ArticleSeptember 14, 2023 · 4 min read time
When we have modeled development and operative value streams and improved value creation processes, a new “problem” arises: What to do with the released, freed capacity now available?
What are value streams?
A value stream is a simplified value-creation process consisting of several steps. Operative and Development people, different systems, and teams involved in the value stream help understand how value is created for customers.
Many organisations skip this part of the agile implementation journey by claiming to know what they deliver. When asked how they create value, no one can actually explain it. It is challenging to improve something you don’t understand.
Organisations exist to provide customers with valuable products they want to pay for. To stay competitive, it is essential to continuously increase the value of your products and keep them relevant for your customers. In today’s digital world, competitors can more easily skim markets and products and find possibilities to enter a new market and grow their business.
A strong value creation process enables you to develop valuable products for your customers and keeps your business thriving in a competitive environment
How to improve value streams?
Flow accelerators are a central theme in the recent SAFe® version 6.0. If you haven’t visualised and measured your flow of value, it is very difficult to know if your flow is optimal. Below, you can find some examples of what could lead to a weakened value-creation process.
Remove invisible bottlenecks: one factor that can significantly reduce the flow of your work. For example, there could be one person who always takes a week to approve your request, leading to a very low WIP (work in progress) limit for that part of the process.
Ensure fast feedback loops: If the development team doesn’t get feedback fast enough, they could wait around or create non-value-adding features.
Make changes in small steps: Management could want all changes to production at once due to large transition costs. They might even have the next definitive list of requirements already waiting in line.
Minimise dependencies and build cross-functional teams: Having separate development and operation teams can lead to slow handoffs with knowledge transfers (read: knowledge losing) and dependencies. Other legacy policies or practices could also be slowing you down.
If we are not mindful, there can be so much waste. The question is, are we ready to access positive outcomes waiting for us when we refine our value streams?
Outcomes and options
Back to the new “problem”.
After you have improved your value streams, management (not leadership) might think that the extra people we saved when we improved the flow of work are no longer needed. Not necessarily a good idea. Focusing on accomplishing one or more of these outcomes would be better (collected and commented from Martin & Osterling’s book Value Stream Mapping):
Absorb additional work without increasing staff. Additional work brings additional revenue.
Reduce paid overtime. Less 2x payments for overtime hours. This also creates a better work/life balance.
Reduce temporary or contract staffing or use them for something else.
In-source work that’s currently outsourced. This can decrease risks or bring new skills to your organisation.
Slow down and think. Innovate; create new revenue streams. Maybe you can slow down and perform high-quality work with less stress and higher safety.
Conduct continuous improvement activities. When was the last time you improved something, outcomes, flow, or knowledge?
Get to know your customers better. What value do they really need now?
Build stronger supplier relationships. Suppliers help you to grow and succeed.
Coach staff to improve their critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
Maybe you could mentor staff to create career and growth opportunities. Staff really like these. You know, happier staff brings better results.
Provide cross-training to create greater organisational flexibility and enhance job satisfaction. Build stronger interdepartmental and interdivisional relationships to improve collaboration.
Do things you have wanted to do when you have time.
There are many opportunities to use the freed resources for those who improve their value streams. We should be more aware of the waste we produce in knowledge work, in the same way as in a factory production line. The challenge is that waste is not easily visible in knowledge work unless you make it visible. This is why it is so important to visualise your value streams.
The next steps are easy. Start with a value stream workshop, and let’s visualise your value!