From Concept to Market: Using Value Stream Mapping to Accelerate Product Development

A couple of years ago, I was an agile coach supporting product management on an large agile release train that had dependencies across the solution train (45 teams in total). We were doing good scrum practice, we had great PI planning days but we were still taking a long time to get features into the hands of customers. Developers were pointing to designers saying the features weren’t “ready” to go into Planning. Business was tired of not getting their features delivered when forecasted and it took over 250 days from idea to delivery. 

The product manager needed to know how we could improve and how quickly we could go from ideation to putting the product into the customer’s hands and getting feedback? What was stopping us from being faster? Could we pivot quickly if we need to? 

As each value stream represented the sequence of steps to deliver value to customers, it was important to map the value stream to highlight the flow of value, delays, rework, and bottlenecks. So we looked at mapping the value stream for our product to understand what was happening. 

Reduce Time to Market through Value Stream Mapping

Reducing delays in the value stream is always the fastest way to reduce time-to-market. Value Stream Mapping helps to identify the value streams  that cross organsiational silos and boundaries.  As such, it can be systematically measured and improved to increase flow and quality using value stream mapping—which is an analytical process, teams can use first to understand, and then improve, time-to-market. Using value stream mapping  and analysis of the bottlenecks to flow can systematically improve time-to-market. 

For our product, once we started to map the value stream some fundamental issues with our operating model started to appear. 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. There was a lack of transparency of product roadmap, the pipeline of what was coming through and sequencing required to deliver the capabilities. 

To address the issues, I worked with the product manager to engage closely with  solution designers and business stakeholders to understand the bottlenecks highlighted in the value stream and identify activities to improve flow which included:

  • Communicating that timeline dates and the process is not linear (even though the value map looks linear). many activities could be done in parallel
  • Utilise lightweight business scope in feature briefs to identify and plan sequencing and slice features into smaller batch sizes 
  • Develop a product pipeline team across solution design, business and SMEs to work collaboratively and iteratively on features
  • Leveraging existing solution design patterns to decrease time taken to develop solutions (don’t assume feature needs extensive discovery phase) 
  • 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  prioritisation to all stakeholders
  • Shift testing left and automate testing whenever possible

Most Portfolio teams that adopted the new streamlined process were able to reduce their cycle time in each of the value stream input areas and work collaboratively in parallel to have features lead time decrease over the next six months.  Reducing lead times and cycle times in our value stream,, meant we were able to reduce the time for an average features to completed within 4-6 weeks if it was in pattern. For solutions that were novel or new thinking, the lead time could be up to three to six months (which was still an improvement over 9-12 months previously). 

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Measure Flow of Time to Value

To accelerate the time to value (or market), it is important to organise your operating model around products value stream and not projects streams.  Organising agile release trains around products allows each value stream an identifiable and measurable flow of value to a customer. This optimises the  flow of value through the system as a whole. After all,  if you don’t have a clear picture of what you deliver and how the flow of value to customers happens, how can can you  improve it?

To this end, organising  portfolios around value streams enables visualising the flow of work to produce solutions, and offers the following benefits :

  • Fewer handoffs and delays as teams work with smaller batch sizes
  • Enables teams to focus on delivering value, instead of projects (which tend to  focus on task completion)
  • Allows quicker feedback, faster learning and shorter time-to-market
  • Contributes to higher quality and more productivity
  • Supports leaner development and budgeting methods 

Understand Flow of Value through the Value Stream

If you want to get to market quicker, then start with mapping your value flow from ideation to delivery and validation to assess success based on  outcomes and impacts. Understanding the value stream and how to promote Agile Release Train flow is vital to know what is holding you back from getting your product to customers.

Knowing the value stream’s attributes and how the enterprise serves its customers, allowed us to look at ways to optimise the operational value stream. This is why measuring flow  metrics such as Ability to Innovate and Time to Market based on mapping the value stream are key.

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