Do you want to identify the key roles in Value Stream Management? In this blog post, we will review the 7 most crucial roles in VSM:
- Individual contributor
- Team leader
- Team of teams leader
- Value stream architect
- Head of Product
- Head of engineering
- CTO / CVO
Up-front disclaimer: role descriptions vary hugely across organizations, and mostly don’t truly reflect the work that people do, or the value that humans create as individuals. Many readers will no doubt see parts of themselves in different roles, or see other aspects and points that we haven’t touched upon. At the VSM Consortium, we love feedback, we love research, and we love engaging with our community—especially on Slack—so please do get in touch if this has sparked your interest!
If you’re a software engineer, infrastructure engineer, or analyst, then you’re literally doing the work that creates value for customers—the essence of Value Stream Management! We love the recent emphasis on developer-experience. Designing the organization so that engineers can easily ship and manage code. This unleashes massive productivity and buys the engineering team the ‘free’ time and cognitive unload they need to come up with creative ideas and solutions. Even if the technical components of your value stream chain are not all connected yet, you can connect with the people across your value stream. Understanding what is up & down stream—and building relationships with the people involved—will enable honest conversations that should result in better decisions…better flow, and more value. And if you’re already thinking about connecting your value stream, then you’re directly involved in VSM implementation!
If you’re a team leader of any flavor, then you’re intimately familiar with the two main concerns of Value Stream Management. This includes those that focus on flow (like scrum masters), those that focus on prioritization & design (product owners, product managers), those that focus on technical design & quality (technical leads, senior developers & engineers), or those that focus on design & experience (UX researchers/designers, product managers). The two big pillars of Value Stream Management are: optimizing the flow of work that delivers value, and measuring value realization and then using that feedback to determine what to do next. If you’re a team leader then you’re probably already thinking, problem solving, and coaching towards optimizing these twin pillars. You might also be negotiating with one of the other types of team leader, fighting for budget or time or support to implement your ideas.
Team of teams leader
If you’re a leader of several teams, then you’re already concerned about flow, value realization, and feedback. In traditional waterfall structures, this is the level where program managers start to worry about outcomes and benefit realization. If you’re trying to scale agile, then you may have even designed your teams along value streams. Either way, bluntly—and paraphrasing Deming—if you can’t describe how the work that your teams are shipping creates value, then you don’t know what you’re doing. This also means that you’re right at the intersection between any conflicts of interest between your group, and those of other departments or functions. This makes you vital to Value Stream Management as you’re negotiating the flow of work across your teams, and potentially leading the negotiation across the wider organization. Leaders at this level are well situated to see the pain of functional, hierarchical models, and the potential benefits of organizing along value streams—let alone using VSM platforms to gain insights into flow and value realization.
Value Stream Architect
You can guess from the name that Value Stream Architect (VSA) is probably a key role in Value Stream Management. The way we would describe it is that if you’re doing VSM, and don’t have someone in this named role, then someone else is doing this work—which is also just fine! The speed of business value delivery depends on the alignment of the organizational architecture and the software architecture: every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets. Some organizations have recognized that it makes sense to invest in optimizing this interdependence and have empowered value stream architects to do this. Whichever model, structure, or methodology you’re using to organize, at a certain scale you will encounter the inherent conflict between organizing by function vs organizing by value stream. These concepts are the bedrock of enterprise architecture. The famous Spotify model cut right into these issues, and the authors Henrik Kniberg & Anders Ivarsson acknowledge that it’s a matrix model “weighted towards delivery”. The Value Stream Architect’s challenge is to evolve and optimize the alignment of the organizational structure and the software architecture—often this starts with a focus on the software delivery pipeline, and it grows from there until the organization is on a continuing journey optimizing its Value Stream Management.
Head of Product
The head of product is the person who oversees product development within a company. They’re responsible for creating new products and ensuring that those products are a match for the company's target audience. They develop and oversee the product vision, product discovery, and product impact. How the product or service is produced affects the value the consumer receives (think about how a late or low quality product/service can affect its value). Not only that, but the state of the value stream determines how quickly the organization can bring products to their customer(s). So the head of product is highly invested in the state of their value stream(s), and is accountable for prioritizing the high level work that is flowing through them. They may also face tough decisions and negotiation around whether to invest more in the technology that supports existing products and services, or the work to launch new products and features. In its latest form, Value Stream Management offers the ability to use data to drive these decisions. The Head of Product quite possibly has the most to gain from improved Value Stream Management, and is well placed to lead the journey.
Head of Engineering
The head of engineering is the person who oversees all engineering within a company. As the leader of all engineering, they are responsible for the engineering strategy, and beneath that may be concerned with anything from design, architecture, quality, prioritization, planning, and cost—depending on the organization. Critically, is the digital backbone of the organization enabling it to meet its goals and delight its customers? In this respect, they’re the opposite number to the head of product, and likely working closely with them to achieve joint goals. If the engineering practices, the engineering tooling, and the engineers themselves, are working well together then they have the best chance of producing valuable products and services for their customers. This role therefore has oversight of all of the technical aspects of the value streams, and is acutely concerned with the flow of quality code through the part of the value stream constituted by the software delivery pipeline. This is an area where Value Stream Management platforms add significant value—by capturing the data from all of the respective components of the software delivery pipeline, and giving you feedback and insight into flow, quality, and the value received by the customer.
The chief technology officer (CTO) is the highest technology executive position within a company and leads the technology or engineering department. They develop the policies and procedures for delivering and running the organization’s digital products and services for both internal and external customers. Consequently, whether they use the language of ‘value streams’ or not, they are accountable for how the organization’s value streams work from a technical perspective—and their strategy will drive the technical evolution of the organizational architecture. Today at the end of 2022 we are choosing the CTO as most important, rather than the chief product officer, chief financial officer, chief operating officer, or chief value officer—an emerging role. The reason for choosing the CTO is because VSM is experiencing a resurgence for two reasons. Firstly, because the complexity of digital value streams means they are ripe for disruption by VSM centric thinking, and secondly because digital platforms can now capture, map and reorganize these digital value streams—without leaders rebuilding the organization from scratch. In the future we expect CPOs and CFOs to gain influence in this space as VSM platforms offer them increasing control of their products and ROIs respectively. We also expect that the role of chief value officer (CVO) will become increasingly common, as a potential pivot from CFO. For the time being though, CTOs are frequently the ones leading this evolution.
Generally a high level executive functions as the key sponsor of any change initiative. The best sponsors are those whose role clearly adds value. From our perspective, anyone with influence who can guide a coalition and support the effort is a key role. It can be filled by any of the above individuals. Key influencers can be the greatest engine of a change initiative if they’re enabled, or the greatest obstacle if they’re left out. Prosci, a change management firm has outlined the ABCs of effective sponsorship as:
A) Active and visible participation throughout the initiative
B) Building a coalition of sponsorship
C) Communicating support and promoting the change to impacted groups
Change is hard, and it takes leadership to guide contributors through the climb to a new peak. Anyone can wear this hat, but it’s generally best to have a single head. At the VSM Consortium we believe that anyone in an organization can initiate the change that will result in major evolutions in how an organization runs and operates—including implementing value stream management techniques and practice. Truly effective leadership will recruit people from across all seven of the role types in this article—and many more.
Are you embarking on a VSM journey or in the midst of one? Let us know what you’d like to hear about next so we can help you out!
DevOps coach and servant-leader with background leading technology product delivery and agile transformation. Excellent experience in product and value-stream management. Gets things done.