What is VSM good for?

Value Stream Mapping (VSM) is one of the most popular tool of the Lean toolbox, frequently associated with finding improvement opportunities. Yet VSM is more than a kind of treasure map.

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Enabling “helicopter view”

Drawing a VSM is like getting aboard a chopper and take off to watch the perimeter or process from some distance and height. I like the helicopter metaphor because we can hover over the Value Stream Map at will, focus on a particular zone, fly over the whole, fly back again and so on.
Taking some distance and height let analysts consider a zone, a part of the process or series of  operations in their global context. Even so VSM is schematic, interactions with up and downstream operations as well as information exchange are more visible than on shop floor.
Conversely, VSM doesn’t show the details and cannot replace investigations in situ.

Physical and information flows

VSM is most probably the sole tool allowing the simultaneous view of physical and information flows as well as their interactions.
VSM can reveal the hidden complexity and abundance of IT systems, softwares and applications, files and databases, often duplicate, redundant and with multiple input points.
Many wastes clutter information flow, more difficult to make out than those of the physical flow. Something the Value Stream Map shows.

Share the findings

VSM is an excellent mean to share the assessment findings with stakeholders.  I could verify it on numerous occasions; operators know well their work post and its immediate surrounding but have little knowledge about what is happening up and downstream. Support departments, especially administrative staff, know very few about operations while ops guys ask themselves what good the administrative staff do.
When working together on a VSM, even only partially, and later during debriefing ,’ all stakeholders share the same ‘picture’ of the actual state, understand  dynamic interactions  and interdependencies between the different links of the whole chain

I could witness people cooling down after understanding why their colleagues kept demanding something bothering. The VSM just made clear why this was important to someone else in the stream. From then on, not only would the irritation disappear, but the angry people change to pro actively help their colleagues, easing the later operations.

Common language

VSM uses symbols (pictograms) and terms which become a common language  between stakeholders. Concepts like flow, Lead Time, Work in Progress or wastes   are understood , even by those remote from shop floor.

When a workgroup is made of several participant without a common tongue – something common in big international corporations with multiple subsidiaries in the whole world, or to consultants assigned to such a subsidiary – thanks to VSM visual symbols, working together with this common language is possible.

Sell one’s ideas

Presenting and debriefing a diagnostic’s results is backed up by a VSM. Together with the future state map, called Value Stream Design (VSD), action plan showing how to get from actual state (VSM) to future state (VSD) it help selling the ideas for a change crafted by the workgroup.

Those receiving the debriefing and proposition, VSM/VSD provide a convenient and useful support to make the whole tangible, concrete.

It happened frequently that our debriefing after assessment was only a standing storytelling in front of a VSM. The whole story is depicted there and it is easy to take the audience in the imaginary helicopter and hover above the process.

A Value Stream Map is therefore a great communication tool.

Revealing wastes

Looking at a process from some distance helps reveal wastes that are not noticeable without zooming out. Duplicate inventories or operations in different locations for instance.
A spaghetti  diagram – natural companion of a VSM – drawn in the same time as the VSM is also an excellent tool / way to reveal wastes like unnecessary transportations, time lost in lengthy walks and motions, routes within the facility, even ‘crowded highways’, etc.

Without VSM’s ability to “zoom out” and consider the process in its whole, most of these wastes would remain hidden.

Decide and coordinate actions

Working together and considering the actual state from some distance greatly helps to take good decisions and coordinate actions which will benefit to the whole instead of trying to optimize locally. This latter way is potentially counterproductive, as interactions and interdependencies do not lead the sum of local optima to a global optimum..

Prevent static figures fooling you

Compared to data / dashboards / KPIs analysis, VSM is more qualitative but depicts the dynamic behavior or a system. Dashboards and reporting are far more static and partial; showing a “frozen picture” of past situations and do not show the dynamics and interdependencies of resources.

VSM is nevertheless completed with figures, indications of actual performance levels or potentials at the moment of mapping. They are benchmarks, either for challenging the actual results or measure progress.


All these advantages and benefits of Value Stream Mapping endorse the place and importance of this tool in the continuous improvement or operational excellence toolbox.
It is probably no surprise for those having experienced Value Stream Mapping, but did they notice all of the advantages?

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