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, let’s establish a few definitions.
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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.
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.
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. When you see everything, you can spot what areas need work and implement process improvement.
- 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 continuous 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 common 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.
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. Once you get your Kanban boards and the Kanban cards for the team’s assignments, you’re ready to follow these steps.
- 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.
Also Read: Demystifying the Theory of Constraints
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 defined as 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 either when there’s an employee turnover or when the project owners change.
- Relearning. Relearning waste happens when there’s either 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.
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