Value Streams Mapping for Humans

How do we, as leaders, adapt the value stream process to put individuals and interactions over processes and tools?

Lieschen Gargano Quilling
5 min readDec 11, 2020

Organizing around value is a tenant of the Scaled Agile Framework, the most widely applied scaling method for Agile. It is essential to reducing time to market, and building a productive workplace with happy employees. Every product or service has a value stream that goes from a trigger to delivering value to the end user, aka, concept to cash. We all assume someone already has this map, at least in their head, but they often don’t, and working through it can be an enlightening experience for leaders and organizations. Mapping this process for each product or service, and then organizing our people and teams around the desired flow of value will remove countless blockers and reduce cycle times caused by siloed departments.

Change is coming

Great, let’s do it!

But wait, a re-org by any other name is still a re-org. Many people bring with them the scars of past experiences alongside the usual fear of change. “What does it mean to work on a cross functional team?” “Why don’t I see my title on this map?” “How will my role change?” “Will I be good at this new role?”

hmmm, so now what?

Tell the story. I don’t mean talking about the benefit of organizing around value, I mean your organizations concept to cash flow. Make visuals and walk your teams through it until it is so clear to them they roll their eyes because you’re telling them something so obvious. You likely won’t know what features they will have, or what the individual teams will be working on at this point, and that is ok. Telling the story of how value is delivered will allow them to see themselves, and others in the story. Hearing it so many times they could tell it themselves, means they will understand it, and understand it well enough to articulate their concerns and questions before changes are made.

The Choice is Yours

Let people self select into teams.

This may be scary for many leaders concerned about balanced teams and filling certain roles but when set up well, it leads to the individual ownership and buy-in needed to make the change stick. At this point you will need a general idea of your epics and top priorities, the number of team you are creating, and a list of roles to fill on each team. Present those teams and the Epics or value they are expected to deliver end to end as a follow on to the value stream story.

It is essential to show how these teams will function differently than the teams as they are now. You inevitably won’t have enough of at least one role to go around. Most commonly, design, Product Owners, and Scrum Masters will need to be on several teams. In marketing it is often your data experts, writers, or other specialists that will either need to stay on a shared services team, or agree to how they will serve a maximum of 2 teams. You MUST be able to answer those questions BEFORE having people choose teams, and make it very clear to those people what it means to be on two teams.

Organize into teams.

Once you have identified and made clear the value each team will be delivering end to end, and the roles required on each, have a job fair! This should be fun! In person you may have tables for each team with details on the epics and Product managers to answer questions. Remotely, you can set up break out rooms that can be hopped in and out of. At the end, set the expectation that in a spreadsheet/ collaborate forum/ Miro board, whatever, each person has moved their name to a team.

Here is the fun part. You will inevitably have doubles of roles on some teams, gaps on others, and even teams that somehow look the same as they did before. DON’T FRET! Bring everyone back together to discuss what still needs to be done. Send them back to the breakouts they signed up for, and let them work it out as a new team. Make sure business owners and product managers are there to answer questions and send team members from teams with openings into larger team breakouts to lobby for a move. You can set the expectation at the beginning that you may work with some people 1:1 after to make a few adjustments, but that no one will be forced into a team or role they don’t agree to.

Who is my manager?

This is where the dual operating system comes into play. At least at the start, you should change people managers as little as possible. You want these new teams to be egalitarian so they form understanding and respecting how every role and expertise fits into the puzzle. Keeping managers the same also removes an extra layer of fear, uncertainty and doubt in the change process.

What if we didn’t get it right?

With all this work, and all the emotional stress on the organization of major change, it can be hard to admit you may not get your value streams right the first time. Part of the story from the beginning needs to be a commitment to continuous improvement. Relentless improvement is a tenant of Agile practices, so the end cap to this story is to make it clear how these new teams and value streams will be inspected and adapted as they go.

Answer the following questions clearly for your organization, and put them somewhere accessible, like an intranet page.

  • What does success look like for the value streams?
  • How will we know we are organized correctly?
  • When are pivot or persevere moments and how will we decide?

Follow up on how it is going.

Change efforts should be treated no differently than any other feature or epic. Have the leaders of the change demo progress and struggles at system demos or all hands meetings. Bring data on how the change is going into your product vision and release stories. Whatever you do, don’t stop talking about it. Keep it in your company narrative and ensure it is acknowledged along with other wins and value delivered. To the humans, this is an effort as daunting, and time and energy consuming as any other. As your internal customers of change, they deserve a lot more than just being along for the ride.

Let me know how it goes. I love to hear your stories, challenges, and follow up questions.