How value stream management can improve IT operations
Go beyond DevOps with value stream management (VSM) to understand how business value flows through IT operations. Then, monitor value-focused metrics to optimize work and align it to strategy.
Value stream management (VSM) is gaining steam and attracting more attention in the IT world as a novel approach to product strategy. Focused on measuring and improving how business value is created and delivered, VSM has a holistically transformative effect on organizations across the software development life cycle.
Here’s a definition of VSM offered in a recent white paper: "VSM is a combination of people, process, and technology that maps, visualizes, governs, and measures business value flow through software delivery pipelines. It allows companies to minimize waste, provide end-to-end visibility to all stakeholders, and promote strategic value delivery."
In terms of IT operations, VSM can have a profound impact on both the overarching business strategy and daily work. Most DevOps organizations already have mapped and documented workflows; VSM completes the picture by mapping the flow of value through these processes.
Specifically, a VSM approach to IT operations delivers benefits by:
- Encouraging the use of robust analytics and data best practices to monitor key value-indicating metrics
- Incentivizing proactive methods for reducing problems in the production environment
- Providing feedback to guide product and development strategy
- Revealing the value of IT's contributions to the organization
- Aligning strategy across organizational domains and key stakeholder groups
Visualize the value stream — then manage it through analytics
IT leaders can begin VSM by mapping all the steps in specific processes, as well as how materials and information flow through those processes. This is called value stream mapping.
You can perform value stream mapping through any method, as long as it comprehensively covers every major process. Google's cloud team suggests breaking up value streams and workflows into process blocks while noting which person or team has ownership over that particular work. Then, IT leaders can analyze overall streams, as well as individual blocks that comprise it.
"Look for process blocks that produce poor quality work, which then require a lot of downstream rework[...], and for processes that have long lead times relative to the process time," Google’s cloud team writes.
Once you have a conceptual model of organizational value, this qualitative analysis can then be backed up with objective data. Within a VSM framework, robust analytics are a vital component of monitoring how value flows throughout operations and the broader organization. The aim is to integrate all systems of record to get an accurate picture of the most vital metrics, as measured from the actual tasks people perform on a daily basis.
A central dashboard can help you integrate and explore these metrics. For example, if current app performance metrics fall short, discover which individual factors might be driving this poor performance. Then, highlight individual processes or configuration items (CIs) that have an outsized effect, and fix them.
Incentivize proactive problems resolution
A reactive problem-solving stance is a losing strategy: only responding to problems can spur a vicious cycle of unplanned work. With VSM, IT operations teams can instead be proactive and monitor change risks as well as major incident threats.
The use of analytics can empower IT teams to identify the true triggers of problems or unplanned work and proactively resolve them. Objective metrics will provide all stakeholders with a single source of truth, making the drivers of negative value obvious. For instance, if key organizational stakeholders understand that a particular coding practice generates a higher defect escape rate, then analytics can clearly demonstrate the outsized role the practice has in dragging down value. This visibility helps achieve buy-in for root-cause problem resolution.
This outcome can only happen if value-indicating metrics are made widely visible — a critical part of improving IT ops through VSM.
Provide feedback to guide product and development strategy
IT's insights — derived from VSM-driven analytics — can guide product and development strategy to produce more value, faster.
The key is to focus on the most revealing metrics. For example, tracking lead time can illustrate the need for smaller deployment sizes or more-standard change modeling. It can also reveal human practices that need optimization by highlighting which roles or teams are causing metrics to trend in the wrong direction.
Value stream mapping is important and illuminating, but simply shining a flashlight on waste won’t eliminate it.
"[I]f 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,” TechBeacon notes.
The point is that VSM can reveal better paths forward, but IT leaders have to push teams there.
Reveal the value of IT's contributions to the organization
IT is often seen as a domain that responds to someone else's work. If it can directly measure the value it creates, IT can assume a greater leadership role and more autonomy in the organization.
Without visible data, it’s commonly assumed by business leaders that IT merely preserves value and that investing in it can increase costs. With the right data, however, IT can demonstrate how it generates value. Showing the reduction in incidents or mean time to repair (MTTR) can be a tremendous first step. Taking a proactive role in resolving ongoing sources of pain or harmful disruption can further prove IT's worth.
Leveraging analytics monitoring will generate proof of IT's value creation. IT can use that to potentially have greater sway over decisions involving the tech it helps keep operational.
Align strategy across key stakeholders
Successfully implementing VSM practices involves adopting a value-oriented mindset. It’s about focusing on value streams and the business strategy they bring to life.
Visualizing value throughout every facet of the organization is neither easy nor intuitive. But once VSM takes flight, organizational domains that traditionally have had differing priorities can align. De-siloed data and value-focused analytics spanning different domains provide a single source of truth that puts everyone on the same page. This is powerful, and it can change the culture to embrace continual improvement.
Business organizations are complex. Some appendages, such as IT operations, may lack visibility into what others are doing or how their activities generate value. Done right, VSM effectively shifts mindsets from outputs to business outcomes and value creation, unifying everyone behind a common goal.
Leverage your own data for maximum value creation — check out our recent webinar made in partnership with Pink Elephant: “Driving resiliency & high velocity in your IT operations through AI-powered analytics”