Project Management

Improving Value Streams

From the Manifesting Business Agility Blog
This blog concerns itself with organizations moving to business agility—the quick realization of value predictably and sustainably, and with high quality. It includes all aspects of this—from the business stakeholders through ops and support. Topics will be far-reaching but will mostly discuss FLEX, Flow, Lean-Thinking, Lean-Management, Theory of Constraints, Systems Thinking, Test-First and Agile.

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Is it “bashing”, “criticism”, or “negative feedback”?

Value streams are the flow of work from start to realized value. The Lean mantra "flow when you can, pull when you must" sums up how you'd like work to take place in a value stream. Anything that slows down the work (hand offs, handbacks, waiting for someone) is not a good thing. This is why Lean suggests looking at delays in workflow and feedback. These delays typically cause waste.

Delays in workflow usually appear as:

  1. A handback in a value stream
  2. The need for someone’s help who is not available – either because they are in another value stream or because people within a particular value stream are not coordinating well

Value streams can be improved by:

  1. Keeping work within the capacity of the people in the value stream
  2. Allocating people to a value stream so that are available as needed – note, when not possible, use a kanban system to manage the work to be done by these people
  3. Attend to the workflow in a value stream so that people don’t need to wait for each other (e.g., have cross-functional teams)
  4. Have a workflow where handbacks aren’t required (e.g., test-first)

Value streams also provide a way to see how work in one part of it effects work in other parts.

Note: SAFe has redefined value streams to some extent.

In lean, the term "value stream" means "the set of actions that take place to add value to a customer from the initial request through realization of value by the customer. The value stream begins with the initial concept, moves through various stages for one or more development teams (where Agile methods begin), and on through final delivery and support."

You don't define them, they represent what is. You can, of course, define what you'd like them to be and to take actions to improve them. It's important to refer to value streams as "what is" and "ideal" or "what we want" value streams as something we want to create. Then we can see what steps we need to take to improve our value streams. 

One last point. In an article on value streams, SAFe claimed:

"By their very nature, value streams are long-lived and generally independent of each other"

This is not correct.  The major cause of multi-tasking is that value streams overlap with each other (not independent). And project thinking has them be short-lived.

Posted on: March 04, 2020 08:58 PM | Permalink

Comments (10)

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good discussion...I know of one world class firm where senior management is talking about replacing projects with value streams

Al. Glad to hear it. Are these folks using SAFe? Projects already have value streams. I think what you mean, is to shift from project thinking to product thinking and have one group of people be allocated to working on projects that relate to products.

I suggest talking about value streams the way you just did makes it harder to understand what they are. SAFe's value streams refer to the people doing the work (as they talk about ARTs). But it obscures the fact that value streams going through ARTs, even if longstanding, aren't very effective - or at least aren't nearly as effective as if they were decomped into independent value streams.

I am not able to get as how projects will get replaced with value streams. Wouldn't that mean to provide resources on T&M basis? Can someone give me link which explains a little bit more in detail?

The link given above is not valid (incomplete)

Someone asked for some references on value streams
I've written a lot about value streams since they form the basis of FLEX - FLow for Enterprise Transformation.

I fixed the link. Thanks for pointing that out.

I take it your question was to Al Taylor, as projects already have value streams. SAFe is the only approach I know that talks about it the way he was referring to it - which was why I asked him that question.

hey everyone....I was just being the cub reporter around this; relaying what I heard the Global CIO of a world class financial services firm tell his team "We will see 300 projects evolve into 40 value streams"

understood. I wasn't trying to shoot the messenger. :) Now, what they could mean that would be good, is that they'd consolidate these 300 projects into 40 workstreams, thereby not having 300 projects going on at anyone time. that would make sense. but then you're not replacing the projects with value streams, fewer projects are going on at anyone time (having only 40 value streams).

and thanks for the clarification. perhaps a better way to say this is that "we're consolidating 300 projects each now in their own value stream into 40 value streams by having them go through in sequence"

It may sound like a subtle difference, but it affects how you think about value streams. Need to cogitate on this a little more ;)
thanks again.

that sounds great Al....well said!

Thanks for the post, great education on value streams.

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