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What is Value Stream Mapping (VSM) – Benefits and Steps


Value stream mapping 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 project management 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 project planning software. Also known as visual stream mapping, 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 templates, managing marketing campaigns, or organizing special events, value stream mapping can help you and your teams perform more efficiently.

A brief history of value stream mapping

Value stream mapping has been around for quite a while even though it’s only recently being adopted by a lot of industries. In the introduction to the book Learning to See, Mike Rother describes it as a minor tool known within Toyota as “Material and Information Flow” mapping. But, earlier versions of this tool have been seen in the 1918 book, Installing Efficiency Methods.

As the Lean principles spread to manufacturing industries in America, so did value stream mapping. Its popularity grew to other industries like software development, IT operations, and even marketing. The 1990 book, The Machine That Changed the World” written by James Womack, Daniel Jones, and Daniel Roos, first introduced the term “value stream”. The idea was further popularized by the book Lean Thinking, written by the same authors. According to them, the value stream was the sequence of activities an organization undertakes to deliver on a customer request.

Today, value stream mapping is associated with both Lean and Six Sigma methodologies as they emphasize on the elimination of wastes.

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Benefits of a value stream map

By creating a value stream map, you can visualize how end-to-end operations work, track actual performance, and find ways to make your processes even more efficient.

Here are some of the benefits of value stream mapping:

  • Identify waste
  • Identify bottlenecks
  • Make processes efficient
  • Improve cross-functional collaboration
  • Improve end-product quality

Value stream map gives teams and businesses an organization-wide perspective on lean project management, 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.

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6 steps to implement value stream mapping

The value stream mapping process 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.

Value stream mapping steps

VSM is a group effort; identify stakeholders from each department and collaborate to make your value stream maps. Set aside some time for your lean value stream mapping a few hours to a whole workday depending on the complexity of your organization.

1. Define the steps

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 software 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).

value stream mapping process

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 visual stream map. You’ll also have drawings or icons to represent your customers and suppliers.

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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 project 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 cycle time and any packaging and shipping times that need to be considered.

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5. Identify the lean wastes

After steps 1-4 have been completed, you can get to work identifying the 8 wastes of lean in the 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 Project helps in value stream mapping

Kissflow Project 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 with the help of project tracking software. Sign up for free today.