by Flint Brenton

How value stream mapping is Increasing business value

Sep 26, 2017
Digital TransformationIT GovernanceIT Leadership

Value stream mapping can improve customer experience and streamline your software delivery processes. Here's how.

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Credit: Thinkstock

Enterprises are under increasing pressure to drive value for the business, and the number one means to drive that value is now through the development of quality software. Perhaps it sounds simple enough, but the world of software delivery has grown increasingly complicated. With exponential numbers of tools and methods available today it can be challenging – especially for large, complex enterprises – to deliver software at scale and improve the customer experience synonymously.

What is value stream mapping?

Value stream mapping (VSM) has been around for quite some time as a Lean business practice. In recent years, we have seen this discipline help enterprises define and increase the value of their software products and ultimately have a positive influence on customer experiences. As any business owner should know, customer experience is king when it comes to capturing market share. If organizations have a way of looking at the software development lifecycle through the lens of customer experience, processes and teams can better align themselves with business priorities, even at the early stages of development.

You may be asking, how exactly do you apply VSM, and where can you use it?

Value streams make data and feedback actionable

Let’s use the automotive industry as an example. When I take my car to a dealership, frequently the highest value service they provide for my car is not changing the oil, spark plugs or tuning the timing belt – it’s downloading the software module that drives most of the operations of the car. With that being said, it’s critical for my auto manufacturer to build software as a permanent means of driving more value in their product (my car).

This means the auto manufacturer’s development and business units are under pressure to figure out what software features and functions give customers the greatest value and how to deliver it faster. But sometimes it is difficult to define where the greatest value lies. As a business executive, you may be constantly hiring people, constantly throwing money at problems through adopting new tools, and yet it is still almost impossible to determine how effective those investments are. This is where VSM comes into play. VSM is all about evaluating the tools, people and processes in the software development lifecycle, and then creating metrics by which you can measure the delivery process – both progress and areas that need improvement. As the saying goes, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure.” Putting these measurements in place and creating the dashboard to publish those measurements help companies map the value of their efforts and excel in the market quicker. In the case of the auto manufacturer, VSM will allow the organization to use data from mine and other customers’ experiences – what works and what doesn’t work – and feed that back into the software development lifecycle in order to continually create a better product. 

People are still an important asset to creating quality software

While metrics are a key factor in VSM, let’s not forget about an equally important asset: people. As leaders, what can we do to inspire our teams to help drive business value?

Many any years ago, I remember hearing the motto of a men’s clothing store: “An educated consumer is our best customer.” The best thing for me to do as a leader, whether it’s for our employees or for our own customers, is to educate them on this value stream process, and to educate them on how they can realize the value of the intellectual property that’s created by their development community. How they can realize it quickly? Make it visible.

Humans are mainly motivated by, and make decisions, based upon what we see, more so in some cases than what we hear. If you can educate your team on the value of having a process by which you create value, measure the creation process, and then get the value into the hands of the customer quickly, they understand not only the impact of that process on the company’s performance and your customer’s performance, but their own personal ability to generate net wealth. Having a well-defined process, the tools and means to deliver that, and then being able to measure the outcomes, changes behavior. Through education and reinforcement you create a rewards-based culture that transforms companies and leads to great results.