The concept of value streams grew out of manufacturing, where work and processes were analyzed, and waste removed, to increase value to the organization and its customers.

In the software development space, we’ve seen it grow out of the Agile and DevOps methodologies. As the pace of software ‘manufacturing’ quickened, and more parts of the organization came together to deliver the highest quality, most reliable product they could, the practice of analyzing how software work and processes were done was found to add value to the software organization and its customers.

Yet Andrew Fuqua, VP of products at ConnectALL, posed this question during a recent presentation: “What does Value Stream Management have to do with Agile anyway?” And, his surprising answer, with an asterisk, was: “Absolutely nothing.” (The asterisk indicates that there is more to the story than that.)

Lance Knight, ConnectALL’s SVP and general manager,  explained that for as long as people have been making something, there have been value streams. And for as long as there have been value streams, there has been the need to manage them. So from that perspective, his somewhat overstated point  is that value stream management has nothing to do with Agile. 

Yet Knight pointed out that value stream management has become more important BECAUSE of Agile and DevOps processes. His point is that to achieve the aims and means of Agile and DevOps, you must do effective value stream management. Breaking software down into smaller pieces, across multiple teams and the various tools they use, requires integration and traceability, and that’s done by creating and managing value streams. “That’s a flaw in how we talk about value stream,” Knight said. “We need to align it, not just tell folks how to do it.”

Both Fuqua and Knight were quick to say that tools cannot “do” value stream management for you. It is a human endeavor. And to manage the value stream, you have to define what it is. (Spoiler alert: It’s everything within your organization.)

Large organizations have development teams, marketing and sales teams, DBAs, monitoring, security engineering, multiple operating system teams, mobile teams, risk assessment teams, and more. Each of these is its own value stream as well as being a part of the larger corporate value stream. So, to achieve Agile excellence, Knight said, requires “good human value stream management and value stream optimization.” That helps organizations remove the constraints and barriers — the “waste” — to delivering internal value through more efficient processes, as well as ultimately delivering a higher-value product to customers.

Although these are human tasks being discussed, tools do have a role in value stream, whether it’s mapping the value stream, integrating the tools used by disparate teams, automating feedback loops for faster issue resolution and time to market, and more. Fuqua’s presentation noted that integrating best-of-breed tools that are fit for a purpose and that the company is already using and is comfortable with is fine, but cautioned against “inflicting more change on people than is necessary.” Knight noted that “ConnecrtALL is the one tool that lets all that happen.”

Since value streams grew out of manufacturing — specifically, lean manufacturing, where tools are important but process evaluation rules — the lean way of thinking “changes the focus of management from optimizing separate technologies, assets and vertical departments to optimizing the flow of products and services through entire value streams that flow horizontally across technologies, assets and departments to customers,” according to the website.

And so, as Fuqua remarked in his presentation, “Effective VSM requires humans to think about their process and policies and people, and yes tools, and to continuously take steps to make improvements.”

It’s up to team leaders to clearly explain process policies upstream and downstream, including how work is prioritized, how people work together and make decisions, intake and handoff processes and SLAs, among them.

Do all that correctly, and the positive outcomes organizations can achieve through effective value stream management are efficiency and smooth flow of work, predictability of delivery and time to market, understanding internal processes, visibility into work and openness and transparency.

You can determine that by collecting and analyzing metrics such as mean time to resolution of issues, time in wait states, completion ratio, code coverage and technical debt, and others.

The point of all this is to get things to market faster, through value stream optimization. As Knight said, “How do I get from two-day delivery to hours? If I’m not doing effective value stream management, and not getting that level of code, what’s the point of delivering every two minutes?”

So, what does all that have to do with Agile? Absolutely nothing. And pretty much a lot.


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