Value Stream Mapping — The Secret Ingredient that your Agile Team is Missing

Have you ever been asked one of the following questions?

  1. What’s the value of adopting Agile?
  2. What’s the ROI for Agile?
  3. Why should we bother with Agile if it can’t save us money?

How do you typically respond to these tough questions? I would guess that you may have replied with one of the following:

  1. Agile improves team collaboration and efficiency
  2. Agile improves product quality which improves customer satisfaction
  3. Agile enhances transparency which enables us to improve process efficiency and customer engagement

All of these could be reasonable responses. However, I believe that the questions I posed earlier are difficult because more than likely, your Agile implementation strategy is missing a key ingredient: Value Stream Mapping.

Have you every tasted a home-cooked meal that you cooked using a new recipe that you haven’t experimented with previously? Does it often feel bland or missing something? I admit that I’m not a chef by any stretch of the imagination, but the analogy here is that when we attempt to apply a new tool or a new method of doing some type of work, we often get a “gut feel” that something is not quite right. Coders use an interesting term to describe this: “code smells”. Sometimes we intuitively feel that something is off, even though everything may appear to be just fine.

The same goes with adoption of Agile practices for a team that may be new to this way of working. From my experience, a common cause of this is the lack of understanding of how value is delivered to the customer; there are many definitions of the Value Stream concept, but in this context, we will define this as the process flow that the team applies to build/test/deliver some type of service or product that provides business value to the end user (or customer).

Why is the Value Stream so important? First, adopting Agile typically spawns from a desire to improve quality and/or time to market, which ultimately improves customer satisfaction, which in turn leads to higher revenue, larger market share, lower cost of operation…the list goes on. At the end of the day, the team’s goal is to deliver tangible value as quickly as possible, but this is not possible without analyzing how work is done and understanding where the bottlenecks exist. Optimization (or elimination) of bottlenecks is how most Agile teams will usually improve work efficiency and derive value more quickly.

More often than not, I observe that most Agile adoption initiatives follow one of the two extreme ends of the spectrum: excessive rigor or lack of rigor. Neither is a good approach in this case. By applying Value Stream Mapping process, the team can gain a better understanding of how the team is currently failing, and strive towards a better, more efficient state at some point in the near future. Most teams are eager to jump on the Scrum or Kanban bandwagon and skip this critical step, primarily because very few frameworks and models specifically provide this guidance. While doing Scrum or Kanban well can provide benefits, it would be highly challenging to fully realize the potential of your team without the aid of Value Stream Mapping.

Scoping the Value Stream is not an easy task. Hence, I highly recommend that you consult with an experienced Agile Coach to guide your team through this process. Once you experience it a few times, you will be ready to incorporate this new ingredient into your increasingly more sophisticated soup of Agile techniques!