What value stream best fits a DevOps team?

May 9, 2019 Jason English

In prioritizing work for value, do your application development and delivery teams take a measure-to-fit strategy for each feature, or more of a casual approach?

An Intellyx BrainBlog for CollabNet VersionOne by Jason English

In popular culture, developers are often the last people to give a flip about fashion. It wouldn’t surprise me if your company has at least one guru working in sweatpants and flip-flops right now.

But let’s not generalize about geek clothing styles -- there are also well-dressed geeks. [And who cares, it’s the results that matter, which we will touch on later.]

Dev and Ops teams will, however, become obsessively fashion-forward when it comes to new methods and tools. Nobody wants to be left behind on innovation. Given the rate of change in any enterprise IT shop, I’m predicting new, cloudy abstraction layers, AI-enabled tools and component types du jour will come down the runway this season to highlight the “cool” and “hip” factor.

Let’s move past the latest trends in agile development and intelligent operations, and get to the heart of DevOps: a relentless focus on continuously delivering customer value. Or, optimizing a value stream that is aligned to business outcomes.

Value should always be in fashion

If a delivery team isn’t creating business value, what’s the point of claiming to be agile? Or committing a thousand releases a day, with a million tests each? Or spawning elastic workloads that span hybrid cloud environments?

Value Stream Management (or VSM) is the practice of measuring and prioritizing the delivery of business services and features around customer value, whatever the contributing methods and tools may be.

VSM as an architectural approach interfaces with, but doesn’t need to replace, your DevOps tool chain. You can interchange source control repositories, requirements management tools, collaboration and task managers, continuous delivery solutions, IT service management, support tools. Whether open source or proprietary, all these technologies can inform VSM on what to prioritize.

In essence VSM is the stitching between what the technology world can deliver, and the outcomes the business world demands.

But like any fashion, there’s no one correct way to wear VSM. Everyone has their own personal style. The pattern for how DevOps teams employ VSM also takes on several different styles.

What’s your VSM style?

DevOps isn’t a prescriptive, rote methodology, nor does it dictate a particular set of tools. It’s a movement toward collaborative delivery and measurement of value that takes expression in divergent ways.

You can be part of a DevOps team adapting a mainframe with APIs in a massive bank, or in a younger company delivering microservices atop event-based data in a hybrid cloud.

A large enterprise can encompass several DevOps teams at the same time, working in different parts of the organization. They may collaborate, but each has their own value stream. The style varies based on the preferred business outcomes, or outputs.

While the style possibilities are infinite, for instance a team may identify with one of these four generalized value stream archetypes:

  • Business-focused: Decrease the time-to-delivery of customer-demanded functionality, while increasing existing customer revenue and driving new customer sales.
  • Developer-focused: Increase the productivity of all development resources, allowing them to deliver faster, with better quality, by improving collaboration and eliminating constraints and useless work (toil).
  • Operations-focused: Improve service reliability and customer satisfaction, with best-in-class performance and security, while reducing support resolution time and IT costs.
  • Management-focused: Better govern all development and operations with higher visibility and predictability of corporate and team performance, while reducing risk.

Even with only four archetypes, you can see how widely the styles of VSM vary, but have a shared cultural mindset. There are many more dimensions to map for VSM: Internal-Facing vs. External-facing, Short-term vs. Long-term horizon, competitive versus collaborative partnership situations.

Timeless global elements of VSM

There are some aspects of VSM that never go out of style. If you are working in a DevOps team, collaboration and empathy among teams with a shared global purpose should be part of your DNA. Whatever department you are in, you should naturally be working toward a higher order value stream for the entire extended organization, shared cultural mindset delivering ‘value for all.’

This is easier said than done when agile is in place across larger organizations, and each team proceeds with a certain level of autonomy. It’s rather simplistic to expect teams to serve the global good by applying the 80%/20% rule to every feature request. The decision logjam at each code branch could cause the backlog to grow rapidly.

For global optima, the enterprise incorporates a company-wide Kanban planning cycle, with an executive team mapping out overall long-term goals, which are then broken down to short-term achievements and communicated as goals for each delivery team.

What makes this planning tick isn’t the top-down plan though. Visibility drives the plan. Continuous feedback loops on goal achievements should come in from each delivery team. This helps the executive team re-prioritize its global VSM mapping based on performance to outcomes reached and actual delivery capacity.

The Intellyx Take

For the enterprise, VSM makes work visible. For developers, VSM makes work meaningful. For the executive leadership, it makes work valuable.

Fashionable delivery techniques and development technologies aside, Value Stream Management, like DevOps, is equally as comfortable in a cloud-native team as it is for an IT Ops group in the datacenter.

If you work in a business that touches technology, you are already a part of a value stream, whether you know it or not. So try to wear it well, because VSM will never go out of style.

When done right, VSM doesn’t need to look fancy. Once teams get comfortable with the process, it adjusts work to fulfill the needs of the business over time. In that sense, VSM might just be like the best pair of jeans you’ve ever owned.

© 2019 Intellyx LLC. At the time of writing, CollabNet VersionOne is an Intellyx customer. No other organizations or people mentioned in this article are Intellyx customers. Intellyx is solely responsible for the content of this article. Image credits: Flickr open source, Nic McPhee, Henry Jose, composite by bluefug.

About the Author

Jason English

Jason “JE” English is Principal Analyst and CMO at Intellyx. Drawing on expertise in designing, marketing and selling enterprise software and services, he is focused on covering how agile collaboration between customers, partners and employees accelerates innovation. As employee #3 of ITKO and VP Marketing, he led marketing efforts for the development, testing and virtualization software company from its bootstrap startup days, through a successful acquisition by CA in 2011. JE co-authored the book Service Virtualization: Reality is Overrated to capture the then-novel practice of test environment simulation for Agile development and more than 60 thousand copies are in circulation today. JE has broad experience advising and working for companies offering cloud computing platforms, blockchain networks, SaaS-based solutions, industry-specific marketing tools, supply chain management and gaming. A writer, documentarian, and community builder, JE has written, hosted and edited hundreds of technical news, education and thought leadership blogs, event sessions, podcasts and videos.

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