Daniel Breston

#TechEthicist on great practices in the Cloud

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Using Value Stream Mapping to overcome the 'Iceberg of Ignorance'

Over my career, I have been the Head of Ops or in a similar technology role for a variety of large financial services organisations. My teams across the globe relied on a number of vendors and serviced several thousand internal users and thousands more customers to perform transactions for their daily job. I had dashboards, reports, meetings and all sorts of information but still did not know the truth of what was truly happening.

Like all technology groups, we needed to complete projects, keep services running and manage against a number of regulatory requirements. What we really wanted was to integrate what our technology capabilities were into the processes and ways of working of the organisation: onboarding, equity trading, purchasing, building a virtual environment in a cloud, automating change requests and improving our resolution processes were all things we hoped to improve.

We were suffering from the iceberg of ignorance, where the higher up the management level we went, the less we really knew about what was really happening.

Value Stream Mapping

Value Stream Mapping (VSM) is a conversation and agreement technique between decision-makers on how to best improve a way of working (process) in regard to: quality, time, effort, technology and people involved. VSM is a value focused exercise from the point of view of the consumer, so outside-in thinking. VSM is a technique developed by Toyota and has been embraced by the DevOps community.

I love VSM for these reasons:

  • It helps the decision-makers across a flow of work to fully appreciate the challenges of completing a task
  • It creates an iterative cycle of improvement from a holistic point of view
  • It enables a collaborative conversation across all involved in an activity
  • It shows people how to improve and quickly see the benefit

Let’s face it: when was the last time you sat down for 2-3 days with your peers to review a process and decide how to improve it?

Some of you are thinking “we do this regularly”. Great, so it will be easy for you to answer these questions:

  • Do you, your staff or vendors know how a process is working on a day to day basis and if it is getting stuck in terms of excessive time, effort, cost or dropping quality?
  • Do you know daily (or earlier) what impact an improvement effort makes on a process?

When I first learned about VSM, I laughed: you want us decision-makers to take two, three or even four days to improve a process? No way! This is what we hire team leads for or created process guides. We don't have the time to do this.

Then, upon reflection with our DevOps-Lean coach, I thought “if we don't have the time, then who really does?” If this process is so fundamentally important, then we need to show that we are part of the solution and actually we should begin that process of improvement by understanding the challenges and being ready to remove the obstacles.

We are not going to know (nor should we) every aspect of a work process. We should know enough though to help create a better way and encourage our staff and vendors to become part of the new way.

VSM Event

Part 1: discuss and confirm the problem by creating a charter of improvement

Part 2: observe the problem process and map the macro-level view, overlaying time of tasks, resources and technology used, meetings or reports required and most importantly the quality by step

Part 3; Having seen the issues, we can be brave and create a macro-level future, better way

Part 4: We create a strategy of communicating what we have learned and how we believe that our new way will help. This strategy encourages all involved to become a part of the improvement cycle as the steps of change are small, iterative and visible to all.

We must define and agree the problem to obtain an understanding of what is really happening, thus enabling us to help create a better way and a plan to be successful using post-it notes and flipcharts. Sounds easy! No, it is not with all of the egos in the room throwing out obstacles.


We spent 11 days to onboard a new employee. 11 days where that employee was not truly able to contribute to the bank. Our goal was that, in one month, when someone new started working or changed roles, that on the first day they would be fully able to work. Two to three hundred people a month in five countries benefited from our efforts!

We needed to remove the 23 days it took to create a new environment or a new server such that the digital teams or marketing teams offering new web-based services could help the organisation make more money. Done!

Our testing processes were antiquated and a roadblock to the flow of work from the development of something until it was live in the hands of a user. We removed this obstacle over three months.

What to know more?

VSM is one of the ways that Virtual Clarity helps decision-makers align and become part of the problem-solving community in their organisation. If you want to know more, let us know. We love showing others how to do things better, faster and safer.