Value streams: Provide customers value with every step

Headshot kontributor Sarah LaoyanSarah Laoyan
28 Juni 2023
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Value streams are a way to visualize the series of steps that take place in order to provide value for your customers. These steps start when a customer makes an initial request and end when the customer makes a final interaction. Learn how to understand your value streams so you can help teams create customer-centric workflows and processes that provide your final customers with value.

Your customers are your greatest asset, and to keep them happy, you have to provide them with value. Understanding how different portions of your business provide value for your customers helps your team develop a more efficient process. Knowing how each part of your business process provides your end users with value is known as a value stream. 

What is a value stream?

A value stream is a way to visualize the series of steps that take place in order to create value for customers. Value streams are usually visualized from the stakeholder perspective, starting with an initial request and ending when the customer reviews value. Usually, you create a timeline or flowchart to help visualize value streams.

Value streams help your team clearly align the values your customer receives—visualized in the stream—with the business processes you implement. It’s important to note that value streams are not processes—rather, value streams are the indicators for how the final customer receives value from existing processes. 

Value streams are used in key processes such as the design thinking process and in lean project management. This is because both of these processes use customer value as the main target for growth.

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What’s the difference between a business value stream and value stream mapping?

While they sound incredibly similar, value stream mapping and business value streams are two different concepts. 

The goal of value stream mapping is to eliminate excess waste from processes to create a more streamlined workflow. It identifies inefficiencies, so teams can adapt processes to optimize for value delivery.

A business value stream is a visual representation of how each step of a process provides a final customer value. For one value stream, there may be several different ways a customer receives value. When paired with value stream mapping, you can identify how each step of a specific process fulfills customer needs.

Example business value stream

A good example of a value stream is a customer journey process. The journey itself is not the value stream; the value stream is a way to evaluate the process and identify how the customer receives value every step of the way. Take a look at how this works with an example of a guest checking into a hotel room.

Step-by-step customer journey from check-in to entering their hotel room:

Step 1: A customer receives their welcome email the morning they check-in, with all of the important details of their stay.

  • Value: Customers have the information they need at the top of their inbox, so they don’t have to scramble for specific reservation information once they get to checkout.

Step 2: Upon arriving at the hotel, a complimentary valet offers to park the guests car and bellhops help to take their luggage into the lobby.

  • Value: Customers don't have to worry about finding parking and carrying their luggage from the parking lot to the lobby.

Step 3: The receptionist in the lobby greets the customer and checks them into their hotel room. The receptionist outlines key amenities and services, such as laundry services, the gym location, and dining options.

  • Value: Customers learn about amenities and services without having to ask. This offers them the opportunity to take advantage of additional services where they can get even more value. 

Step 4: Bellhops help carry luggage to the guests’ room.

  • Value: Customers are able to follow bellhops to their room, so they don’t get lost in the hotel. 

Step 5: Guests are welcomed into a neat and clean hotel room.

  • Value: Customers can relax in a nice, comfortable room, knowing they have access to many different amenities.

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Types of value streams

There are two main types of value streams: operational value streams and developmental value streams. These value streams have a symbiotic relationship, and you need both of them to create a fully functional value stream.

  • Operational value streams: The actions team members take to provide end-user value established by the development value streams. These are the actions users go through to craft the final product or service. Think of this as the actual actions your team needs to take to provide value to your customer.

  • Developmental value streams: This is the process of developing an operational value stream. The developmental value stream represents all the designing and brainstorming it takes to come up with the steps of the operational value stream. This is the process of developing the actions in the operational value stream. 

Why should you use a business value stream?

Business value streams help teams develop processes from conception to production—and show how each step can provide a customer value. They do this by:

  • Identifying clear goals: Value streams show how each stop of the process helps the customer. Teams can use this information to set goals based on how they can provide each customer with the most value through each step of the process.

  • Encouraging collaboration: When your entire team is aligned on the same goal, it’s easier for teams to work together to help develop a value stream that makes the most sense. Instead of working in a silo, teams can collaborate on different steps of the process to find ways to increase value for the customer.

  • Consolidating workflow processes: If you’re examining processes and workflows, any specific process that doesn’t offer your customer value can be re-examined and optimized.

How to use value streams for strategic planning

Identifying your business’ value streams is a good way to help with strategic planning. Here’s how you can use them:

  • Connect OKRs to value streams: If your team is looking to establish more customer-centric goals, a good way to do this is to connect OKRs to a value stream. Find a specific point in the value stream that is measurable, and make that metric an OKR. 

  • Optimize existing processes: Analyzing the value stream of your existing processes is a good way to try and create more efficient processes. If there’s a certain part of your process that doesn’t provide your end customer value, consider consolidating or removing it.

  • Use it to develop processes from scratch: If you know the end point of how you want to provide a customer value, work backwards to establish processes that help your customer receive that value every step of the way. 

Understand your value, visually

Now that you’ve learned the importance of value streams, it’s time to put those learnings to use. Take the time to reflect on current processes, and analyze how they impact your current customer value. By doing this, you’re consistently strengthening your relationship with your customers so they stay loyal to your business for years to come.

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