PLAY Introduction

A value stream represents the complete workflow or set of actions from the demand (trigger) to delivery (return of investment) of a product or service at the right time. A value stream always begins and ends with a customer. The concept of a value stream is especially important to agile methodologies, which often seek to maximize a focus on customer or business value. This play will help you create an end-to-end collection of value-adding activities that create an overall result for a customer, stakeholder, or end-user.


2-10 depending on the size of the team. If it becomes larger than 10 people consider breaking out into smaller groups.


30-90 Minutes. This will be dependent on the experience of the team.


Practitioner to Master. Anyone can learn how to master value streams but it may take practice to run this play efficiently. 




This is key to successful meetings. Make sure all key stakeholders are on the invite. You need their buy-in from the start!


Virtually or in-person it is critical that everyone has face-time with each other. So make sure that if attending virtually that everyone can connect in video chat. You will also need to share ideas, so a whiteboard is important and a space that fosters creativity and innovation. 



All of our plays are five steps or less! However, you may need to run multiple plays to get the most out of this one. Don’t worry – you can do it! Learn the play, rehearse it regularly, apply it in the field and debrief on the outcomes. If it worked well, use it again; if it didn’t, find out why. Are there new factors in the system you need to consider, or do you just need to keep practicing? If you need help or have questions on this play, contact us!



Who are the players?

Every winning team knows which players to have on the field and what talent you need on the ready. To successfully deploy this play you will need the following roster:

Meeting Facilitator: Likely this is you! But you don’t have to do it alone, ask a friend (think of it like a football team that has a coach for different parts of the team). Skills needed:

  • Keep the team focused on the goal!
  • Foster a positive and creative space for all
  • Organized and prepared to run play

 Product Manager: A product manager is a professional role that is responsible for the development of products for an organization, known as the practice of product management. Product managers own the business strategy behind a product, specify its functional requirements, and generally manages the launch of features. Skills needed:

  • Ability to balance business and user needs
  • Attention to detail
  • Curiosity to explore new ideas
  • Ability to deliver factual data in-time
  • Empathy for customers
  • Ability to build strong relationships with other teams
  • Understanding of necessary data structures
  • Informed about the technical implications of the platforms being used
  • Ability to tailor communications to different stakeholders

 Product/System/Business Unit Owners: These are decision makers. They can make the call on what changes will happen or authorize a strategy. Skills needed:

  • Change agent. Supportive and enthusiastic about improvements.
  • Supportive of the team and SMEs!
  • Committed and engaged in the product.

 Subject Matter Experts (SMEs): A SME (pronounced S-Mee) is critical for this play. They will help drive the team to a shared understanding of what is needed to win. Skills needed:

  • Specific domain knowledge, narrow and deep rather than broad and shallow.
  • Communication and team collaboration. They must be able to share with others the knowledge they have on a particular subject. 
Get the field ready!

Schedule the meeting in advance. Don’t wait until the last minute to schedule the meeting. You want people to be excited about it but not so last minute that they have no time to prepare.

Include an agenda. Set expectations – this will help keep your meeting on track. Include schedule and any prep work needed. Also let them know if it is okay to invite others or not. Remember that if you have to many people in the meeting, it will be difficult to facilitate brainstorming sessions without breaking out into smaller groups.

Prep the room. Arrive early and get ready. If it is in a physical room, get whiteboards ready, enough chairs for everyone, water and snacks are always a hit! If virtually, a central location for notes, brainstorms and follow-up items. Test connectivity in the meeting room and make sure there is enough seats for all participants.




The way you setup the Agile organization is key. Agile transformation starts with the identification of the values streams.

Let’s talk about what are value streams and what they are not. A Value Stream is simply the sequence of all of the activities that an organization takes to deliver on a customer need — and all of the people, systems, and resources required to do those activities. 

Value streams differ from traditional project models in several ways:

  • They are comprised of long-lived, cross-functional teams and teams of teams instead of temporary groups organized around a specific project.
  • Because the teams operate on an on-going basis, they are able practice continuous improvement. Temporary teams, on the other hand, are always starting from scratch, with little opportunity to improve performance and efficiency.
  • As the name suggests, value streams connect work back to the ultimate value that it delivers to the customer and/or business. With traditional projects, the real value is often obscured by project-centric metrics like being on-time and on-budget.

Here is an example from Scaled Agile, Inc:

There might be a tendency to state that this is just a workflow. However, the value stream focuses on creating long term value, without decision points like a typical flow diagram. A value stream aims to remove activities that do not create value. A value stream is not a customer journey map or equal to business processes, rather it encloses (parts of) business processes as starting point for discovering and understanding value streams.


Defining the precise value that your organization delivers is the first step in any value stream initiative. The exact composition of value streams will look different at different organizations, typically falling into two categories: operational value streams and development value streams. Both result in the creation of value for a customer (internal and/or external) and can come in the form of products, services, or a combination of the two.

This chart is a great summary of the differences between an Operational Value Stream and a Development Value Stream from the Planview Blog:

Step 1: Identify the operational streams.

  • Start with grouping your products. Grouping your products is a simple process based on process steps or like services.  You need to create a matrix that cross references the process steps with each product line.  Those products that use the same processes belong in the same value stream.  Even if these products may have different end users, or go to completely different customers, it’s the process steps that define the value stream, not the end users.

For a financial institution, it might look like this:

Step 2: Identify the IT systems (software and hardware) that support the operational value stream.

  • What systems and tools are used to move through the activities in the process or service? Identify core systems and supporting systems needed. The goal is to gain a deep understanding of how it all works.

For our financial institution example, the systems would be added like this:  

Step 3: Identify the people who work on these IT systems.

  • These are your end users, the ones behind the keyboards. If you are at a large organization it may be helpful to identify owners and stakeholder groups, rather than large number of individuals.  

Continuing our example for a financial institution:  

Step 4: Identify the development streams. 

  • This is the value stream that is used by the development team to build or enhance the software used to support the operational value streams and identify the end customers (the end users in step 3). 

For examples:

Step 5: Add the people needed to deliver the development value streams.

  • The team is all the people needed to deliver the system, it often includes product/system owners, IT operations, development, QA, legal, marketing, finance, support, compliance, security, and others. 

It may look like this:




Value streams offer a construct for businesses to organize and operate around what really matters: the value they deliver to customers. While the process may initially seem complex, it often results in much greater clarity into the relationships between the work that gets done and the value that it provides. That insight, in turn, opens the door to the many benefits of Agile, from efficiency to productivity and beyond.

Now that you have a good understanding of your business, here are ways to get the most benefit from value streams.

  1. Review your key value streams and start a discussion about whether there is an opportunity for improvement.
    • Ask the team brainstorming questions. Is there pieces of this process that are wasteful? What things need improved to get more end value? What things could be automated? How do we improve output in this value stream? What can be done to improve efficiencies? Asking these types of questions about the data of the value stream will eventually lead to specific improvement ideas. 
  2. Convert improvement ideas to user stories. Writing down improvements in a user story format makes improvements easy to compare both by estimated value and effort.
  3. Group user stories together under an epic. An epic is a container for a significant solution development initiative that captures the more substantial investments that occur within a portfolio. In other frameworks some may also refer to these as projects or themes, where they differ is that unlike a project, this is not a temporary endeavor as this maps back to the value stream that is continually being improved.
  4. Rinse and repeat. After an improvement has been implemented, we need to measure its outcome and update our Value Stream Map. This gives you another opportunity to look at your Value Stream and look for new improvements. Continuous Improvement is nothing more than repeating this process until the effort of most improvements outweighs their value.


Having mapped a value stream and creating a few user stories does not equal value stream optimization. The key is to repeat the process steps described in this play to achieve continuous improvement that is based on data. Focus on measurable outcomes to really improve your Value Stream and become a high performing team.

Recommended Reading






Time to run the Team Huddle play. Ask the team the following questions and then take a vote. Keep follow-up questions to a minimum and capture any issues raised as an offline follow-up (and be sure to follow-up).

Understand the play?

The play was understood and I asked any questions in time!

I’m not sure I understand and I have some questions …

I did not understand the play or my part in it.


Did you get in the game?

Yes, I made my moves and was in the right place at the right time!

I’m not sure I understand what I was supposed to do …

I kept the bench warm and watched from the sidelines.


Ready for what’s next?

Yes, I know the game plan and ready to win!

I’m not sure what’s next or if I am involved …

No clue what’s next and would rather sit it out.




Phew! The hard part is done! You might be tempted to go further and prioritize the backlog – but don’t! Instead congratulate the team on a very successful first go at value streams and give some time for them to keep practicing!


Schedule the next meeting where the team will regroup and give feedback on the value streams. Set a regularly reoccurring meeting cadence so that the team stays engaged and is front of mind.  

Publish your notes in a central repository that the team has access to immediately. Even better if it is someplace that the team can add comments or collaborate on. Keep the creative chat going! 



You did it! Now just a few follow-up items:

  • Reflect on the play. Ask yourself how it went? What could have gone better, what could have gone worse? In sports this is watching the game again to see any plays that could have been better. Update your playbook. Build feedback loops that help you see what’s working; what’s not; and how to continue to develop the playbook by learning, adapting and iterating constantly as situations change and new challenges arise.
  • Contribute to the community of Playbook.Ninja. Sign-up for an account and receive updates on when new plays are added and help others by commenting on the plays with what worked or your experience.

Thank you for being a Playbook.Ninja


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