Would you be surprised to learn that many people who participate in getting an idea to market are not very aware of all of the steps it takes to get it to the customer? People know their sliver of work well but when asked if they know where in the full process their slice lives, it can be a bit challenging to pin it down. One solution is to apply Value Stream Mapping (VSM) to gain that end-to-end view.
Value Stream Mapping is a lean method for mapping an end-to-end flow of a product or service from the idea to the delivery to the customer. It represents all of the activities required to transform a customer request into a product or service. More importantly it is a way to optimize your flow through understanding what the state is today and then incrementally improving it over time to reduce waste and achieve faster delivery. It is a means to help you optimize the value being delivered to the customer by creating a value stream that indicates what is value and what is waste.
Having applied Value Stream Mapping a number of times, the first benefit is it makes people aware that they are part of a much larger value stream than they thought. People start to realize that there are more upstream and downstream steps and interdependencies than they thought. It can be quite an eye-opener for some.
The next benefit is that it highlights the end-to-end flow of work, not just the development work. Some folks like to highlight only the development work and fail to realize that there are activities occurring prior to and after development. An example is that if you are applying a yearly planning process, an idea or customer request may sit in the planning pipeline for upwards of half-a-year. This is a very slow way to get an idea to market. An end-to-end view ensures we visualize the full picture starting with an idea or request and then understand the amount of time it can take to get it to market.
Another benefit is that now we visualize the end-to-end view of the work, we can identify the value-added and non-value added steps as well as the waste (e.g., wait) states. It becomes much easier to become aware of the value and non-valued steps and waste when the big picture is in front of us.
And most importantly it provides us an opportunity to incrementally improve. Now that we are aware of the end-to-end value stream and we know what steps are value and where is there waste, it is time to experiment with incrementally improving the process. The primary goal of the incremental improvement is to increase the process cycle efficiency and reduce the lead-time from the idea or customer request to delivery.
Process cycle efficiency is a number that represents the efficiency of your lead-time (concept to cash). It is a summation of all value-added time divided by that same value-added time + all of the wait/waste time. A process efficiency example is while the value-add steps takes 115 minutes and the full processing time takes 2275 minutes, then you divide 115 by 2275 or 5%. The goal is to look for those incremental areas of improvement.
How does this help in an Agile environment? If a goal in Agile is to get an increment of value to market quicker, then by identifying waste in your end-to-end value stream, and removing it, can reduce the time to get that value to market. Value Stream Mapping is yet another tool in your Agile toolkit. Consider learning more about Value Stream Mapping and experimenting with it for incremental improvement.