What Is Value Stream Mapping (VSM) ? Definition and Steps

Melissa Sutton-Seng

Melissa Sutton-Seng

Project Management

Value stream mapping (VSM) is an important element of Lean Operations, the goals of which are to maximize customer satisfaction and minimize waste. Operating in this way allows companies to do more with less, offering better value and higher quality to their customers. This requires utilizing tools to identify inefficiencies in the entire value chain, and that’s where value stream mapping comes in.

What is Value Stream Mapping?

Value stream mapping (VSM) is a powerful, visual planning tool. It’s the exercise of diagramming both the current and the ideal workflow that takes an item from an unstarted state to completion. By including otherwise siloed departments, teams, and/or processes in a single diagram, value mapping helps businesses identify waste across the entire value stream and work towards more efficient operations.

Originally conceived for use in manufacturing facilities, value stream mapping is useful in any industry or business in which items must pass through multiple departments and phases before delivery to the customer.

No matter your sector, whether you’re producing physical goods, creating software, managing marketing campaigns, or organizing special events, value stream mapping can help you and your teams perform more efficiently.

Benefits of Value Stream Mapping

Value stream maps give teams and businesses an organization-wide perspective on Lean operations, but the goal isn’t simply to identify the current state of affairs. In addition to mapping the current state, value stream mapping helps businesses visualize an ideal state of operations in project management, giving everyone in the organization a tangible goal to work towards.

Steps to Implement Value Stream Mapping

Value stream mapping can seem intimidating, but it’s really just following a series of logical steps to arrive at an accurate (and improvable) picture of your organization’s operations. VSM is a group effort; identify stakeholders from each department and collaborate to make your value stream maps. Set aside some time for your value stream mapping–a few hours to a whole workday depending on the complexity of your organization.

1. Define the steps/process

The first action is to define the steps or processes that make up the value stream for any given product in your business. If you’re using a Kanban board to stay organized, it can help you identify your processes.

The three simplest columns on a Kanban board are

1. To do
2. Doing
3. Done (or some variation of those).

Identifying the processes for your value stream map starts with subdividing the doing column into further categories so that each distinct process is represented on your value stream map. You’ll also have drawings or icons to represent your customers and suppliers.

2. Indicate the flow

Once you have all your steps and processes represented visually, it’s crucial to correctly indicate the flow of information and materials. Add lines and arrows to help visualize the path of knowledge and physical resources through your production system.

3. Gather critical data

Now that you’ve identified the steps individually, you can collect the data you need to evaluate each one well. Record things like how long each step takes, what resources are required for successful completion, and, if you’re producing physical goods, how much inventory is kept on hand.

4. Add data and timelines

When you have your critical data collected, you can go back to your map and add it in. Under each process, create a box to include the resources, work time, and, if applicable, machine time needed to accomplish that process. Include the timeline for each process as well.

This is more than just the hours it takes to complete the process; it’s also the lead time and any packaging and shipping times that need to be considered.

5. Identify the lean wastes

After steps 1-4 have been completed, you can get to work identifying the “lean wastes” in your value stream. Lean wastes, as identified by Lean Production guru Taiichi Ohno, are inefficiencies that can be divided into seven categories:

  • Overproduction:
    Producing too much, too quickly. This contributes to all the other types of waste.
  • Waiting:
    People unable to do their part because the resources they need are unavailable or a previous process is behind schedule.
  • Conveyance:
    Moving things around too much and/or too far. In physical manufacturing, this is when steps in the process could be located next to one another but are geographically spread out. In the digital world, this is passing an item among more people than necessary.
  • Processing:
    Doing too much is a waste of resources. If a product can be completed to standard with less input, it’s being over-processed.
  • Inventory:
    Keeping more product on hand than necessary ties up resources that could be better used elsewhere and incurs costs of monitoring the overstock.
  • Motion:
    Unnecessary or straining movement by workers, like looking for tools or information that should be readily available.
  • Correction:
    Time taken to fix mistakes or discard and re-do work that was done incorrectly.

6. Complete your Value Stream Map

Once you’ve identified all the lean wastes in your value stream, you can complete your map. Use all the information you’ve gathered to create an ideal value stream map, one without all the lean wastes you discovered. It may not be possible to eliminate all the wastes at once, so consider creating multiple value stream maps to represent intermediate stages in the journey toward your ideal state.

How Kissflow Projects helps in Value Stream Mapping

Kissflow Projects is built around the concept of Value Stream Mapping. You can easily create sophisticated project boards with as many stages as you want, assign tasks to team members, and set deadlines. Sign up for free today.