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Value Stream Mapping, How to Map Out Success


My wife and I have kids who are on summer break and itching to chase adventure. This means we, as parents, get to play Child Uber for the next few months. Anyone with kids can tell you children and teens have an insatiable appetite for adventure, and they expect their parents to provide it!

This got me thinking about the journey we go on every day in our businesses. Each day brings new opportunities to go on an adventure. Unfortunately, not every day can be a full-blown road trip, but we can look at our improvement activities through a similar lens. A vital first step of improving a business is to first create a Value Stream Map identifying how the product the customer is willing to pay for moves through your process. Without a map you and your team will be driving blind. The VSM helps you clearly see where the bumps in the road are to help you navigate at your best.

In order to get to our destination, we need a couple of key pieces of information. We also need to collect supplies and understand the voice of the customer (VOC). When planning our trip, we need to begin with the end in mind. In the case of our family road trip we get the VOC from our children and they tell us what they need from us. Similarly, in business we need to understand what the customer desires and start there. By looking at the deliverable, whether it be a trip to Disney or a customer order, we want to start with the target as the focus. Once we can visualize the target, we can work backwards through the process to ensure each piece is integrated to create the desired outcome. Part of focusing on the desired outcome is understanding what components are of value to the customer.

As we walk backward through the process, we identify all the steps that will get us to our goal. If the result is the finished product sitting at the customers door, the first previous step would be physically shipping the product from the factory. The next previous step may be packaging and so on. Keep in mind the intent of this step is to not go too deep. You want to document the package going through shipping, but you don’t need to identify the taping step. This is done if/when you do a detailed process map. When laying out your map for a family trip you would identify overnight stops and restroom breaks along the way similar to work cells. You want to collect data about how long you will be there, what resources are needed such as gas money on a trip, or raw material in manufacturing. You also want to know how many people there are and how many pieces of equipment as well as their quality.

Rework is a killer in both manufacturing and road trips. If you must stop and go back to the gas station because you forgot to buy snacks or if you have to rework a widget due to poor quality, you will extend the time expectation for getting to the destination. The result can be crying children or upset customers.

You also want to know how often you are going to have breakdowns impede your progress. With a road trip you hope you can get to your destination and back with no interruptions. In manufacturing you must account for the occasional breakdown.

You also want to look at build up between processes. In manufacturing this is typically referred to as WIP or Work In Process. These are piles of work between stations and typically are there due to a push system which relies on station quotas and incentivizes employees to focus on their stations production independent of the rest of the plant which can cause large piles of work. This causes delays and wastes resources. We all love traffic lights. You can think of WIP as you sitting at a red light in the family wagon. Under the green you are moving and making good time, then you hit the red light. There may be no other traffic on the road, but you still must wait. Frustrating, right?!?!

Once you have everything mapped out you can start to see all the traffic lights and potholes along your route. You can start to make better informed decisions on which rest areas are better for your family and which hotels have all the amenities you would like. You can see where you are carrying more WIP than needed and see where your line is out of balance. The Value Stream Map is invaluable to quickly identifying improvement opportunities. Very often in business we grow numb to the route we are on. We have traveled the road so often we don’t realize the State has built a new expressway which would get us to the destination in a fraction of the time. This is where a living breathing Value Stream Map can be very beneficial. Updating your VSM at least annually gives you a tool to celebrate success with your team. If you see a decrease in the number of activities required in your process every year with a corresponding increase to your activity ratio (Measure of the time your product is being transformed vs. total time in plant) you can be assured your Continuous Improvement activities are having an impact.

StonePath Business Solutions can help you create and maintain your roadmap. We understand the challenges of driving without an updated map. We want to help you see the new expressway that isn’t on your old map. We are in the business of helping your company succeed and we look forward to learning more about your company and how we can help. Contact us today to keep the conversation going.


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