Dr. Mik Kersten
Dr. Mik Kersten is the CEO of Tasktop and author of Project to Product: How to Survive and Thrive in the Age of Digital Disruption with the Flow Framework.

“Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets.”

This above quote, often attributed to W. Edwards Deming, rings as true today in the Age of Software as it did in the Age of Mass Production. As companies strive to compete with disruptors such as Amazon, a question that needs to be addressed is who will own and architect the software value streams which accelerate the flow of business value to customers? Tech giants such as Microsoft and Amazon have a clear answer to this question – does your company?

While much emphasis has traditionally been applied to the enterprise architecture of systems being designed for business use, the integrated architecture of systems used by IT for software delivery has largely been ignored. This is despite the fact that these IT systems are crucial to how a company delivers value to market through software. As such, outside of tech giants and startups, many organizations do not have a consistent or integrated delivery pipeline which is treated as a true product that can deliver tangible business outcomes.

Furthermore, there has been a lack of emphasis on the architecture of these systems with regards to speed of delivery. Most concerning is the how few enterprise IT organizations have a role assigned to value stream architecture to achieve this crucial acceleration objective. Consequently, it’s no surprise that investment in hiring developers and adopting lean methodologies, such as Agile and DevOps, can fail to automatically deliver more value after the corresponding tools and training are procured.

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Even as organizations adopt DevOps and other practices, many continue to struggle with creating a holistic view of the value stream of a product from portfolio/feature inception to delivery to customer feedback. The lack of visibility into this continuous flow and feedback loop is due to poorly defined feedback mechanisms and the inability of the organization to anticipate and influence the platforms that automate these processes. As products are delivered through the DevOps continuum, the ability to focus resources into areas that will continually streamline and increase the velocity of deliverables across the organization is crucial to enterprise adaptability and success. Enter the role of Value Stream Architect.

The Value Stream Architect is an influencer, a consultant, an optimizer, and an architect. They work closely with a Product Owner, who is primarily responsible for the funding and prioritizing of all the work undertaken by the product team (features, defects, risk and debts) to optimize the business value, quality, cost and happiness of the team supporting the entire product lifecycle. For example, for a banking company, a product could be a financial instrument like an annuity. For a car manufacturer, it might be the supporting innovations in the infotainment system. Or it might be an IT for IT product like an application programming interface (API), or the integrated delivery pipeline consisting of the planning, development, testing, deployment and support tools used by IT associates.

The Value Stream Architect role consists of several factors to ensure success:

Visibility: Without visibility into each of the lines of business/products, the Value Stream Architect is working in a vacuum. It’s crucial that feedback mechanisms are designed and implemented to give the Architect a 360-degree view of the entire software development and deployment process. These feedback mechanisms are the core component of any value stream architecture. The Architect leverages these systems to provide business-level visibility into the flow of value being delivered for each part of the software portfolio.

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Influence: The Value Stream Architect will need the support of the organization to drive change across each component of the value stream:

  • Through the collection and analysis of feedback data, the mechanism for driving change should take the form of the Architect adding work items to each of the product backlogs. These items are continuous improvement ideas that the Architect has identified through working with the team, based on the current backlog and the expected business result metrics, and utilizing value stream metrics and feedback in retrospectives.
  • The Architect influences and consults with the integrated delivery pipeline owner to drive higher level decisions about platform and tooling. These decisions are driven as core capabilities for the organization used across all value streams.

Architecture: The velocity of business value delivery is highly dependent on the alignment of the organizational architecture, the software architecture, and the value stream architecture.  The Architect focuses on defining and implementing an architecture that includes:

  • Creating the framework for the feedback mechanisms to support feedback and flow
  • Visualizing each of the key flows through the value stream
  • Understanding the current constraints and identifying bottlenecks
  • Creating target architectures for every product’s value stream. The by-product of this exercise will be the gaps that each of the value streams has from their current state to their target state. These gaps will be key for the Architect to understand the capabilities and liabilities of each of the value streams.

Mentoring and Training: With a holistic view of the value streams, the Architect will continually identify training and skill deficiencies, and will work with IT leaders to close the knowledge/skills gaps with those given teams.

As the role and impact of the Value Stream Architect become more defined to each individual organization, enterprises will have a key asset that will ensure that every system is perfectly and continuously designed to get the business results that matter most. Innovating in the Age of Software without these roles defined would be akin to attempting to become a leader in automotive production without having the plant operations leadership roles clearly defined. To create a delivery factory that enables your teams to build great software, start by identifying and empowering your Value Stream Architect.

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Feature image via Pixabay.