Unpicking the Acronym: Value Stream Management - Part 2
The path to DevOps maturity might not be what you think
July 14, 2020

Jon Collins
Gigaom

I've been spending the past couple of years looking at how to make DevOps real through best practices, supported through the use of supporting technologies running across development, through deployment and into operations. The answer lies in aligning practices with reality, rather than trying to corral reality into some theoretical ideal.

Start with Unpicking the Acronym: Value Stream Management - Part 1

Enter: Value Stream Management

My researches into the world of development best practice have led me to two conclusions. First that there's a great deal of good stuff going on, but that can sometimes obscure missing elements that have always been necessary — hence my realization that best practice needed an overhaul. It looks like I wasn't alone, as Value Stream Management (VSM) has recently emerged as a front runner as a concept to fill the gaps. VSM essentially considers process efficiency (what's causing slowness and bottlenecks) and process effectiveness (how to ensure the results are beneficial).

So, it's just another process thing, right? Wrong. Or at least, to believe this is starting down the VSM track in the wrong way. The term "stream" might suggest a process angle, but equally important is "value" — and it is this piece that has been missing. Consider: at the risk of starting down another rabbit hole, the trouble with project management is that it considers "delivery" as the primary measure of success, when it should be "benefit". If you get this, then you should also get the relationship between "stream" and "value."

At the heart of the latter is a need to measure. Frankly, it doesn't matter what you're doing or how (within reason); more important is whether you create something of worth. So, we've been wrong-footed by putting our attention on how things are done, to the detriment of results. VSM, at its heart, looks to counter this. And the tool it presents is measurement. As the adage goes, if you can't measure, you can't manage.

Moving From Ignorance to Wisdom

Process maturity is not achievable. Nor, frankly, is cultural maturity - we can debate this over a beverage, but exceptions do not make a norm. However, measurement maturity — now we are talking about something workable. With measurement maturity, we can move from a state of Ignorance to Wisdom as follows:

Ignorance is where we are assured that everything will be ok, even though we are not sure.

Recognition is where we know this is not true, and we have the data we need to understand why.

Knowledge is where we have the information we need to make decisions about how to improve.

Insight is where we recognize we can make knowledge-driven decisions and effect broader changes.

Wisdom, ultimately, is where we understand we can never fully achieve enlightenment, but can still learn.

This path, which suggests more of a journey of spirit, I have seen in many disciplines, and in life. Ultimately, no organization will ever be fully mature, not per se. The ultimate climber knows that there is no summit, but takes each new mountain following the same approach, with the hard-learned discipline that understanding where they are now will help them to continue on, and up.

In more down to earth terms, such a data-driven approach gives us a platform to build upon — when looking at tools for example, I'm awarding extra figurative marks to tools vendors that share this spirit, and/or offer visibility as a first-class citizen rather than (say) as an ad-hoc report. Looking to the future, if AI is to help, it will be through distilling data into insights and guidance, rather than generating an ideal process, as the notion of the ideal process is flawed.

Clarity Engenders Success

There's a lot to unpack here, but it boils down to working with concepts that work, rather than concepts that we know to be flawed. Never again should we say "we need a cultural shift" in the knowledge that nobody has ever seen one. Meanwhile, we should take comfort in the knowledge that better information leads to better understanding and ability to make decisions: the difference between success and failure is that between clarity and denial.

The path to enlightenment relies on shining a light. Yes, VSM is a good place to start, but only by placing equal emphasis on the V, the S and the M.

Jon Collins is VP of Research for Gigaom
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