Value Stream Mapping

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I had spent many years on the “Lean journey” before being introduced to Value Stream Mapping in 2000.  As I began using this approach, I realised the power of taking an end-to-end view and implementing steps to improve the whole value stream.  Previously, we had taken a very “tool” based approach – kaizen, quick changeover, 5S – applying these techniques where we saw opportunities.  The problem with this approach is that it led to “point optimisation” rather than ”system optimisation”.  For example, an improvement made in one part of the process would not improve the overall system performance if there was a constraint downstream from the improvement.  Value Stream Mapping provided a high level system view that enabled us to apply the right tools in the right sequence and achieve significantly better results.

Overview of the process

  • Value Stream Mapping is used to plan improvements for the start to end processes (ie value stream) for a specific product or service.
  • The current state map is a visual display of the process highlighting problems with the major steps and flow of work and information.
  • The future state map shows what the process will look like after improvements.
  • The implementation plan shows the actions, priority, timing and resources needed to achieve the future state.
  • Value Stream Mapping generally starts with the macro level. For a manufacturing process, this is the 4 – 8 major operations in the process from receiving the raw material to shipping the final product.
  • Value Stream Mapping can also be done at lower levels. For example, the Value Steam Map for a mining operation may have separate maps and action plans for drill and blast, load / haul, crushing and processing. Each map is “owned” by the manager of the specific area.

The stages in Value Stream Mapping are:

  • The first step is to scope the project:
    • Define which product or service to target.
    • Determine the start and end points.
  • Determine the project team. VSM is a great opportunity to get a cross functional team focussed on improvements. Team members may include operators, first line supervisors, support staff, technical experts and management. It is also a good idea to include people outside the area who can give the “fresh set of eyes” perspective and challenge the way things are done.

  • The current state map is a visual display of the process steps, key metrics for these steps, work in progress between each step and information flows.
  • See example current state maps – manufacturing, office or healthcare.
  • Complete the current state map in the following order:
    • Customer – record customer requirements and current performance against these requirements in data box.
    • Process steps – record the key performance metrics. A good checklist is the 5 attributes of a lean process – valuable, capable, available, adequate & flexible.
    • Work in progress – record the amount of work in progress in between the steps and calculate how many days or hours this is based on the output of the process.
    • Information flows – record how information is communicated to the process steps about what to produce. This is important as it highlights push vs pull production.
    • Timeline – drawn at the bottom to show value added time versus total time and highlights the low % of value added time.
  • The key is to identify current problems and capture these on the map. This map becomes the basis for brainstorming improvement ideas for the future state.

  • The future state map is developed by answering the following questions:
    1. Customer requirements -  Where they are not being met? What steps add value from the customer’s perspective?
    2. Work flow – Do we need all these steps?  Where are the delays and interuptions to flow? How will we eliminate/reduce these delays?
    3. Work reliability and quality – Where are the problems? How will we fix them?
    4. Managing to learn – How will we continue to improve the process?

  • Develop an implementation plan for the actions needed to get from the current state to the future state.
  • An effective way to implement the plan is to use a series of team based rapid improvement workshops (1 week) known as kaizen events.
  • Action plans generally cover the next six months.  The Value Stream Mapping process is then repeated.


  • This is a very visual and interactive process so make the maps highly visible on a wall and get all the team involved in the process.
  • Use flipchart paper and post-it notes for flexibility.
  • Brainstorming problems and improvements using the map promotes teamwork on how do we fix the process rather than who do we blame.
  • The maps and action plans should be “owned” by a Value Stream Manager – someone responsible for the end to end process.

More info

  • Learning to See by Mike Rother and John Shook, ISBN: 0-9667843-0-8 – Value Stream Mapping for manufacturing.
  • Mapping to See by John Shook and team, ISBN: 978-1-934109-16-8 – Value Stream Mapping for the office and services