Digital Transformation Cannot Be Bought: 3 Essential Approaches to See the Path Ahead

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The First Way

The First Way of DevOps (from the Phoenix Project and the DevOps Handbook, 2nd Edition) centers around the concept of “Systems Thinking,” which highlights the significance of comprehending the entire system or process, rather than solely concentrating on individual components. This method aids in detecting bottlenecks, inefficiencies, and areas that need enhancement within the software development and delivery lifecycle.

In practice, the First Way empowers teams to:

  1. Collaborate efficiently across departments, eliminating barriers between development, operations, and other stakeholders.
  2. Refine the work process from ideation to production, ensuring a seamless and effective progression.
  3. Establish continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD) pipelines for automating testing, deployment, and feedback loops.
  4. Track and evaluate key performance indicators (KPIs) to pinpoint areas for improvement and make informed decisions based on data.

By embracing the First Way of DevOps, organizations will see how they are organized and aligned/misaligned to deliver outcomes. Building shared understanding gives the team the power to refine their software development processes, boost collaboration, and deliver better value, sooner, safer, happier (Sooner, Safer Happier. Jonathan Smart, 2020). The three approaches I present below provide an incredibly powerful means of seeing the system as a whole within the organization.

Three (3) Ways of DevOps, detailed in the Phoenix Project and the DevOps Handbook. IT Revolution Press
Three Ways of DevOps, Image courtesy of Gene Kim and IT Revolution Press.

Three Non-Certification Approaches to Improving Alignment, Actions, and Outcomes

In today’s fast-changing world of technology, it’s important for organizations to keep up by making changes, using new technologies, and updating how they work and deliver value or mission effects. This article talks about three methods from the world of managing industrial systems and organizations: Value Stream Management, Theory of Constraints, and Wardley Mapping. You don’t need to buy any special certifications to use these methods. Your team can do it themselves, and with some help and research, they can make a big difference quickly. The best part is that using all three methods together helps the team work better, be more open, and make smarter decisions. These practices can be adopted and adapted by your team organically. You can do this without having to spend money on expensive consultancies or certification training programs.

Lessons from Experience with these Approaches

  1. When you begin these efforts, start with lightweight approaches. By lightweight I mean keep the initial details high-level. You’re not trying to map the ocean floor, you’re getting up in a helicopter so you can see from one island to another.
  2. Be open to feedback and be ready for misunderstandings, especially when bringing in teams that you may not normally collaborate with in this manner – “Storming” phase is necessary and encouraged.
  3. This is a human-to-human exercise. Intangible benefits happen when teams can put names and faces to email inboxes, ticketing systems, and chat avatars.
  4. Once you see the forest, then determine where to go deeper into understanding the trees.
  5. Be patient – for many this may be the first time that they are having to grasp and provide inputs to the way that their team supports the broader effort in tangible form.

Value Stream Management: Understanding the Flow of Value

Value Stream Management (VSM) is a powerful approach that focuses on identifying, visualizing, and optimizing the flow of value from the inception of an idea to its delivery to the end-users. VSM can be employed to enhance the digital capabilities delivery within the DoD by following these steps:

  • Identifying Value Streams: The first step in implementing VSM is identifying the various value streams within the organization. These value streams represent the end-to-end processes that deliver value to the end-users.
  • Mapping Value Streams: Once the value streams have been identified, map them to visualize the flow of value through the organization. This mapping exercise can help identify bottlenecks, inefficiencies, and areas of waste that can be targeted for improvement.
  • Optimizing Value Streams: After mapping the value streams, the next step is to optimize them by eliminating waste, reducing bottlenecks, and improving overall efficiency. Lean and the Toyota Production System are the root of this part of the VSM process. Adoption of Agile practices, The Theory of Constraints, and other process improvement approaches support this. Do not jump right to a Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) or other prescriptive framework at this time. Make incremental changes applying empirical approaches to see what works for your context.
  • Measuring and Monitoring Performance: It is essential to measure and monitor the performance of the value streams continuously. Using key performance indicators (KPIs), outcome-driven metrics, and other metrics as needed. Capturing insights into the effectiveness of the value streams is crucial to enable data-driven decision-making.

Where to go to get more info on Value Stream Mapping/ Value Stream Management:


  • Making Work Visible – Exposing Time Theft to Optimize Work & Flow:
  • Untangling with Value Stream Mapping: How to Use VSM to Address Behavioral and Cultural Patterns and Quantify Waste in Multifunctional and Nonrepetitive Work Environments:
  • Value Stream Mapping: How to Visualize Work and Align Leadership for Organizational Transformation:

Podcasts: with Steve Pereira and Andrew Davis



Theory of Constraints: Identifying and Addressing Bottlenecks

The Theory of Constraints (ToC) is a management philosophy that focuses on identifying and addressing the most significant constraints or bottlenecks that impede the flow of value within an organization. By applying the ToC principles, the DoD can improve the delivery of digital capabilities by:

  1. Identifying the Constraint: The first step in applying the ToC is pinpointing the constraint or bottleneck that is most limiting the flow of value. This depends on thorough analysis of the organization’s processes, workflows, and resources. That
  2. Exploiting the Constraint: . Push the constraint to ensure that it operates at its maximum capacity. Make the necessary process improvements, resource allocation, and use other optimization techniques as needed. This validates whether the organization is throttling the constraint, or if there are other issues affecting the flow of work.
  3. Subordinating to the Constraint: The entire organization aligns to support the constraint and ensure that it remains the focus of improvement efforts. This may involve reorganizing teams, reallocating resources, or adjusting workflows to prioritize the constraint. In The Phoenix Project plot, this was where Parts Unlimited “protected Brent.” This limits the demand placed on the constraint.
  4. Elevating the Constraint: If exploiting and subordinating to the constraint do not provide the desired improvements, the next step is to elevate the constraint by increasing its capacity. This means making investments in technology, additional resources, or other capacity-building measures.
  5. Repeating the Process: The ToC process is iterative. Address one constraint, move on to the next most significant constraint. The process repeats to drive continuous improvement.

Where to go to get more info on Theory of Constraints:




Wardley Mapping: Enhancing Strategic Decision-Making

I consider Wardley Mapping to be crucial, particularly for rapidly expanding businesses. This approach assists in making strategic decisions by mapping the components of a value chain and their evolution. The anchor point of all of the mapping the customer. Organizations gain valuable insights into the maturity and contributions of their tech, process, and skillsets. The process entails three steps:

Start by identifying the components that make up the value chain as a group. Include technologies, processes, services, and other elements that contribute to the delivery of capabilities. Start with no more than 15 components.

Next, plot these components on the map. First order them from most visible to the customer, directly providing customer value, and work back along the value chain. Then, organize the components based on their level of maturity and evolution. This visualization helps identify where critical components of the value stream exist. Then we can decide where invest to help the component evolve to support scaling or transforming.

Organizations then gain perspective about changing capabilities and market dynamics. This lets them identify areas that require strategic investments or adjustments by analyzing the evolution of the components over time. Additionally, they can establish evolution priorities to guide investments and improvements. Wardley Mapping helps identify opportunities and threats within an organization’s digital capabilities delivery because of evolutionary status. It allows organizations to quickly determine which value chain components are more immature than others. This gives an understanding of the investments and trade-offs made by the organization as a whole.

Wardley Mapping enables the organization to have situational awareness of how they deliver value. This allows them to sense-and-respond to shifting market or threat environments faster and more effectively.

Where to go to get more info on Wardley Mapping:



  • Experimentation and Evolution with Wardley Maps, DOES Las Vegas 2019
  • The Value Flywheel Effect Creates Space for Innovation, DOES Europe 2022

Community/ Consolidated List of Resources:


By applying Value Stream Management, Theory of Constraints, and Wardley Mapping, your team will have better situational awareness. Period. End of Story. Being able to see the complexity of the effort in an simply understood format across the team is powerful. This lets everyone understand where others fit in and creates shared ownership and understanding. It helps identify inefficiencies, bottlenecks, and areas of improvement while also informing strategic decision-making and driving continuous improvement. Implementing these approaches can ultimately lead to a more agile, responsive, and effective organization. You will be equipped to serve the needs of your stakeholders in today’s rapidly changing technological landscape.

If you think I’m completely full of crap, well I’ve got a certification program for you and your entire organization. Certified Really Agile Practitioner cannot be beat.

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