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Is a Customer Journey a Value Stream?

October 3, 2022

In this, the third of a series of blog posts from the Value Stream Management Consortium, our experts weigh in on, “Is THIS a value stream?” This time, we’re looking at Customer Journeys.

Is a Customer Journey a Value Stream?

Helen Beal, Chair of the Value Stream Management Consortium and Co-Author of the Value Stream Management Foundation Course and Certification:

A value stream is a series of steps (your work) that take an idea into production and to a customer.

Figure 1: Value Stream depiction

A customer journey is how a customer meets you, gets to know you, and buys your product.

Figure 2: Customer Journey depiction

They are both concerned with customer experience and should both be visible and managed. But they are fundamentally different things. By manage, we mean measured, understood, and optimized. Mapping techniques exist for each and data can be gathered for each. But:

  • Value stream management tells you how long it takes to get your changes to your customer and what their response to the change is
  • Customer journey management tells you how fast your customer can buy something from you and how enjoyable that experience is

So, no—a customer journey is not a value stream BUT teams benefit from understanding both these sets of processes and actively inspecting and adapting them with the goal of improving customer experience.

 


 

Steve Pereira, Board Advisor and Value Stream Lead at the Value Stream Management Consortium and Co-Author of the Value Stream Management Foundation Course and Certification:

A simple way to separate a value stream from a customer journey is by categorizing them as internal and external. A value stream depicts how a business performs the activities resulting in a delivered experience for a customer, from the inside out. A customer journey also involves the business, but from the outside in. 

Differences

  • Value streams are primarily internal, customer journeys are primarily external (from the perspective of the business)
  • Customer journey involves more data collection from activities to score the qualification or sentiment of the customer throughout the flow (How likely are they to buy? What persona are they?)
    • This is something that likely should be built into value streams as well (i.e. are we producing more value at each stage?)
  • Value streams are typically measured by quality, (expected) value-added, and timing
  • Customer journeys are typically measured by touch points, sentiment, timing, and reactions to different experiences provided by the business

Similarities

  • Both can be represented via a linear flow
  • Customer focus is essential
  • Automation is highly valued
  • Consistency and measurement are highly valued
  • NPS and other customer satisfaction metrics are relevant to each

Functionally, value streams are what deliver the experiences that comprise a customer journey. A classic example for this is loan application. When a customer needs to get a loan, they progress through a customer journey by experiencing the delivered capabilities that value streams have provided. For example, to become aware that the business provides loans and what they offer, the customer may interact with a website delivered by a value stream that provides all the public-facing sites, or maybe just within the loan product line. They may request a loan and have to qualify to attain it, and the system that qualifies the customer could be provided by another value stream, and a separate stream-aligned team.

Figure 3: A customer journey enabled by value streams

In figure 3, you can see each sequential customer experience enabled by a stream. Some streams can be delivering the capabilities that empower multiple experiences (like consideration and exploration). 

Figure 4: A customer journey enabled by a single stream, supported by enabling value streams and platform capabilities

In figure 4, you can see a highly optimized mapping of a customer journey to a single stream that provides an end-to-end experience. It’s a lot for one team to do, so that stream is supported by self-service access to platform offerings provided by other stream-aligned teams. That way, for example, the loan products team can easily customize a self-service public website coordinated with their latest feature release, without waiting for the marketing team (or teams) to do the work for them.

Just as with value streams, your business already has customer journeys, and understanding them (especially in the context of the value streams enabling them!) allows you to provide the best experiences for customers, and the best business outcomes. Once you map and connect them, you can start to look at - and improve - the entire system that powers your desired outcomes.


 

Chris Gallivan, Principal Flow Advisor, Planview—VSMC Founder Member:

One of my large telecommunications clients has its value streams aligned to customer journeys as Steve has mentioned in figure 4. These value streams are quite large as it takes a lot of work and teams to enable a customer journey at this client. One of the interesting things about a value stream is that it is optimized for the customer's point of view. Customers by nature have the system view. So by adopting VSM we are optimizing for the customer's natural perception of our work.


 

BMK Lakshminarayanan, Board Advisor at the Value Stream Management Consortium, DevOps, Value Stream, and Flow Enthusiast:

The Customer Journey Map is the external view—from the different customer personas and which systems/processes/channels they interact with to access the product or service. I often call them "External to Internal," i.e., a customer/user persona (external) that I need to fill/submit/interact with (internal to the product/service provider) to get a product/service.

Example: All the touch points a customer needs to interact. Let’s take an example of a New To Bank (NTB) customer wanting to complete a Know Your Customer (KYC) process. The Customer visits a digital channel such as an internet banking website, creates a request (NTB), provides details, and uploads verified identification documents such as a passport, driver's license, and utility bills for postal address verification.

Characteristics:

  1. External touch points visible to customers
  2. Internal process/systems/controls are "blackbox" to customer—either they do not know or care or worry about it
  3. The customer does not care how many internal processes, applications, and systems are involved in making that "decision" for them. What matters to them is:
    1. How effective
    2. How efficient
    3. The outcome

The value stream is the internal view. It is from the organization's point of view - as product/service providers, what we need to do to fulfill the customer service. I call these "Internal to External," i.e., all the steps, processes, and activities the organization does to provide the service.

Example: All process/activities/flow involved in serving the customer. Let’s take the same example of an NTB customer wanting a KYC process completed. The bank expects the customer to provide the data, forms of ID, and verified documents. The bank analyzes these using the back-office systems/applications and processes. Finally, the bank informs the customer to come to the branch in person with the original documents to see and verify or trust other government systems information that provides verified identity.

In this example, "KYC system could be a digital value stream" but contributes/impacts the overall journey for the "Customer".

Characteristics:

  1. Both external and internal processes/systems/controls are "whitebox" to the organization as they own the system/processes
  2. The organization does care how many internal processes, applications, and systems are involved in making that "decision" for the Customer. What matters to them is:
    1. How effective
    2. How efficient
    3. The right outcome.

Now a real example:

It was reported that ANZ's processing times for a home loan application had blown out to 51 days versus more nimble competitors such as Macquarie at seven days.

Customer Journey Reflection: How much information do I need to provide, how much time do I provide, and how long do I need to wait for the loan processing? Customers get frustrated, prolong the wait time, change their minds, and switch to others.

Value Stream Reflections: What minimal information do I need? Collect that info with the minimum number of touches, systems, and how fast I could make the decision and process the loan for the Customer. Customers get frustrated, internal systems/people get stressed out, spend more time and money - we still lose customers and opportunity.


 

Chetan Bhambri, Digital Transformation Consultant and VSM Influencer Member

A value stream is an end-to-end sequence of all steps required to deliver value to a customer in the form of a product or service or system.

A customer journey illustrates the experience(s) a user has during the steps to achieve the desired goal, through interaction with a product or service.

While value streams and customer journeys appear to be very similar, they are not the same. Let’s explore further to understand the different values added by them.

The customer journey highlights obstacles faced by the user, and how the user thinks and feels at each step. The customer journey provides product or service creators opportunities to identify issues the user is experiencing and identify improvement opportunities.

Using an analogy of a restaurant, the customer journey includes experiences a customer has from the time of making a table booking, arriving at a restaurant, getting the vehicle parked, getting seated, ordering food and receiving food and beverages, paying the bill, sharing feedback, and leaving back for home. Creating a customer journey helps restaurants to focus on their customers’ needs and pain points. 

Figure 1 shows a customer journey for a restaurant. Each step of the journey will have several actions, and associated feelings of the customer, and provide opportunities for the restaurant to improve.

Figure 1: A customer journey for a restaurant

A customer journey reduces the impact of designer bias, by keeping the focus on customer needs and wants. A customer journey helps to highlight the pains of a persona with special needs. In summary, a customer journey helps in designing and developing products and services which are customer-centric.

Taking the same analogy of a restaurant, multiple value streams could exist for customer journey steps. E.g. Value stream from “taking order” to “serving food” would look as in figure 2.

Figure 2: Value stream for “serving ordered food”

A value stream map visualizes all work done across functions or cross-company to deliver value to customers. A value stream map provides a glimpse of the value adding and non-value adding tasks, and helps an organization to improve time to market by improving flow efficiency.

While knowledge and maps of both customer journeys and value streams help in providing better value to both customers and organizations, they provide different insights and are not the same.

Knowledge of customer journeys provides an organization with customer-centric insight to make its value stream(s) more efficient, which in turn improves the customer journey.


 

Akshay Anand, Principal Solutions Engineer, ITIL 4 Architect and Author, Atlassian—VSMC Leader Member

Value is co-created when one party does something on behalf of another, in exchange for something (usually some sort of explicit payment, but you could also include budget allocations or even goodwill). In some cases, the two parties might only realize benefits at the end of the “flow of value”. 

But because there are multiple parties involved (well, at least two!) it is natural to ask whether a flow is a value stream or a customer journey.

A good litmus test to answer this question is to consider who governs and manages the flow of work, information, and value that is being discussed. Let me explain this with an example.

Say I’m providing a digital service (perhaps a media streaming service) and I’m talking about flows that I govern and manage (e.g. delivering a new feature in the streaming app) then I’m referring to (my) value streams. If I’m talking about the flows that my consumers undertake to find, sign up, pay for and consume my service, then I’m referring to (their) customer journeys.

Now let’s flip that around, and look at it from the perspective of the person streaming said media. If I’m talking about the flows that I have control over (e.g. how I log on to the service or how I pay for it), then I’m referring to (my) value streams. If I’m talking about the flows the media streaming service goes through to set up my account and allow me access to content, then I’m referring to (their) provider journey (very similar to a customer journey, but described from the provider’s point of view).

Note that there may be limited visibility into someone else’s value stream/ journey, depending on how they’ve been designed; for example, I might be able to reasonably guess the account creation process based on the information presented on the sign-up form. And keep in mind that value streams and customer/ provider journeys do often intersect - these are the touchpoints and moments of truth that create lasting impressions about the quality and experience of the services consumed.


 

So, in summary - no, a value stream is not the same as a customer journey.

Thanks for reading, have you made up your mind? Let us know what you think in the comments, or, if you’re a member, in the VSMC Slack workspace.

Check out our other articles in the series:

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.