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Why you’re doing VSM wrong, and the three essential elements to get it right

Wed 10 Jul 2019 | Jeff Keyes

Value, visibility and tactics are the keys to VSM success, writes Jeff Keyes, Plutora

Businesses today are under increasing pressure to incorporate the latest approaches to increase the efficiency and speed of pipeline deliveries. Value stream management (VSM) is a solution to this challenge – mapping out your value stream provides all team members with a goal to work towards.

There are some common misconceptions around what constitutes VSM, with many vendors claiming that they have implemented it, when in fact they are only looking at a couple of metrics. Properly managing your value stream is so much more than this, and there are three key areas to focus on to get it right.

Value – the obvious but important starting point

Value is in the eye of the beholder, which in most cases will be your external customer, although this can also apply to internal ‘customers’ working throughout the business.

It might seem unnecessary to encourage DevOps teams to start incorporating VSM by establishing the value they are aiming for, but for many it can be too easy to jump straight into finding the tools and methods that are required without considering what they are trying to achieve at the end.

The first step is to discuss and decide on the value that you need to provide your customers – your true north – and then map out exactly what processes are required to reach this. Having this unique measure to anchor yourself to provides a sense of direction, and helps keep every team on the same path.

Businesses need to think of their software as the product that enables their services to find the true north. A good example of how this can transform your business is Dominos: while the company’s value is providing good pizzas, its product is actually the software that takes the orders, processes payments, provides the drivers with location information and ultimately delivers pizza to customers.

The introduction of Agile and DevOps in many businesses up until now has helped teams to look at development practices and start to focus on the ultimate utility of what they are trying to create; VSM can help businesses to move this further, and keeps true north straight ahead.

“It can be difficult to comprehend the level of visibility that is required, or why what seems like a full overview does not provide your team with all of the information available”

Visibility – why ‘out of sight, out of mind’ isn’t an option

For VSM to work effectively, you need to see where you’re going, what you’re trying to accomplish, and establish whether you are on the right path. The biggest barrier to DevOps is the cultural shift and lack of visibility across every employee, team and product line. Creating visibility into this, therefore, is crucial.

The purpose of metrics is to help someone understand something and make a decision based on this knowledge. While no single metric is enough on its own, teams can use a combination to provide the required visibility across the business.

This is where many businesses are failing – they look at one or two metrics and label this VSM.  In reality, teams need to observe all of their metrics, not just software, and then correlate this all back into the delivery.

It can be difficult to comprehend the level of visibility that is required, or why what seems like a full overview does not provide your team with all of the information available.

A reputable hotel chain, for example, will have hopefully perfected the three major areas of their product: booking and planning, travel, and checking in. To book a stay in the hotel, employees will need to ensure that customer service requests are dealt with efficiently and quickly, and provide everything the customer is looking for.

Meanwhile, when travelling, customers need to receive notifications to keep them fully on track, and then upon their arrival, the hotel needs to alleviate them of anything that will prevent them getting the key to their room.

In order to make guests provide rave reviews, each of these steps should be expertly handled by individual teams, but if everything isn’t in sync, perfection in one area can be overpowered by lack of coordination in another. This is where visibility and communication between individual, expert teams is key to overall success.

The same can be said for how VSM should work. With the right visibility, teams can see every other team and process in real-time, and can identify potential issues and resolve them before they become a problem.

“VSM strategies always come back to the customer and the value that you are aiming to deliver to them”

Tactics – automation is not always the answer

While VSM can introduce a wealth of benefits to a business, it is not always going to be easy to integrate it successfully. What is key during implementation is keeping the value that you are aiming for top of mind; this, in turn, will make it much easier to determine what processes need to be kept, updated, or scrapped altogether. This is where the challenges around legacy technology come into play.

Younger businesses may find VSM easier to adopt as their systems are more likely to suit automation, which is one of the activities that often comes out of VSM planning. Full automation should be an aspiration, but this will not always be possible, especially not at first. Automation should be adopted and integrated slowly, especially in more established businesses that need to update technology while integrating legacy infrastructure.

The best VSM strategies will take all of this into account and consider the individual needs of the business and the systems in place that already provide value. Where automation is not the most efficient way to improve part of a delivery pipeline, teams should implement alternatives such as orchestration to make the manual processes smoother.

Wherever possible, aim to create predefined processes that can roll into orchestration, and develop self-contained, cross-functional teams that are completely responsible for one area; they are accountable for the security, engineering, and architecture of this. Each team can then provide visibility into the area that they are working on, building an overview of the entire pipeline to everyone.

VSM strategies always come back to the customer and the value that you are aiming to deliver to them. If you keep this front of mind when establishing your visibility and tactics, then every process will become geared towards achieving this goal faster, and that is something no business leader wants to miss out on.

Experts featured:

Jeff Keyes

VP of Product


development DevOps value stream management vsm
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