In today’s competitive business environment, companies are relentlessly seeking ways to optimize their solutions delivery, with a strong emphasis on improving efficiency. To achieve a significant boost in this area, it is imperative to establish and maintain end-to-end visibility into the value streams that comprise an organization’s operations. This visibility encompasses the entire spectrum of processes, workflows, and activities, allowing for the identification of bottlenecks and the ability to make informed decisions that drive business outcomes and optimize resource allocation.
Visibility is not merely an operational insight; it’s the crucial factor in identifying the work that truly drives value and directly shapes customer experiences.
A case in point is the journey of a global financial services company that recently adopted Planview’s Value Stream Management (VSM) solution. Their story offers a window into how VSM can be leveraged by starting with a pilot and continuously improving processes. It serves as a valuable example for organizations seeking to navigate modern solution delivery complexities with a customer-centric approach.
In the midst of a significant generational shift, the company found itself at a critical juncture. As the baby boomer generation began transferring their accumulated wealth to their children, a monumental shift in assets was underway. This transfer also brought about a change in the demographic landscape of their client base. Although already primarily digital in its operations, the company was suddenly facing a new generation of clients whose expectations differed markedly from their predecessors.
The rapid transition from a baby boomer clientele to a younger, more tech-savvy generation necessitated a rethink in how they delivered value. It was against this backdrop that the company decided to pilot VSM.
The initial VSM pilot uncovered a discrepancy in the teams’ approach. While tasks like stories were completed within 10 to 14 days, the true indicators of customer value, i.e., the epics, experienced significant delays, often taking over 90 days to finish.
However, leadership wanted a more impactful demonstration of visibility to justify a full-scale commitment to VSM. They needed actionable insights to realign their efforts with the rapidly evolving client expectations. Achieving value stream visibility turned out to be a challenging endeavor, requiring significant effort and sometimes significant retooling of processes.
One of the earliest opportunities identified was to optimize learning for recognizing patterns that could be applied across the organization. This entailed shifting from a fragmented to a unified approach and prioritizing where the true value was generated in the value stream.
Initially, the organization faced what could be described as a “Wild West” of Jira schemas, with each team operating on its unique schema. This disarray was streamlined based on the learnings from the first pilot. The company standardized a Jira schema across all departments, optimized for the flow of value to customers. This standardization was a significant step towards a more cohesive approach to managing work and value delivery. Armed with a standardized Jira schema, the second pilot cast a much wider net than the first and included more teams, especially those in critical client-facing areas.
Another key realization was that the results were not contingent on organizational structure but on the type of work being performed. The focus on a small number of work items had previously obscured the true value delivery to customers. This narrow-sightedness is a notable downside of traditional DevOps and DORA methodologies, which often emphasize iterations of sprints of code and code-to-cloud processes, whereas the customer experience begins much earlier in the value chain.
Identifying Real Value
The team discovered that the real value for customers was not in completing stories but in higher-level artifacts like epics or capabilities. Understanding the journey of these artifacts was crucial to comprehending their impact on the customer. The analogy used was an amusement park where the rides are short, but the wait times are long – the need was to see the value flow from the rider’s perspective.
As they gained visibility into higher-level vehicles of value, such as epics and capabilities, the complexity of value delivery became apparent. This complexity encompassed dependencies between teams and sometimes within them. Identifying and addressing these dependencies was vital for improving the customer experience.
Controlling Work in Progress
Another shift in perspective was redefining the concept of work-in-progress (WIP). The company traditionally set WIP limits at the team level, focusing on the stories for the next iteration. However, it became clear that these stories emanated from higher-level artifacts of value. The company had to reassess what truly constituted the source of WIP they were trying to control and manage.
A significant change was in the perception of commitment. Instead of viewing commitment from the developer or engineering team commitment perspective, the focus shifted to commitment from the customer’s point of view. This reorientation was crucial in aligning the organization’s efforts with the real value perceived and experienced by the customer.
Initially, the company faced challenges in balancing its focus on OKRs with the need for continuous learning. The initial OKRs were geared towards improving business results within a quarter or two, but this approach sometimes short-circuited the necessary learning process. Through VSM, the company learned that OKRs should drive changes in the way work is done, making lasting investments in a culture of continuous learning. The initial OKRs were restructured to focus on getting people accustomed to running experiments, conducting studies, and instilling a habit of iterative improvement.
A key metric that emerged from implementing VSM was yield – the ratio of capabilities in progress versus what could actually be delivered in a quarter. A lower yield indicated that value was decreasing and the time from idea to customer feedback was lengthening. This understanding helped shift the mindset from starting more work earlier to balancing demand and capacity, thus improving the feedback time.
Value Stream Management became an integral part of the company’s workflow. Even after the consulting team stepped back, it was observed that the practices continued. VSM continues to be viewed as a journey through visibility, stability, and improvement, using Flow Metrics in retrospectives and operational reviews to define experiments for improving flow.
By adopting VSM, organizations are not only able to streamline their processes but also shift focus to delivering true customer value. VSM provides significant key benefits, including enhanced visibility into work processes, a better understanding of customer needs, and a significant improvement in the efficiency of delivering customer value. By incorporating VSM into the delivery process, improvements become embedded in the company’s culture, ensuring long-term sustainability and growth.
Explore how VSM can optimize your value delivery processes by requesting a VSM solution demo here.