Value Stream Mapping (VSM) is a Lean method used for optimizing processes. The method usually is not applied on the meta level, the optimization of the change process itself. I think there’s a hidden opportunity here. The effectiveness of a change process is only partially determined by defining the correct business objectives. It is mostly the change process itself that influences success. In other words, optimizing the change process leads to better change results. Why not apply VSM to the change process?

Basically VSM works like this:

  1. Determine the definition of Customer Value.
    Define what product or service is/should be delivered and determine its properties.
    Do this from the customer point of view.
  2. Define the current VSM.
    Draw the entire process including both the flow of products, information and time.
  3. Determine ‘waste’ (or muda in Japanese) and draw the future VSM.
    Each process step that doesn’t add Customer Value is waste. Each step that doesn’t add value but is necessary in order to create value is ‘necessary waste’. Each step that doesn’t add value and also isn’t necessary is completely redundant.
  4. Optimize the current process and repeat.
    Eliminate redundant steps, optimize ‘necessary waste’.

The most difficult and critical part in VSM is firstly determining the definition of Customer Value and secondly determining ‘necessary waste’. Especially in change processes it is of the essence that everyone participating in the change is aware of it’s goals. I’ve seen too often that change processes (or projects) are sub-optimized because project-specific processes or goals have taken precedence over the goal the change process initially was created for.

Let me give you an example with an average ICT project.

Customer Value

What is the Customer Value that the project creates?

Is it design documentation, is it software? Or is it software as an enabler for business processes? I think it is none of the above. It should be software as a business enabler, but not at all costs or without any limit on delivery date.
The projects Customer Value is defined by the projects Business Case (which should contain the definition of the Customer Value, but also costs, benefits, time, etc).

Necessary waste

What activities or project products can be considered to be necessary waste?

Design documentation could be considered necessary waste. The design itself does not create value. It does not enable business processes directly, software does. Some value might be found when considering software maintenance.  If maintenance isn’t possible without documentation then there is some value there. If the software can not be maintained properly then, in time, the software does not enable business processes anymore. The thing is that other solutions exists that enable software maintenance. An automated test harness for example is a better approach.
Is documentation necessary  for knowledge transfer between customer and programmer? In short, the answer is no. Knowledge transfer on paper is very ineffective. Between customer and created software at least 75% of knowledge is lost. Just discussing the requirements and features and building mock ups are far better methods for knowledge transfer.

How about project management? Does giving orders and creating plans create value?
Project management is definitely waste.  It is necessary, but clearly it’s an activity that should be made as ‘lean’ as possible. My personal goal as a project manager is to make no decisions and generally do nothing at all. Why? Because this is only possible when the project runs perfectly, when the goal is clear, the processes are effective and everyone knows what to do. Here’s where the lean Scrum process adds value. Also PRINCE2 supports this goal with management by exception and with tolerances that enable delegation of tasks and responsibilities.

ICT project VSM

So how would a current and future ICT project VSM look like?
Of course that map would be completely different for each project. The interesting part is which activities are considered necessary waste and what optimizations are proposed. VSM is useful in making the definition of Customer Value transparent and applying that definition to each step in the change process. The discussions that arise should result in process improvements, in making the change process more effective. With an iterative approach discussing the VSM could be done after each iteration, so that change process improvement becomes a natural thing within the change process. It also fits perfectly within the Scrum and PRINCE2 methods (‘Sprint Retrospective’ and ‘Lessons Learned’ respectively).