The agile value stream mapping oxymoron

by Alan Cyment

So I decided to read about Lean and grabbed a copy of Lean Software
Development, by the Poppendiecks. I’d heard so many times about Value
Streaming Mapping that I reckoned it must be good stuff. And so I read
about it. There goes quite brief a summary:

  • Analyze your current software development process
  • Write it down in a linear/sequential way, considering the average duration of each step
  • For each step, decide the ratio of wasteful to productive time
  • Productive: adds value to the customer – Wasteful: it does not

I don’t like it. At all. It simply feels awkward, at least
for a Scrum team. Or simply unrealistic. How can a Scrum team write
down their current development process on a piece of paper? It just doesn’t make sense. Scrum is about empirically designing product and process.

Yes, process must be optimized. Yes, it’s fine to try and find waste,
so that you can eliminate it. Yes, you can write down what you did ,
especially if writing it down helps you find useless steps. But it is
simply nonsense to ask a Scrum team to describe the process they
follow every time they develop software. The whole point of this thing
game we play is that we will adapt our process on the go.

Value stream mapping sounds cool for factories, but not so cool for consulting. Perhaps it is useful for software factories. Or perhaps software factories is yet another oxymoron.