Value stream mapping (or VSM) is a lean manufacturing technique for planning and managing the flow of work, resources, and information needed to deliver a product to the customer. VSM was created by Toyota and was designed for the manufacturing industry, but it has gained popularity in continuous integration/continuous delivery (CI/CD), agile, and DevOps software development teams as well.
Value stream mapping uses a flowchart to depict various work streams and information flow, with items mapped as adding value or not adding value from the customer’s perspective. The goal is to root out any items that don’t add value to the end product, reducing waste and increasing efficiency. VSM is best used to improve processes involving repeatable steps and multiple handoffs—like agile, CI/CD, and DevOps software development.
The Benefits of Using Value Stream Mapping for Development Teams
VSM is meant to reduce waste, and in the context of software development, we mostly waste time. Typically, we waste the most time during handoffs between team members or departments. For example, a QA analyst may submit a bug report to a developer without sufficient information. The developer would then need to spend extra time hunting down the issue or communicating back and forth with the QA team. In the worst-case scenario, the developer could miss the bug entirely, leading to issues with your application in later stages of development, causing even more wasted time.
Value stream mapping helps you visualize or map out processes so you can identify how and where you’re wasting time in the software development pipeline. You’ll discover the root cause and source of the waste, allowing you to consciously improve the culture, communication, and collaboration of your teams. As a result, you’ll create a better end product that improves your company’s bottom line.
A Step-by-Step Guide to Using Value Stream Mapping
You can use value stream mapping to keep your team on track while creating a better end product for your customers. Here’s a step-by-step guide to creating your own value stream map:
Step 1: Establish Your Goal(s)
What problem are you trying to solve with your VSM? For instance, maybe you’re struggling to deliver software to your customers on time, or you want to release updates on a more consistent schedule. Establishing a clear goal for your VSM will help you focus your efforts.
Step 2: Create a VSM Team
Next, you need to identify key players in your cross-functional VSM team. You should include a representative (ideally a manager) from every department involved in the processes you’re hoping to streamline with your VSM.
Step 3: Map Your Current Processes
Now it’s time to analyze your current processes so you can map and visualize every individual step and handoff. The most accurate way to do so is to start with a fresh project and document each of the steps as they begin.
Step 4: Collect Process Data
In addition to listing the steps and processes involved in your project, you also need to collect and record process data. Your process data will include things like the number of people involved, the average number of working hours spent on each step, the total time it takes to complete a step from start to finish, wait time (time you are waiting on someone else to complete a task), and the percentage of work that’s fully complete the first time and doesn’t require any rework later on.
Step 5: Create a Timeline
Once the project you’re mapping has reached the end of the development cycle, you need to map out the amount of time spent on each step so you can determine the full timeline. This will help you visualize exactly how time is being allocated so you can determine where the waste is occurring.
Step 5: Analyze Your Value Stream Map
Now that you have a current-state map of your development cycle, it’s time to review it and analyze your processes closely. Ask yourself key questions like:
- Does this step create or detract value from the end product?
- Are there any communication bottlenecks causing delays or handoff issues?
- How long are tasks waiting in the queue before they’re addressed?
- Are there steps (such as testing) that can run in parallel, rather than consecutively?
Step 6: Create and Implement a Future Map
Once you’ve identified areas of waste in your processes, you can make a future plan to improve your efficiency. Your second VSM may not be your final version—it will likely take some trial and error to nail down, especially if it’s your company’s first time implementing value stream mapping. So, it’s less important to get your future map perfect than it is to implement it right away so you can continue documenting your processes and identifying areas you need to improve. You should then be able to reach your value stream mapping goals, and potentially apply this knowledge to other workloads and pain points within your organization.
Value Stream Mapping Keeps Your Team on Track While Creating a Better End Product
You can use value stream mapping to help reduce inefficiencies in your teams and streamline your software development lifecycle. In addition, VSM fosters a culture of continuous improvement and team collaboration, which is especially important for DevOps and CI/CD teams that need to work together quickly and efficiently to continuously deliver a high-quality end product.