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What's wrong with your value stream mapping 

Lance Knight Chief Operating Officer, ConnectALL

Over the last few decades, DevOps and agile have reached a noteworthy level of recognition: Some 80% of firms have adopted the principles of one or both at some level.

This success has been driven, at least in part, by leadership that has viewed these approaches as the silver bullet that would produce more efficient, less defect-prone software, enabling the firms to deliver greater value to internal and external users more quickly.

Unfortunately, many have discovered that outcome was not automatic.

As part of the subsequent race to overcome process inefficiencies, the concept of the value stream—and specifically value stream mapping (VSM)—was born. This lean-management method for analyzing and optimizing current states and processes, from user story to code commit and through to deployment, is amazing, in theory.

In practice, however, it often falls far short of corporate goals. Why is this?

There is nothing inherently wrong with the concept of VSM. Process efficiency is vital to the delivery of quality software. Further, the imperative for an efficient process flow is magnified for DevOps and agile teams that are developing software in rapid, successive sprints. The problem is that the value stream is being mischaracterized, and as a consequence it can't be mapped effectively.

Here's why, despite nearly a decade of value stream activity in software development, the majority of companies still can't achieve their VSM goals.

1. A silo is always a silo

A decade or more ago, software experts were already arguing that dev, test, and ops teams could not operate effectively in silos. This belief drove the concept of DevOps and is reflected in approaches, such as continuous testing, that intersperse development with testing for better outcomes.

Still, silos persist. Interspersion is not the same as integration, and no number of dev or test tools—or of talented software professionals—can ensure efficient delivery of the highest-quality software unless they are integrated under a "single pane of glass" approach.

2. People generate waste also

Organizations can identify their value stream and benchmark their processes to pinpoint unplanned waste, but eliminating value stream process waste isn’t enough. For example, if change request approvals get stuck on someone's desk due to workload backups, or if personnel don't have the backing or the know-how to run a process efficiently, no amount of mapping will expedite the value stream.

Also, people can be amazingly clueless when it comes to self-reflection and change. I have worked with firms where people were still using paper trails to record and process information that should have been computerized. Outdated, ingrained habits and methods are the enemy of lean operation at every level.

3. Defective software has no value

Value stream mapping that eliminates waste and inefficiencies from software processes without enforcing stringent, continual testing for every release cycle will not deliver value. The statistics in this area are clear, so it amazes me to see how many enterprises continue to ignore them.

Software consumers, whether organizational personnel or outside consumers, will reject defective software—period. People who are forced to use it will be frustrated and less effective at their jobs, reducing workplace productivity.

Defect resolution must be a priority, which means your testing and test tools must be integral to VSM. Anything less is an exercise in futility.

4. Security vulnerabilities are also defects

Along with eliminating as many software defects before release to production as possible, teams must also address as many security vulnerabilities as they can. The goal for both must be zero.

However, given that software vulnerabilities cause the majority of data breaches, security must be a top priority. An app feature that crashes unexpectedly will irritate users. A security vulnerability that facilitates a billion-dollar data breach will have a much more profound, negative impact on the company.

A demanding journey, but worth every step

At the end of the day, speed is becoming the new currency in software development. Pressure from users and the C suite to issue new features and fix unreliable ones can be intense. Yet software leaders, from project managers to CIOs, must not bow to pressure to maintain the status quo, rather than deal with the upheaval of change.

You must forge ahead with process, tool, and team integration and not shy away from defect resolution because it makes release cycles take longer. Be relentless in your advocacy for VSM that addresses all the fat in the value stream, no matter where it occurs.

In other words, push for a better outcome at every opportunity. Organizations must buy into an all-encompassing approach to the value stream and VSM—at every step and at every level of leadership—for your efforts to succeed.

This sounds like old news, and it is. Software professionals—including me—have been preaching these principles for years. But of the 80% of companies that have deployed DevOps at some level, 85% are not getting the value they expected. How is your company faring?

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