How to Complete the Value Stream Mapping Process

by Sean Blake, Head of Marketing

17 Sep 2021

"Bottleneck" is a buzzword you don't want to hear. When it comes to your production process, maximizing your time and budget is all about keeping efficiency high. However, simply cutting the steps in your process may not make your customer any happier. If you want to achieve a high return on investment and increased customer satisfaction, value stream mapping is an ideal way to keep your team on track.

What is value stream mapping?

Value stream mapping (VSM) is a technique from the lean principles methodology that helps you visualize the steps you need to take to deliver a finished product or service. Value stream maps outline the flow of information and the physical materials to see where value is added for the customer. The purpose of VSM is to increase efficiency by reducing waste in the production process.

Widely known as the lean manufacturing method used in the Toyota Production System, VSM is now often used to eliminate bottlenecks in other industries like software development, supply chain, and healthcare. It's a versatile technique that can help many organizations shine. 🌟

Why value stream mapping matters

When companies aim for efficiency, they often focus on reducing the total amount of production steps required. But customers don't always see what happens behind the scenes. Decreasing the length of your workflows mainly benefits your process without changing the experience for them. On the flip side, the value stream mapping process keeps your team members aware of customer needs, so your business can stand out.

For teams that use value stream mapping, reducing inefficiencies is all about cutting production process steps that don't add value. Value stream maps are a visualization of where you're wasting effort. They show your team that keeping steps within your process is okay — but each of those steps should help customers in some way. As a result, VSM prevents overproduction while ensuring your customers are happy with your final product or service.

You can achieve better lean agile workflows with value stream mapping and effectively keep up with customer demand. 💪

Value stream mapping terms

Value stream mapping: Michael Provost What GIF

A typical value stream map is divided into three key sections — information flow, material flow, and lead time ladder — that help you see where process improvements can occur. To help you complete each part of a value stream map with greater ease, we'll explain a handful of common terms that you'll come across in each section.

As you learn these terms, you can refer to this Microsoft template to see a few VSM symbols that you'll often use.

Information flow

At the top of a standard value stream map is an information flow section that shows how data transmits between your team members, customers, and other stakeholders. Common terms you'll need to know to complete this section include:

  • Customer: This is the consumer who will receive your final product. Your customer is represented in the upper right corner of your map.
  • Supplier: This is your organization. Suppliers are placed in the upper left side of value stream maps.
  • Dedicated process flow: This is a process or department (like "production control") that information flows through.

Material flow

In the middle of a value stream map is a material flow section that shows how you take your product or service to delivery, step by step. Each box represents a unique task, which may be performed by the same team or by another after a material handoff.

To complete the material flow section, you need to know these terms:

  • Shipments: On value stream maps, "shipment" arrows point from the supplier to the first step in the material flow, or from the last step to the customer. They show how your information flow is related to the start and end of your production process. For example, an arrow can show how raw materials move between the supplier and factory or how software access is "sent" to a user.
  • Cycle time (C/T): This metric represents the amount of time required between shipments.
  • Inventory: Inventory is what's produced between each stage of the production process. Your inventory is usually written below a triangle with a "I" within it. 🔺

Lead time ladder

At the bottom of a value stream map is usually a time ladder that helps you visualize your lead time, which is the average time spent on each step of your material flow.

Kaizen burst

Throughout your value stream map, you can include Kaizen bursts. These represent bursts of activity (like a sprint) in which your team focuses on resolving a specific issue — such as processing customer returns — to quickly remove potential bottlenecks. The symbols for Kaizen bursts look like comic book explosions to grab your attention. 💥

How to create a value stream map

Dwight from The Office GIF

When you're ready to get started with value stream mapping, select the specific product or service that you want to create a map for. While all production processes can benefit from continuous improvement, you should ideally start with a product or service that could benefit the most from VSM. Once you've made your selection, follow these steps with your VSM team:

  • Define your objective: Identify what you want to change for the customer as a result of the value stream mapping process. For example, you might want to improve the quality of a product or the speed with which you deliver a service.
  • Clarify your scope: Define the start and end of your value stream map. You can create a map that includes all of the steps between concept and delivery, begin with an inefficient part of your value stream, or end with a contract agreement instead of a traditional delivery.
  • Outline your process: List each step of your production process. Begin by speaking with team members from each department involved in the process to gather any needed insights. Your list should include non-value producing steps. Collect data about cycle times, lead times, inventory, and more to understand each step even further.
  • Create and evaluate your current state map: Using the information you’ve gathered, create a map that reflects the current state of your process. Work with your team to identify which steps are productive and where improvements are needed. This map will allow you to pinpoint areas of waste, like long process times or software downtime.
  • Develop a future state value stream map: Create a second map that illustrates an improved process that eliminates non-valuable steps. This will be the map you'll ultimately follow to reach your objectives.
  • Build an implementation plan: To start moving toward your future state, establish how your team will implement the new process. Include what metrics you'll keep an eye on to ensure you're on track to reach your objectives. You can also establish how frequently you'll review your progress and adjust your future state map (if needed) during the implementation phase.

Continue adding value for your customers

Learning to see from your customer's perspective is crucial to ensuring you stand out from your competitors. Following the value stream mapping process can help you visualize where your team is producing value and where you're doing extra work that can easily be eliminated.

To continue adding value for customers, learn how Easy Agile User Story Maps for Jira can help you dive deeper into your product’s customer's journey.

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