What is Value Stream Mapping?


What is Value Stream Mapping and how can you use it to improve your business?


Value Stream Mapping (VSM) is perhaps one of the most powerful tools available within the Lean toolbox.  However, if you are not a low-mix, high-volume manufacturer, does VSM apply to you?  In short, the answer is “yes”, but let us first look at traditional VSM: What is it? What can it do? What are its benefits and limitations?

Traditional Value Stream Mapping

VSM is a metrics-rich process map of your operations at either a high-level view or a more focused, lower-level examination.  It can illuminate improvement opportunities and inefficiencies related to processing times, cycle times, inventories and resource utilization as well as highlight quality related issues.  However, getting all this information can be intensive and it represents only a snapshot in time of your operations.  So, if this detailed examination of your business, doesn’t appear to fit, what options are available to you?  Fortunately, the adaptability of VSM allows us to gain insights about our processes in a wide range of applications and with a fraction of the effort associated with traditional VSM.


Value Stream Mapping to identify Waste

If we peel VSM back to its core, we have a process map.  A VSM outlines how people, material and information flow within our operations.  It also provides an opportunity to examine our processes from a Lean Waste perspective.  Perhaps you have heard of TIM WOODS or DOWNTIME?  These acronyms are used to remember the Eight Wastes of Lean.  [If you need a quick refresher on Waste, click here]  By combining the visual representation of processes provided by the VSM with the focused examination of the Lean Wastes, we can produce powerful insights and begin to identify improvement opportunities.


Value Stream Mapping to identify Process Bottlenecks and Handoffs

By creating a visual representation of our process, we can start to see the interactions and potential problems.  In a manufacturing environment, the insights that result from an examination of the high-level process steps can often be confirmed by visiting the shop floor and observing what is taking place.  The process bottleneck or rate limiting step typically presents a number of symptoms including longer processing times, lead times and an accumulation of “stuff” – whether it be “work in progress” or WIP, raw materials, sub-assemblies or even rework.  The problems need not be limited to material issues.  Availability of the right people to do the job or critical pieces of information (from either the customer, scheduling, sales or engineering) might be an underlying cause of the problems that you are experiencing.  A preliminary high-level VSM can point us in the right direction and be the first step in digging a little deeper.


Value Stream Mapping to identify Safety Issues

Safety should be a focus for any organization.  A VSM provides an opportunity to examine the mapped process from a safety perspective.  There are clear interactions between many of the aforementioned wastes and potential safety concerns.  For instance, excessive transportation and motion increases risk to the employee.  These risks might include trips or strains or perhaps a consequence of having one’s attention diverted.  Similarly, a non-streamlined product flow presents elevated risks.  Although you may have identified a potential risk during an earlier examination of your VSM, you might not have truly “seen” the safety implications unless you looked at things with this specific focus on safety.


Value Stream Mapping to identify Improvement Opportunities

When creating a VSM, one should always be looking for opportunities to improve the process that you are mapping.  Similarly, the outcomes of the previously mentioned VSM activities are likely improvement opportunities.  That being said, there is additional benefit in re-inspecting your map with a focus on identifying improvement opportunities.  By this point, your map is perhaps getting a little messy with notes, scribbles and “a ha” moments, but don’t worry that is a good thing in assisting the identification of additional improvement opportunities.  Now that you have a nearly final version of your map, it can be highly beneficial and generate new improvement opportunities by bringing in others to review your map and provide their input.


Take the next step to discover how Value Stream Mapping could help transform your business.

Have you been considering a Value Stream Map for one or more of your processes? Perhaps your a preliminary VSM?

Take the first step and contact us today, let’s start the conversation on how a VSM can transform your business.

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