Value Stream Mapping: The Assessment and Planning Tool of Lean Practitioners


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In the book,Value Stream Mapping for Lean Development: A How-To Guide for Streamlining Time to Market, Drew Locher explained how to create a Future State Map by utilizing seven basic questions:

  • What does the customer really need?
  • How often will we check our performance to customer needs?
  • Which steps create value and which steps are waste?
  • How can we flow work with fewer interruptions?
  • How do we control work between interruptions, and how will work be triggered and prioritized?
  • How will we level the workload and/or different activities?
  • What process improvements will be necessary?

Drew goes on to conclude that future state mapping is not a brainstorming session. He likes to use a key ground rule of 70%. If the team believes that they have a 70% chance of implementing a particular idea in less than one year, it could be included as part of the future state. If it is longer, the entire improvement effort would suffer. These specific improvement efforts will be depicted in a value stream map using a Kaizen Burst icon.When considering how to use value stream mapping in the marketing process. I think the seven questions provide an excellent base for walking through the process. You have to remember; you already have a current state map drawn. In essence what you are trying to do is to move not only current state to future state but from an internal perspective to an external perspective. Your customer should be determining your value stream.

Creating a value stream map does not have to be a difficult process. Many times, it is the degree of complexity that may or may not be required. The degree of complexity can often be determined by the tasks or the time span required in the process. In a podcast, I had with Drew, he discussed this particular subject in detail, a few nuggets from the podcast:

You could call Value Stream Mapping, the assessment and planning tool of lean practitioners.”

Lean tools are used to teach the key principles of lean to value flow, pull, leveling, and perfection. But they are just tools.

Before starting designing a future state map, let’s consider what is wrong with the current state. What problems exist? First, a problem in lean is normally defined as a gap. It is the difference between the existing state; the way things are now and what they are supposed to be or what we want them to be.

This is where things might get a little messy. What are the parameters and scope of this project? Is your intent to remove waste and make workflow? Or, is your attempt to fix something on a grander scale? For now, I would like to think of utilizing Value stream Mapping for the specific purpose of waste reduction and flow. More than that, will distract from our purpose, I believe at this time, Drew’s explanation of the seven basic questions will suffice.

What does the customer really need?

This is the basic question that on surface seems simple but is typically a much debated point. My advice is to start by utilizing a current QFD that was described in Describe/Exploresection of this program. If one is not available consider postponing developing a future state.Most people that are familiar with Lean understand the term “Muda” which signifies waste. It has been popularized by the popular use of the 5-S which is used to create a clean, ordered and disciplined work environment. The other two M’s that are often overlooked and somewhat unknown except to true Lean Practitioners. The two terms are Mura and Muri. Mura is usually translated as inconsistency and Muri translates as overburden.These are typical problems found – many will call this low-hanging fruit.

  1. Overproduction – giving the customer something that are not willing to pay for or has no need.
  2. Is takt time or the demand time appropriate for the process? Waiting/delay times excessive? Are there numerous interruptions?
  3. Are we waiting for approvals? Are there to many approvals?
  4. Are there excessive hand-offs?
  5. Are quality expectations being met? Is rework high? Are expectations unbalanced

How often will we check our performance to customer needs?

This requirement may seem difficult without having done a current value stream. If we have obtained accurate data input to our current state than we should be able to obtain in the future. The question than reverts to how often can it be checked? Can we obtain this in real time? We have a tendency to rely on lag measure. The problem with lag measures is that they are just that lagging. They give you little information to determine whether you are on the way or off track in achieving your goal. You need leading measures. More importantly, you need leading measures that you or your team has control over.

Leading measures are not easy to create. Many times they are only known by the people doing the work. Another way to think about this is that leading measures are at the level of individual or the team’s process, the activity that they do. These are the types of lead process indicators that are needed; visual, easy to understand and leading. We can recognize problems almost immediately. What happens if we do this for several days and no weight loss occurs? We may have to consume less or burn more (I know this is an over simplification). But the message is that we are working in the Now versus waiting to see results at the end of the day or week.

Why go through this elaborate explanation? Most organizations do not leave the team or individual take the responsibility for the How. It is important having control of the How at the process level. Having this control at the process level, creates ownership and the ability to make the needed adjustments in the NOW zone. It is Leadership responsibility to provide strategic direction and the Why. It is the process owner’s responsibility to move that strategic direction with the How. It is also the process owner’s responsibility to report the outcomes at the desired intervals to leadership and work with leadership if the outcomes are not being achieved. Leadership should not dictate the How but has the right and responsibility to “veto” your How if it does not agree with the overall goals of the company.

Which steps create value and which steps are waste?

Chunking: When you start creating a Future State Map it is wise to step back and take a more empirical view of the process looking for major outputs or changes in skill requirements. Dividing the Value stream Map in this fashion allows you develop chunks or groupings,. This allows the divided Value Stream to be scrutinized and more importantly better define your customer requirement, customer being the next recipient in the Value Stream. It was even challenging to define who that customer is and what the requirements for that handoff are. It reminded me of how we have been breaking down the Kanban boards and defining the endpoints and the queues. The methodology was a little different but the outcomes were very similar.

The old adage is value is only what a customer will pay for. So, we only work on that. Well that is simple definition, a couple thoughts on this:

  1. What type of thinking solves dilemmas?
  2. Value can no longer be defined as What a Customer will pay for!

I take this a step further and enjoyed my podcast with co-author of Uncommon Service, Anne Morriss.We discussed what she calls the four universal truths outlined in the book for delivering uncommon service: you can’t be good at everything, someone has to pay for it, it’s not your employees’ fault and you must manage your customers. Podcast: An Uncommon Way of Thinking about Service Design, Transcript: Uncommon Thoughts about Service.

This is an area that gets much more difficult in the service area than manufacturing. You must recognize what a customer values most and where overproduction occurs.

How can we flow work with fewer interruptions?

The simplest step is to stop the interruptions and the first thing to do is to minimize the steps in the process. A few ways to do this:

  1. If you have excessive handoffs, look for ways to combine steps.
  2. Fluctuations in work requirements (job size, complexity), separate standard processes.
  3. Waiting for decisions, adopt proceed until halted.
  4. Long queues, use Lean tool of FIFO

These are only a few of the suggestions but one of may favorite problem solving methods is SCAMPER:

  1. What can you Substitute?
  2. What can you Combine?
  3. What can you Adapt?
  4. What can you Modify or Magnify?
  5. Can you Put to other uses?
  6. What can you Eliminate or reduce?
  7. What can you Reverse/Rearrange?

How do we control work between interruptions, and how will work be triggered and prioritized?

The discussion, I referenced earlier with Don Reinertsen and this material with Jamie Flinchabaugh is excellent.

Jamie Flinchabaugh: Podcast Can Control Points add Value in Lean? Transcript Using Control Points to Manage in Lean – Flinchbaugh

Don Reinertsen: Podcast Creating Flow with Don Reinertsen

How will we level the workload and/or different activities?

When I watch this video, I can only think how many times that I have done this! When you think of managing your queue, what causes a story, task or even a customer to get shuffled like this? The frustration occurs of course because there is little if any management of the queue. In a typical airport scenario, they start the process by having a single line at the beginning of the queue. They also prioritize by having a separate line for their “Platinum” travelers. Do you get irritated by either of these scenarios? I don’t simply because I understand the process immediately without being told? It is visual and self explanatory.

Is your process that simple. does your customers understand how to do business with you? Do they understand your priorities like Platinum” customers and are willing to accept it? I have to admit, I need a lot of work in this area. I started writing this post and it hit home. How difficult do we make it to do business with us? When you consider your Value Stream Marketing Process are there obvious clues along the way that identify the path for a customer to follow? Just count the different times in the video that a visual indicator may have allowed the bear to get in the right line. If the counter would have a sign posted such as people already with tickets, no bags or this lane will close after 3 more people, etc., this would have made a frustrating experience manageable. It becomes obvious when we look at the client nutrition rate from one stage to the next that most customers are lost during the hand-offs of the process. It is when the customer is in the queue going from line to line!

What process improvements will be necessary?

Reducing your Work in Process requires that it becomes a physical process. I like the visualization trick of thinking about lowering the water in the river. When you do, the rocks will appear and it will be easier to navigate around them. The larger rocks may be prospects that you have not adequately defined a solution or your product is not a perfect fit. Other rocks or channels may have to many hidden cost or layers of distribution. There can be numerous areas of concern but mapping them brings the rocks to the surface so that they are noticed.

As you visualize the process try to get a feel for the pace and look for missing areas. A mapping trick is to chunk certain areas of the Value Stream grouping them. This will help you assign responsibilities and find missing or extra steps in the process. This is also a great time to remove a little of the low-hanging fruit. However, this is not the time for wholesale changes this is a time for you start gaining knowledge that you did not have before.

This is actually your first step in developing a pull system. You will start seeing overproduction or bottlenecks and on the flip side you will see where you may be starving a resource. This is the time that you will get a feeling of what leveling and pace is all about. Many times you can identify these areas of concern and limit or re-channel resources. Further defining your steps and more specifically creating a Kanban board will help you see that next step. That physical point of a handoff or a transaction to that next step is very important. With hardly any effort at all you begin creating a pull system and leveling the demand.

Your Value Stream Map is not your Project Plan: Value Stream Mapping comes from the Toyota process flow improvement tools and involves identifying all the steps both value added and non-value added currently involved in providing a product or service. It will create a visual representation of that value stream or the work in process. It establishes a common language among us and provides a blueprint for improvement. However, it is not a project management system and should not be considered.

Depending upon the scope of the team responsibility, they should be part of creating the implementation phase which would include a detailed project plan or schedule. The purpose of the plan is to coordinate activities and resources and form a baseline from which to manage the project. This gives everyone involved the same reference point.

Within a project plan we can establish over all and individual process metrics. We will need metrics to produce information quickly so that they may be acted on in the middle of a project rather than at the end. The value of these types of metrics is that will allow you to take action during a project where you can still influence its success. These metrics should already be identified in your value stream map. Measurability is perhaps the most important feature of the project plan.

Once a schedule is completed it should be posted or made available to all stakeholders of the project. Constant updating should appear and be visible to all parties. This is an active document, and should be used to manage the process. A schedule is the translation of the project plan into individual tasks, identifying durations, responsibilities, start and finish dates, resources, flow and milestones. It is very easy for a team to want to jump straight in, generate a schedule and get on with the project. There is more to project planning than this. Project management is the whole aspect of planning, which leads to a realistic schedule, which in turn requires control. If you have completed your Value Stream Mapping Process, a project plan will be relatively easy to complete.

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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