In our training and coaching sessions, we’re frequently asked, “Where do we start?” Whether teams are new to Scrum or refining their methods, this remains a challenge. In this blog series, drawing from our vast experience, we’ll guide you through it. Welcome to the first post.

Consider this analogy: Amazon Prime is celebrated for its speedy next-day deliveries, while Alibaba might take weeks or even months for international orders. The key takeaway? Even if a team is driven by value, agility is compromised when validation and value realization take excessively long.

How do we reconcile our aspirations with the current reality? The answer lies in the transformative potential of Value Stream Mapping within Scrum.

Amplifying Scrum with Value Stream Mapping

At its heart, Scrum thrives on the principles of empiricism, built upon the 3 pillars of transparency, inspection, and adaptation. It doesn’t claim to be a silver bullet that magically resolves organizational challenges. Instead, Scrum makes these challenges transparent, allowing teams to recognize and address them. The Scrum Master’s role is pivotal in this context, leveraging empiricism and fostering self-organization. They act as reflective agents, spotlighting issues and enabling the team to determine the best way forward.

To delve deeper into how Scrum’s principles can be amplified with Kanban, offering more metrics and transparency to track improvements and enhance the flow of value, consider our Professional Scrum With Kanban course.

Value Stream Mapping (VSM) complements Scrum’s emphasis on transparency. It offers a genuine insight into our current situation, underscoring the areas that warrant further improvement. VSM acts as a catalyst for continuous refinement, offering insights into existing processes. While Agile embodies a mindset defined by specific values and principles, it isn’t tied to any particular framework or practice. VSM, versatile in its application, is especially impactful when integrated with Agile practices like Scrum and Kanban. In the realm of software development, principles of DevOps and a commitment to technical excellence can further enhance the process.

Side Note: While this discussion emphasizes VSM within the context of Scrum, it’s essential to recognize that VSM is versatile and beneficial across various Agile practices.

The diagram shows Scrum and DevOps are aligned with VSM at the centre

What is Value Stream Mapping?

Value Stream Mapping, often abbreviated as VSM, serves as a powerful visualization tool, enabling teams to chart and comprehend their workflow intricacies. Its essence lies in spotlighting bottlenecks, uncovering concealed inefficiencies, and pinpointing wasteful activities. Originating from lean manufacturing principles, VSM’s relevance has expanded, becoming a cornerstone in fields such as software development.

Imagine a value stream as a roadmap detailing the journey of an idea or feature, from its inception to its delivery to the end-user. This journey comprises various activities, each further divisible into specific tasks. A crucial aspect of VSM is identifying areas of inefficiency, like rework—tasks redone due to alterations or mistakes—and wait times, which are dormant periods often resulting from dependencies or hold-ups.

VSM’s strength lies in its ability to not just illuminate this journey but also to fine-tune it for optimal efficiency and value realization. By spotlighting rework zones and wait intervals, it equips teams to make informed decisions, refining their workflow and minimising wastage.

A cornerstone of VSM is its emphasis on the continuous delivery ethos. It champions the idea that a team’s Definition of Done (DoD) should culminate in a product increment poised for release, fostering swifter feedback cycles.

For those eager to delve further into the ‘Definition of Done,’ our comprehensive guide titled Where to Start with the Definition of Done is a must-read. Additionally, if you’re intrigued by the application of VSM in software engineering, check out the article “The value of value stream mapping in software engineering“.

Harnessing VSM in Scrum: Integration, Action, and Evolution

Value Stream Mapping (VSM) melds effortlessly with Scrum, resonating with the foundational principles of Kanban and DevOps, and the ethos of continuous betterment.

Key Benefits for Scrum Teams:

Visualizing the Journey: VSM offers a panoramic view of the path from concept to completion. It enables teams to grasp the entire process, spotlighting bottlenecks and inefficiencies.

Evolving the ‘Done’: With VSM, teams are prompted to evolve their definition of ‘done’. This places emphasis on tangible outcomes and fosters a delivery pipeline centred on customer value.

Synchronizing with Agile Practices: VSM bolsters continuous delivery, harmonizing seamlessly with Agile, Kanban, and DevOps practices.

Blueprint for VSM Integration in Scrum Teams:

Capture the Entire Process: Begin by mapping the entire journey, from idea inception to production. Evolve everyone who touches the product or influences product delivery in any way.

Analyze the Current State: Dive deep into the current process to identify bottlenecks, reworks, and delays.

Envision the Ideal: Dream of the perfect process, focusing on waste elimination and flow optimization.

Prioritize Immediate Improvements: Address pressing issues in the Scrum team’s current process before branching out to external activities.

Iterate and Refine: Adopt a mindset of continuous improvement, regularly reviewing and refining the process, and integrating external activities when necessary.

A Deep Dive: Real-World VSM Scenario

During my tenure with a prominent financial institution, a concerned Product Owner approached me with a pressing issue. His team had missed a crucial project deadline, and there were looming concerns about future deliverables. The weight of these missed targets was palpable, necessitating immediate intervention.

Interestingly, this team had embarked on their Scrum journey concurrently with another team I was mentoring within the same department. Yet, the disparity in their progress was striking.

The Product Owner’s team was entrenched in traditional project metrics, prioritizing delivery within fixed timeframes, set scopes, and allocated budgets. This project-centric approach contrasted sharply with Agile’s value-driven ethos.

Their delivery mechanism was fragmented. After a two-week development Sprint, they would engage in a separate “test Sprint.” This was followed by another Sprint dedicated solely to manual packaging for deployment.

This delivery approach had persisted for three years without any modifications. The team seemed resistant to change, leading to a repetitive cycle of emergency releases and consistent deployment failures.

Upon closer inspection, it became evident that the entire team was grappling with Scrum’s core principles. They had adopted some practices, like two-week Sprints and using tools like Jira, but their understanding was superficial. This surface-level adoption, often termed “mechanical” or “zombie” Scrum, was a stark deviation from genuine Scrum professionalism.

Such scenarios highlight the inherent challenges teams face when transitioning from traditional project management to Agile. For those keen on understanding another common challenge during this transition, especially for Product Owners adapting to their new roles, our blog titled “Escaping the Product Owner’s Trap” offers valuable insights.

Tracing Back: Understanding the Origin

Transitioning from traditional, project-centric methodologies to a product-focused Agile approach often reveals underlying challenges. A primary pitfall many teams encounter during this shift is overlooking the Key Value areas, specifically ‘Time to Market‘ (T2M) and ‘Ability to Innovate‘ (A2I).

As teams pivot to prioritize value and customer-centricity, neglecting these essential organizational capabilities can inadvertently introduce complexities. In the past, success was gauged using project metrics. However, in today’s value-driven landscape, it’s crucial to measure success by the tangible value delivered and the inherent ability to innovate.

With our guidance, we help teams recognize and embrace these transformative metrics. For a deeper understanding of how these metrics redefine success and the nuances of effective value measurement, the Evidence-Based Management Guide is a recommended read.

To further shift towards understanding what truly constitutes value and to adopt a more outcome-driven approach, our Professional Agile Leadership – Evidence-Based Management course can guide leaders in making informed decisions based on evidence and goal-driven metrics

Illuminating Team Challenges with VSM

To address the challenges faced by the team, we turned to Value Stream Mapping (VSM) as our guiding tool. We organized a VSM session that brought together the Scrum team, change management experts, and key business stakeholders. Our goal was clear: map the entire system pipeline, from the inception of an idea to its deployment in production.

The initial mapping session was a revelation for the team. It unveiled a series of bottlenecks, recurring rework loops, and extended periods of inactivity. While this first analysis, based on the team’s understanding and estimates, gave a broad overview, we needed empirical data for a more accurate picture.

After gathering the necessary data, we revisited the map. With a sharper focus, we identified areas directly under the team’s control that offered improvement opportunities. We introduced the team to the Time to Market Key Value Area, emphasizing its importance in measuring tangible outcomes. Metrics like lead time, cycle time, and various release indicators became focal points. These metrics not only benchmark improvement but also empower teams to inspect, adapt, and track trends, ensuring ongoing enhancement in their delivery processes.

Side Note: If you feel that your team might not be practising Professional Scrum, our Professional Scrum Master or Applying Professional Scrum courses can provide the foundational knowledge and skills to truly understand and implement Scrum effectively.

Key Discoveries and Solutions

Wait Times: Extended wait times, particularly between development, testing, and deployment phases, were a significant barrier to swift value delivery.

Manual Packaging Release: The manual method of assembling and unpacking components for a release was not only time-consuming but also error-prone. By utilizing tools like Red Hat for database deployments, the team could automate deployment script generation, streamlining the process.

Continuous Integration (CI): Improving the CI process directly addressed several bottlenecks that had been identified.

Testing: Adopting a ‘test-first’ approach and automating packaging (including databases) meant that a single check-in could be deployed across various environments, reducing delays.

Coding Standards: Implementing coding and development standards reduced the need for rework and improved overall code quality.

Branching Strategy: Transitioning from a complex branching strategy to trunk-based development or short-lived branches simplified the development workflow and reduced integration challenges.

The Transformation Journey Unfolded

Within a span of just six weeks, the team made remarkable strides in refining their delivery pipeline:

Deployment Time Reduction: The deployment time for the dev environment was dramatically reduced from a staggering 5 days to just 15 minutes. Furthermore, since the same instance was used throughout each environment (development, UAT, and production), the deployment times for UAT and production also benefited from this efficiency.

Embracing DevOps: The team didn’t merely adopt practices; they embraced the principles and practices of DevOps. This alignment with DevOps was instrumental in achieving a consistent process across all environments.

Minimizing Rework: Using the same instance for these deployments was a game-changer. It significantly reduced the often-seen rework during releases.

Streamlined Change Management: The team’s transformation had a positive ripple effect on change management. The frequent disruptions caused by emergency change releases became a thing of the past. With smoother releases, change management had fewer challenges to address. Approving and executing changes became straightforward and efficient, reducing the overall strain on the process.

Maturing Configuration Management: As the team matured further, they made significant improvements to their configuration management, ensuring that configurations were consistent, reliable, and easily replicable across environments.

For teams looking to strengthen their ‘Definition of Done’ and adopt practices that enhance their Scrum journey, our Applying Professional Scrum for Software Development course offers valuable insights and hands-on techniques.

In Conclusion

We hope you found this exploration of Value Stream Mapping in Scrum insightful. The world of Agile is vast and ever-evolving, and tools like VSM play a pivotal role in enhancing our understanding and application of Scrum principles.

Have you implemented VSM in your Scrum teams? What challenges and successes have you encountered? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Value Stream Mapping (VSM) isn’t just a tool—it’s a catalyst that propels Scrum teams toward achieving their goals with clarity and efficiency. When paired with the principles of Evidence-Based Management, it provides a clear path to continuous improvement and success.

For those seeking to dive deeper into these topics and enhance their Scrum journey, we offer a range of courses tailored to specific needs:

EBM: Understand that what you measure matters, with a focus on outcomes and value delivery.

Kanban: Enhance flow and transparency in your Scrum processes.

APS-SD: Equip your team to meet the challenge of delivering a “Done” increment every Sprint.

Professional Scrum Master: Gain foundational knowledge and skills to truly understand Scrum and the Scrum Master accountability so you’re able to implement Scrum effectively.

If you’re seeking further guidance or feel your team could benefit from a more personalized touch, don’t hesitate to contact us for personalized assistance. Whether you’re just starting out or looking to refine your existing knowledge, we’ve got you covered.

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