Value Stream Mapping (VSM) – Visualize the Value

It should be obvious that an ideal business and manufacturing process should run smoothly without any interruption between steps or departments. The quickest way from point A to point B is in a straight line, and the easiest way to achieve that straight line is by using Value Stream Mapping, or VSM.

VSM is used to identify the areas in which a large amount of waste exists. This gives the quality team a good idea where to focus their efforts and lean processes. By practicing VSM, a company can also streamline their business processes and achieve record levels of productivity.
More commonly known as “Material and Information Flow Mapping”, VSM seeks to analyze and optimize the flow of materials and information necessary to bring a product or service to a consumer. As you might expect, the simpler, more straight-line, and clearly defined the processes or value stream is, the more efficiently the company will run. If used correctly, VSM can be used in many different industries and processes, from customer service, to consulting services, and from optimizing manufacturing lines to paperwork reduction. No matter what industry, effort, or process, there are a few steps which outline the processes necessary for mapping the different value streams.

Many times, VSM is used in conjunction with the first S, “Sort”, in the 5S model. It can also be used when trying to achieve a visual workplace, something else that goes after the same objectives. In fact, the ‘Sort’ phase of 5S talks about finding out what the most efficient stream of information and parts flowing is and how to achieve that by removing the unnecessary tools and equipment are on the shop floor.

While it may seem like a simple task o do, often times, management does not realize that they do not have a firm grasp on the conduct of the processes within their own organization. When they attempt to start mapping out the flow, they are shocked to find that a lot of them are highly inefficient and contain many unnecessary steps, actions, and diversions. They end up having to interview their own employees about the processes that are in place to find out exactly how they are conducted.

If the workplace in question is a manufacturing or assembly plant, it is advantageous to get to a vantage point in which the manager can see the entire shop floor and all of its equipment, personnel and other resources in motion. The manager should be able to view the entire production as it is happening. Much like a conductor of an orchestra, this will give them a “bird’s eye view” of the actual conduct of the operations inside of the plant as they happen, instead of talking about what is supposed to theoretically happen inside of a boardroom or office.
When it comes time to implement the VSM techniques, it should be employed in four stages. The first is to identify what it is that is to be mapped, or what the “target” will be. Second, using the helpful hints from above, the current state of the process should be drawn. The steps, information flows, and delays that are necessary to deliver the target product or service should be included in the preliminary map.

The next step is where the magic happens. Management should be brought in to assess the current state of the value stream map it possibly identify areas which need work in creating flow by eliminating waste. And lastly, taking into account what was found in the previous step, the future VSM should then be drawn and implemented.

An example of this process can be seen in Figure (1). As you can see, this company has decided to outline their value stream. There are many places in which the company can improve the flow of information and parts.

Value Stream Mapping (VSM) - A great lean tool

Figure (1)

Luckily, the management was able to identify the areas that can be improved. They noticed that process B1 was taking 8 hours, while taking up resources of 5 people. Part of this is due to the fact that the process in this figure sent 83% of the inventory through process B1 instead of B2.
Management also noticed that there was a solid 18 hours of delivery time, or 20% of the product’s cycle time. The team thought that putting Process B1 in the same location as Process C would improve delivery time, and it did. This way, the 8 hours of delivery time from B1 to C was removed, leading to a 10% decrease in production time. Process B2 was also dissolved, but the best practices from the better performing cell were incorporated into Process B1, leading to value improvements that led a chain reaction of savings.

While it is usually a management-lead initiative, in order to effectively create an accurate VSM, a company must employ the cooperation of its line workers to help the management create an effective VSM. Like a house without a strong foundation, without a good VSM to start with, the rest of the process will be useless.

Value Stream Mapping is one of the best ways for a company to understand its own processes and procedures. As most managers will be surprised at the inefficiencies, it is good to put them on paper so they can be addresses. Just as it can be used to identify the weak areas, it can also be used to project what the ideal VSM would look like, and use that as a reference when employing other Lean tactics to improve the performance of the company by eliminating waste. The end result is usually a stronger, leaner company that is streamlined to the point where it produces its maximum output with the least amount of defects.

Access All Lean Manufacturing Tools Here

One thought on “Value Stream Mapping (VSM) – Visualize the Value”

  1. I think we do it a disservice by calling it value stream mapping. The reason is that I see most organizations focus on the mapping. Building a map is not the point. Building a map is only a tool to help drive a conversation. The real goal is to build a common understanding of the current state. The value of this is so that we are aligned in making forward-looking discussions. When people focus on the map they make mistakes like trying to figure out what software to use or delegating map-building to the new intern that we don’t know how to keep busy. The map helps us gain high agreement of the current reality. That’s why we don’t teach value stream mapping, we teach value stream improvement.

    Jamie Flinchbaugh

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *