Value stream mapping is a Lean technique for analyzing processes, identifying areas of waste and optimizing workflows. In Lean Manufacturing, value stream mapping looks at all the steps involved in turning materials into products, including logistics, warehousing and assembly lines, and seeks to make them more efficient.
This process involves mapping the end-to-end process, identifying different types of waste, such as overproduction, wait times, motion and defects, and then creating and implementing a plan to reduce that waste as much as possible.
The Lean Software movement showed how Lean thinking and techniques – including value stream mapping – could be applied to the software development lifecycle to make it more efficient and improve what is delivered to users.
The Lean philosophy complements the principles of Agile and DevOps, which emphasize the benefits of iterative cycles with continuous feedback loops and the need to build quality in as the way to deliver value faster.
Creating a value stream map of your software development process can be a useful exercise whether you’ve already implemented a CI/CD pipeline or are just starting out. Mapping all the steps, people and tools involved – from ideas to design, development and release – allows you to visualize the entire product lifecycle.
You can then use this map to facilitate discussions between development and operations teams, building a shared understanding of the value that each step adds, together with the concerns and motivations of everyone involved.
Once you’ve sketched out the process, you can start identifying instances of waste – activities that don’t add value for the user (either directly, in the form of desired features, or indirectly, such as by keeping the product stable).
The types of waste identified in Lean Manufacturing have been adapted for software development and include:
Having identified the waste in your process it’s time to start addressing them. In keeping with Lean, DevOps and Agile principles, it’s a good idea to implement changes incrementally, monitoring what impact changes have, continuing to collect feedback and adjusting the course as you go.
Finally, don’t let value stream mapping become a wasteful exercise in itself. While it’s possible to spend a lot of time learning the correct symbols and transferring your findings into a mapping tool to create a digital asset, you can often start with a simple whiteboard session to get an initial sense of how much you stand to gain from a value stream mapping exercise.