It’s very hard to improve any process if you don’t know what is involved in that process.
One of the most useful ways I have found for knowing what is involved in a process is the act of visualising the flow of that process. When you visualise a process you can often immediately see areas to improve or problems waiting to happen.
It doesn’t matter how big or small, all processes can be drawn out, mapped and visualised with a degree of accuracy that is useful and helpful.
In our transition from yearly releases to weekly releases we’ve visualised many processes and worked hard to improve the process. Recently we’ve visualised our current release process. The process is changing often so it was good that we recreated it and it’s important that we re-visit it on a regular basis.
A few people have been experimenting with Value Stream Mapping smaller processes like the check-in and CI process, or the Exploratory Testing process. All of this activity is a way of surfacing change, identifying potential improvements and spotting how we can improve the lead time (how long it takes from conception to realisation).
We’ve created a Value Stream Map (VSM) (a visual representation with time and value mapped to it) to show us what actions are involved in releasing our software to production and how long the lead time is between identifying a release candidate and it being in our production environments.
This isn’t the first time we’ve visualised this process but it is the first visualisation that we've created on the office wall for all in the business to see. By visualising the process on the whiteboards in the office we’ve made it even more visible and accessible to all in our DevOps and our service teams.
Why do this?
Once visualised it doesn't take long to spot activities in the process that we no longer need to do, or are duplicate, or are not valuable, or could be automated.
It's also a way of communicating to colleagues within the business what is involved in releasing our product to production.
We also now have a physical location that we can gather around to discuss the process.
By mapping out the process we can also add time estimates (or accurate time measures) to each part of this process and hence work out the true cost in terms of manpower but also the lead times involved. This helps us to understand where we need to invest our time, efforts and training.
Simply visualising the process is not enough to improve it; there are still action steps to do in order to bring about change. But by showing yourself (and others) what is actually involved in what may appear to be a simple process, you can start to see where improvements can be made.