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Value stream mapping: What it is + how it relates to DevOps

March 10, 2023

If you asked your team to map out the entire lifecycle of your product or service from start to finish, we bet there would be a few steps left out or not even considered. However, a clear understanding of the workflow is pivotal to predicting software delivery and improving organizational performance. 

Value stream mapping (VSM) provides the perfect solution. It outlines every step of your current process and provides an ideal future state to deliver the most value to your customer.

Distilling your entire process into one diagram is a powerful tool for any DevOps team. It enables stakeholders to visualize how value flows in an easy-to-digest way. Value stream maps also help teams visualize their ideal future state and drill down on what improvements are needed to get to that optimal value stream. 

Ready to learn more? Below, we dive into why value stream maps are important for DevOps and how to create your own in three steps. 

What is value stream mapping?

Value stream mapping is a way to visualize your process flow. It’s a key technique of the Lean principles, with an end goal of adding more value and eliminating waste from your software delivery process. The VSM process helps teams identify and resolve bottlenecks in their processes.

There are three key steps to conducting a VSM exercise:

  1. Create a current state map showing your process in its present form—from order to delivery—for a product or service. 
  2. Analyze the current state map and discover ways to improve your process. 
  3. Create a future state map showing the areas for improvement.

VSM purpose and benefits

The purpose of VSM is to identify areas of improvement in your product lifecycle. Within DevOps, the value stream begins with development, moves into QA testing, and finally results in release—and whether the product or feature met user expectations.

VSM is a tool for continuous improvement. Once you complete a VSM exercise, you’re left with objective data to advocate for and guide improvements.

Benefits of VSM include: 

  • Expose waste within your value stream

  • Provide a blueprint for improvement 

  • Identify delays and constraints within your processes

  • Improve visibility into the entire product or service lifecycle

  • Reveal automation opportunities 

  • Boost collaboration across teams 

  • Provide context and clarity to make informed decisions

  • Enable stakeholders to see a simple visual of how value flows

Three pillars of a value stream map

Value stream maps are built upon three central pillars: information flow, process flow, and time ladder. Each of these pillars will play a part in your value stream map, showcasing how your product or service generates value from start to finish.

Information flow

Open lines of communication are essential to any product or service you’re building. A value stream illustrates how work is passed along from team to team and can also highlight areas where teams may be experiencing poor communication practices.

Process flow

Also known as material or production flow, process flow refers to the tasks your team performs as your product or service moves through your organization from start to finish. As you examine process flow, you can start to see how waste and waiting states add up across your value stream.

Time ladder

The time ladder identifies how long each process takes, which can highlight any waste and how much value is added in each step. It involves two metrics:

  • Active state (or touch time): the total amount of time a feature was being actively worked on at each stage 

  • Waiting state (or queue time): the amount of time a feature spends in a waiting state at each stage

How to use VSM in DevOps: 3 steps

With the right team members assembled and enough time set aside to dive deeply into your processes, the entire value stream mapping process can be completed in three steps.

1. Create a current state map of your product or service

First off, identify the value stream you want to map. This is likely your product or service, but could be something more process-based, like your backlog grooming or deployment process. If you’re unsure of what to map, think about what aspect of your delivery pipeline has the most bottlenecks or what will provide the most value for your team. 

Next, gather key stakeholders from every step of the service or product development value stream. This may include stakeholders, architects, developers and engineers, IT ops members, and members of the security team. The idea here is to bring together people who work on different phases to boost collaboration and ensure the entire team understands how different processes interact. 

From there, you can begin to create a current state map. Do this by breaking your value stream into five to 15 process blocks that represent what it takes to deliver your product or service to the customer. Within each block, record the activity that's performed along with the team that performs it. 

You’ll also want to record the touch time, or the elapsed time from start to finish for that step. It can be helpful to focus on a certain time metric, whether it be hours, days, or weeks.

Current state value stream: example

2. Analyze your current state map

Once you’ve mapped your current state, you can begin gathering information to highlight barriers to flow and bottlenecks in your value stream. 

As you’ve already identified the elapsed time of each process block in step 1, you can now add in the wait time between each process—or how much time each process sits waiting to be picked up and moved forward within the value stream. 

Pro tip: Always record the true state of processes on the day you create your current state map. Include real metrics—not what your team would like the metrics to be.  

After gathering data about the people, process, and technology involved in each step, as well as the touch time and wait time, you can begin tracking key metrics. These may vary depending on the value stream you’re mapping, but teams often track:

  • Value added: This is the amount of time actually spent on a process. Any step that doesn’t result in a change in the product is known as non-value added time. 

  • Lead time: This is the total time it takes a person or team to complete a task.

  • % Complete/accurate (%C/A): This refers to the proportion of times a process receives something from an upstream process that doesn’t require any re-work. 

Once you have these metrics for each step, add them into your current state map. As you're reviewing each process block, look out for steps that produce poor quality or have long lead times. 

Current state value stream: analysis

3. Create a future state map

Next, calculate the cycle time of your current value stream by totaling your touch time and wait time for the entire stream. Add those two figures together to get your total cycle time. 

Now take a look at your current state map and begin hypothesizing how you can reduce lead and wait times. For example, if you automate deployments, then you can reduce your deployment time from four days to six hours. 

After trimming lead times and wait times in your current state, you’re left with a new lead time overall as a percent improvement. You now have your before and after states and can begin to look at how to improve specific processes. 

This process will look different for each organization and value stream, but you can help facilitate a productive conversation by asking your team the following questions:

  • How can we increase %C/A for each step in our value stream?

  • How can we reduce wait time between steps?

  • How can we improve the quality of work in each step to cut down on re-work?

  • How can automation be used to reduce touch time?

Once you identify bottlenecks and waste in your current state, you can build out a future state VSM that reflects the optimal state at a set date in the future, such as six months or one year. 

Create an implementation plan for how you plan to achieve your future state, with specific tasks and roles assigned. Make sure your plan is measurable and there’s buy-in from each team involved in the process to ensure improvements are adopted. 

After you have your current and future value maps, you’ve reached the end of the road, right? Not quite. You should perform value stream mapping on a recurring basis to help you continuously iterate on and improve your processes.

Future state value stream: example

Value stream mapping template

Need help getting started with your VSM? Use our template as a foundation to create your own.

Value stream mapping best practices

Value stream mapping can be a daunting task—especially if it’s your first time. Below are a few tips to keep in mind as you gather your team and build out your VSM. 

  • Carve out enough time: The VSM process can be a long one. Aim to split your current state mapping and future state mapping into separate days. This can be done in person using a whiteboard and sticky notes or virtually using a tool like PowerPoint. 

  • Strive for simplicity: A convoluted and confusing current state map won’t serve your stakeholders. Aim to consolidate your process into one easy-to-digest diagram. 

  • If in doubt, map your entire stream: For first-time value stream mappers, it can be helpful to go ahead and map your entire value stream from start to finish. From there, you can hone in on a particular step that may require more attention.

  • Revisit your future stream map: Your future state is a sort of hypothesis of how manipulating certain phases within your value stream can result in faster delivery and less waste. To effectively evolve your stream, you’ll need to re-create it regularly. 

How Pluralsight Flow can help you map and manage your value stream

As the wise adage goes: You can’t manage what you don’t measure. Once you complete an initial value stream map, you’ll want to measure all process changes so you can definitively say what’s improved and what hasn’t. 

Pluralsight Flow provides in-depth visibility into team data and metrics that can make the analysis portion of your VSM that much easier. As you’re working toward that optimal future state value stream, Flow provides a streamlined view of team data over time and visualizes how you can reduce queue time to ultimately accelerate delivery. 

Ready to learn more? Schedule a demo with our team to see how you can optimize your development patterns today.

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