It seems everyone in the Agile, DevOps and Tech scene are talking about Value Streams in 2020, and for good reasons. Business and manufacturing folks have been focused on value streams for decades, but as maturity and capability evolve in tech, these areas are now combining and the best of each world is being applied everywhere.
We can debate the definition of value itself in another post, but broadly, let's say: "Measure of benefit provided for a targeted recipient", and in other words: merit, worth, usefulness.
Value streams first came about as a concept in traditional physical goods manufacturing like cars and appliances, especially during the rise of Lean manufacturing to maximize efficiency, quality and value. Because of this legacy, a lot of representations you'll find are less than helpful in the digital age, but not to worry, I'll bring you the best bits here.
In short, a value stream is a process for creating value in an organization, captured in steps and measurement data. I say 'a' process, because a business is full of value streams.
The 'stream' aspect of value streams comes from the sequential series of steps performed to create value. Each one flows into the next, and the aim is to maximize the flow of value within the stream, much like a stream of water aims to deliver water as efficiently and effectively from upstream to downstream.
A value stream represents the combination of all steps from the start of your value creation until the delivery of the end result to your customer. A value stream is the combination of your Value Creation and Value Delivery processes in one unified flow.
Compared to most ways of thinking about process, the value stream concern is "how we create and deliver value" rather than "how we do things".
In the context of a stream, you can follow left to right, from low to high value, where each step should be adding value. This helps focus your efforts and thinking to avoid common pitfalls such as automating everything, continuing the status quo or not knowing where to start improving.