Become a Member Member Login

Is Onboarding a Value Stream?

March 21, 2023

In this, the fifth 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 Onboarding.

Is Onboarding a Value Stream?

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

This is a trickier one for me than some of the others we have considered, but my instinct is ‘Probably, yes—a supporting value stream’. There are different types of onboarding and our initial notion when deciding to explore this question further was of employee onboarding, but it could also be customer onboarding in a complex, multi-step environment.

In either case, there is a customer, rather obviously in the case of customer onboarding (external), and in the case of employee onboarding, the customer is the new employee (internal).

In both cases there are a number of steps, starting with an ‘idea’ and this is where I start to fall down because there isn’t an idea of creating value. There is recruitment of a new internal or external customer. We aren’t necessarily creating a product or service that delivers value—it’s more that we are making it possible for these people to access and operate the products and services that deliver value.

Also, in both cases, the onboarding product or service is long-lived, but an individual customer or employee only experiences it once. But continual enhancement is useful for future customers and employees. Improving the experience in terms of both efficiency and effectiveness is a goal.

I don’t think it’s a value stream in the truest, purest sense then. But I don’t think that treating it like a value stream and even calling it one causes any issues, but instead provides a mechanism to optimize customer and employee experience.

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

If you’ve seen the other articles in the series, you won’t be surprised to find I think of most consistent and sustained workflows as value streams - especially when they directly impact customer value. It should be no surprise that I see onboarding as an (albeit challenging) example of a critical value stream that most organizations pay little attention to. 

What does that mean?

Let’s take a look at an example through that lens:

Customer and User Onboarding

This is likely the most common and critical type of onboarding you think of in an organization. When you close a new customer or user, you want to take them from that point to experiencing value and satisfaction as quickly and effectively as possible, but also as consistently as possible. The consistency will allow you to measure your performance over time and improve where the stream is falling short. This may start off entirely manually driven but as the processes and sequence stabilize clear automation opportunities arise to improve margins and consistency.

The same aims are true for new hire onboarding, as well as company or resource acquisitions and partner onboarding. 

Let’s recap why a value stream model works well for onboarding:

  • There’s a clear customer. Some individuals or group is experiencing the flow and are impacted by its performance. Value streams are customer-centric.
  • Costs matter. The acquisition cost should include onboarding costs, and managing that cost improves margins. Lean practices around value streams excel at cost management.
  • Flow and lead time matter. The end-to-end flow of activity to onboard a customer needs to be measured to ensure performance, and unimpeded to optimize the customer experience. Value streams are an ideal framework for measuring performance.
  • Quality and risk matter. To invest in acquisition, we need to know that onboarding isn’t a leaky pipe. Value stream management makes quality quantifiable and provides a framework for addressing risky gaps.


To be clear, I’m not suggesting that the process of onboarding is a value stream per se, but value stream management can clearly improve onboarding performance. If there’s a better model for improving performance across all the dimensions mentioned above, I haven’t seen it.

If it is valuable to consider onboarding a value stream, we can use stream orientation to focus on what matters most for onboarding and use that as a model for what and how to measure performance. I would consider onboarding to be an operational, supportive stream rather than a core or developmental stream. Your customers/partners/etc won’t pay for your onboarding, but they may not pay you without it. In the case that your onboarding flow is actively being created, developed, or improved, I would suggest a temporary developmental orientation until the processes involved are stabilized. Let’s recap the dimensions of operationally oriented value streams:

  • Stability and consistency
  • Efficiency and cost
  • Risk and quality management
  • Lead and cycle times
  • Customer focus

Each of these dimensions is critically important to onboarding, and you have them well-represented in value streams.

Even though a typical value stream exists overwhelmingly within the organization’s control (think product or marketing development), onboarding primarily involves someone outside your organization. That means you have influence rather than power to pull or push the individual through the stream. The raw material moving through the stream isn’t code or design artifacts, but attention and engagement. Just because it’s different from a typical value stream, doesn’t mean the model doesn’t fit the use case.

If you’re curious about digging deeper and interested in what’s upstream (and not a value stream), check out Is a Customer Journey a Value Stream?

Patrice Corbard, Head of the Content Value Stream at the Value Stream Management Consortium:

At first glance, I would have said no. But thinking about it, learning to see the value streams is all the more interesting as I am in the middle of integrating into my new role at the consortium.

First of all, what are we talking about and what value are we talking about? 

The arrival of a new employee after recruitment is obviously more than a simple welcome meeting. Sometimes organizations focus too much on administrative tasks and not enough on the human and cultural aspects of a new Employee Onboarding.

In addition, the success or failure of onboarding activities significantly impacts the Employee Experience. This impact is measured in terms of new employee engagement, job satisfaction, morale, and confidence in their new role. Onboarding activities should facilitate the integration into the company culture, the connection with managers and coworkers, and of course increase the speed with which they can make their first contributions. From the employer's perspective, studies show that effective onboarding increases retention and greatly reduces turnover rates and associated costs.

Onboarding is the first and most critical part of the Employee Journey:


Does this make Employee Onboarding a value stream?

Gartner’s definition of a value stream:
“A value stream is the sequence of activities necessary to deliver a product, service, or experience to a customer, internal or external. Value streams cut across and connect siloed business capabilities. They provide end-to-end visibility of the activity flow, from customer request to delivery.”


The new employee can be seen as the internal customer whose experience and satisfaction are improved by the onboarding sequence of activities. Onboarding links business capabilities and multiple actors (the new hire, managers, HR, facilities, etc.).  Seeing them as a value stream provides end-to-end visibility of this flow of activities, from the arrival of the new hire to a successful integration after a few weeks or months.

By mapping the current Employee Onboarding Value Stream, we can visualize its steps, duration, the waiting times and identify the main bottlenecks or constraints as well as sources of waste. It then becomes possible to design the desired future state and make data-driven improvement decisions.


After thinking about it, I changed my mind and would now say that yes, Employee Onboarding can be seen as an internal value-enabled supportive value stream.

Akshay Anand, ITIL 4 Architect & Author, Principal Solutions Engineer at Atlassian:

To many people, a value stream has to be something benefitting external users or customers, or that it has to do with building products. I prefer a simpler approach - a value stream describes the flow of work and information through various steps or parts of an organization, responding to a clearly defined trigger and resulting in clearly defined outcomes (not outputs).

As an industry of knowledge workers, we are moving into an era where teams are loosely coupled (or aligned around some central vision or governance), with the autonomy to choose how they complete work they have responsibility over. That vision could be at a corporate or enterprise level (mission statements, OKRs, and so on), or at a tactical or operational level (programs, processes, workflows, and so on). A value stream can be defined at any level and is an excellent way to communicate how outcomes are achieved, and what teams or what sorts of things have to be done to achieve them.

And value is … well, it’s something of benefit to someone! It could be new product features or fixes that benefit the user. It could be a new report template that benefits a management team. It could even be a good Day 1 experience that allows new hires to feel valued and productive while giving managers the assurance that good IT security and compliance practices have been followed.

When I think about employee onboarding, I think about how a candidate signing an employment contract triggers some activities in the HR team that then allocates an employee number. That might fire off some automation to send documents over to the new hire, but to also create the new employee ID. Eventually, the end-user computing (EUC) team might have a request ticket to provision new equipment. The Facilities team might be alerted to allocate a desk. Even after the new hire has started there might be other tasks needed such as the completion of mandatory training within the first month.

And so we have (1) a clearly defined outcome (productive and happy employees & managers) which (2) requires multiple teams (HR, Payroll, EUC, etc.) to work in response to (3) a clearly defined trigger (candidate signs a contract) on a mix of sequential and parallel tasks - some of which might be automated, while others are human-driven.

Clearly, employee onboarding is a value stream!

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.

Comments 0

What is Value Stream Management?

Is Platform Engineering a Value Stream?

What is a Value Stream?