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Project to Product Shift, Value Stream Management

An Executive’s Perspective on VSM: Best Practices for Moving from Project to Product

Learn how leaders from healthcare and financial services made the journey from project to product.

Published By Michelle Wong
An Executive’s Perspective on VSM: Best Practices for Moving from Project to Product

Shifting from project to product and implementing value stream management requires buy-in across the organization, including senior executives. At this year’s Planview Accelerate Customer Conference, senior leaders from healthcare and financial services answered questions about their decisions to start this journey, how it affected value delivery in their organization, and what they recommend to organizations that are just starting on their transformations. 

The panel discussion included Russell Moss, VP and Divisional Technology Officer, Technical Delivery and Support at HCSC, Darrell Fernandes, former Head of Project Technologies at TIAA, and Emily Kelsey, Strategic Account Manager at Planview. 

How Their Project to Product Journey Began 

Five years ago, Moss started leading the shift from Project to Product at HCSC. He started by creating stable, cross-functional teams, each focused on a single product value stream. This structure replaced a project-based model where work was planned a year in advance. Planning was also accompanied by elaborate roadmaps and budgets.  

In the spirit of continuous improvement, Moss soon set out to get feedback from each of the product managers. When asked how their teams were doing with the new product-oriented model, each manager had the same response: “We’re not doing great, but I feel confident that my team’s the best.”  

In short, the product managers had no grasp on their performance. In a quest for greater visibility and quantitative measurements, Moss began to experiment with value stream management (VSM).  

Over at TIAA, Fernandes faced a similar lack of visibility. TIAA’s mandate is to help those who teach, heal, and serve to achieve financial well-being. As a non-profit organization, providing value to customers is always their highest priority, but it’s challenging to know which investments or changes will have the greatest impact on customers. The need to align work with customer value is what drove Fernandes to focus his energies on VSM.  

How VSM Drives Continuous Improvement 

In today’s economy, VSM is more important than ever. The industry is experiencing what Fernandes calls “a war for talent,” with many organizations facing a shortage of resources or skilled employees. Given the scarcity of talent, IT organizations need to “optimize like crazy.” That’s where VSM comes in.  

At HCSC and TIAA, value stream management has helped executives find bottlenecks, invest more intentionally, experiment safely with changes to workflows, and foster a unified, value-driven culture across the business and IT organizations.  

Recommended Read: Transitioning from Project to Product with the Flow Framework 

For Darrell, one of the biggest benefits of VSM is that it provides the necessary visibility to make decisions about resource allocation. He uses Planview’s VSM solution to locate bottlenecks in value streams and find out where investments will have the greatest impact.  

“I think [VSM] is helping us as managers and leaders to understand where challenges lie within teams,” says Fernandes. Knowing which teams need help allows him to be “very strategic and surgical” about where he applies talent and resources.  

VSM also helps Fernandes improve predictability and consistency by providing a baseline and supplying real-time data on where work is piling up. With this visibility into his team’s work-in-progress, it’s easy to experiment with things like work-in-progress (WIP) limits and structural changes to improve baselines.  

How VSM Bridges the Communication Gap Between Teams 

In addition to efficiency gains, Moss also noticed a positive shift in organizational culture: “One of the things we identified early on is by starting to implement the Flow Framework and making product managers and teams think about value… it improved their partnership with colleagues who were counting on that value.”  

Flow Metrics make it easy for business leaders to understand what’s happening in each value stream; they act as a common language that bridges the communication gap that can exist between business and IT.  

“I’m on a journey to eliminate IT people using ‘business’ to describe ‘they’ instead of ‘business’ to describe ‘us’” says Moss. With Planview Viz®, Flow Metrics can be displayed alongside business results so that executives, product managers, and developers can see the direct impact of their work on business outcomes.  

Moss concludes, “in a digital world, [uniting IT and business] could not be more important to the survival of the organization.” 

Tips for Managing Change 

VSM goes hand-in-hand with an IT product model. One of the biggest challenges when implementing VSM is changing organizational culture, i.e., getting everyone on board with product-based IT, aligning teams to product value streams, and sustaining morale throughout the change.  

Moss and Fernandes had a few pieces of advice on how to initiate and manage the change: 

  1. Get buy-in throughout the organization. Not just from other executives, but from product managers and teams, too. To get support for VSM, Moss brought in knowledge experts and executives from Planview to talk to HCSC’s leadership team.  
  1. Start small. Take it step-by-step by deploying VSM in one team. Then, based on that experience and outcomes, create a training program for other teams. This speeds up subsequent deployments.  
  1. Have patience and fortitude. Implementing the Flow Framework is like moving to a new country and trying to learn the language. “You can translate, and you’ll be okay, but you need to think in the native language,” says Moss. Changing how product managers and teams think about software delivery metrics takes time, even when your VSM solution is fast to deploy.  
  1. Incorporate Flow Metrics into OKRs. Doing this will help boost employee engagement. Fernandes uses Flow-related key results to draw a line from software delivery activities to business outcomes, and, by extension, to the organization’s mission.  

Change is Worth It 

After spending months trying to figure out how to “hard code” the flow of work through his systems, Moss was “blown away” by Planview’s highly configurable, user-friendly VSM solution. “[It was] presented to us at exactly the right moment,” he adds. 

Fernandes, for his part, chose Planview VSM for the unmatched transparency of its Flow Metrics. “It’s very clear about how you’re getting better,” he says, “and if you’re not getting better, you can laser focus on those areas where things are going sideways.” 

To learn how Planview’s VSM solution can transform your organization, visit our product solutions page

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Written by Michelle Wong

Michelle Wong is the Content Strategist for Planview's value stream management and software toolchain integration solutions for software delivery. Her content focuses on digital transformation topics including Project to Product, Flow Framework, DevOps, Agile, and SAFe.