Three Myths About Value Stream Management, Busted

Written by: Tim Johnson
5 min read

Value stream management is a hot topic in the DevOps world, but can all areas of an organization benefit from VSM’s data-driven approach? We think the answer is a resounding “yes.” But a few skeptics beg to differ. Let’s look at three of their most common objections and explain why these “myths” should be busted. 

Myth 1:  Value stream management conflicts with DevOps

Do we really need another tool in our DevOps toolchain? Doesn’t value stream management just get in the way of fast agile workflows? 

The truth is that value stream management and DevOps are powerful allies, not conflicting adversaries. DevOps is the practice of delivering software, VSM is the process of understanding the value to the business of that software.  

The DevOps movement has revolutionized software delivery, empowering agile development teams to improve the speed of delivery. But simply moving faster is not good enough. How do you know if you are moving in the right direction or if the software has real value to customers?

This is where value stream management (VSM) brings real value to the DevOps lifecycle. VSM helps the business measure the value they’re receiving from DevOps tools and practices. If done properly, value stream management can create a useful framework for improving performance inside of any value stream, whether it’s software delivery or across other parts of the organizations.

Among other benefits, value stream mapping techniques can help software delivery organizations identify waste and process blockers, reveal opportunities for automation, and ultimately unlock the flow of value and direct it toward innovation. For DevOps teams, VSM can illuminate the path they should take to achieve the desired business outcomes and identify existing processes they need to change to get there. 

The bottom line: Don’t fall for this myth. Far from conflicting with each other, DevOps and value stream management are perfect companions. 

Myth 2: Value stream management results in finger-pointing and treating developers like cogs

There are some who argue that value stream management gives stakeholders across the company in every department too much visibility into how software teams are performing. With access to detailed metrics across the lifecycle, it’s easy for people to weaponize that data and point fingers at groups they think are falling behind or creating bottlenecks. 

We’d agree this could be a problem for some organizations, but it’s hardly an effective way to use the tools. What VSM solutions can do is bring to light the bottlenecks and risks associated with a release. There may be perfectly good reasons for delays, like excess approvals and cumbersome tooling. In this way, VSM tools can help business leaders justify the expense of training, process changes, new headcount etc. 

We’ll need to invent better value stream management tools to prevent people from unfairly blaming coworkers. But in the meantime, new techniques like “pair mapping” in a collaborative workshop can help fill in some of the information gaps that are missing in the VSM tools, helping people see the full picture and avoid the pitfall of finger pointing. 

Value stream management approaches have also been accused of turning software delivery into a factory assembly line, where developers lack autonomy and end up hating their job. This is another myth that needs debunking. In fact, if you look at the origin of value stream mapping – as an industrial automation process pioneered by Toyota – the goal was never to create a dreary, mechanistic workplace. It was about removing the manual tasks that no one wanted to do, so workers could be more creative and enjoy their job as much as possible.

That’s the goal of value stream management: To empower developers to have more autonomy, mastery, and purpose to their job.

Myth 3: Developers don’t need to care about VSM

For the average developer, value stream management can seem like an abstract concept with little or no connection to their day-to-day work life. Why do I need to care about VSM, they ask?

The reality is that developers should care because a value stream approach can give their work a deeper meaning that pays off in productivity. VSM’s end-to-end perspective, for example, can help developers clearly understand their contribution to the whole organization. When developers realize that what they do makes a difference to the whole organization, it becomes a powerful motivator and driver of job satisfaction.

Most people want to experience a sense of progress – a feeling that they’re moving forward and contributing to a larger mission. Value stream management gives them that perspective in a big way. And not only do they better understand their role within the organization, but they get a sense for the downstream effects of their efforts – like the impact on customers.

Of course, value stream management will affect developers differently depending on the size and maturity of the organization. Since smaller organizations tend to move faster and are more chaotic, a value stream exercise is more likely to bring about clarity and alignment among developers, putting everybody on the same page. 

Developers in bigger organizations, by contrast, are more likely to be facing a lull in their forward progress. Often, they need something fresh to refocus and restart transformation initiatives and spark excitement for developers and business teams. Value stream thinking can help all these teams. For many developers in these larger, more complex groups, value stream mapping is the first time they’ve seen the company’s end-to-end process.   

So don’t buy the myth that developers don’t need to care about value stream management! 

For more information on value stream management, check out this on-demand webinar, titled "Value Stream Thinking" on the topic featuring executives from Disney, Accelerated Strategies Group and Visible.

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