VSM (Value Stream Mapping) to help System Thinking
VSM (VALUE STREAM MAPPING) TO HELP SYSTEM THINKING
Hi guys, in this post I want to share with you an excellent story that happened several months ago with one of my teams, for that I will explain how to use VSM (Value Stream Mapping) as a tool to help System Thinking.
At that time I had a team that was making the first steps towards Agile. They were a fantastic team, keen to learn but still with the “old waterfall” mentality. They had a typical approach where the developers did development work and the testers – testing, not a truly Agile team.
I believe this is a common problem for teams that are switching to Agile: seeing only a small picture, they are not able to understand the entire system. I believe they lacked “System Thinking”. But what is “System Thinking”?
Shortly explained, “System Thinking” is the ability to see the “big picture” and not to be focused on just a small part of your job. For a better explanation, I will use as an example my former team to demonstrate my ideas.
In that particular team, the work was arranged so that the developers had a set of User stories to work on. A finished User story was passed over to the testers for testing. The problem was that although for the developers these stories were quite simple to implement, they were quite challenging for testing because of several compatibility issues that required full allocation of testing resources.
When developers ran out of User stories, they were asking the Product Owner for more stories to work on. However, the PO acted rationally and did not give them any new stories until the team delivered everything to the iteration backlog. It was obvious that the team needed some help to visualise everything that was happening. How to help the team?
Clearly, the developers had their best intentions in mind: they ran out of work. Therefore, they asked for more tasks. However, because of their lack of “System Thinking, ” they did not understand that more work for them would mean more pressure on the testing resources that were already fully allocated and, ultimately, an outcome of a poorer quality of the team effort.
Apparently, the developers needed to understand that it was not anymore a matter of “us and them” because their job is accomplished when a customer gets the product, and the product would be ready when the team would act as a single unit.
I have discussed this issue with some of my colleagues, and they gave me a good idea: in next iteration to use Value Stream Mapping (VSM) for observing how the system behaved. This tool is a great instrument to identify different aspects of a system. If you want to use it, you need to take some time to explain this tool to your team. From my experience, not many people apply this in software development.
VSM can be a fantastic tool to be used at retrospectives, but this could be explained in another post ;). Let´s see what happened at the iteration retrospective (an iteration where VSM was used).
By that time, the team was already familiar with the VSM, and they were quite impressed with the amount of information we collected using it. Having looked at different VSMs (we created one for each different User story), it was not long before the team could see that bringing more
User stories to the iteration would not translate into higher output because the testers were already fully loaded, therefore, producing more code would only mean that the testers would not be able to deliver everything on time.
The team started appreciating more “System Thinking” and not just think anymore regarding their separate “boxes”. After some discussions, the developers decided that in the following iteration they would help the testers with all the testing activities to deliver more User stories as a team.
In the following iteration, the developers and the testers worked more as a team, and the output of the joint effort of the team was indeed of a higher quality and volume.
Do you think this is something to consider when you work with your teams? What are your ideas on the topic? If you like to use VSM as a tool, you might consider reading this blog post: “How To Use Value Stream Mapping In Your Agile Retrospectives“.