Detail can be your best friend or your worst enemy, depending on your goal
Detail can be your best friend or your worst enemy, depending on your goal

Clients always ask me, "Where should we start?", "How detailed should we be making this value stream map?", and "How do we know we're looking in the right place?"

These are excellent questions.

When we're trying to collect data about what's going on around us, the worst thing we can do is fixate on a detail that doesn't matter. We shouldn't fight a house fire by adjusting the thermostat. That actually happens. All the time. Across thousands of organizations. Someone either inside or outside the situation notices the temperature is high, decides the thermostat is to blame, adjusts the thermostat. We'd have to look at the whole house to discover that there's a fire in the basement. From there we can zoom in a bit and discover that the fire is in the can of oily rags.

When we start to look at value streams in an organization, the higher the better. Once we've identified our area of influence, it's ideal to review a high-level value stream just to get our bearings. This often takes the form of a 1-2 hour videoconference call, but the ideal case is that we run a full value stream definition at the highest level, then drill down as bottlenecks are discovered.

By starting as high as we can, we accomplish a few key wins early on:

  • We get a clear example stream we can share with a larger team.
  • We reconcile some assumptions about how we create value.
  • We share an early alignment on scope and boundaries to save time later.
Starting at a High Level Can Help Iterate Towards Clarity, and Guide Viewers
Starting at a High Level Can Help Iterate Towards Clarity, and Guide Viewers

In the example above, by starting at the portfolio level, we can make sure we're all thinking in the same direction and sharing the same picture throughout the process. Anyone outside the exercise can understand how this effort fits into the big picture, and agree that the effort is justified. It also becomes trivial to illustrate not just the process but the thinking behind the activity. As we drill down from Portfolio to Product Dev to Execution to Staging Deploy (and beyond) we get closer and closer to an impactful and actionable bottleneck. Once we discover that the Staging Deploy step is the biggest bottleneck, we can drill down into that step to see what step in that process is the biggest bottleneck.

 

The detail of your value stream map should facilitate the discovery and remediation of your bottleneck. Any more detail would be wasted, and any less would be insufficient.

 

This is why my value stream maps tend to start out more like this:

Simple, clear
Simple, clear

 

Than like this:

Who In Your Org Can Read This Without Any Guidance?
Who In Your Org Can Read This Without Any Guidance?

To spend our time and effort efficiently, I want to make sure we spend it at the right level of detail. 99% of the time, low precision or lacking secondary metrics are not your bottleneck. Your first bottleneck is likely just not having a map! If it takes you a week to map your value stream, you're never going to do it twice, and teams should be mapping every six months if they want to continue improving. If you burn out the team assembled to create the map, they're much less likely to be excited and see value from the outcome, and then you're starting on the wrong foot.

If we start with just steps and timing, we can then decide to either layer on additional detail, or target a bottleneck and drill down again to get additional step detail. Below is an example of how we drill down to a specific area to get specific measurements and focus our efforts.

Now we can begin to see that 3 waiting periods (after Artifact Creation, Performance Testing and Acceptance Testing) are quite high, and we can start to examine why that is. That might benefit from additional detail about the staff involved, tooling, etc but we can make an informed decision to collect and analyze that data with a targeted value in mind.

When value stream mapping, we must always consider the value of our efforts - or we're not practicing what we preach 😀

The good news is this: We don't have to be perfect! One of the main reasons I love this approach so much is that it's just enough to help us improve right now. It's meant to be iterative, quick and painless because we should be doing this all the time. There are value streams everywhere in our organizations, and they could all use some love and attention!

Value Streams Are Your Business
Value Streams Are Your Business

As we all begin to focus more on products than projects, the continuous nature of value streams is becoming an increasingly critical focus for organizations. Shifting from the way we've always worked is a scary proposition, but we know it has to be done. Yet, once we decide to make a change, there are so few options for rapid results, and the task seems enormous! For most organizations, this is far from the first try. Taking stock of where you are is the best way to take the first step, or your first step after a fall. A clear value stream map gives you a readable map, and your 'You Are Here' marker. I'll share more in later posts about getting from 'You Are Here' to 'You Have Arrived'.

Of course, I'd love to help you with your most critical value streams, but I'd also love to teach your teams how they can start getting more value from every value stream in your organization. Stay tuned for more material about how I get incredible results with value stream maps and how to get great results in your teams.

If you're interested in a chat about how to get started, please book a call with me here: calendly.com/vzbl and check out vzbl.io for more information!

For another angle on Value Stream Mapping, check out my recent talk from DevOps Days Montreal 2019

I'd love to hear your thoughts: How do you see value streams in your organization? Have you started a move from projects to products? What are the biggest challenges you're working through?

 

Originally posted on LinkedIn on Nov 20, 2019