Getting Started with Value Stream Mapping


by Daniel Breston
October 4, 2017

I remember when someone came to me and said, “We need your IT service management (ITSM) experience to help a bank.” “Yeah! I have many years in financial services and also in ITSM,” I responded. “Fine,” they said. “Now we need you on this assignment to use some lean techniques to help them improve how they create, manage, and use technology. Oh, and if you’re not successful, the bank will fail. You have 18 months. Good luck!”

Sounds like a script from Mission Impossible! Well, for me, it was as my first question was, “What’s lean? What’s a lean technique?” The world I then discovered, and which has since been embraced by DevOps, was truly revealing and life changing. It all starts with people and what they do to help find and solve problems. It continues with leaders helping people to find those problems and solve them, not by showing them how, but by letting the people doing the work discover the best way for them, one small step at a time.

Value Stream Mapping

My lean coach was like those martial arts coaches that give you a challenge you do not understand, disappear for a long time, come back, and slap you on the head. Then, when you return again, they smile and say good job. Now go to the next level!
Value Stream Mapping is sort of like that, creating a way of learning that:

  • Gets us to agree where we think we are
  • Gets us to review in terms of time, quality, and some other simple measures where we really are
  • Gets us to think about the future way that we want to work (time, quality, resources, automation)
  • Gets us to create a series of experiments or steps that are quick to see if we can get to this state by removing one problem at a time or by learning one new thing to help move forward on our journey

Think about a stream of water that then turns into a river. Over time that river gets clogged. You have to remove the obstacles to get it flowing again. But like all good rivers, it probably has several places where it has become slow. If we remove the wrong obstacle, then the flow does not materially change. In fact, we can make it worse. So how do we make the river flow in the best possible way?

This is the beauty of a Value Stream Mapping exercise. There is no one way or correct way. Each situation will be unique. The right people at the right time need to find a way to work together to resolve the issues. Value Stream Mapping has been called the best leadership, collaboration, and problem-solving technique ever. I agree fully. But there are tips and warning hazards that must be obeyed, and I recommend using the following advice:

  • Set your vision (Charter).
  • Spend a good day looking at what happens currently (time, resources, meetings, reports, and technology—but ignore cost for now).
  • Avoid going into solution or idea mode during the current review as you may make local improvements but not impact the entire stream, and this is the goal—that whatever you improve must improve the flow of the entire stream.
  • Be brave, think small, try things, and check it over again in two weeks. Then rinse and repeat the cycle.
  • Remember this is a management exercise. DO NOT delegate it. You’ll be surprised at what you discover.

Value Stream Mapping Exercise

So what do you need to do as part of a Value Stream Mapping exercise? Well the first thing you need is something you want to improve, for example:

  • The onboarding process of new employees
  • Incident escalation
  • A high-level business continuity process
  • Your change approval process
  • Your annual budget process
  • Data protection rules coming into force (GDPR, in Europe)

Now you need:

  • 3–4 days of the senior managers involved in the chosen scenario (this can be 2 days one week and 2 days the next, but no further apart)
  • A room with a wall large enough for 5 flip chart papers to hang together
  • A bunch of various sized Post-it notes
  • A strong facilitator
  • A willing executive sponsor

There is a process and script that I will suggest in future posts, but for now you must appreciate that these managers have rarely, if ever, all been together to actively discuss a stream of work. Furthermore, the executive sponsor is going to ask them to repeat these meetings every two weeks at least. The outcome of the work performed could impact the competitive, financial, regulatory, customer attraction, and retention of your organization, so this is a quite serious exercise.

Value Stream Mapping is about collaboration and improvement. It is a way to get the organization to agree to change the way they look at an activity and coach instead of direct the people that do that activity daily. ITSM or DevOps blended with a Scrum technique (yes there is a product owner) can help you focus on how to use your resources (people, suppliers, and technology) to make you better, faster, and safer and to ultimately save money.

Do you have an activity that is not flowing well?

Value Stream Mapping is about collaboration and improvement.
Tweet: Value Stream Mapping is about collaboration and improvement. @DanielBreston @ThinkHDI #ITSM


Daniel Breston is an IT director with experience in large international financial services organizations. With a passion for ITSM, his success is a result of his ability to combine practices from Agile, Lean, ToC, and DevOps. Daniel is a frequent speaker at events, and he coaches leaders at all levels on how to best use technology to enable business goals and remove business obstacles. Follow Daniel on Twitter @DanielBreston.


Tag(s): supportworld, service management, ITSM, IT service management, collaboration

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