Is Value Stream Management Boring? Why The Answer Matters To You

In ConnectALL, Value Stream, Value Stream Management by Lance Knight

If anyone ever tries to tell you that watching mindless YouTube videos is a waste of time, point them to this blog post.

Why? Because I realized something very relevant about value stream management (VSM) recently thanks to my wife & YouTube comedian Trey Kennedy.

My journey to enlightenment started by watching Trey’s video Wife School, which he did in collaboration with another YouTube comedian (Dude Dad). This video taught me absolutely nothing about VSM. 

However, it did help me learn that my wife isn’t the only one who wants new countertops. It also taught me that I’m more of a Starbucks fiend than she is.

The next step was seeing that Trey & Dude Dad had their wives do a reaction video to Wife School. If you’re not familiar with reaction videos, they’re pretty much just videos of people watching videos and providing their own commentary. It’s a great way to repurpose content (wink wink to my fellow marketers).

This got me thinking: “what if I got my wife to do a reaction video to one of our ConnectALL webinars?” 

[Here’s the one I was thinking – check out how The Grinch recently saved Christmas using value stream management]

Thinking that I just geniused my way into an easy piece of content, I broached the idea with her.

Shockingly, she said no.

“It’s not that I don’t want to watch you do a webinar,” she said. 

“It’s just that value stream management is boring.

Lightbulbs went off, trumpets sounded, and an epiphany was born.

Is value stream management boring?

This can be a hard truth. Those of us who eat, drink, and sleep value stream management understand the impact it can have on a business. And that excites us.

But what is the perspective of the wider world? In the eyes of someone who may not even know what a value stream is, or who instinctively bangs his head on the table whenever anyone talks about the “next big thing,” we have to ask the question:

Is VSM boring?

I think so. 

We talk all about flow, and value, and feedback loops, and metrics, and efficiency…

But where’s the pizzazz?

We as an industry have to be honest with ourselves. Value stream management is boring. But it doesn’t have to be.

In fact, we can’t afford for it to be.

Does it matter if value stream management is boring?

If you’re reading this article, then either:

  1. You are at least curious about value stream management, or
  2. You were looking for Trey Kennedy’s YouTube channel and this blog showed up instead

If you answered B, then thank you for reading this far. Here’s a link to his channel page.

If you answered A, then it is absolutely critical that we work together to figure out how to make value stream management interesting.

The reason is this: value stream management is not a solo sport. 

Value stream management practices are not something that you can go Rambo with and implement all on your own. You cannot write a script or buy a tool that will do VSM for you. 

We say all the time at ConnectALL that value stream management is human. As you seek to expand value stream management internally, you have to make value stream management compelling enough for your stakeholders, who are humans, to buy in. 

This may include:

  • Your boss
  • Your boss’s boss
  • Your software development team
  • Other teams in the software delivery toolchain
  • Customers
  • Partners 
  • The person who signs the checks

To get this buy-in, we have to get better at telling a compelling story about value stream management. We need to light a fire up under these people that burns so hot that they can’t wait to get it going. 

Otherwise, value stream management will never move farther than a nice idea that never gets done.

Learning from our ancestors

So how do we do this? How can we craft the sort of VSM story that will resonate with our stakeholders?

For the answer, I look to VSM’s older brother, DevOps, for inspiration. 

Confession time: for a long time, I was not all that interested in DevOps. The infinity symbol thing looks cool, but the DevOps concept wasn’t compelling to me in and of itself.

And then, I read The Phoenix Project.

This book taught me a lot about DevOps and why it matters. It wasn’t just informative, but it was really dang entertaining. I found myself rooting for Bill as his world collapsed around him, pulling for Patty & Wes and the team, and seething as Sarah openly played corporate politics. 

And along the way, I learned about the 3 Ways of DevOps through Erik’s wisdom and Bill’s perseverance. 

Diving head-first into the cluster bomb that is Parts Unlimited was the best way for me to learn about DevOps and why it matters. This book connected with me emotionally, which in turn enabled me to connect intellectually. 

So clearly, the solution is for all of us to write a book, right?

Telling the value stream management story

As much fun as it would be to write a value stream oriented book (working title: The Mongoose Project), I can’t imagine anyone’s boss would be up for reading a 300+ page book just to see if VSM is a good idea.

That said, we can certainly take this principle to heart, albeit in a much simpler way.

We need to tell the kind of story that people will rally behind. We need to communicate the need for value stream management in a way that makes sense to the specific audience we are speaking with.

In essence, we need to make value stream management interesting enough to resonate with the listener. 

Stop me if you’ve heard anything like this before:

  • “Value stream management allows you to remove waste from your software delivery process.” Boooooooring
  • “It’s important to measure the flow of work within your value stream.” Important, but also kind of lame.
  • “Deliver better business outcomes with value stream management.” Yawn.

Let’s try reframing these narratives like so: 

  • “Hey Chuck, you know those parts of your job that you think are stupid and unneccessary? Want to see if we can get rid of them? Check out value stream management.”
  • “Dang it Betsy, engineering pushed the release date back again? It feels like we’re just hoping that the date they made up on the fly is in the same ballpark as the delivery date. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to actually predict when it will be ready?”
  • “Want to get your bonus this year? Then we should probably figure out how to deliver what the higher-ups are asking for, so that you can get your wife those fancy new countertops she’s been eyeing.”

The key difference between the first group and the second group is that instead of communicating using arbitrary business-y concepts, we’ve refocused the benefits in a way that is real, authentic, and personally relevant. 

When we do need to communicate the value from a higher-level business perspective, we must do so in a way that will better capture audience attention. This is a great topic for a follow-up post after a few more hours of YouTube for “inspiration.” 

Where do we go from here?

People don’t buy into anything for its own sake. They buy into what it can do for them.

Parents don’t want car seats. They want the added safety for their child that the seat provides.

Teenage boys don’t want fast cars. They want the freedom, the adrenaline rush, and the chance to impress teenage girls that the car provides. 

Likewise, people don’t buy into value stream management. They buy into what value stream management can do for them.

One of the things that my boss often says to me is, “Boring is expensive.” 

If we truly believe that value stream management has the potential to radically improve software delivery, we have to find a way to make it interesting.

Because if we don’t, one way or another, we will pay for it.

[Contact us today if you want to discuss why VSM matters for you and your squad. We’ll do our best to avoid straying into the “boring zone”]