Value Stream Mapping to Improve Product Delivery at the ATO

Identifying bottelnecks to ensure faster development of product features in a pipeline for delivery in a major program of work

The Situation

Business Stakeholders for a major program of work in the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) were concerned that the features weren’t making it to the target release timeframe they had communicated and committed to external users. The major program of work had moved to a scaled agile framework two years previously and were working within the SAFe® construct of a Program  Management Group (PMG) whose were responsible for identifying and  determining priorities from a value perspective.

Features were being developed in silos with many points of handover for endorsement before the next part of the feature was worked on. The process was taking longer than the expected timeframe. Often when business features were presented too late in the pipeline process, to be included in the next Program Increment (PI) delivery planning. There was a lack of transparency of product roadmap, the pipeline of what was coming through and sequencing required to deliver the capabilities.

The Solution

The Executive asked ZXM to investigate the feature readiness process and make recommendations on how it could be improved. We took a systems thinking approach and looked at waiting-time impacts to the flow of value through the system, we also identified where work was being done in isolation and how this resulted in silo optimising for the area without understanding the downstream impacts and pressures to finalise features to be ready for agile teams to deliver. 

We reviewed the process and identified bottlenecks, developing a value stream map. ZXM consultants then did value stream mapping with all the other key product vertical programs across the ATOand compared this program to the process and patterns used by other major programs of work within the ATO. 

The value stream mapping tracked the cycle time at each stage and the lead time to get a from scope idea to a feature “ready” stage for PI planning.

Identified Bottlenecks

To address the issues uncovered in the review, ZXM coaches worked closely with the PMG, pipeline team, Solution designers and business stakeholders. The activities to address the bottleneck and concerns included:

  • Communicating that timeline dates and the process is not linear and need to be delivered earlier than the final cut off for feature inclusion
  • Utilise business scope in feature briefs to identify and plan sequencing and order of feature writing
  • Develop a pipeline team across solution design, business and SMEs to work collaboratively and iteratively on features
  • Endorse feature once all parts have been completed to prevent rework and need to regain approval if feature was split into smaller features
  • Feature briefings to be conducted to discuss scope before starting to write the feature and identify feature slicing
  • Leveraging patterns from other programs to decrease time taken to develop solutions 
  • Working with peers in other programs to help upskill capabilities in solution design team
  • Ensuring that solutions focused on business problems and on business outcomes
  • Developing a product roadmap to make features transparent to all stakeholders involved
  • Ensure transparency of PMG prioritisation voting process
  • Feedback loop to business if features targeted for next release are at risk and why 

The Results

Transparency of Lead Time

As a result of the value stream mapping exercise, it was highlighted that on average features took 4-6 weeks to get through the feature development pipeline if it was in pattern. For solutions that were novel or new
thinking, the lead time could be up to three to six months.

Transparency of Waste

This exercise also highlighted to business and the solution development team, where there was duplication and waste and where they could streamline the process and work in parallel to deliver the features faster. For instance, if a feature was broken down or split into smaller features or there was minor wording changes, then a re-approval was required which resulted in Features taking longer to be developed.

Streamlined Process

Most Programs that adopted the new streamlined process were able to reduce their cycle time in each of the input areas and work collaboratively in parallel to have features lead time decrease over the next six months these improvements that were put into place allowed the program and the other program areas started to see a more steady stream of features coming through to PMG each week rather than all the features being presented for consideration in the final few weeks before PI Planning would determine features to be delivered in the next three month period. 

50% Faster delivery

Identified and removed bottlenecks in the process
50% improvement in feature development timeframe.

Improved transparency

Improvement in transparency of the entire pipeline of work coming through the product management group.

Improved collaboration

Improvement in
collaboration between business, solution designers and agile delivery teams.

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