There is a lot of talk these days about value stream management. Much of the hype is about getting the right VSM Platform. It’s about the tooling. I try to cut through the hype in my post “What Value Stream Management Isn’t.”  In that post I make the point that value streams exist whether you are aware of them or not. You don’t have to understand what value stream management is to have them. A thought I want to explore here is that it’s difficult to manage your value streams effectively if you can’t see them, can’t comprehend them, or aren’t aware of them.

What helps?

  • Value stream mapping
  • Make work visible
  • The Kanban Method
  • Someone tasked with the duty to manage the value stream

In every organization, there is someone who understands how work gets done in that org, in part if not in whole: the flow of materials or product, or the flow of information and work orders. The CIO is likely to understand the big picture, but is less likely to understand the details of how one particular team is using Scrum or Kanban. One person might understand intake from sales prospects. Another might understand intake from support. Another might understand the process of ideation, solutioning, hypothesis development, and prioritization through product management. Another, the release/sprint planning and development processes. And so on.

Therefore, the value stream is in the eye of the beholder. Value streams, being abstractions, can overlap or be composed of other value streams. For example, there is a high-level abstraction of the value stream for an entire product or product line that is composed of (usually) more detailed abstractions of value streams at lower levels in the org. Examples of the lower-level abstractions might be the product ideation process and the engineering process.

Given that different people have different views of the value streams, and potentially conflicting improvement objectives, it is good to put some effort into a shared vision of these streams and alignment on improvement goals. Alignment on goals will be in a future article. For this, I’m going to focus on getting a shared understanding of the streams in the first place.

Value stream mapping
A lot has been written about value stream mapping, including this blog post: The Value in Value Stream Mapping. It’s great if you can get a few people, who care, in the room to do the mapping. Some orgs don’t have many people with the interest or the time to do such a thing. If that’s the case, do it yourself. Ask questions. Show your map to other people along the way. When I’ve had to do it this way, I’ve found that purposefully putting in something that I know is wrong (whe