QA testing it, security vetting it, and the process of pushing it into production.
They may find, for example, that new features go through an extensive security review processes that leads to frequent rework by developers. It may also be the case that developers spend considerable time filling out documentation or meeting security requirements that aren’t relevant for a particular project. VSM could help a manager to recognize these bottlenecks and create a process that includes security review teams earlier in the development cycle to reduce the work of developers, eliminate rework, and streamline the final security review process.

Every Enterprise Is Unique

These are relatively simple examples, and each enterprise is going to have its own unique bottlenecks and processes that lead to wasted time and effort. One approach to VSM is to sketch out a map of the value creation process using input from many of the stakeholders. This might be a good start to open a team’s eyes to the wider processes, and identify some of the bigger bottlenecks and sources of waste.
Another approach is to use a tool embedded into the value creation workflow to automatically generate a dynamic value creation map that may be more accurate and better able to quantify the impact of changes. This is just a starting point, but it can help automate the process of aligning the team’s efforts on an ongoing basis.