How to Implement Lean Manufacturing: Simplify and Solve – Value Stream Mapping and Team Problem Solving: Part 1

What’s value stream mapping for?

I was conducting a short workshop on behalf of an agency I work with and the question came up:  What do we do after 5S?  The quick answer to this question is that you start to implement pull scheduling and production.  The longer answer is that you start to simplify/streamline/improve all your processes, both operations and administrative, and you implement team problem solving.

A tool that ties those two answers together is value stream mapping, so let’s talk about that for a bit.

I just did a web search on “value stream map” and got almost 2 million “hits” (if that’s the right word).  A search on “value stream mapping” shows almost 5 million “hits”.  All to say, there’s no shortage of information out there about value stream maps, what they are for, and how to create them.

I’ve had several clients that, when I arrived on the first day of the engagement, found a value stream map attached to the wall in some office or meeting room.  I generally say something like, “Great! You’ve drawn up a value stream map!  Tell me a bit about what you’ve done with it and how it’s helped.”  Invariably, the reply has been on the order of, “Well, we/our consultant created that a few months/years ago and we haven’t really done anything with it.”  I had one client that had a large value stream map with several supermarkets indicated on it.  I couldn’t find any supermarkets in the plant, so I asked some of the senior managers where they were.  The standard reply:  “What’s a supermarket?”

The question, then, is:  Why do companies create value stream maps, then not do anything with them?  I think the answer lies in the fact that value stream maps are presented simply as one of those lean tools that a company is supposed to implement but nobody really knows why.

Take a look at most of the articles that come up when you did that web search on “value stream mapping”.   (Skip the one at Wikipedia.)  You’ll find lots of definitions of value stream mapping but not many explanations.  Here’s an example that I took from the first article on the first page of my search results:

“Your Value stream map is a representation of the flow of materials from supplier to customer through your organization as well as the flow of information. This enables you to see at a glance where the delays are in your process, any restraints and excessive inventory. Your current state map is the first step in working towards your ideal state for your organization.”

Creating a Value Stream Map

Now, this isn’t a bad definition; in fact, it’s a pretty darned good one.  I’d happily put it on a slide for a training workshop.  But, in the next paragraph, the same article tells us that we should use an A3 sheet of paper to record our map.  (!)  My point is that some discussion about what the map is, what it’s for, why it’s useful, and how it helps is needed.  So, let’s have that discussion first before we get into the “how to make a value stream map”.

Why “Value Stream” Map?

As with so many of the lean tools, the name “value stream map” obscures more than it reveals. Yeah, we can all figure out what “value stream” means but it’s a term that few are familiar with and rarely see used except in front of the word “map”.  The term can be useful and I wouldn’t mind it’s use if it became prevalent within the organization, i.e., if it regularly turned up in management discussions about operations.  But it usually doesn’t.  “Value stream map” is, for most organizations, just another tool with a funny name.

On the other hand, the term “process map” is familiar to most managers and their associates, so I prefer to leave it at that.

But, you might reasonably ask, isn’t it important for the organization to learn and use the idea of “value stream”?  Yes.  But again, that’s not what usually happens.  Unless you’re going to spend a good bit of time teaching the concept of “value stream” and reinforcing its use in regular communications, I think you’ll be better off just using the term “process map”.

So..A Value Stream Map Is Just a Process Map?

Well, I’d argue that “just a process map” is a pretty darned good thing.  Most companies haven’t even created “just a process map” of their operations and pretty much none that I’ve worked with have come close to creating just a process map of their administrative processes.  So, yeah, a value stream map is just a process map.

Here’s the thing…first and foremost, we want to capture the basics of the current state process: what happens in what order to produce a good product on schedule?  I’ve found that managers and operators don’t even always agree on that much.  So, it’s a bit academic to want to discuss “value streams” when the basic steps of the process and what order they occur is up for discussion.  Before we do anything else, then, it’s helpful to lay out the process in the simplest format possible.  At this stage, I generally just use boxes and arrows expressly because I want as few distractions as possible.  (And, often, the boxes and arrows alone will get complicated enough.)

OK, this post has rambled on long enough.  We’ll pick it up again in a few days.