Value Stream Mapping Techniques

Tips For Ensuring Value Stream Mapping Success

Value stream mapping, or VSM, is a process that allows you to get an overall picture of the flow of production on virtually any scale – from an individual work station all the way to the overall flow of your entire business and/or production line. What’s more, regardless of the scale, when done correctly value stream mapping allows you to zoom in and take away important details from various stages of the processes being mapped. With those details, you can identify efficiency issues and make the necessary adjustments to change them. While the basics of value stream mapping aren’t complicated, getting the most out of the technique escapes many practitioners.

In this blog post, we’re going to go over a few ways in which you can enhance your value stream mapping efforts. These are not only techniques for making sure the strategy does what it’s supposed, but also add-ons that can help the process go above and beyond. Finally, note that this isn’t a basic walkthrough of VSM or mapping techniques, I’ve got other posts on that already. Let’s get started.

Form A Team

Do not, under any circumstances, ‘go it alone’ when it comes to doing your VSM. We have this tendency, especially when engaging in Lean/Six Sigma associated tools and techniques, to become or have someone in our operation become an ‘expert’. Often, this person dedicates their time to LSS operations and becomes knowledgeable of the tools at their disposal. This is great in many ways, but in others it falls short.

When utilizing techniques like VSM, which require you to have an intimate knowledge of many different processes in order to map them out accurately, you need to get a team together. The team should be comprised of people at various operational levels throughout every stage or process you’re mapping at the time.

Think about it like this:  If you’re trying to map all of the precise ins, outs, costs, benefits, etc. of your widget production station, who better than to fill in that part of the map than someone who actually works at that station all day? Forming a team allows you to see things you wouldn’t see on your own, and it saves time because someone unfamiliar with a process doesn’t have to learn about it; you’ve already got your own experts on hand. Plus, there may be hidden considerations in assigning values to something that someone on the outside looking in wouldn’t pick up on.

The extent to which you involve your team in mapping is up to you:  Maybe you just collect information, or maybe you introduce your team to the process of VSM a bit more and have them actually create the maps for their individual areas of expertise. This will be left to your discretion and should be based upon what you perceive to be the best use of everyone’s time given their other responsibilities and demands.

Get Physical

Just as the knowledge gap makes it hard for you to understand intimately all of your processes, a physical distance also gives you lessened insight into what’s going on throughout the work floor. It’s absolutely essential that you get yourself into the fray when mapping.

Take a walk through the areas you’re mapping out and take detailed notes. Briefly interview your workers to fill in gaps or questions you have. In addition to specific questions and metrics, allow employees to speak freely and have your ears perked for any potentially relevant information; this could relevant for your mapping, or just general concerns or comments to be addressed in other ways.

This should go without saying, but you should also follow the logical flow of production when doing your observational walks. You’ll be mapping in this order anyways, and it’s important to understand the preceding steps in order to accurately map out a current one.

Be Annoyingly Detailed

When people think of mapping techniques, a relatively blank flow chart might come to mind, in which a series of boxes show the general processes and direction in which work flows. This is great for at-a-glance overviews, but it does very little to help facilitate a deeper understanding of your business, and is therefore relatively useless as a problem solving tool.

When making a value stream map, you’re concerned with the down and dirty details; take everything you can possibly think of that’s relevant to the processes and put it on the map. Just a few things to consider might be…

  • Material inputs
  • Time/worker inputs
  • Material/product outputs
  • Defect/efficiency rates
  • Maintenance needs
  • Accident/safety considerations and statistics

There are, of course, others you may think of along the way, but these are some of the big ones. As a rule of thumb, it’s better to have too much information and filter out things that don’t seem as relevant later on than to not have enough to go on in the first place.

Draw Conclusions, Make changes

Understanding your business better is great, but VSM is ultimately a problem solving tool and you should make sure that you use it as such. One of the ways in which VSM helps a lot of people is that it helps to point out bottlenecks in your production.

If, for example, you see one stage of production whose throughput appears to be limited by the efficiency of the processes before it, you’ve got a good candidate for some further analysis. How might you eliminate this bottleneck?  Is it even a problem in the first place (do you have enough demand/materials/budget to produce more yet, etc.)?

Don’t sit on the information you gather, look for patterns/trends in production that could be corrected, look for stations who might need staffing adjustments, worker re-training, and more. Basically, now that you’ve got your ‘map’, make sure you use it to its fullest potential.

Over time, it will likely be necessary to redo your VSM at regular intervals and check up to see whether any of the changes you make have had an effect. Making VSM a habit, and learning to get better and quicker at working with it, is a boon to any business with an adamantly forward outlook.

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