What is value stream mapping? A lean technique for improving business processes


Companies are always looking for ways to operate lean by reducing waste and redundancies in business processes throughout the organization. Value stream mapping (VSM) found its start in manufacturing, but it’s proved equally as helpful in the enterprise as a visual mapping technique to optimize and improve systems and processes. By implementing value stream mapping techniques, companies can eliminate waste and redundancies in processes and increase customer value by delivering improved systems and products.

What is VSM?

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 several departments in the organization. For organizations that have siloed or isolated departments, encouraging more cross-collaboration between business units might 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 that will be involved — that means you might need to plan on allocating several months, or even years, to completing and implementing your VSM strategy.

Value stream mapping process

Before you can start building a value stream map, you need to objectively evaluate your organization’s business processes, products and systems. Start by talking to leadership, department heads and other key stakeholders who can give you more insight into what can be improved. You’ll need to get hands-on experience with the process, product or system yourself and have other employees walk you through their part.

It’s important to collect as much data as possible — for example, any inefficiencies in the process, how many workers are involved, what resources are used and any downtime. Any potentially relevant or noteworthy data is helpful in fleshing out your final VSM flow chart and achieving insights into what can be refined or improved.

You’ll then create two separate VSM flow charts — 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 currently runs and functions in the business. This is where you will demonstrate issues, significant findings and establish key requirements. The future state VSM, on the other hand, focuses on what your process will look like once your organization has completed all of the necessary improvements. 

7 value stream mapping steps

Peter Hines and Nick Rich of the Lean Enterprise Research Centre in Cardiff, U.K., established seven value stream mapping tools in 1997 to help businesses embark on value stream mapping. Hines and Rich note that the VSM toolkit shouldn’t stay confined to “any 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 that you choose. Relevant lean and agile IT management frameworks include Kaizen, Lean Six Sigma, Kanban or business process re-engineering.

  1. Process activity mapping: Establish process flows, identify waste and redundancies and analyze workflow and business processes.
  2. Supply chain response matrix: Identify any roadblocks in the process using a simple diagram.
  3. Production variety funnel: Look to other competitors and industries to see what solutions they’ve discovered for similar problems.
  4. Forrester effect mapping: Create line graphs that illustrate customer demand against production to visualize supply, demand and possible delays.
  5. Quality filter mapping: Identify any defects or problems in the supply chain.
  6. Decision point analysis: Determine the push-and-pull demand in the supply chain, a process to determine production orders based on either inventory or customer demand.
  7. Physical structure mapping: A top-down overview of what the supply chain looks like at an industry-level.

Value stream mapping software

You don’t necessarily need any advanced tools or software to create a VSM flow chart, as you can easily map one out on a whiteboard. But creating a value stream map can be a long process involving multiple departments and several key stakeholders, so you might want to invest in software designed to make the process easier.

VSM software can help you create flow charts, keep everyone informed and offer collaboration and visualization features that make it easy for everyone to stay on task. You can also find value stream mapping templates online that can help you get started with mapping out your business processes.

Here are some popular VSM software tools to help you get started:

  • Smartdraw
  • Microsoft Visio
  • Tableau
  • LucidChart
  • Visual Paradigm Online
  • Creately
  • eVSM Software
  • Edraw

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 into your company, you can find plenty of courses and training programs on the topic. Most are offered online and you can even find some that are specific to relevant lean or agile management frameworks, such as Six Sigma.

This story, “What is value stream mapping? A lean technique for improving business processes” was originally published by

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