The Value Stream is Human

In Value Stream by Andrew Fuqua

In software delivery, don’t think of there being a value stream or the value stream. Value stream is an abstraction. The wikipedia definition refers to value stream as a depiction, a representation, a model. Depictions of a value stream attempt to describe a reality that can’t be pinned down, but is a view to promote understanding and enable discussion. Value Stream is a real world concept, but not one that can be precisely drawn because it’s fluid and uncertain and complex and multidimensional. 

At the highest level, a value stream can be modeled simply and can be simply viewed, but in reality it is a complex system that generates the value, with each piece moving the value forward. You could draw a value stream at a much lower or more detailed level, and maybe doing so adds value for diagnosing and improving. But either way, the value stream map or your depiction of the value stream in a value stream management (VSM) platform is an abstraction, a representation. Don’t forget that.

My point is that how work actually gets done is through the informal network: humans thinking and interacting in unpredictable and un-designable ways. It can’t be known a priori. Even the artifacts in your VSM platform and ALM and DevOps tooling are representations or placeholders. They aren’t the value stream. 

So, you can’t design a knowledge-work value stream in the same way you can Industrial Design/Engineer a manufacturing plant. You can effect change to the value stream. You can reorg the org. You can change processes or responsibilities. You can change the tools. You can find places to eliminate delay or change the flow. You can measure certain things. You can make the business side of matrix-management have more power (recommended). But you can’t design all the details — it’s a complex adaptive system. Don’t forget the human element.