August 8, 2022

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Value Stream Management: The practice that finally unites business and IT

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Some 86% of respondents to a Broadcom survey on value stream management indicated they are not doing value stream management right now.

To that, Lance Knight would say, “Yes, you are. You just don’t know it yet.”

Knight, the COO of value stream platform provider ConnectALL, said if a company is already evaluating their processes and looking for areas of improvement, they’re on the path. Adding the use of tools for value stream management and metrics is important to help you be more efficient at managing your value stream.

For companies creating software – from ideation to production, or code to cloud – they have to make sure there is value in every step of the delivery process, whether the company is measuring those steps in terms of business value or customer experience or financial performance.

RELATED CONTENT: A guide to value stream management tools

And Chandra Ranganathan, co-founder and CEO of the no-code DevOps orchestration platform provider Opsera, said in each of those stages there are multiple tools and multiple processes that coordinate the multiple functions that take software from the idea into the hands of the customer.

But the question, he posited, is, “How do you orchestrate all of that in a way that provides the maximum value at every step of the process, and you identify the bottlenecks, the risks, the defects, and remove them right in in an automated and proactive manner?”

That, he said, is what the DevOps value stream is. 

Joining the business and IT

Ranganathan said there is an extension of the value stream that involves integrating development activity into the company’s objectives and the customer experience.

And value stream management, according to Broadcom’s chief transformation officer Laureen Knudsen, “it’s the first time we’re tying together the top-tier (business) strategy and flowing work and people, through to customer value. And then there’s the feedback of whether or not you provided that customer value.”

For the past 20 years, organizations have worked to gain agility first in development and then through the entire organization. Then DevOps began about 15 years ago. That, Knudsen said, was about getting the operations piece cemented in. “And it’s the business now that needs to come in,” she said. “And everybody is being judged in the same way, on the same goals with the same objectives, rather than being siloed. And that’s the only way to flow things.”

Dominik Rose, VP of Product, Value Stream Management at enterprise architecture software provider LeanIX, has spent many years in his career trying to close the gap between business and IT. “We’re used to seeing that business and IT are not necessarily aligned,” he said. “Looking at it from a software engineer perspective, it’s crazy times.”

On the one hand, he said, if you look into software engineering, you see an industry rapidly advancing in the notion of project to product, using DORA metrics, cloud-native technology and power teams. “There’s so much fun and influence that you can have as a great software engineer today,” Rose said.

But, he continued, the demand on engineering departments is also increasing. “All of a sudden, you need not only to deal with technology, you need to deal with understanding the business,” he said. “And you need to deal with people saying, ‘Can’t we do this with low code? Can we do this with RPA? Do we need the developers?’” The divide between business and IT is still there. And the bridge-building between helping business people to understand what IT is doing and helping IT people to understand what’s important for business, is still there, he noted. “I told my team after a really, really successful week, that we said we want five new customers. And I almost apologized for, hey I’m the business guy. I’m looking into sales. And I need to educate you that this is what’s paying our salary at the end of the day. It’s having this translator function all the time when I talk about things like this.”

Many people agree that you can’t simply buy a tool and suddenly you’re implementing value stream management. So if there’s no magic bullet for getting it done, the question is, ‘How do you begin?’

Everbridge’s Prashant Darisi said, “We always start with the three P’s: people, then process, then product.” First, it’s important to get everyone in the organization on board with the effort, from the top down, he said. Second, evaluate your processes, to see where things can be done differently, or better, or faster, to be able to accommodate the need for faster delivery. Finally, he said, you need to evaluate your product, to see if that’s what the customers want. “First you have to nail it, then you can scale it,” Darisi said. 

First: People

Value stream management is a human endeavor, Knight often says. “Everybody’s saying we’ve got our value stream management solution. We have a value stream management platform. Yes, sure. But what does it do? It helps the human see, measure and automate. You still need to adopt the principles and understand what you want to do.”

Yet purists like Knight suggest value stream management does not require a massive culture change within an organization to implement it. “This is mapping the value stream, understanding flow, finding waste, and presenting visibility into how things are working. It’s not, ‘we’re in the middle of a culture change.’ This is very black and white, very straightforward.”

Others suggest you can’t achieve value stream success without getting all hands on board with the practice. Everbridge’s Darisi said, start with a culture of training – and it has to be from the CEO down. “How many organizations I’ve been part of where the vice president of engineering or operations or SRE will say, we are adopting this new framework, right? And here’s the methodology we will use, and businesses, we need to do this portfolio management. Then the CEO says, ‘Stop all this nonsense. I want this released by this month.’ So that’s not how we do it. So when I say people, it has to be organization-wide. Then the processes have to be organizational wide, then the products have to be applicable organization wide.”  

Second: Process

Opsera’s Ranganathan said once an organization has embraced a culture of automation, that drives collaboration across multiple teams by reducing risk and costs while increasing speed.

The focus, he said, is to “focus more on business-driven metrics versus just technical metrics. There are metrics like DORA, but how do you piece all of those insights together in a way that actually gives you actionable intelligence that’s aligned to business goals and customer experience? And then there is a closed loop of understanding … did those metrics get met or exceeded? If not, what happened? And, can you insert that back into your product development or SDLC process?”

COVID-19, he continued, has accelerated multicloud for many mainstream enterprises who have stayed away from cloud in the past. They’re adopting cloud-native technologies such as Kubernetes and serverless. All that, Ranganathan said, “just becomes complicated for them. How do they deliver software in that ecosystem, so they can do it fast and stay competitive? So they have to now look at other things like shifting left of security and quality in the software delivery process, and to now have insights across the entire ecosystem so you can stay ahead of the curve in a way that you can have predictive insights.” 

This leads to companies using many tools in their SDLC to deliver software, and integrating them in a way that leads to greater insights is vital to value stream management. “

Third: Product

LeanIX’s Rose said IT leaders ask him what value stream management is. “I say, OK, project to product. And I come with Lean management and all the great books there, and they understand what I’m talking about. But this term, value stream management, still doesn’t ring a bell for them.”

Of course, as defined in Mik Kersten’s seminal work, “Project to Product,” it’s a shift in mindset from technical output to business outcome, releasing products that align with customer needs and not simply working on technical projects because you can.

To do that, organizations need first to align product developers with business sales and marketing, to ensure a successful delivery.

Broadcom’s Knudsen said, “I mean if you release a product that is sort of like ‘if a tree falls in the forest and nobody hears it, does it make a sound?’ If you release a product and nobody knows about it, you lose. It doesn’t matter how cool it is.”

What’s next for VSM?

There is a lot of messaging regarding value streams and management these days, as analysts and pundits are calling it the evolution of DevOps. But consultants often have different messaging from vendors, and journalists report different – and often seemingly inconsistent – efforts from the field. This mixed messaging could also be responsible for preventing some organizations from even putting a toe in the water.

“We have to stop confusing people,” ConnectALL’s Knight said. “We have to find a way to continue the evangelical stuff. From an industry, we, all of us trying to play in this space, need to say, ‘This is what it is.’ And until that happens, it’s going to remain fractionalized.”

Defining value

In many organizations, one of the first steps to take to derive value from their efforts is to define what value means to them. 

And to define that value, there are at least four pieces of information you need, according to Broadcom’s chief transformation officer Laureen Knudsen: It’s the value you want to create, the feature or service you’re going to create, the metrics you want to judge that value by, and the telemetry you need to gather those metrics. “All four pieces need to be built into the plan from the start, in order to get that value and see whether or not you’re getting it.”

Knudsen said starting in strategy, and not in DevOps, is so important. “We’re talking to customers who are saying, ‘My click rate’s going up. Is that good?’ Well, it’s an insurance app, so is that good? No. But it’s a valid question,” she gave as an example. “They don’t know, they’re just now getting click rates, because that was one of those things that the data people put in and the ops people could grab it.” Her point is that it’s critical to plan all that from the beginning, and then letting that flow through your work.

Another key piece in defining value is defining who the customer is. ConnectALL’s COO Lance Knight said, “People are stuck on the word value. And they’re also stuck on the word customer. Who’s the customer?” If, say, a company refines its value stream to take 20% of waste out of its marketing process so it can afford to spend more marketing dollars with, say, SD Times, who’s the customer? “Value to the company is different than the value to the customer. So until you can define who’s the receiver of the value,” Knight said, you won’t know if you’re delivering value.

Everbridge’s Prashant Darisi, VP and GM for CEM for Business Solutions, said, “You remember this five years ago, vendors would put it on their sheet, three nines availability, four nines availability, and five nines availability, and they would fight on it. And now the customers are saying, ‘Well, duh!’” Now they want to know if the product is easier to use, and if it’s intuitive. So, Darisi said, “I think what’s changing here and what’s driving these concepts, is that one common theme has emerged. That is, what is your customer experience, because that has now become the key driver for purchasing decisions. So if you want revenue, then you have to innovate. If you have to innovate, then you have to focus on the value that you’re delivering to the customer.” 

Why adopt value stream?

Change is hard. Organizations don’t change just for the sake of change; they change because they are unhappy with the status quo. “Why does anybody change,” asked Everbridge’s VP and GM for CEM for Business Solutions Prashant Darisi. “I mean, any 12- step process on this planet – self-help improvement, alcohol or drug addiction_ every 12-step process starts with the first step of being dissatisfied with where you are right now.”

Perhaps the competition is delivering products faster. Or, your company spent three months on design but the level of defect being seen is almost the same. Or, by the time you deliver the product, the customer has changed their mind, or they have a new idea. “It’s fruitless to have a battle about, ‘Oh, we should all change,’” Darisi said. “It’s the same as saying everybody has a car, so I should have a car too. But I have no commute. So I think it needs to start with a simple thing: identification of, is this where you want to be? Is this how you can go where you want to go?” 

So value stream delivery means having the capabilities, through integrated capabilities or the connection of different tools, to do continuous integration, continuous testing, continuous security or deployment. “Those are the tools that are typically called value stream delivery,” said Opsera’s co-founder and CEO Chandra Ranganathan. “Value stream management is to be able to extract the insights from all of these tools that enable delivery, and to provide insights that can then allow you to add business value – understand what’s working, what’s not working, and what can be optimized.”

The holy grail of predictability

Being predictable is a big challenge in software development these days, what with moving requirements, technology decisions changing and people moving on or being moved around.

“How many times have you heard somebody say, ‘Oh, I take the estimate from my engineering team, and then I triple it?’” ConnectALL’s COO Lance Knight said. “Because it’s not predictable. Imagine if they said they’re going to have this done at that time, and here’s why they feel that based upon these metrics, the analysis, the flow – all of that right now I know.”

The problem with being unpredictable is that you can’t efficiently rally the right resources. One of the biggest of those problems, Knight said, is people who are waiting on this thing to be delivered so they can do their jobs – marketing or sales or whatever. “They’re standing around doing nothing if it’s not ready, or if it’s done too soon, their campaign isn’t totally thought out yet,” he explained.” Now you have a product that’s sitting there that nobody’s actually pushing out. That, in itself, is the value.”

While value stream management isn’t the be-all and end-all to getting to predictability, Knight said, it gives you more information and gets you closer and more knowledgeable about what it’s going to take to accomplish something and it makes you closer to being predictable.

 

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