Why Should You Bother with Value Stream Management?

You May Have Heard of VSM, But Is It For You?

What is Value Stream Management?

Value Stream Management (VSM) is the TLA du jour among software development tools, so is it relevant to your organization? We can separate this question into three parts: philosophy, approach, and benefits. First, a bit of history: like so many dev practices, the term originated in manufacturing, specifically lean engineering. The core principle is to consider not only a process as a whole, but also each step, in terms of the value it brings. It should be possible to log not only the benefits (e.g. features built, problems solved) but also the costs, measured as time spent, people/hand-offs involved, and so on.

The relevance to DevOps pipelines and approaches may be self-evident to organizations looking to scale their efforts. DevOps is used by many enterprises as an innovation mechanism, based on a belief that iterative, continuous, fast delivery is key to success. But scaling DevOps across the organization comes with pitfalls, including loss of efficiency, a lack of coordination between stakeholders, increased bottlenecks, and prioritization difficulties. All of which can hold back deployment, and undermine the very reason for doing DevOps in the first place.

Enter VSM, which can help to achieve more consistent and productive pipelines. The core notion is to think of activities across development and operations in terms of a ‘value stream’ (rather than a pipeline or workflow), in which value should be measurable, and maximized, at every stage. This enables bottlenecks to be identified from a tactical perspective, plus the overall process can be assessed in terms of hand-offs, repetition, and other criteria, enabling it to be improved as a whole.

What Does This Mean in Practice?

Key to the success of Value Stream management is measuring the DevOps pipeline in terms of how well it meets the needs of its users and customers. It helps DevOps managers measure what is important, in terms of pipeline efficiency, effectiveness of results, and overall business value. In addition, it enables and encourages that all-important link between technology and business decision-makers, as they look to collaborate, set priorities, and drive delivery.

From a principles and tooling perspective, VSM incorporates the following aspects:

  • Value Stream Mapping: modeling the steps of a pipeline in a measurable fashion, for example using a graphical tool
  • Value Stream Efficiency: measuring pipeline steps, pulling in information to identify bottlenecks across development, testing, and deployment
  • Value Stream Effectiveness: creating measures and dashboards that link to return on investment (ROI), customer satisfaction, and other business-facing criteria

Who Can Use VSM and What Can it Achieve?

If you’re wondering what VSM could achieve for you and your organization, we’ve outlined a few stakeholder-specific cases below.

Chief Information Officers (CIO)

What can it achieve? If you are looking to deliver on a board-level strategy of digital transformation, VSM enables you to offer a constructive response to board strategy, while keeping atop of decision making.

How can you achieve it? Show how VSM can deliver on both agility and governance, demonstrating value without undermining the potential for innovation. CIOs can use VSM as a route to remove risk and increase control of technology-based innovation in the face of consumerization and Shadow IT.

Business Leaders

What can it achieve? If you need to drive more effectiveness from your technology investments, VSM offers a conduit to conversations around measurable software delivery, based on business outcomes

How can you achieve it? Engage with the IT teams and work together to deliver both efficiency and effectiveness using VSM and agree on delivery metrics that link to key areas of business strategy such as growth or customer experience.

IT Development or IT Operations Leaders

What can it achieve? VSM can increase efficiency, freeing up time and money from process overheads, which can be better spent on innovation goals.

How can you achieve it? VSM can be a way to request more structure and control in the development process, reducing the level of conflict across the deployment wall. Consider tools and mechanisms that can deliver management information both in terms of process efficiency and resulting business impact. Also, find different ways to present information to different stakeholder groups, enabling intercommunication and supporting broader decision making.

Adopting a Staged Approach

Different organization types can view and deploy VSM according to their own experience and maturity. For example:

  • Enterprises with early-stage DevOps practice can use VSM to set out a framework for DevOps best practice, which can then be replicated across the organization as additional departments and projects adopt it. For these organizations, we would advise deploying the minimum necessary VSM mechanisms you need to start DevOps on the right foot, implementing an approach that builds in process efficiency measurement and business value from the outset.
  • Mature DevOps organizations, and organizations that have implemented DevOps across development and operations, can use VSM to achieve greater efficiency and governance. For these organizations, you can use VSM to define core processes and toolchains to meet your needs, consolidating existing DevOps toolchains and practices. VSM can also drive automation decisions for testing, security, and governance aspects of the DevOps cycle, so you can justify the spend on tools via overall cost savings.


“Value” has many meanings, and by following a process that defines what it means for different parts of your organization, you will build a better understanding of your development process and its value to your whole business. This is no silver bullet: by breaking down development and deployment into discrete steps, VSM can help you make small changes that incrementally improve production and development processes. These adjustments can be easy to implement, but, repeated throughout an organization, can create exponential improvement.

These techniques can lead to better efficiency and good governance, which can create a huge variety of positive outcomes for an organization. Happier customers, bigger profits, higher productivity, happier staff, and better internal communication can all be by-products of using VSM. Note however that while VSM tools enable organizations to collate, and visualize information, it is equally important to have a business-facing, value-oriented mindset across the software delivery process and beyond.

You can read more about VSM in our report Research Byte: Value Stream Management. And stay tuned – we’re producing a Key Criteria Report and Radar to help you set strategy and evaluate vendors. If you have any questions or feedback, you can find the author, Jon Collins, on Twitter.