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What is Value Stream Mapping? Process, Examples, and Everything You Need to Know

value stream mapping

When faced with a problem that needs solving, it helps to visualize the situation and study the steps necessary to find the solution. Humans are visually oriented creatures, so seeing something helps us better process and interact with it. This characteristic also applies to operations in areas like manufacturing, service industries, or software engineering.

This article tackles the concept of value stream mapping (VSM), especially in areas like software development and lean manufacturing. First, we will review some definitions and explore the purpose and benefits of VSM, its steps, use cases, and how it relates to methodologies such as Kanban.

But before looking at value stream mapping examples and other in-depth information, including a Lean Six Sigma bootcamp you can take, let’s establish a few definitions.

What’s a Value Stream?

Before we define value stream mapping, we should establish what in the world a value stream is. A value stream is an accounting of every action, whether those actions directly create value or not, needed to turn a product from raw materials into a beneficial result that ultimately ends up in the customer’s hands.

Now, with that basic definition out of the way, let’s define VSM.

So, What Is Value Stream Mapping?

Value stream mapping, or “material or information-flow mapping,” is a visual tool. This lean manufacturing technique analyzes, designs, and manages the flow of materials and information necessary to bring a product to external customers. VSM uses a system of standardized symbols that represent various information flows and work streams. Items are mapped as adding or not adding value from the customer’s standpoint to root out things that don’t add value.

Value stream mapping helps people visualize the entire process, mapping all the essential steps needed for the work process to deliver value from start to finish. By doing this, the team can quickly identify and eliminate waste, spot inefficiencies, and determine chances for process improvement.

Value stream mapping is also part of the Six Sigma and Lean Six Sigma processes.

Also Read: What Is Process Capability and Why It’s More Interesting Than It Sounds

The Origins of Value Stream Mapping

Value stream mapping Six Sigma gained popularity in the second half of the 20th century, alongside Lean’s rise. It was one of the essential elements of the Toyota Production System, a process that gained considerable fame and respectability.

However, Toyota didn’t come up with the idea of visually mapping a workflow. Evidence of schematics shows information and material flow as early as 1918. By the 1990s, the process of VSM had become part of the lives of many Western managers. Its success soon spilled over from the manufacturing sector and gradually spread into more information-based industries such as IT operations, product and software development, logistics, healthcare, etc.

The Purpose of Value Stream Mapping

Value stream mapping has a twofold purpose:

  • Aiding organizations in clearly defining value flow. In other words, what are the resources, processes, and systems involved in creating value from start to finish?
  • Provide organizations with the information they need to improve.

Why Industries Need Value Stream Mapping

While it’s always easier to arrive at a practical solution once you can see the entire process, value stream mapping does more than just give you a good look at the situation. VSM is a must today because it brings these advantages to the table.

  • It makes it easy to identify and eliminate waste. Value stream mapping helps you not only spot areas of waste but also spot their sources. After all, it’s not enough to treat the symptoms; you need to cure the disease.
  • It makes it easy to visualize the entire material and information flow. VSM gives you the “big picture,” a comprehensive look at all the steps, whether they generate value or not. You can spot what areas need work and implement process improvement when you see everything.
  • It shows how material flow and information flow can be linked. Value stream mapping accomplishes what no other tool can do, showing material and information linkage, which can help streamline the process.
  • It’s a valuable part of the CI/CD pipeline. Software developers rely on continuous improvement and delivery pipelines to satisfy growing customer demand for new web-based apps and pages. VSM helps developers visualize handoffs, making the entire delivery process more manageable and saving time by eliminating unproductive meetings.
  • It provides a standard frame of reference. Many projects require the participation of many different teams and individuals. A good VSM helps everyone stay on the same page, presenting information in a format everyone can grasp and subsequently discuss and collaborate on.
  • It provides the blueprint for implementation plans. When the team sees all the project’s steps laid out clearly from start to finish, they better understand how the flow should proceed. As a result, the VSM becomes the foundation for making the entire process more efficient, reducing lead times and cycle times.

Also Read: What is Quality Control? A Beginners Guide

Creating a Value Stream Map

Just follow these easy steps, and your organization can reap the benefits of a value stream map.

  • Identify the problem you want to solve. Look at it from your customer’s point of view. What issues do your customers have with your organization or product? Identify the problem, then create a problem statement.
  • Assemble and empower the appropriate team. Get your team together, ensuring it’s staffed with experienced, mature team members who can tackle the identified problem.
  • Bound the process. After you publish your problem statement, you must limit the VSM’s scope accordingly.
  • Map your bounded process. Review and map the bounded process. Define the steps, and don’t hesitate to perform multiple value stream mappings. Often, repeating the process helps you catch things that may have been overlooked in previous iterations.
  • Collect the process data. The process data includes, among other things, the number of personnel involved, the average number of working hours, wait time, cycle time, uptime, and downtime. As you perform your value stream mapping, note the process data in the map’s data boxes.
  • Make your timeline. Here’s where you map out lead times and process times.
  • Assess the current map. Be bold and ask hard questions. Do your lead times too long? Are your environments stable? Do the project teams have multiple dependencies on each other?
  • Design a future map. The future map shows what the final version should look like. Note that it should align with the organization’s visions and goals.
  • Implement your future map. Follow the future map’s value stream mapping process and ensure it’s in the customer’s best interests. A successful future state map solves the problem you began the process with.

Explaining Value Stream Mapping Symbols

There is a series of symbols associated with value stream mapping. The following are the commonly used symbols and icons for VSM provided by Atlassian.com. Additionally, here’s a summary of the different stream mapping symbols supplied by Edrawmax.

Supplier IconCustomer/Supplier Icon
Represents two different elements based on the placement. Represents the supplier if placed in the upper left corner of the VSM.
Represents the customer when placed in the upper right corner.
Dedicated process flow iconDedicated process flow iconRepresents fixed and continuous internal material flow through a process, department, operation, or machine.
Shared process iconShared process iconRepresents a department, process, operation, or work center shared by other value stream families.
Databox iconDatabox iconRepresents significant data, usually placed under other symbols that own the data.
Workcell iconWorkcell iconShows the integration of multiple processes into a single manufacturing work cell.

VSM material symbols

Inventory SymbolInventory SymbolShows Inventory between two processes and stored Inventory.
Shipment SymbolShipment SymbolThis represents the shifting of procured raw materials from supplier to plant. It also shows the delivery of the finished products from the manufacturer to the customer.
Push ArrowPush ArrowRepresents the journey of material from one process to another.
SupermarketSupermarketAlso known as a Kanban stock point, it shows where downstream customers can get needed Inventory as the supplier provides it.
Material PullMaterial PullUsed when supermarkets connect to downstream processes to physically remove the materials from the supermarket.
FIFO LaneFIFO LaneRepresents a First-In-First-Out inventory system, with the maximum limit of input ‘MAX’ written under the line.
Safety StockSafety StockEmergency stock used to protect the system in case of system failure.
External ShipmentExternal ShipmentThis is a shipment of raw materials from suppliers or delivery of products to customers.

VSM information symbols

Production ControlProduction ControlRepresents a central production scheduling or control department.
Manual InfoManual InfoThis is the flow of general information from reports, memos, etc.
Electronic info iconElectronic info iconShows digital information flow (e.g., the Internet, Intranets, LANs, WANs, etc.)
Production KanbanProduction KanbanRepresents the production required to supply parts to customers.
Withdrawal KanbanWithdrawal KanbanRepresents a card that instructs operator to send parts from a supermarket to a process.
Signal KanbanSignal KanbanThis shows that inventory levels in a supermarket have dropped to a minimum and eventually signals the production for the receiving process.
Kanban PostKanban PostUsed near supermarkets to show a location for collecting Kanban signals.
Sequenced pull iconSequenced pull iconRepresents a pull system offering instructions to processes to manufacture a required product, eliminating the need for supermarket storage.
Load leveling iconLoad leveling iconUsed to batch Kanban to level the production volume.
MRP ERPMRP/ ERPThis is an inventory scheduling symbol.
Go SeeGo SeeUsed when visual observation by supervisor is required.
Verbal informationVerbal informationRepresents verbal and personal information flow.

VSM general symbols

Kaizen burst iconKaizen burst iconThis highlights the problem areas. It’s a short burst of activity to solve a problem with urgency and intensity.
Other information iconOther information iconUseful Information
Timeline SymbolTimeline SymbolShows waiting and processing times and helps calculate lead time and total cycle time.
Transportation SymbolTransportation SymbolSymbolizes transportation types such as trains, airplanes, or ships.
Warehouse SymbolWarehouse SymbolInternal or external warehouses.
Cross-Dock SymbolCross-Dock SymbolShows the supply chain that eliminates need for a warehouse. Materials go directly from inbound to outbound trucks.
PhonePhoneCommunication by phone or phone orders.
Batched KanbanBatched KanbanRepresents Kanban cards arriving or sent in batches.

Also Read: Demystifying the Theory of Constraints

How Do You Create a Value Stream Map with Kanban?

Kanban is widely recognized as one of the most trusted value stream mapping tools, so it makes sense to show how you use it to create a VSM. You’re ready to follow these steps once you get your Kanban boards and the Kanban cards for the team’s assignments.

  • Create your Kanban board. Use a Kanban software solution or a physical board to map your Kanban workflow, creating one for a single department or team.
  • Define your VSM’s Expectations and Purposes. Once you have your Kanban board in place, bring the team together to discuss the purpose of the VSM and what results you expect from its implementation.
  • Visualize your workflow’s key stages. Bind the process together, Kanban boards typically have three item states: To Do, In Progress, and Done. Emphasize breaking down the In Progress state into multiple columns representing the workflow’s most crucial stream steps. Add as many columns as you need.
  • Conduct your value stream map analysis. Once you have a bound process, select a sample range of performance metrics to monitor. For example, here’s a simple set of workflow key performance indicators (KPI):
    • Assignment lead time vs. cycle time
    • System throughput
    • The amount of work in progress

Keep lead time and cycle time as close to one another as you can. That way, even if your team processes work remarkably well but you’re faced with a backlog that will cause customers to experience delivery delays, the impact will be less severe.

Now, let’s look at some value stream mapping examples.

Value Stream Mapping Examples

Here are some ways you can leverage VSM to bring value.

  • Healthcare and pharma. By mapping the patient flow, value stream mapping can help health-related industries better understand their process bottlenecks. Value stream maps can show a health provider that they need to reduce patient waiting times, focus on patient results, or emphasize staff productivity.
  • Logistics. Value stream mapping can spot insights such as costly process delays, overstocking, or unnecessary transportation incidents so the company can directly remedy these weak links. As a result, organizations can improve their control, process flow, and operations visibility.
  • Service industries. The banking, insurance, or procurement industries can map their workflow and identify waste and inefficiencies, such as unnecessary steps or long waiting times for application approval. Eliminating these irritants can streamline the work and enhance customer satisfaction.

How Value Stream Mapping Identifies and Mitigates Waste

Although value stream mapping originated in automobile manufacturing, it proved so successful that other industries, including information-driven organizations such as software developers, adopted it.

Lean manufacturing defines seven types of waste.

  • Defects. Defect waste involves flaws and imperfections in the material, resulting in high costs to replace and recycle old components.
  • Overproduction. Overproduction is manufacturing excessive amounts of a particular product, leading to other forms of waste.
  • Overprocessing. This form of waste covers unnecessary steps in the manufacturing process.
  • Inventory. Inventory waste stems from overproduction and involves storing and preserving surplus goods.
  • Motion. Motion waste covers the excessive costs associated with the unnecessary movement of machinery or personnel.
  • Transport. This waste form is closely related to Motion, but whereas Motion deals with internal movements within one location, Transport covers external transportation between multiple sites.
  • Waiting. Any slow manufacturing process step will cause delays that ultimately prove costly.

VSM helps manufacturing teams spot these forms of waste better. Once the waste form has been identified, mapping can be used to outline the steps needed to rectify the waste.

However, information-based organizations don’t manufacture goods in factories. So, software developers and other creative professionals have their own set of seven wastes.

  • Extra features. Also known as “feature creep,” this waste form covers features the client didn’t ask for but was added by well-meaning developers who try to second-guess customer needs.
  • Incomplete work. This waste happens when the developers don’t have all the required specifications or lack the chance to test the release thoroughly but are under pressure to release the product. Unfortunately, this causes more work in the long run.
  • Handoffs. Handoffs occur when there’s an employee turnover or when the project owners change.
  • Relearning. Relearning waste happens when there’s insufficient or flawed documentation, or the technology is so complex that it has a steep learning curve.
  • Defects. This flaw is like manufactured product defects, except it typically involves glitches and bugs in the software.
  • Task switching. This flaw is like Handoffs, except it involves tasks switched between individuals.
  • Delays. The Delay flaw typically occurs when a project has tightly coupled dependencies. Unfortunately, a delay in one task can cause a chain reaction of delays downstream.

The Challenges of Value Stream Mapping

VSM is only a partial solution for some process problems. Value stream mapping demands dedication from your team and stakeholders and can be complex and time-consuming. Teams may experience misunderstandings or pushback from some quarters, so it’s essential to communicate clearly and address any concerns. Additionally, VSM can only be sustainable and effective if improvements are implemented and monitored. You must prioritize actions, allocate resources, assign responsibilities, and track progress and outcomes to achieve success.

Important Tips for VSM

  1. Experience it directly. You or your team should follow the entire value stream firsthand. Don’t depend on secondhand sources’ impressions, assumptions, or conversations about how things “usually” happen. At least one team member should walk through the whole stream. If you turn to sub-teams to walk different portions, but nobody walks the entire thing, you’ll miss essential VSM perspectives.
  2. Draw an initial VSM by hand (yes, no tech!). Start by making a pencil sketch as you document each step. Use chart-drawing software later to communicate better, collaborate, and map out an ideal future state.
  3. Do an initial walk-through. Begin with a quick walk to briefly experience it at an overview level, then do it again but in more detail.
  4. Now, do it backward. Try doing the process in reverse, from the end product or service to its birth. This perspective could make various items more precise and more meaningful.
  5. Always ask, “Why?” In Lean Six Sigma, it’s usually called “the Five Whys.” The idea is to ask why something is done the way it is. Then, ask why to the response, continuing until you drill down to the action’s ultimate basis.

Now, let’s look at some value stream mapping tools.

Value Stream Mapping Tools and Software

Here’s a small sample of value stream mapping tools and software.

How to Get Six Sigma Training

If you’re interested in value stream mapping Six Sigma methodology, sign up for this Lean Six Sigma program delivered by Simplilearn in collaboration with the University of Massachusetts. This certification course gives you the tools and training to boost your efforts to become a certified Lean Six Sigma professional.

This IASSC-accredited Lean Six Sigma course trains you in agile management, digital transformation, lean management, quality management, Minitab, and more.

Project managers earn an annual average of $92,410, according to Glassdoor.com. So, consider boosting your project manager skills with this online course, and set yourself up for an exciting new career!

You might also like to read:

Demystifying Kaizen Lean Six Sigma

What Are the 5s in Lean Six Sigma?

How Do You Use a Six Sigma Calculator?

What Are the Elements of a Six Sigma Project Charter?

Central Limit Theorem Explained

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