Where to Start with Scrum? Is Value Stream Mapping Your Answer?

Where to Start with Scrum? Is Value Stream Mapping Your Answer?

In our training and coaching sessions, we’re frequently asked, “Where do we start?” To address this recurring question, we’re considering launching a blog series. Share our insights of what we’ve gained and worked for us. What we found effective to help teams take those first crucial steps. 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.

Now, if you were ordering an item online, which would you prefer and why? Your choice depends on how quickly you want to receive value, but also how soon you want to validate that what you’ve ordered meets your needs.

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

Amplifying Scrum with Value Stream Mapping

Scrum operates at its core based on the principles of empiricism, which are firmly grounded in the pillars of transparency, inspection, and adaptation. It doesn’t promise to solve all organizational challenges with a simple fix. Instead, Scrum lays these challenges bare, empowering teams to acknowledge and tackle them head-on. The Scrum Master’s role is pivotal in harnessing empiricism and nurturing self-organization. Acting as a reflective guide, they illuminate issues and empower the team to chart the best path forward.

For a more profound exploration of how Scrum’s principles can be amplified by incorporating Kanban, providing additional metrics and transparency to monitor enhancements and enrich the flow of value, you might find our Professional Scrum With Kanban course to be of interest.

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 world of software development, embracing DevOps principles and really caring about technical excellence can take your process to the next level.

Value Stream Mapping (VSM) aligns seamlessly with Scrum’s emphasis on transparency. It provides an authentic glimpse into our current state, highlighting the facets that are ripe for further enhancement. VSM serves as a catalyst for ongoing improvement, shedding light on existing processes. While Agile embodies a mindset rooted in specific values and principles, it’s not confined to a single framework or approach. VSM, known for its adaptability, makes a particularly meaningful impact when intertwined with Agile practices like Scrum and Kanban.

In the realm of software development, embracing DevOps principles and nurturing a genuine commitment to technical excellence can elevate your processes to new heights.

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.

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

What is Value Stream Mapping (VSM)?

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.

Value Stream Mapping

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.

If you’re keen to dig deeper into what ‘Definition of Done’ really means, don’t miss our detailed guide, “Where to Start with the Definition of Done“. And if the use of VSM in software engineering piques your interest, you’ll definitely want to read “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:

  1. 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.
  2. Analyze the Current State: Dive deep into the current process to identify bottlenecks, reworks, and delays.
  3. Envision the Ideal: Dream of the perfect process, focusing on waste elimination and flow optimization.
  4. Prioritize Immediate Improvements: Address pressing issues in the Scrum team’s current process before branching out to external activities.
  5. Iterate and Refine: Adopt a mindset of continuous improvement, regularly reviewing and refining the process, and integrating external activities when necessary.

Taking 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 recently missed a critical project deadline, and concerns were growing about their future deliverables. The weight of these missed targets was palpable, demanding immediate intervention.

What struck me as intriguing was that this team had embarked on their Scrum journey concurrently with another team I was mentoring within the same department. However, the difference in their progress was stark.

When I asked the Product Owner how often they released to production, he stated every six months or so. This would mean their lead time, from the inception of an idea to its actual production and visibility to customers, often stretched far beyond six months.

This revealed to me that his team faced significant challenges and required urgent changes. I informed them that the team I was coaching next door was releasing to production every two weeks. I went on to explain that they had the capability to release several times a day if they so desired. In fact, they even released to the User Acceptance Testing (UAT) environment multiple times a Sprint.

This sharp contrast emphasized the significant difference in their delivery capabilities and the vast potential for improvement. 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 process was fragmented. Following a two-week development Sprint, they would transition into a separate ‘test Sprint,’ followed by yet another Sprint dedicated solely to manual packaging for deployment if they were going to release.

Their delivery approach had remained stagnant for over three years, with no attempts at improvement during that time. It was unclear whether the team was resistant to change or simply disinterested in improving, resulting in a recurring cycle of emergency releases and consistent deployment failures.

Upon closer inspection, it also became apparent very quickly that the team was struggling to grasp the essence of Scrum and its true implications. While they appeared to be going through the motions – conducting two-week Sprints and utilizing tools like Jira – they were missing the core principles. This type of ‘going through the motions’ Scrum, often referred to as ‘mechanical’ or ‘zombie’ Scrum, fell short of genuinely embracing Scrum in a meaningful manner.

These scenarios underscore the challenges inherent in transitioning from a traditional project management approach to an agile one focusing on product and being value-driven. For those interested in exploring another common challenge during this transition, particularly for Product Owners adapting to their new roles, our blog titled ‘Escaping the Product Owner’s Trap‘ offers valuable insights.

Tracing Back: The Root of the Matter

Switching from a traditional, project-focused mindset to an Agile, product-centric approach often uncovers a labyrinth of challenges. One of the most common pitfalls is neglecting the Key Value Areas like ‘Time to Market (T2M) and ‘Ability to Innovate (A2I) and their Key Value Metrics.

In a fast-paced world where customer needs are constantly changing, simply hitting project milestones or counting the number of features delivered just doesn’t cut it anymore. The focus should be on continuously delivering value to meet our customers’ needs. To stay ahead of the competition, we need to shift toward being outcome-focused. All too often, we’ve seen how easy it is to get stuck in the rut of outdated metrics that emphasize outputs, failing to provide a comprehensive picture, rather than focusing on outcome metrics.

The Antidote: Metrics That Matter

So, what’s the antidote? Focus on metrics that genuinely matter—those that align with delivering value and business agility. For instance, metrics like Lead Time, Release Frequency, and Innovation Rate are going to be key indicators. These metrics help you make real outcome decisions that can seriously improve the value your team delivers.

Evidence Based Management

If you’re wondering where to begin, one of my top recommended reads is the Evidence-Based Management (EBM) Guide. This guide is a great resource for anyone looking to make the switch to being value and goal-driven.

If you seek further leadership support, consider our Professional Agile Leadership – Evidence-Based Management course. Ideal for leaders navigating the Agile shift or anyone curious about Agile servant leadership, this course offers practical insights. It focuses on how to support teams to deliver quality products efficiently, with one key takeaway is the importance of focusing on the right metrics—because what you measure truly matters

Unveiling A Team’s Challenges Through Value Stream Mapping

To address the challenges faced by the team, we turned to Value Stream Mapping (VSM) to help us shine a touch on what the real challenges and problems are. To enable transparency. 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.

With the introduction of the “Time to Market” Key Value Area and its associated Key Value Metrics, the focus has shifted toward outcomes. Metrics such as lead time, cycle time, and various release indicators have become focal points. These metrics do more than just set benchmarks for improvement; they empower teams to inspect, adapt, and track trends, ensuring continuous improvements are occurring in their delivery processes.

After gathering our data, we revisited the map now being data-led. We identified areas directly under the team’s control that offered the biggest improvement opportunities.

Zooming In: Targeted Improvements for Maximum Impact

With the data in hand, it became clear that the development and release sections were areas where we could make significant improvements as a team – areas over which we also had full control.

Our initial focus was to improve the cycle time from when a product backlog item was picked into the sprint to when it deployed into the Test environment. While we continue to keep an eye on the bigger picture – measuring lead time, the number of releases, and release rework – our initial focus was on metrics specific to these areas of improvement, such as cycle time and rework in development and testing.

Illuminating Team Challenges with VSM

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.

Selling Outcomes: Data-Driven Insights for Stakeholder Buy-In

Before diving into solutions, we collected empirical data to pinpoint our challenges. Our current cycle time from the time we picked up a Product Backlog Item to the time it hit the test environment was a whopping 5 days! Meanwhile, the team coached next door, working on a similar product, had a cycle time of 15 minutes or less. This became our primary focus.

Armed with this data, we approached our stakeholders with a proposal: give us six weeks to focus solely on these improvements, and we’ll reduce the current 5-day cycle time to less than 1 hour. Moreover, the same instance would then be released across all environments, including production, minimizing any need for release fixes. The stakeholders saw this as a no-brainer; achieving this would pay dividends going forward.

Here are the key areas the team identified as targets for improvement to achieve this outcome:

  • Wait Times: Extended wait times, particularly between the development, testing, and deployment phases, were a significant barrier to swift value delivery.
  • Manual Packaging Release: Our old manual method was cumbersome, time-consuming, and fraught with risk, often leading to release failures. We recognized the need to streamline the release package to include the entire system—databases, window services, and BI reports. Our goal is to make releases a simple, risk-free action rather than a high-stakes event.
  • 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.

DevOps Unleashed: Transforming Our Workflow

In just six weeks, we achieved a significant turnaround. It wasn’t about adopting new tools; it was about the team embracing a new way of working. One of the most dramatic changes was slashing our deployment time to our test environment from an astounding 5 days to just 15 minutes. The team fully embraced DevOps principles, streamlining their build, packaging, and release processes to be quicker, simpler, and less risky, thereby enabling faster feedback loops.

Here’s a quick look at what they pulled off:

  • Unified Product Release: We shifted our mindset to treat database development and release as code, just like any other part of our product. This made our releases holistic, covering the entire product rather than isolated components.
  • Streamlined Continuous Integration: We expanded our build server capabilities, adding more build server agents on our CI build server, so any source code check-ins would be acted on immediately, thereby improving feedback loops.
  • Coding Excellence: We not only adopted clean coding practices and team standards for our codebase but integrated these principles also into our CI pipeline. This made our code and CI processes both more readable, maintainable, and extendable.
  • Branching Strategy Overhaul: We moved from multiple long-lived branches to a trunk-based development approach, encouraging more regular check-ins and further streamlining our CI process.
  • Streamlined Change Management: Our transformation had a positive ripple effect on change management. Approving and executing changes (e.g., releases to production) became straightforward and efficient, reducing the overall strain on the process.
  • Maturing Configuration Management: We made significant improvements to our configuration management, ensuring that configurations were consistent, reliable, and easily replicable across environments all the way to production.

The journey didn’t stop after those intense six weeks of focus. The team mindset had shifted to a continuous improvement one, their next focus of improvement was on enhancing the code quality and testing feedback mechanisms.

Looking to replicate our success in improving the flow of value delivery that our value stream highlighted? Our ‘Applying Professional Scrum for Software Development‘ course could be your next step. Not only does it offer a deep dive into Scrum, but it also introduces essential technical practices that can help your team meet the challenge of delivering a valuable releasable increment every Sprint.

In Conclusion

We hope you found this exploration of Value Stream Mapping in Scrum insightful. The Agile landscape is always changing, and tools like VSM are game-changers. They really help us get a better grip on Scrum and how to apply its principles effectively.

Have you implemented VSM in your Scrum teams? What challenges and successes have you encountered? Interested to hear your thoughts in the comments.

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 you combine it with the know-how from Evidence-Based Management, you’re basically setting yourself up for ongoing improvement and real 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 use a helping hand, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

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