Disciplined Agile

Mapping Your Value Stream

This article covers the following topics

About Value Streams 

A value stream begins, ends, and hopefully continues with a customer. A value stream is the set of activities that take place to add value for customers, from the initial request through realization of value by the customers.

In Disciplined Agile, we discuss three kinds of value streams.

  • Development value stream is the sequence of activities involved in creating the operational value stream and in ensuring the operational value stream can continue to function and operate successfully.
  • Operational value stream is the sequence of activities needed to deliver a product or service to a customer. It represents the flow value delivery to the end customer (internal and/or external). They correspond directly to a specific value driver which are often expressed in OKRs. The operational value stream directly affects the customer experience. Operational value streams are supported by development and support value streams.
  • Support value stream is the sequence of activities involved in supporting the organization and the development and operational value streams. Examples include building databases, setting security, learning management systems.

For example, Figure 1 shows operational and development value streams in a pizza company. The operational value stream begins with the customer who wants a pizza and ends with the customer getting the pizza. It includes taking the order, store operations, and tracking delivery. In the development value streams, we have three development teams that deploy order management, store operations, and delivery tracking systems into production. Each of these may be their own value stream.

Example of Value Stream

Figure 1. Example of value streams.

Our particular focus for improving agility is on the development value stream. And attend to the operational and support value streams.

Note: Some frameworks also describe an “enabling” value stream. This is work that enables operational and development value streams to function. We consider this to be another type of support value stream. Making the distinction adds unnecessary complexity.

About Value Stream Maps

Value stream maps depict the steps in the process of producing a product or delivering a service, where the interfaces are between activities, loop backs, the time involved in and between process steps, and the queues where work is waiting. Figure 2 shows an example of a classic value stream map.  


Figure 2. Example value stream map for development.

The key aspect of a value stream map is that it creates visibility about the work that is taking place. This helps people to have conversations about the current state, explore the effectiveness of existing processes, identify areas of waste, and propose new ways of working. While the numbers can be helpful (especially in classic lean approaches), in knowledge work the biggest benefit comes from visibility and conversations.

Value Stream Mapping 

Improving the value stream involves improving the system, to reduce the total time from beginning to end of the entire stream while sustaining this speed in the future (that is, you cannot take shortcuts now at the expense of future development).

The DA FLEX approach to improving a value stream is shown in Figure 3.  

DA FLEX Approach

Figure 3. DA FLEX approach to improving the value stream.

These can be grouped into three essential steps.

  • Be clear about the questions we want to answer. These include:
    • Who is our customer?
    • What are we doing now (the current state)? What is our flow of value delivery?
    • Where is there waste – and especially delay in flow?
  • Create a picture of the process, using a value stream map.
  • Plan for steps forward.

Depending on the level of change required, we may need to use the Transformation Roadmap.

Create a picture of the process

A value stream map is a lean tool that practitioners use to analyze the value stream. While we can use a current state (“as-is”) value stream mapping approach, for knowledge work it is often more helpful and pragmatic simply to begin with the idealized development value stream or to use one of the many development value stream patterns, adjust the map to fit our context, and then use that map to have conversations. 

For knowledge work, our preference is to be pragmatic with value stream mapping. Treat it like doing a Pareto analysis. Get a good enough picture to facilitate conversations. Try to identify areas of improvement that will address 80% of the issues. Work on those "vital few" areas. Repeat the process to find the next constraint or waste to address.

Option: Start with Idealized (Development) Value Stream

For development value streams, some organizations find it more helpful simply to begin with the idealized (development) value stream shown in Figure 4 or to use one of the many development value stream patterns in the literature, making any adjustments to make it fit the context, and then using that to have conversations.

Idealized Value Stream

Figure 4. Idealized (development) value stream.

Option: Current State Value Stream Map

Lean field guides and textbooks describe many approaches to creating a custom current state value stream map for our context (such as Figure 1). Here is a simple six-step process.

  1. Identify the actions that take place, keeping in mind that we are mapping the flow of work for one particular increment of work that’s being built.
  2. Specify the calendar time over which these actions are worked on.
  3. Specify how much of the time these actions were being worked on actual work was taking place and how much time was spent waiting.
  4. Specify the amount of time between these steps.
  5. Look, and denote, any loop backs present in the workflow.
  6. Total up the average time working on the project.

Plan for steps forward

See the challenges. Use the value stream map to have conversations about the current state and to identify areas of waste. The DA Browser describes options for visualizing the existing process and for identifying potential improvements. A five-whys analysis can help.

Identify actions. Identify areas for improvement using Guided Continuous Improvement and the options offered in the DA browser. To facilitate conversations and analysis, techniques such as Wicked Problem Solving might also be helpful.

Very often, these are the three most important areas to focus on.

  • Increments (size of work). How well are we using MBIs?
  • Intake process. How well is the intake process working?
  • Pull. Is work being pulled or pushed?

Create an improvement backlog. Add the actions to an improvement backlog. Prioritize them. Rather than trying to solve everything, work on a vital few improvements. And then pull the next.

Keep improving. Get the company started with something better and help them understand how to keep improving.

Challenges: Delays and Waste

In particular, we want to focus on delays and waste within the workflow including delays in finding resources, waiting, and getting information, multi-tasking, overloaded people, rework, late detection of problems, hand-offs, unread requirements which affects quality and slows down delivery.

Waste and Delays

Figure 5. Examples of Waste and Delays.

Challenge: Pain Points

Talk about the pain points in the process such as

  • Miscommunication
  • Loop backs
  • Quality problems
  • Waiting for someone
  • Working on too many things
  • A poor work process that causes bugs and requires time to fix them
  • Large pieces of work that take too long to finish
  • Talent, skills, and knowledge that is not used or under-utilized

November 2022