How to Optimize Transparency Through Value Stream Mapping

Value Stream Identification and Mapping is one of the best tools used in SAFe that develops deeper transparency within your organization. However, Value Stream Mapping is also one of the tools most often skipped or avoided because management is hesitant to spend or commit to the time it takes to complete, or does not fully grasp how powerful it can be.

The concept is simple – it helps the company understand how value flows through their enterprise at a macro level, and then how to best organize company processes around that value delivery. However, implementing the improvements from Value Stream Mapping are not as simple. It may not be easy, but the results we’ve seen are many times worth the effort.

Transparency is often a byproduct of agility within teams and that same transparency can be scaled as agile practices are moved out to incorporate the business. Here are a few highlights of Value Stream Mapping and how it helps build and spread transparency to the rest of your organization.

Value Streams

(©Scaled Agile, Inc.: image source)


Sponsor the Right People to Be In the Room

The big problem is a lot of people don’t know what their value stream(s) look like. So, when you sit in a room and map all of it out, things become very transparent. You simply need to have the right people in the room in order to successfully do it. Organizational transparency only works if you involve people from across the enterprise, which means the leaders and relevant stakeholders from the different Business units in the entire Value Stream and those impacted by the activities in the Value Stream. This process will also create more awareness, empathy, and trust between the IT and business teams as they learn their importance to one another.

Identify Value Streams for Your Customer

Always start with the customer in mind while identifying and mapping your value stream. Your customers are the “why” behind your business. Make sure you get very clear about what the customer needs and how they can derive that value through your processes. Bring in details from Customer Empathy or Journey Maps you’ve created or are working on; extract the insights from your business team members who work with the customers on a daily basis; include those who are working on the systems that support delivery. Value Stream Mapping will drive transparency deep into your organization from a strategic level because it exposes areas of opportunity and efficiency in how you get your product or service to the customer, often from their perspective. If you set it up right, learning and driving improvement in those opportunity areas is celebrated because you’re learning versus pointing out that someone isn’t doing their part.

Prioritize Your Value Streams

Transparency resides with how you prioritize. Let people know how you’re prioritizing and be open to input. If you think about this process in theatrical terms, you have the actors in the room—your business and IT leaders—and they are helping you understand how everything adds to the experience of the audience—your customers. The actors not only know their audience, but they also understand the importance of everything and everyone involved in the production. You have the stage managers, set designer, lighting, props, sound, choreographers, directors, and house managers and ushers. As you go through the process of identifying your value streams, you’ll also identify the systems that support the operational value streams and the people who develop those systems; plus, the underlying development and process maps. These are all the backstage processes that ensure a flawless performance for your customers.

“Value Streams represent the series of steps that an organization uses to build Solutions that provide a continuous flow of value to a customer.”

-© Scaled Agile, Inc.


Now, if you’re just starting to implement Scaled Agile (SAFe) practices, how do you prioritize which Value Stream activities are most important since they all have to work together to put on a great performance? Start with two thoughts. First – look outward to your customers; what will give them the biggest boost in satisfaction? What will delight them the most about your performance? Having that conversation will help you understand which Value Stream to prioritize if you map multiple, or which part(s) of the Value Stream to address to improve quality throughput and deliver the most value to your customers more effectively. You can then identify what will take the least amount of resources and effort to provide tangible results. You now have your top candidate. High value, low effort.

Second – look inward from the opposite direction, from the backstage performances. Which supporting or development value stream activity takes the least amount of effort or resources to show immediate success? Look at the top candidates you came up with and determine which will provide the most value to the customer in the shortest time and you’ll have another top candidate to run. The reasoning behind this method is that early on, you need to drive improvements and different ways of working as a habit deeper into your organization. Nothing does that more than getting early wins and expanding on them. If you’re lucky, your high priority improvement candidates from the external facing operational value stream that mean the most to the customer will align with the ones that give you the earliest backstage, development value stream wins too. Whether it works out that way or not, you now have your top priority items to implement first.

Once you put this prioritization pattern in place, you can map teams and Agile Release Trains to your operational and development Value Streams, optimize your processes to deliver better value to you customers, and more efficiently deliver over time.

Get Detailed with Your Mappings

How you prioritize your value streams and value stream improvements often hinges on how deep you go with your mappings. Value stream mapping will give you the strategic and macro view of how value flows; process mapping will give you the details of how work gets done. As you get down to the process mapping level, things become very clear as to how information flows, the level of effort to complete things, and where there may be a lack of transparency.

The lack of transparency at this level is often a trickle down from lack of collaboration, a disruption in the flow of information, or too many handoffs between steps at the value stream level. Depending on how much you find (it’s often many different things), leadership may find themselves playing a bit of a blame game here on “who’s at fault”. Help people resist the urge to point fingers and point out that at both the value stream and process mapping levels, people learn more about how their business works than just about any other process and this is the opportunity to connect the dots.

A developer or analyst can see what needs to be done to enhance their system, solution, process, or customer interface and engagement. But generally, they are limited in their context to see how enhancements in their process map may not improve the entire value stream. By sharing the value stream mapping with those working at all levels in the value stream, leaders will help the teams see outside their process to better understand holistically changes to their ways of working – and where they fit in the bigger picture.

Run the Trains, Learn, and Optimize

Once we educate leadership and decision-makers about Value Stream Mapping, it’s easier to get an idea of what tooling is needed, who in the organization needs to be involved, and organizing and aligning of roles and teams to form Agile Release Trains. The key here is the learning part of the equation or the Inspect and Adapt (I&A) workshop that you would have at the end of the Program Increment (PI). The retrospective can shed light on organizational inefficiencies, dependencies, or silos that may all be symptoms of something larger. Yes, you can form an ART and run it as a process, but the learning and optimizing is what shows how all of these scaled agile practices are becoming a mindset and seeping into the DNA of your company.

Watch our Webinar on Demand: The ART of Value Streams with Ken France, VP, Scaled Agility

Final Thought

Because people don’t map things out, they don’t have the transparency at many levels of their business. Holding a Value Stream Mapping activity ends up driving better decisions because there is a greater understanding of how the business works and how it provides customer value.

Value Stream Mapping helps us see the value as it works its way through the organization and identifies certain areas where we can improve specific processes to make it more efficient. However, it’s important to remember to take a holistic approach. It doesn’t make much sense to narrowly focus on specific process mapping within the division or business unit without understanding the full value stream. If you focus on improving only one process, you run the risk of sub-system optimization, simply improving one piece of the value stream and moving the bottleneck somewhere else.

Once we understand the value stream, we can create an optimal future state value stream and start working out and prioritizing the steps to get there. If we develop and apply what we’ve learned through that optimal future state, we’ll not only reap the rewards of organizational transparency, we’ll also increase our efficiency and value delivered to our customers.

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Brian Segel, Delivery Director, Enterprise Agility
Brian Segel, Delivery Director, Enterprise Agility
[email protected]