Today’s ISVs don’t just compete on the quality of their software but also on how fast they provide quality products and services. As they continue to seek out sustainable competitive advantages in the quest to deliver better software faster and for less cost, they’ve been borrowing tools from their neighbors in business process improvement and re-engineering.

Methodologies and practices initially developed for the physical environments of manufacturing and warehouse floors—like Six Sigma and Lean—have been successfully applied and adapted to the all-digital challenges of ISVs. The Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe) 5[1] is one such approach with origins in the Lean world that has been widely embraced in software development circles.

But just as Agile-based toolkits have grown to include frameworks like Nexus and LeSS to address large-scale software delivery, the Lean-based toolkit also has more to offer. For dev teams looking to scour waste from their processes, Value Stream Mapping, or VSM, can be an incredibly useful tool that’s relatively easy to adopt.

What is Value Stream Mapping (VSM)?

Value stream mapping originated with the Toyota Motor Company in the 1980s to help identify and eliminate waste and reduce product defects and cycle time—worthy goals for any software development team as well.

VSM is an advancement on the concept of continuous flow production rather than the batch flow approach many organizations embrace at the outset. Companies that adopt continuous flow methodologies have experienced massive gains in productivity, whether building computers or packing humanitarian aid for those in need. That’s because up to 95% of the development process is considered non-value added time, or wasted time.

Applying VSM on top of this continuous flow approach maximizes productivity by eliminating waste while also improving cycle time and product quality.

VSM’s flowchart-driven approach has since been adapted and optimized for digital applications and introduced as the Flow Framework®, focused on several key “Flow Metrics”:

  1. Flow Velocity, or “How much value did we deliver?”: This captures the number of units of business value (Flow Items) completed over a specific time period. Flow Items fall into four categories: features, defects, risks and debts.
  2. Flow Time, or “How fast did we deliver value?”: This metric measures total elapsed time from the beginning of a work effort until it is complete.
  3. Flow Efficiency, or “Do we know where our bottlenecks are?”: Flow Efficiency identifies waste by categorizing time in two ways: active time (when value is being created or delivered) and waiting time (when no value is being created or delivered.)

    Waiting time can be the result of signoffs, reviews, approvals, or other aspects of the process that add to the overall delivery timeline without actually delivering value. Flow Efficiency, then, is the ratio of active time out of the total Flow Time.

  4. Flow Load, or “Is demand impacting capacity?”: This captures the number of Flow Items within a value stream to measure productivity and identify areas of under-utilization or over-utilization.
Leveraging VSM to improve software development processes

From a high-level perspective, reaping the benefits of VSM at your ISV follows four basic steps:

  1. Identifying and assembling the cross-functional team. VSMs approach processes from a truly end-to-end perspective, since the focus is on delivering business benefit, not improving one aspect of your development process at the expense of another sub-process upstream or downstream.

    As a result, every aspect of the process must be represented for the VSM exercise to be effective. A detailed, authoritative knowledge of each specific sub-process is required to create an accurate and comprehensive process map.

  2. Mapping out the “as is” or current process. The entire cross-functional team gathers to trace the process from beginning to end. The team then reviews the complete map, noting all Action Time and Waiting Time segments, unnecessary steps, and opportunities to reduce cycle time for sub-processes.
  3. Mapping out the “to be” or future process. The team maps out an optimized development process that eliminates Waiting Time and wasteful or non-value added steps and maximizes productivity and resource consumption without compromising quality.
  4. The team creates an action plan to make the future process a reality. Owners and actions are assigned, Work Items are documented, metrics and KPMs are recalibrated and expected outcomes are reported to developers, managers and executives alike to ensure awareness and accountability.
Optimizing your development process with VSM

VSM has proven itself over decades of use on the manufacturing floor, identifying and eliminating waste, improving product quality, and helping manufacturers deliver higher quality products more quickly, and for less cost.

Approaches like the Flow Framework adapt this proven tool for an all-digital world, built around digital-native metrics to help software development teams and ISVs win the race to bring better software to market first while also increasing opportunities for profitable growth.

To learn how Persistent Systems can put 30+ years of business acceleration and transformation experience to help you begin or accelerate your own product development or modernization journeys, visit our Digital Transformation and Product Modernization web pages.