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How to Make Time for Value Stream Management

April 6, 2023

Teams are often pushed to their limits as they strive to meet deadlines, tackle growing backlogs, and adapt to ever-changing demands. Amid this constant pressure, it's easy for workflow improvement and optimization to take a backseat as teams focus on meeting their immediate goals. However, neglecting continuous improvement can lead to increased technical debt, inefficiencies, and decreased morale. This balance can be well visualized through flow distribution, part of Mik Kersten’s Flow Framework. Many teams underinvest in technical debt & risk mitigation in favor of the more immediate demands of defects and features.


Common improvement practice advises carving out time for improvement. Based on flow distribution, let’s investigate approaches that shift the balance back toward sustainable distribution, with a 25% time allocation. There are a few strategies available to allocate sufficient time:

  1. 25% improvement on top of regular work (usually already at 100%)
  2. The improvement team (take 25% of staff and dedicate them to improvement)
  3. Rolling improvement role (25% of staff wear the improvement hat, 25% of the time)
  4. 25% capacity each day
  5. Run one of every 4 sprints focused on improvement 


First of all, let’s state that 100% utilization is already not only unsustainable but undesirable. It leaves no room for needs like agility, emergencies, exploration, or learning.

The tough pill to swallow is that all of these approaches require some kind of sacrifice of 25%, which can be hard to get buy-in for or ask a team to shoulder (especially since they're already drowning).

My first step is to have a team create a value stream map for the workflow they're in right now and transform waste into improvement time.


In struggling teams, I always find simple fixes that can be implemented with near-zero work that can free up 20-30% of their week. The cost is 2-3 hours (which can be subsidized through strict meeting hygiene for a week or two) and the payoff is sustained every sprint.

Once a team can demonstrate the benefits of the practice it's much easier to get leadership support for an enabling team or other support to grow the impact.

In short, you transform waste into free time. Eliminating waste is a key function of lean practices, and in environments that haven't taken time to look, there's a lot to be found.

By looking at your time and workflow, you can discover many opportunities to turn wasted time into innovation time. Just make sure you run your innovation process as well as your delivery process!

Transform wasted time into free time.




Our own Patrice Corbard illustrated this investment strategy in further detail to show the effect over time.

  1. Gray zone (unknown) before Making Waste Visible and Making Work Visible, 
  2. The decision to invest (low investment) and trigger the improvement loop, 
  3. Incremental improvements that aim to eliminate waste and free both improvement and innovation time.


By improving your value stream performance, you can regain time to spend however you like. Even better, the time you save is saved for every iteration. Every engagement, release, sprint, onboarding, whatever. If we save 20% of a week-long process, that's 52 days a year, year one! That may seem optimistic, but take a look at your calendar, how many meetings alone could be trimmed and optimized? 

  • Research suggests that only around 50% of meeting time is effective, well-used, and engaging
  • The average executive spends 23 hours a week in meetings
  • Studies of managers and knowledge workers reveal that they spend between 25%-80% of their time in meetings
  • Meeting cadence can become an issue: Too seldom and decisions wait for resolution, too often and value is spread thin
  • Many meetings can be replaced with asynchronous information, decision frameworks, proper governance, etc etc

Like reinvesting dividends, properly allocating and diversifying the gains from performance improvement can pay off exponentially over time.

To get started, in every case I've seen or heard of, creating a value stream map reveals opportunities for at least 20% savings, immediately. An unnecessary meeting, an easily decentralized decision, a team you depend on who can be given clearer information.

For more information on Value Stream Mapping, check out other articles here

Here are 3 ideas to tackle specific areas within your value stream:

  1. Design more productive meetings. P.R.E.P.A.R.E:
    Plan: Never run a meeting without a goal and agenda.
    Relevant: Invite only necessary attendees.
    Engage: Foster open communication and feedback.
    Prioritize: Address the most important issues first.
    Allocate: Correlate time spent to relative value and importance.
    Review: Summarize decisions and action items.
    Execute: Ensure follow-through and accountability.
  2. Support, optimize, and protect creative and value-added time
    1. Record blockers and friction in collective and personal workflow
    2. Mitigate low-hanging dependencies (What criteria can you satisfy without requesting approval? What capabilities can you leverage within the stream? What platform capabilities can you implement?)
  3. Automate decisions and information sharing
    1. We’re not always doing things for the first time. There tend to be regular patterns, stable criteria, consistent requirements, etc. Leverage those common patterns to create simple automation and bank the savings. Is the change always approved if it’s not customer-impacting or outside the golden path provided a checklist is completed? Automate it or at least be proactive with the checklist!
    2. Are you often meeting to share status or share information? Send it out proactively, and save the time spent getting everyone together.

The most common hot spots in digital product development value streams are in planning, environment access/deployment, and testing. Be on the lookout for delays there and you’ll have a head start.

How Much Can You Afford to Invest?

Saving an hour a week over 5 years is worth 10 days of effort

When you think about investing in improvement, it’s surprising what you can budget when you think about the time savings over a significant time period. We don’t often change processes (which is why we accumulate waste and friction!), so when you make a change, it could be in place for years. That means the time gains you make can be multiplied over 3-5 years! Think about the last time you heard: “That’s the way we’ve always done it.” That phrase represents years and years of the status quo, but it could represent many years of future savings.


Three Reasons Why Now Is the Best Time for Examining Your Value Streams

Three factors affecting all of us right now make it a perfect time to define and improve your value streams:

  1. It's easier than ever to get everyone in the same (virtual) room and on the same page. All the circumstances and tooling are ready for remote and distributed value stream improvement
  2. Your value streams are affected by disruptive change. A map and management strategy will align your teams and boost confidence
  3. We're all trying to eliminate waste, examine our priorities, and set a data-driven course for improvement. Value stream definition and management is the highest ROI path forward to tackle those concerns

The cost of delay has also never been higher, but it's easier than you think to get started.


Making time for workflow improvement is crucial for maintaining long-term success and efficiency, especially for teams that are already at capacity. Complexity, technical debt, and demands are always rising.

By employing value stream mapping, teams can uncover hidden opportunities to streamline workflows, reduce redundancies, and optimize resource allocation, ultimately creating more time for continuous improvement. This not only helps in reducing process debt and enhancing processes but also contributes to increased team morale and overall productivity. By embracing value stream mapping and other lean waste removal techniques, teams can free up capacity for debt payback, improvement, and innovation. All paving the way for a more sustainable and thriving work environment.

Once you’ve started down the road of performance improvement, you can invest in a larger scale, larger impact, and longer-term gains with Value Stream Management. There’s no end to continuous improvement, but we’ve got a lot of guidance, techniques, tools, experts, and a thriving community to help you on your journey.

Ultimately, striking the right balance between meeting immediate goals and focusing on improvement will pave the way for a more sustainable and thriving work environment.


Steve Pereira

Steve Pereira

Steve is obsessed with making tech human, and leveraging it to deliver continuous value. For the past 20 years, his focus has been guiding ambitious and struggling teams towards their true north. He's a former startup CTO, agency consultant, systems and release engineer, finance IT manager, tech support phone jockey, and pizza maker. All focused on the flow of value, all the time.

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