Value stream mapping is a powerful tool. It’s used to identify and remove bottlenecks in your organizations value stream.  Before going further about the mapping, let me first touch on what a value stream is. I’ll also describe the theory of constraints.

Your organizations value stream is the end to end process used to deliver a product to the customer. For example, it may begin as a request from a customer, and end once the customer has the finished product. The stream contains all the activities it takes to get the customer the finished product. Each activity contains a work time, and a wait time.

The theory of constraints says that the best way to optimize an organization is to focus on throughput. Throughput is the key to generating profitable revenue. The way to increase throughput is to look for the current bottleneck that is slowing things down and fix it. Once removed, find the next bottleneck and fix that. Keep this up and you will have a fast-moving value stream (Goldratt, E 1984).

Creating a value stream map – “Mapping your value stream is a good way to start discovering waste in your software development process. In industry after industry, the process of mapping the value stream has invariably led to deeper insights about how internal processes work or don’t work to meet customer needs” (Poppendieck, 2003).

An easy way to create a value stream map is to have a project team gather around the whiteboard. The process shouldn’t take long. You should be able to do this in an hour or less. Write out all key activities in your value stream. For each activity, write down how much work time it takes, and how much wait time there is.

For example, you may find it takes on average 2 weeks to code for a project, but it takes an extra 3 weeks to move the code to test. This extra 3 weeks is wait time that doesn’t provide any value to the customer. It is waste.

After creating the value stream, identify the biggest bottlenecks in your process. The goal is to increase flow and value added time in the system. Focus on the fixing the biggest bottleneck, then continue to fix the next bottleneck.

In software development, it is common to find that the biggest bottlenecks occur after development and testing are complete. This is why it’s so important for organizations to be moving towards a lean software development model.

Below is a picture of a value stream map from the book Lean Thinking, by James Womack and Daniel Jones.



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Mary and Tom Poppendieck, Lean Software Devleopment

Eliyahu M. Goldratt, The Goal