Businesses are always looking for ways to operate efficiently by reducing waste and redundancy in business processes across the organization. Value stream mapping (VSM) got its start in manufacturing, but has proven to be equally useful in business as a visual mapping technique for optimizing and improving systems and processes. By implementing value stream mapping techniques, companies can eliminate waste in development processes, identify and predict supply chain bottlenecks, and increase customer value by providing services and improved products.
What is Value Stream Mapping?
Value stream mapping is a lean management technique for analyzing the flow of materials, requirements, and data associated with a given process, system, or product. VSM requires strong communication and collaboration between departments. For organizations that have siled or isolated departments, encouraging greater collaboration between business units could be a worthwhile adjustment.
Implementing value stream mapping can be time consuming, especially if you choose a complex process, product, or system to analyze. The larger the project, the more people and business units will be involved. This means that you may need to dedicate several months or even years to realizing and implementing your VSM strategy.
Benefits of Value Stream Mapping
VSM benefits organizations as an effective technique to identify and communicate the necessary characteristics of complex systems. It allows companies to visualize each step of a process – typically a manufacturing or development process – and identifies every input and stakeholder needed for each step. With VSM, everyone can see how their work supports and adds value to the system, and it creates an efficient way for all stakeholders to track progress.
A value stream map also provides insight into any resource, progress, and availability issues, facilitating continuous process improvement. It can help establish labor requirements, track downtime, identify error rates, spot production backlogs, and catch inventory issues before they become a problem. VSM gives everyone involved a central point to check in, make improvements, uncover any potential issues, and see how things are progressing towards the initially established goals.
Value stream mapping process
Before you start creating a value stream map, you need to objectively assess your organization’s business processes, products, and systems. Start by talking to management, department heads, and other key stakeholders who can give you more insight into what can be improved. You will need to gain hands-on experience with the process, product or system yourself and ask other employees to explain their role to you. A successful VSM involves everyone with experience, knowledge and expertise on the product or system being mapped, so that no detail is overlooked and everyone is working with the same information.
It is important to collect as much data as possible, for example, any inefficiencies in the process, number of workers involved, resources used and downtime. Any potentially relevant or noteworthy data is useful to flesh out your final VSM flowchart and gain insights into what can be refined or improved.
Next, you’ll create two separate VSM flowcharts: a current state value stream map and a future state value stream map. Your current state VSM will be used to establish how the process is currently running and operating in the enterprise. This is where you will demonstrate issues, significant findings, and establish key requirements. The future state of VSM, on the other hand, focuses on what your process will look like once your organization has completed the necessary improvements.
As you work as a team on developing the maps, you can eliminate or consolidate steps to make the final flowchart easy to follow. Once established, you can put the value stream map into a framework such as Kanban, which is used for agile development. With Kanban boards, you can create a visual construct physically or digitally to allow everyone to track progress between each step.
Each time the organization updates a process or makes an improvement to the process, the value stream map will need to be updated to reflect the changes. Typically, this is something that can be done monthly, as needed. Once changes are implemented, it is important to see if they introduce problems elsewhere in the process and adapt accordingly.
Value Stream Mapping Steps
Peter Hines and Nick Rich of the Lean Enterprise Research Center in Cardiff, UK, created seven value stream mapping tools in 1997 to help companies get started with value stream mapping. Hines and Rich note that the VSM toolkit should not remain confined to “one particular theoretical approach”. It’s up to your organization to decide which agile or lean management framework to use, but the authors attest that following these seven steps will help you implement value stream mapping alongside any IT management framework you choose. Relevant lean and agile IT management frameworks include Kaizen, Lean Six Sigma, Kanban, or business process reengineering.
Mapping of process activities: Establish process flows, identify waste and redundancy, and analyze workflows and business processes.
Supply Chain Response Matrix: Identify any obstacles in the process using a simple diagram.
Funnel of production varieties: Look at other competitors and industries to see what solutions they’ve discovered for similar problems.
Forrester Effect Mapping: Create line graphs that illustrate customer demand versus production to visualize supply, demand, and potential delays.
Mapping of quality filters: Identify any defects or problems in the supply chain.
Decision point analysis: Determine push-and-pull demand in the supply chain, a process for determining production orders based on inventory or customer demand.
Mapping of the physical structure: A top-down look at what the supply chain looks like at an industry level.
Value stream mapping symbols
Since VSM is about visualizing a process, the symbols help identify the different parts of the process on the value stream map. These symbols help organize VSM flowcharts, and they are often standardized within an industry or organization.
There are widely used symbols that organizations adopt, but if there is something unique or specific to an organization, it is not uncommon to design your own symbols. The only thing that matters is that everyone involved in the process understands the meaning of each symbol. These symbols fall into four main categories:
Process symbols: Process symbols are used to identify various types of processes in a value stream map and to identify parts of processes that waste resources or involve customers or customers. Commonly used process symbols include those that denote customers and suppliers, dedicated process flows, shared processes, and merged processes.
Material symbols: Material symbols identify the parts of a process that depend on inventory and the supply chain. Commonly used material symbols include those that identify inventory, shipments, inventory availability, drawn inventory, and external shipments.
Informative symbols: Informative symbols are used to show where and how information plays a role in a process. Symbols commonly used for information include those that identify production control, inventory issues, stock control, areas that need to be spot checked, and process information that has been verbally shared.
General symbols: All other symbols generally fall under general symbols if they do not fall under the other three categories. General symbols include those that identify operators, miscellaneous information, lead times, equipment, warehouses, orders, quality issues, and potential solutions or improvements.
Value Stream Mapping Software
You don’t need any advanced tools or software to create a VSM flowchart because you can easily create one on a whiteboard. But creating a value stream map can be a lengthy process involving multiple departments and multiple key stakeholders, so you can invest in software designed to make the process easier.
VSM software can help you create flowcharts, keep everyone informed, and provide collaboration and visualization features that keep everyone on task. You can also find value stream mapping templates online that can help you start mapping your business processes.
Here are some popular VSM software tools to get you started:
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Value Stream Mapping Training and Certification
If you want to learn more about VSM and how to create a value stream map or implement the process in your business, you can find many courses and training programs on the subject. Most are offered online, and you can even find some that are specific to relevant Lean or Agile management frameworks, such as Six Sigma.