Value Stream Mapping and Management

July 6, 2021    Process DevOps Agile Improving Organizations Productivity

Value Stream Mapping and Management (VSM)

At the DevOps Enterprise Summit (DOES 2021) and in Project To Product there is a lot of talk about large impacts measuring the full flow can have, compared to optimizing only development. Value Stream Mapping was referenced a lot and seems to be an important tool/process to go through to help improve organizations

The Phoenix Project had an example of mapping the Value Stream and finding the waste. After covering a whiteboard with sticky notes to visualize their work. They realized that they had massive waiting times because Brent was the bottleneck for all things.

What is Value?

Value is hard to define as it depends on the product and company. What does the customer need? How do we make things “Sooner, Safer, Happier” (reduce tech debt, security risks, performance, reliability, less stress)?

Triple Bottom Line defines value as “an outward focus on the customer, economic, societal and environmental outcomes”. [5 and]

Mark Schwartz’s Art of Business Value goes in depth on what value is. It’s hard to define and different for every organization. For profit orgs may look at revenues and customer usage, non-profits will look at how they are achieving their mission. Even bureaucracy and process have value for the organizations.

My post: Economics-Agile-dotNetRocks

What is a Value Stream?

My definition: All the steps that are needed to turn an idea into a value producing product. This will span across multiple teams and areas.

"the end-to-end flow of all the software delivery work that creates, and protects, business value" [1, pg 4]	

"It is why you are doing what you are doing." [5]	

“Key is that a value stream should be end to end and ideally with as few dependencies as possible.” [5, under section Pattern 1: End to end Flow, really you should read the full article :-)]

The Microsoft Learn module gives a good introduction to VSM, what it is and how you can use this on a team to improve the overall flow.

What is Value Stream Management/Mapping (VSM)?

# Value Stream Mapping- an introduction and example - 3 minute introduction, it’s not just for software development

“Value streams are aligned to your products, service and how you interact with your customers” [6, min 3]

The flow of features, defects, risks and debts through the system is what we need to focus on, measure and use. [3, min 19]

  • Systems thinking [1]
  • “When it comes to accelerating customer value, it’s dangerous to focus only on the development and delivery of a digital product.” [1, pg 8]
  • “vizualization tool with roots in lean engineering” [4, min 1]

“If Agile and DevOps defined the past two decades in software delivery, value stream management (VSM) will surely define this one.” [1, pg 3]

DevOps Is Part of a Bigger Picture (Waterfall -> Agile -> DevOps -> Value Streams)

1, figure 1, General Example [1, figure 1, General Example]

It can get complicated. Here’s an example from TaskTop.

VSM Measure [2]

Benefits of knowing the Value Stream

  • Optimize and organize work
  • Align strategy, funding and budgeting with execution [6, min 6]
  • Identify Waste
  • Visualize work
  • Data driven decisions in the Board room
  • “A tremendous accelerator” [4, min 4]
  • Optimizing Development only is not enough [5, search for ‘We’re so’ and keep reading]
  • DOES 2021 - Dr. Strear had a story about improving vaccine creation and clinic performance by looking at the flow and improving communication.
  • Putting the business next to the teams cut down by 8 weeks example [2, 15 minutes]

VSM helps by[6, min 5]

VSM Key idea [4, min 3]

You can improve the whole organization. Here’s an example from DOES 2021 from Dr. Strear’s Leadership Lessons Learned From Improving Flow In Hospital Settings using Theory of Constraints (you’ll need a an account, but get several free views per month).

How do we identify a value stream?

Paula Thrasher at DOES 2020 walked through the steps below [4].

  1. Choose something “Recent, Real, Reach, Representative, Road-Tested”
  2. Identify the people
  3. Place Activities on a timeline (sticky notes)
  4. Have the conversation, get all the parts of the organization together (most important)
  5. Identify the wastes
  6. Prioritize Waste (focus, “most annoying waste award”)
  7. Countermeasure Brainstorm (current, future, measure… similar to OKRs)
  8. Baby Steps (How Broad / Bounded / Effort / Difficult?)
  9. Repeat (measure, learn, improve) “You probably don’t need to do this for every team”

Steps from [4, min 5 to 20]

Getting Started [2]


Azure DevOps Thought

I’m not sure if value can be measured at an organization level in a useful matter without a tool like Tasktop Viz.

I think tags and queries could be enough for smaller teams to help measure some of the value stream, but would be focusing on only the development side. It would miss the other tools used by support and other areas.

I imagine adding tags for Risk and Debt. User Stories and Bugs already exist. Queries could help identify if a certain category is growing more quickly. This would require all those types of work to be entered, which would be a good thing and make work more visible at the same time.

This would miss parts of the value stream, since support and others would have information in other places.


I hope this increases your interest in value streams and you have much success in improving your organization. There is much more to learn about in the references below.

note: I don’t have an affiliation with TaskTop. I’ve been impressed by Project to Product, talks from Dr. Mik Kersten and the demos I’ve seen.


[1] TaskTop’s Age-Of-VSM.pdf

[2] Project to Product: Practical Realities at a Large Scale Enterprise - Nationwide & Tasktop 2018

[3] Dr. Mik Kersten - Project to Product - How Value Stream Networks Will Transform IT & Business (Las Vegas 2018)

[4] Interactive Virtual Value Stream Mapping - Visualizing Flow in a Virtual World (Las Vegas 2020) - Paula Thrasher @paula_thrasher

[5] Agility: Build the right thing - Jonathan Smart

[6] From PMO to VMO: Accelerate your Transformation with Tasktop Viz™ , The last half is a pitch for Tasktop’s software tools

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