Use Value Stream Mapping to Guide Your Software-Driven Future

March 9, 2018 Matthew Gunter

“You have to understand why, not just copy behaviors”  
- Jannes Smit, IT Manager of Internet Banking and Omnichannel, ING Netherlands


You know your enterprise needs to deliver software at startup speeds to compete. But as with all things, it’s is easier said than done. My recent whitepaper, “Crossing the Value Stream: Improving Development with Pivotal and Cloud Foundry,” provides practical advice that you can apply today to get better at software delivery. The paper describes how you can use value stream mapping, a proven optimization technique, to deliver sustained improvements in feature velocity and quality.

More on that in a bit. Let’s start with a different question. How did we get here?

Why do digital transformation efforts fail? According to McKinsey, the top reason is that, “Organisations still lack a clear understanding of what digital means.” The McKinsey research note goes on to cite vision as the most common reason why digital transformation efforts fail:

“When we talk with leaders about what they mean by digital, some view it as the upgraded term for what their IT function does. Others focus on digital marketing or sales. But very few have a broad, holistic view of what digital really means. 

We [McKinsey] view digital as the nearly instant, free, and flawless ability to connect people, devices, and physical objects anywhere.“

Let’s consider that McKinsey definition of digital - If “connect” means programming applications,then software must be developed expeditiously and with high quality to be in the neighborhood of “instant”.

Vision and Clarity for Achieving High Software Productivity

Most efforts to improve software development fall short due to the same reason. There’s too much confusion and debate. Organizations often have no clear picture of what is achievable.  DevOps, Agile, Cloud-Native are components of this vision. But there are also many questions outside of IT that must be addressed. Don’t let your efforts be exclusively technical and buzz-wordy in nature. Gaining support and understanding beyond IT is critical.

There are other lessons to be learned from these pioneering organizations. Cloud Foundry adopters have achieved remarkable gains in developer productivity.  Quotes like "[We] delivered 3X the number of features this year vs. last year same period" and “Developers went from working on code only 20% of time to 80-90% of their time" are common. But where does the productivity come from? And is it repeatable and transferable to any organization that’s willing to improve?

Citi, CoreLogic, Liberty Mutual, and many others tell their stories at industry events. Leaders and engineers alike detail how they’ve achieved 3x and 4x developer productivity. The high-level results and the consistency is remarkable.

There is another similarity in these examples. Each company worked with Pivotal to transform their approach to software development to become more efficient and predictable.  

If your company wants to achieve these results, could we actually map out the required improvements and explain why they were needed? Could we predict the outcome in terms of Time to Market? And could we point out key leading metrics that help benchmark your progress?

It turns out, yes we can!

Bringing Value Stream Mapping and Lean Concepts to Software Delivery

The answers to these questions are the topic of a new Pivotal Whitepaper: Crossing the Value Stream: Improving Development with Pivotal and Cloud Foundry.

The paper reviews how lean concepts and value stream mapping apply to the world of software development and delivery. Read it, and you’ll understand the “practices,” “improvements,” and  “linkages” on the journey to get better at software. You’ll boost your chances to arriving at your desired end-state.

Value Stream Mapping” became widely known along with the term “Lean Manufacturing” in the 90’s. Both terms grew out of the Toyota Production System that goes back to the 1940s/50s.    

When you apply VSM and lean to a business process, it does two things:

  1. It helps you understand what is value, and what is non-value, by categorizing activities that matter to the customer from those that don’t.   

  2. You understand how to improve a process.  What is the barrier to flow? Where is the bottleneck in a given development process?

Most Cloud Foundry adopters are keenly interested in improving the pace of software delivery, to accelerate time to market. They want to accelerate their release cycle, to go from shipping every few months to push to prod every few days or weeks. For example:

The story behind Humana’s “Cue App” for the Apple Watch is representative.  Four Humana developers delivered “Cue,” a health app, to Apple’s App Store in five weeks. It was released on-schedule, in time for the Apple Watch launch event.  The app achieved 300% of the company’s usage goal, and was named a “Top 10 app” by

If our future is one of “...instantly connecting people, devices, and physical objects”, improving time-to-market and responsiveness is one of the most important things we can do in business.

Five Practices of High-Velocity, High-Quality Development Teams

The whitepaper kicks off by analyzing a traditional software development process with Value Stream Mapping. From there, it details five very common practices of Pivotal Customers.

  1. Developer Self-Service

  2. Smaller Projects and Smaller Releases

  3. Cross-Functional, Self-Directed Teams

  4. Increasing Visibility of Defects

  5. Reduce Variability

As each one is explained in detail, You will gain a clear picture of the steps, linkages, and benefits that are possible.

These 5 small steps combine to accelerate transformation efforts, create more confidence from leadership, and easily overcome objections and organizational resistance.

Value Stream Mapping: Learning to See “Barriers to Flow”

How can we gain so much insight from Value-Stream Model? Why is it so broadly relevant?

Primarily because any process can be modeled as a sequence of activities and mapped and then the Lead-time and Process-Time is analyzed along with delays. This analysis starts to highlight all the costs of delay, handoffs, inconsistent quality, and overly large batch sizes.  It can also be easily extended upstream to finance and outside your organization to understand barriers-to-flow wherever they exist!

The topic is also a professional passion of mine. Over the years -whenever technologies and practices change - there is a wave of re-thinking the linkages between process and outcomes:

  1. When at Procter & Gamble, I lived through the adoption of Total Quality Management. I saw how seemingly trivial cleaning and maintenance to plant machinery drove huge increases in plant efficiencies. Conclusion: Little problems add up!

  2. Around 2000, I studied a failed software project that was undergoing litigation. The project was conducted in a classic waterfall fashion, so you can likely guess what many of the issues were. Requirements and designs were flawed. But software quality was what really sunk the project. (Even back then, the correlation between quality, cost, and time was beginning to come into clear focus.) We’ve all heard of the famous “Iron Triangle of Cost, Time, & Quality” that says “pick 2.” But researchers like Capers Jones and Steve McConnell discovered that picking just quality  led to superior Time and Cost outcomes. Optimizing for any other dimension (cost, time, level of developer skill, etc.) was counter-productive. Quality was the key to productivity, time-to-market, and cost! Conclusion: Little problems create bigger problems while they exist!

  3. Now at Pivotal, I find myself in a familiar spot of thinking about LEAN and Quality and using that lens to understand  the mechanisms of the Pivotal Way and of Cloud Foundry. Conclusion: Delays and “barriers to flow” are problems too!

I am hopeful that the white paper will help you understand the practices, and the subtleties of applying lean process improvement and Value-Stream-Mapping to Software Development. If it helps you gain a shared view of digital transformation, your process-improvement journey is likely to be that much more productive!

About the Author

Matthew Gunter

Matt Gunter works at Pivotal as a Senior Platform Architect where he helps Enterprises transform the way they build, deploy, run and operate their applications. He is regularly asked to speak on Cloud Native trends and adoption with Pivotal customers and regional industry events.

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