Don’t Start a Value Stream Mapping Process Trying to Solve a Problem!


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Don’t start a Value Stream Mapping (VSM) process trying to solve a problem! Start the process trying to identify the process. You probably know there is a problem somewhere that is why you’re working on it. However, to many of us will not prepare properly for a VSM event. We will gather information to solve rather than recognize. We will even bring subject matter experts in and if you have not created a current state, how do you know what subject matter experts you need? You must realize that you subject experts for now are the people that are doing the process. This may include external people such as vendors and customers.

My preference is to create a current state one and a future state at a later time. Sometimes as much as a week apart but at a minimum, at least have a coffee break. I would not recommend extending the time between the two, current and future state to far and have the current state posted for all to observe and add notes too.

In this spirit, we will spend the time on current state with the next page focusing on future state.

A resource that most of you will have is Learning to See: Value Stream Mapping to Add Value and Eliminate MUDA and The Toyota Way Fieldbook. Utilizing both to accompany this section can be very useful. In the fieldbook, Chapter 3, discussed the Value stream Mapping approach and Chapters 4 and 5 add additional information.


Step 1: In the book Lean Thinking, James P. Womack and Daniel T. Jones defined value stream mapping as: “Identification of all the specific activities occurring in a value stream for a product or product family.” The first step is to determine your product/service families. This step is important as to broad of a definition will limit your ability to map the process effectively and to be precise of a definition will result in inefficient uses of resources. Product Families are typically organized by customer purchase habits but internal workings should also be considered. You may find different product families share the same internal processes (especially in the service area) that will allow for more efficient use of resources. You need to build your criteria and weight how this criteria affects the individual processes.

Thinking Point: From Innosight and authored by Clayton M. Christensen, Scott D. Anthony, Gerald Berstell, Denise Nitterhouse

The market segmentation scheme that a company chooses to adopt is a decision of vast consequence. It determines what that company decides to produce, how it will take those products to market, who it believes its competitors to be and how large it believes its market opportunities to be. Yet many managers give little thought to whether their segmentation of the market is leading their marketing efforts in the right direction. Most companies segment along lines defined by the characteristics of their products (category or price) or customers (age, gender, marital status and income level). Some business-to-business companies slice their markets by industry; others by size of business. The problem with such segmentation schemes is that they are static. Customers’ buying behaviors change far more often than their demographics, psychographics or attitudes. Demographic data cannot explain why a man takes a date to a movie on one night but orders in pizza to watch a DVD from Netflix Inc. the next.

Product and customer characteristics are poor indicators of customer behavior, because from the customer’s perspective that is not how markets are structured. Customers’ purchase decisions don’t necessarily conform to those of the “average” customer in their demographic; nor do they confine the search for solutions within a product category. Rather, customers just find themselves needing to get things done. When customers find that they need to get a job done, they “hire” products or services to do the job. This means that marketers need to understand the jobs that arise in customers’ lives for which their products might be hired. Most of the “home runs” of marketing history were hit by marketers who saw the world this way. The “strike outs” of marketing history, in contrast, generally have been the result of focusing on developing products with better features and functions or of attempting to decipher what the average customer in a demographic wants.

In a discussion, I had with Alex Osterwalder he spent a great deal time talking about this concept and how it relates to Customer Value. Alex is the author of the Business Model Generation. I do not know of anyone defining their product groups in the job-to-be-done concepts, I believe it is area worth investigating.

Step 2: Define the segment of the value stream that you will be mapping. This segment does not have to be the entire process. I encourage in the beginning to start simple but saying that somewhat tongue-in-cheek as you do not want to sub-optimize the process. We will discuss more when we design a future state. The segment of a process can be defined using a SIPOC (Suppliers – Inputs – Process – Outputs – Customers) chart. This chart offers a high level view of the process and can assist in forming the team.


Step 3: Form your Value Stream Team: Your team must include people that are involved in the process. This should include the people that are doing the work; people are supplying the resources to enable the work and the recipients of the work.

Step 4: Define your units of measure. Measurements typically utilized are;

  • Cycle Time (CT): How often a part is completed.
  • Value Creating Time (VCT): Time that actually transforms the product or service in some way that adds value.
  • Lead Time (LT): Time it takes one piece to go all of the way through the process.
  • Change Over Time (CO): Time it takes to switch from one product to another.
  • Takt Time (TT): Is the maximum allowable time in order to meet demand (Demand Rate).
  • Process Time (P/T): time actually spent performing the work.
  • Delay Time (DT): Waiting time or between process steps sitting in an inbox.
  • Percent Complete and Accurate ( CA): Coming into a process step or flowing to customer

Mapping Process:

Step 5: Physically walk the path of the process documenting process steps (walk the Gemba). I like to separate the drawing and the documentation of process steps. I encourage the use of pictures, video and audio to assist in capture of information. Also, when documenting the process steps, capture the units of measure at the same time or the appropriate charts that have been kept. If an operator is not part of the team, make sure that there is a conversation about the verification of the data that you will use.

Step 6: Create your current state (as is) value stream map through illustration and data. Now is the time to start drawing, mostly with post-it-notes or pictures of the process. Though time consuming to learn it is best to use a standard set of icons. This will allow the sharing, replication and transfer of data much easier at a later date.

Step 7: Revisit Gemba analyzing and reflecting on current state. Note exception and see if additional value streams need to be mapped that support the main process or that they can be included by defining certain steps better.

Step 8: Reach agreement on current state. If you cannot arrive at an agreement on current state, repeat step 7 and revisit Gemba. Do not hash it and compromise in the meeting room. Go to the floor to reach agreement. It is good to have disagreeing opinions. It is the reason for the mapping process. If we cannot get people to agree on current state, it will be impossible to agree on future state.


Jay Arthur of QI Macros has a unique perspective on Lean and Six Sigma. His toolset is an excellent value. Please feel free to contact me to discuss available software.

Jay’s Podcast: Simplifying Lean and Six Sigma for Government and Healthcare Transcript, Simplifying Lean and Six Sigma eBook.

Other resources from the Business901 podcast:

Drew Locher: Podcast Lean Thinking in the Office and Services Transcript Lean in the Office and Service, eBook

Podcast: Using Value Stream Mapping in Lean Transcript: Using Value Stream Mapping

Books: Value Stream Mapping for Lean Development: A How-To Guide for Streamlining Time to Market

The Complete Lean Enterprise: Value Stream Mapping for Administrative and Office Processes

Extending Lean Thinking to Office and Services

Jim Luckman: Podcast Applying Value Stream Concepts Transcript Applying Value Stream Concepts eBook

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Joseph Dager
Business901 is a firm specializing in bringing the continuous improvement process to the sales and marketing arena. He has authored the books the Lean Marketing House, Marketing with A3 and Marketing with PDCA. The Business901 Blog and Podcast includes many leading edge thinkers and has been featured numerous times for its contributions to the Bloomberg's Business Week Exchange.


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