Any business that interacts with customers should recognise the importance of providing value. Without demonstrable, quantifiable value, customers fail to make the transition from buyer to enthusiast. However, as markets grow and audiences discover ever more purchasing options, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to create value propositions that stand out from the crowd. Value stream management and value stream mapping may offer the solution.
Value stream mapping (VSM) is a subset of value stream management, which is the process of integrating every aspect of your business workflow—the end-to-end process of developing and delivering software to your clients. Value stream management operates in a continuous cycle starting with the feedback from clients that drives demand, and ending with the operational management of the features that support that demand, which in turn drives new feedback. This business workflow is supported by the integration of technical solutions at every step of the way, from prioritising and planning to building, testing and deploying, and onto operational and service management.
But integration only describes the mechanics of value stream mapping; true value comes from value—customer value, specifically. Workflow has to be able to optimise the flow of value to the client, and by extension, the business. Additionally, effective VSM helps identify and resolve the bottlenecks, viewing your business as an integrated stream, not a series of individual points. Value stream mapping describes the reporting aspects of value stream management.
Mapping places value front and centre throughout the entire development and delivery process. Taking the form of highly-visual flowcharts, VSM uses symbols and directional arrows to represent work tasks and information flows. But where VSM differs from traditional flowcharts is in its focus on value. Every item associated with every step in the process is quantified as adding (or not adding) value, as seen from the customer’s view point. The business may then review, revise or reconsider those tasks that do not add obvious customer value.
Value stream mapping is a part of the Lean approach to business—maximising value while minimising waste. Lean defines ‘value’ as anything that the customer is willing to pay for. This includes relevant services, products, features, support etc. Waste describes steps or aspects of the process that customers are not interested in paying for, such as defects, wait time, low-value features, unnecessary documentation or approval processes, task switching and searching for information.