Gábor Till

about engineering leadership

Go faster with Value Stream Mapping

Cover Image for Go faster with Value Stream Mapping
Gábor Till
Gábor Till
6 min read

As a good leader one of your responsibilities to help your team(s) to deliver as fast as they can. Every process can be improved and there is a surprising number of activities which makes the progress slower. In this article you can find out how to remove those non-essential steps to help your people go faster.

What is VSM?

Let's start by clarifying the concepts.

A Value Stream is a series of steps towards delivering value to the customer.

Value Stream Mapping is a technique to visualize, analyse and improve the process of a product delivery.

value stream mapping generic example
Value Stream Mapping example

Where is this coming from?

Its history goes back more than 100 years. Charles E. Knoeppel's book Installing Efficiency Methods, published in 1908, already included diagrams of the flow of materials and information.

It probably owes its real fame to the Toyota Production System, as it was one of the foundations of the manufacturing sensation they introduced. Essentially, it allowed Toyota to remove non-essential, wasteful activities while maintaining the manufacturing process.

What are the benefits?

The main advantage of value stream mapping is that it allows you to optimize and save time, which is usually your most valuable asset. And as a beneficial side effect, you will also have a clear visualization of your workflow, which can be a very useful guide, not only within your team, but also within the whole organisation..

How to do it?

Step 1: Start small

I recommend that you start with the smallest team you have. The fewer people you have in a team, the less likely you are to have changing circumstances in the process. Hopefully, this will lead to a relatively simple VSM.

Step 2: Define the purpose

The aim is to optimise the entire product development process - not just one step - by reducing the overall waiting time and overall task time.

Step 3: Visualize key activities of the current process

Our imaginary team includes the Stakeholders, the Product Owner, the Designer, and the Developers.

Their workflow is designed to be predictable. Every week, Stakeholders wanted to see new features in the imaginary product.

If we were to briefly explain how the idea gets to production without going into too much detail, it might sound something like the following.

  1. The Product Owner and Stakeholders discuss the new ideas on Mondays.
  2. The following Tuesday, the Product Owner and Designer will discuss the proposed features.
  3. The next day, Wednesday, the Designer will start working on the visual designs, which usually take a day.
  4. Developers start working on the new features every Monday, based on the design.
  5. Developers are testing the newly developed feature in the acceptance environment, which takes half an hour to deploy.
  6. Once the code has been reviewed, the fixes are re-tested in the acceptance environment to ensure that the functionality continues to work as expected despite the requested changes.
  7. If everything is OK, they deploy the feature to the production environment, which takes 30 minutes. They test the changes to make sure everything works as it should.

Developers are adding new features essentially every week. So by the end of the week, a new feature added to the production environment. The Stakeholders are happy because things are going predictably.


Value stream mapping for software development is different from the original. Using the VSM symbols involves a learning curve, so let's make an intuitive diagram instead. With my approach, you can use a whiteboard with sticky notes, any drawing program or even an Excel file.

Our diagram has to show all the roles, all the steps and the time required to complete each step (Task time), as well as the time elapsed between each step (Wait time).

Visualization of the current workflow

In the current state, the total waiting time is 100 hours, and the total task time is 31 hours.

Step 4: Analyze

Looking at the graph, you can see that the waiting time between some tasks is relatively long. For example, after the interaction between the Product Owner and the Designer, there is a wait of three days before the Designer starts working on the design. Then the Developers wait one week before they start working on the implementation of the feature.

It is also surprisingly common to find redundant or duplicated work during the process. In our case, Testing on Acceptance Environment is a task done twice, but is it necessary?

The above points are excellent opportunities for optimization.

Step 5: List all the possible improvements

  • The PO and Designer will discuss the requirements as soon as the User Stories are ready.
  • The Designer will start working on the visualizations as soon as the meeting with the PO is over.
  • Developers start working on the features as soon as the designs are available.
  • Code review will be done immediately after development. We want to avoid double testing in the acceptance environment.
  • Prioritizing code reviews. They will pick up the code review immediately, and they will fix the feedback immediately.

Once you have the list, discuss which steps you would like to introduce.

Step 6: Visualise the updated flow

Our team has decided that they want to make all the changes mentioned above. Let's see how this looks visually.

Visualization of the improved workflow

In the improved flow, the total waiting time is only 9 hours and the total task time is 30 hours. We managed to shave off more than 90% from the waiting time, and we also reduced the task time. Impressive, isn't it?

The situation I have outlined may seem extreme, but I know from experience that serious results can be achieved with this method.


Often the workflow of a team is more complicated than the example above.

Not all functions are delivered in the same way, so the waiting time and the time to complete the task can vary greatly.

What to look out for?

I'm sure you will find many, many opportunities for improvement, but I would say focus on the changes mentioned below.

  • The biggest reduction in waiting times
  • The highest probability of success
  • Most visible to Stakeholders

Take into account

  • Changes will typically be in the process
  • It is worth limiting the number of simultaneous changes
  • Changes are experiments that need to be evaluated

What's next?

As you have seen in value stream mapping, the first step is to come up with the current state as it is. This will highlight current workflows and focus on future developments.

It is also recommended to draw another map about the future state, to see what would be the most effective way for you.

As things are constantly changing, it is worth repeating this exercise from time to time, both for the present and for the future state.

Dream Big!

There is no need to stop this exercise at team level. You can do it with whole departments or even at the level of the whole organization, as everyone wants to get their work done as quickly as possible.

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