DevOps for the business: Enter 'value stream management' for enterprise software woes

DevOps 2.0? Value stream management may be the 'next generation of DevOps,' providing more visibility into what matters to the business.

Brace yourselves for a relatively new term making its way into the enterprise software lexicon: "value stream management."

The philosophy, if you will, has been around for some time, but just got validated with the formation of a consortium, the VSM Consortium, which brands VSM as the "next generation of DevOps." The consortium's creators state that while DevOps principles create higher-performing organizations, "it's hard to know what's improving when your organizations are built from silos and data is buried, conversations are opinion driven. Thinking and working as value streams means teams obsess about the value their work creates to the customer and that they can measure how their experiments accelerate its flow to be realized in the hands of the customer." 

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Gartner also has plenty to say about VSM, predicting that within the next two years, 70% of organizations will use value stream management to improve flow in the DevOps pipeline, and that it will "define the future of DevOps."

So, can agile and DevOps teams be encouraged and incentivized to move to the next step, and obsess about the value their work creates for the customer? There's no doubt that IT managers and professionals, on an individual basis, really want to deliver the best software they can. But when organizational dynamics get in the way, software will often miss the mark. 

So what exactly is VSM? Flint Brenton provides a working description in a Forbes post from a couple of years back: it's "a lean business practice that helps determine the value of software development and delivery efforts and resources. It also helps to improve the flow of value to the organization, while managing and monitoring the software delivery life cycle from end-to-end. By identifying and examining value streams, instead of 'features and functions,' and measuring software delivery success, teams can focus more energy and time on what works and shift away from what doesn't work."

One may ask, isn't that what agile software development and DevOps are supposed to do? "Agile, DevOps and value stream management are complementary forces," Brenton states. The role of VSM is providing the visibility needed across the software development lifecycle, by collecting measurements and metrics on what is important to business outcomes ("value stream mapping"). 

Agile and DevOps teams "find it challenging to detect and remove constraints to product delivery," according to the Gartner analysts. "Agile and DevOps teams who focus only on technical performance metrics (at the exclusion of customer-value-centric metrics) will fail to align their priorities with the organization."

The impact on practices such as VSM on digital transformation initiatives can potentially be profound, of course. For starters, corporate leaders want a better understanding of how software is helping to move their businesses forward. A survey of 600 IT executives just released by Digital.ai, a VSM vendor and founding member of the VSM Consortium, shows how much digital transformation has become a higher-level business concern: while 85% of executives say IT is in charge of digital initiatives, only 58% feel they should be.

In addition, 94% of respondents agreed they need to link their software development and delivery closer to business objectives, but only 54% said their business, IT, and security teams are strategically aligned and working toward the same goals and objectives. The Covid crisis hasn't made things any easier. 

Ninety-five percent of executives believe their organizations are already practicing VSM in some form or another. While this is impressive, it tracks closely to the large majorities doing some form of DevOps, agile development, AI and many other things, and it depends on definitions and applications may be spotty. Tellingly, only 53% say their business and software processes are aligned, and only 50% consider their organizations to be "customer centric." The survey's authors also point out that there is "no clear consensus" on what VSM means for their enterprises.

So, consider VSM a work in progress, and hopefully, another step in making software development and delivery a seamless component of business growth. Value stream mapping "enables DevOps teams to remove waste, build mutual trust, increase transparency and align their goals with organizational objectives," the Gartner team notes. "This 'systems thinking' approach helps DevOps teams to expand their focus beyond siloed operational metrics to instead deliver on customer-centric, team-level performance indicators."

(Disclosure: I am also a contributor to Forbes, mentioned in this article.)