Does Value Stream Mapping apply to Product Development?

Value Stream Mapping (VSM) is a great tool to map processes. It started in manufacturing where it is used to understand physical and information flows and quickly spread to administrative processes. It is even used in hospitals.

As Product Development is a process, so yes VSM can be used.

However, development activities have some specificities compared to manufacturing which require to adapt VSM to Development and also bring some limitations to VSM used in Development.

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The first limitation is similar to manufacturing if the activity is high mix / low volume. In such a case, the specificities may outweigh the commonalities, thus drastically reduce the interest of VSM as the time spent to map the process vs. valuable informations to get from the map isn’t worth it.

If this isn’t the case, and if the Product Development process is underperforming and needs improvement, VSM “manufacturing-style” can be used to map and analyse the development process despite other limitations. It is “good enough” to surface the biggest obstacles to better performance.

Having used VSM to describe and analyze an automotive equipment maker product development process, I could identify improvements leading to a potential 30 to 40 % Lead Time reduction depending of the nature of the project. This is consistent with what I call the Lean rule of thirds, i.e. reducing wastes or improving performance 30%.

Later on, with a more mature Product Development process this type of VSM may show its limitations.

VSM pitfalls and limitations in Development

There are many differences between manufacturing and development. For instance the definition of “value-added” is relatively easy in manufacturing while more elusive in development. Takt time is a key concept for production but does not make sense in development*. Loops are wastes in manufacturing but iterations are valuable in development.

*Takt time in manufacturing is the rate of customers’ demand. In development takt time can be the rate of new projects or product launches decided by the company.

Concurrent activities are seldom in manufacturing but common in Lean Development, and so on.

Therefore the transposition of Lean Manufacturing methods and tools is possible to some extend but with great care and adaptation. One warning about this is to be found in “The Lean Machine” Productivity Press. pp. 131–132:

Key learning about the difference between TPS and LPD is summarized in the advice Jim Womack gives Harley Davidson’s Dantaar Oosterwal; “Don’t try to bring lean manufacturing upstream to product development. The application of Lean in product development and manufacturing are different. Some aspects may look similar, but they are not! Be leary of an expert with experience in lean manufacturing that claims to know product development”.

On the other hand, Allen Ward and Durward Sobek recommend to “learn from Lean Manufacturing to improve labs and prototype shops”, in Lean Product and Process Development, Lean Institute Inc, 2014 second edition p.42.

Other resources about VSM for Product Development exist. Here are only few chosen examples:

Ronald Mascitelli discusses the usage of VSM in his book “Mastering Lean Product Development”, Technology Perspectives 2011, pp. 187-190.

There is a paper of interest by Darwish, Haque, Shehab, and Al-Ashaab, “Value stream mapping and analysis of product development (engineering) processes”  that can be downloaded here:

Finally, the Lean Aerospace Initiative (LAI, MIT) proposed the Product Development Value Stream Mapping (PDVSM) specifically designed for Product Development. The Manual version 1.0 (Sept. 2005) can be downloaded for free from several sources, including MIT:


Value Stream Mapping does apply to Product Development with limitations in mind and/or adaptation to the specificities of development activities. Before rushing to map such a process, give yourself time to consider if the time invested will really be worth it, especially if the process is not likely to be common to many new developments.

VSM is great but is only one tool among others. The value of the analysis does not come from the map but from the “brain juice” the analyst(s) throw in to sift out improvement potential and identify issues and obstacles to overcome.

Feel free to comment and share your thoughts and experience. If you liked this post, share it!

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Critical Chain Project Management alone is not enough

Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM) alone is not enough to drastically reduce a project’s duration and improve the development process efficiency.

CCPM is a proven Project Management approach to ensure a project, any project, will meet its finishing date without compromising quality nor any of the requirements, and even though CCPM can lead to terminate projects earlier, CCPM alone will not squeeze out all improvement potential still hidden in the development process.

What CCPM does well is reconsider in a very smart way the project protection against delaying. Individual protective margins will be confiscated and mutualized in a project buffer, allowing everyone to benefit from this shared and common protection.

There is a bit more than this protective project buffer, but for the sake of simplicity let us just be that… simple.

The visual progress monitoring with a Fever Chart will provide early warning if the project completion date may be at risk and help spot where the trouble is.

Fever Chart

Fever Chart in a nutshell: x axis = project completion rate, y axis = protective buffer burn rate. Green zone = all ok, don’t worry, Amber zone = watch out, the project is drifting and finishing date may be jeopardized. Red zone = alert, project likely to be delayed if no action bring the plot into Amber and preferably Green zone.

After a while, with the proof that all projects can finish without burning up all the protective buffer, meaning ahead of estimated finish date, this arbitrary margin confiscation can be refined and some tasks durations trimmed down while fixing some of the common flaws in the process, like incomplete Work Breakdown Structures, poor linkage between tasks, ill-defined contents or missing requirements.

When done, the projects may be shorter because of lesser of the original protective margins and the other fixes, but the tasks themselves are seldom challenged about their value.

For instance, many of the project’s gate reviews have been set to monitor progress and give confidence to management. They were countermeasures to the drifts and tunnel effects, the period where management is blind about the progress, but with the early warning and easy visual monitoring through the Fever Chart, and more agility in the process, many of these reviews are now useless.

Thus, the time to prepare the documents, KPIs, presentations and attend meetings can be saved for value-creating activities or simply eliminated.

Other tasks may clutter the project, like legacies of fixes of older issues, long obsolete but still kept as the project template still carry them over. Evolution in technologies, unnecessary or suppressed downstream process steps, never fed back may also let unnecessary tasks in the project.

This is where a Lean Thinking approach completes CCPM, challenging the Added-Value of each task, questioning the resources required (both in qualification or competencies and in quantity) and even the linkage to preceding and following tasks.

When considering a development process, embracing Lean Engineering can even go further. Lean Engineering fosters learning and reuse of proven solutions. Libraries of such solutions and ready-for-use modules can save significant time, which can be reinvested in experimenting for the sake of further learning or to shorten projects and engage more development cycles with same resources and within the same time span.

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TOC, Lean and aviation MRO

In a previous post, “CCPM helps shorten aircrafts MRO”, I explained the benefits of Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM) for reducing the aircraft downtime during their mandatory and scheduled MRO.

If CCPM is great and helps a lot meeting the challenge, it will not squeeze out every potential improvement, thus time reduction, on its own.

As I explained in my post Critical Chain and Lean Engineering, a promising pair, “What CCPM per se does not is discriminate added-value tasks and non added value, the wasteful tasks listed in a project in a Lean thinking way.

Conversely, if wasteful tasks remain in the project network, chance are they will be scheduled and add their load (and duration) to the project.

That’s why in aviation MRO (as well as in other businesses), Critical Chain Project Management will not be used as a stand alone but in conjunction with other approaches, like Lean and Six Sigma.

Lean mainly will help to discriminate value-added from non value-added tasks, especially those on the Critical Chain, making them high priorities to optimize, reduce or eliminate.

We did not differently when we started with our client Embraer and while in their service center, I placed Philip Marris in front of the camcorders to present, in situ, two books related to TOC, Critical Chain and Lean in aviation MRO (aircraft Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul).

Note: Critical Chain Project Management is part of the Theory of Constraints Body of Knowledge, hence the title of this post where “TOC” is referring to CCPM.

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Critical Chain and Lean Engineering, a promising pair

Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM) has proven its effectiveness to terminate projects on time and even quite often before estimated finish date.

In development, engineering or Maintenance Repair & Overhaul (MRO), using CCPM can give a significant competitive advantage.

It can outperform slower competitors, earn premium for faster achievement and/or allow multiplying projects within similar timeframe and often with same resources.

CCPM is the perfect companion for Lean Engineering, giving the means to win the race-to-market and multiplying new product launches.

True Lean Engineering is something long to develop and “install”, it’s about learning and developing a reusable knowledge base as well as turning engineers into Lean thinkers.

Terminating projects earlier and multiplying them offers the learning opportunities to test and gather knowledge.

CCPM is therefore a good Lean Engineering “forerunner” giving a competitive advantage faster than the sole Lean Engineering initiative.

What CCPM per se does not is discriminate added-value tasks and non added value, the wasteful tasks listed in a project in a Lean thinking way.

Of course, when CCPM takes care about the capacity constrained resources, it invites to check the content of the tasks and scrutinize the proper use of those precious resources, thus calling for Lean-minded scrutiny.

CCPM acts then as a focusing tool for Lean-minded analysis and improvement.

These two, Critical Chain Project Management and Lean Engineering, seem to make a fine, promising pair.
Something to consider.

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How lean can help shaping the future – compact factories

The factory of the future has to comply with several constraints, among which the energy efficiency and respect of environment, the latter meaning nature as well as neighborhood.

Factories of the future will probably be close to housing areas, not only because in some areas space is scarce but because commuting is a major source of waste and annoyance.

Factory leanness is directly and positively correlated to its compactness. The more compact the factory the less travel distance within. Distance induces transportation and motion wastes. The shorter the distance, the less these types of waste.

The shorter the distance, the shorter the lead time hopefully.

Compact factories do not allow large inventories. I remember Japanese factories and the mini trucks; if you cannot store, deliver more often! (not sure about energy efficiency and environment friendliness of the trucks milk runs though).

Factories of the future will be built in flow-logic, unlike their centuries-old ancestors in which flows are just nightmares. Actual greenfields easily supercede brownfields and elder facilities on this point.

Best would be scalable units that can be plugged one to another, like plug-and-play shelters having some commodities ducts and cables pre-installed/pre-wired. Among them, Smart Industry or Industrie 4.0 (Europe) standard industrial buses for connecting anything out of the Internet of Things (IoT).

Such shelters could be specialized, like holding 3D printers, laser cutters or 3D scanners ready to use. They could be rented on-demand, installed, connected and used for some period and reused somewhere else after that. A kind of Rent-a-factory..!

Compact factories (in volume) need less heating and air conditioning and less artificial light. Industrial compressed air – if still in use – or other gases need less piping and volume in pipes in compact factory, less compressor units and power.
Air leaks in bigger facilities often require an additional compressor for compensation.
All good points for the sake of energy efficiency.

Most of the principles listed above are lessons learnt from lean experiences with existing factories. In such old-style factories, the improvements are often limited by physical, building construction constraints. Taking these lessons learnt into account is a way lean can help shaping the future.

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How lean can help shaping the future – Value Stream Design

When thinking about planning or shaping the future, most people believe it requires very complicated means, software or science. The reality is deceivingly simple as it takes pens, paper and analytical skills.

Therefore when it comes to answer the question “How lean can help shaping the future”, the simplest and most common way is when people involved in a workgroup of transformation program design a future, improved situation through Value Stream Design (VSD).

From actual to future (improved) state

Depiction and analysis of the actual state of a Value Stream uses Value Stream Mapping (VSM). This mapping uses symbols or pictograms to describe processes, physical and information flows. The actual process, depicted with all its flaws, dysfunctions and improvement potentials is analyzed in search for a better, improved process.

Thus, once the map of actual state is drawn and improvements found, the sketch of the future improved state is done with a similar map, called Value Stream Design (VSD).

VSM and VSD don’t need much high-tech, a roll of brown paper and pens are enough.

The way to bridge the gap between VSM and VSD or to transform the actual state into the future improved one is the action plan.

Sometimes it requires a somewhat more conceptual step in between, like a Goal Tree or a Hoshin Kanri to identify and plan breakthroughs, before listing all necessary underlying actions in an action plan.

Nevertheless, the simplest and most common way for Lean to help shaping the future remains the Value Stream Design (VSD). It is not because it is relatively simple that it is not powerful or interesting.

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Lean Engineering and the myth of multitasking


Multitasking is a praised ability in a world needing constant adjustments. Critics challenge the ability of humans to multitask, while others still believe in and praise it.

I know for long time now that I am no good at multitasking and felt somewhat ungifted until the day I attended a training session in which an experiment settled the case.

Experimenting mono and multitasking performances

The experiment is made of a series of simple single tasks, each having an equal number of elementary operations, such as adding 1 to the previous number, list a series of odd or even numbers, write the letters of the alphabet, etc.

In order to compare the performance between mono and multitasking, the time to complete all task is measured as well as the number of errors.

The first test is done in mono tasking mode, which means the tester does all the basic operations of the task # 1 , then passes to the successive elementary operations of Task No. 2, and so on.
The stopwatch is stopped at the last step of the last task.

The second test is performed in multitasking mode: the timer is triggered then the candidate performs the first elementary operation of the task # 1 , then goes to the first elementary operation of the task # 2 and so on. The stopwatch is stopped at the last step of the last task.

Test results

Compared performances

 Time in
Total time
Total time
Task 1 16
Task 2
Task 3
Task 4

Besides, multitasking led to many errors even the operations were very simple, elementary.

Accepted disturbances

Accepted disturbances are commonplace in our work environment; interruption by unexpected arrival of a visitor, a conversation initiated by a colleague, request for a superior or question from a subordinate, the phone ringing , incoming e -mail , etc.

To add to these, many persons keep checking their smartphone for incoming tweets or e-mail, the sound signal, when activated, irresistibly attracts attention and distracts form probably more valuable occupation.

All these disturbances are derivatives mobilizing our attention and mental capacity. This constant zapping causes the same effects as those described in the experiment; loss of time, deterioration of quality and over consumption of our energy.

Lean Engineering

Striving for Leanness in engineering means striving for efficiency. Accepting being disturbed believing multitasking is an efficient approach to good work is nonsense. All these task switching are just like handoffs in a production line: waste.


To learn more about bad distracting habits, read “The Magic of Doing One Thing at a Time ” ( Harvard Business Review Blog ) post from Tony Schwartz

You may experiment by yourself online with a >simple game<

And watch this video

How lean can help shaping the future? Introduction

Lean, no doubt, is a powerful proven business management system with long track record of success stories (and probably as many failed attempts).

In 60 years, Lean made it slowly from Lean Manufacturing to Lean Thinking and Lean Management, from small improvement experiments in industrial workshops to worldwide shared Body of Knowledge.

Despite all the experience gathered and shared, the numerous good books, papers, testimonies or seminars, the application of Lean concepts is still as it was in its early days. Most of those starting Lean initiatives seek cost savings and/or performance improvement and still consider Lean as a well-furnished toolbox. They try to fix broken and poorly designed processes, bailing water faster rather than fixing the leaks.


Author Chris HOHMANN

Sadly, Lean seldom made it into management age, but keep stuck in the tool age as Jim Womack would put it, being “used” as it was in its early days, or as Mike Rother expresses it: “Lean seems stuck in the 20th Century, for instance focused almost exclusively on efficiency, and that there is a 21st-Century Lean that encompasses a wider range of human endeavor.“

It seems to me that most organizations using Lean run backwards into their future – which is risky and suboptimal enough – and do not anticipate the disruptions that lay ahead.

Innovations in technologies, societal changes and stiffer regulations for example will lead us into a near future where past experience will be only a limited help.

I think about machines able to learn from their own experience, processes able to configure and adjust themselves dynamically to respond to customers’ demands, power plants going into safe mode long before human supervisors would notice any problems, far better sales forecasts, ever smaller production batches and new ways to manufacture, using 3D printing for example.

Factories of the future will have to blend into residential areas, because of lack of space or simply because employees long commuting time is huge waste of time and energy. These factories must be energy efficient, limit all their pollution (noise, fumes, scrap…) and may be mobile device-controlled by only a handful of highly skilled personnel, few workers sharing their job with collaborative robots (cobots).

Science fiction? Not at all, no more. Search the Web for terms like “smart factories” or “industry 4.0” to get a glimpse into the future.

This brings (at least) two questions about Lean:

  1. Will lean survive the fourth industrial revolution? a topic I discuss in >this post<
  2. How Lean can help shaping the future?

This post is an introduction to a prospective thinking about these topics


Feel free to share your thoughts and comments!

Four uses of an A3 report

When talking about A3 reports, one thinks about problem solving approach. While this Lean tool perfectly fits this purpose, there is more than just a structured and formal approach to problem solving in it.

Bandeau_CH3The four uses of an A3 report

When using A3 reports one soon notices it’s a great media for telling stories.

The content is generally condensed and summarized, yet people familiar with the content can easily develop the story with the help of this kind of ‘script’. Conversely, listeners can follow easily a well structured story backed-up by facts and figures.

The ability to structure and tell a compelling story straight-to-the-point is not that common, therefore A3 reports are great help.

Selling a solution to a problem

Story telling is a marketing exercise, and promoting a solution is trying to sell it to the audience, the stakeholders, the boss, etc. A3 reports are great tools for telling the story starting with a problem and hopefully ending with the its eradication. If the story is well-built, e.g. problem solving approach thorough and robust, the happy end is not only wishful thinking but likely to happen.


A problem can take some time to be solved, the reviews while the solving process – solution – is ongoing should be done with the help of A3 reports for the very same reasons as for selling the solution; they’re great support for story telling. This applies for project reviews or policy deployment (cascading objectives and turning them into actions with Hoshin Kanri).

Promoting, suggesting

Any idea or suggestion worth being promoted can be greatly told and advertised with an A3 report or a cascade of A3 reports. Well structured stories inspire confidence and prove the thorough preparation of its promoters. Brilliant ideas often get lost because of the inability of the promoters to sell them, to tell them in an interesting way or failing to inspire the required confidence in both the idea and the carrier(s).


A3 reports can be used to summarize and structure information that are to be displayed or passed to some audience. While audience engagement is not mandatory in this case, the simpler and logical the message, the better.

More about A3s

How lean can help shaping the future ? Lean engineering

Before searching about new high-tech disruptive innovation* let us reflect how lean thinking and lean tools were used so far.

*read my ‘Technologies alone will not regain competitive advantage‘ post

Every time an organization was exposed to lean concepts, those were used to improve the actual situation, resulting from decisions, practices and behaviors prior to lean introduction. Improvements were numerous and impressive enough to accumulate success stories and prove the power of lean.

Yet many improvements were limited and many impossible to Cary out, letting improvement efforts lingering in the low hanging fruits zone.

The reasons are decisions and options taken in early design phases, which engaged the organization for longer periods. Many conversion costs from actual situation to improved one would be too high and won’t pay off.

Many factories in Europe are located in centennial buildings with layouts having to cope with architectural constraints. Machines and equipment were packed in the available space, sometimes spread over several floors and over different buildings.

  • Even more recent factories I’ve helped to improve we’re located in remote places, in former backyard of founder’s home, in mountain village, in the midst of the Black Forest…
  • One of the biggest French company’s headquarter is located in a very old former convent.
  • Hospitals have similar backgrounds, layouts too often are nightmare to everyone, from visitors, patients, to staff and logistics.

All those locations may be lovely places but most of them are unfit for seamless flows and efficient work. Despite this, many of those locations will be kept for number of reasons good or bad, and will continue to hinder significant improvements.

Greenfield recent factories are generally build with lean concepts and future efficiency in mind, giving them a tremendous competitive advantage over the elder non-lean designed facilities.

Brownfield companies may pay great efforts improving their operations, it will usually not suffice to catch-up with the greenfield competitor.

Henceforth, greenfields are usually smartly located in the heart of the market they serve and hired lean aware workforce and/or trained it intensively, without facing the resistance to change nor lean learning curve.

Process and product improvement face similar problems: many decisions and options taken in early design phases constrain their design and evolution for long periods, sometimes during their entire lifetime.

Problems that drive workers crazy or require extra work, poor ergonomics and quality issues just remain because conversion costs would not pay off. Think about a mold or die modification, shape redesign, material change with all qualification process to go through again, etc.

What is left to improve is fetching the tool to correct a defect faster instead of preventing the defect.

So how can Lean help shaping the future?

Lean engineering in one way. My understanding of Lean engineering is using lean concepts, methods and tools to both improve engineering performance AND embed lean into designed products and processes to ensure future efficiency in manufacturing, delivery, servicing, etc.

While the first part – improving engineering performance – strives to reduce the time-to-market and design and engineering costs, the second part strives to put latter phases like manufacturing in best possible conditions to be efficient.

Therefore, all painfully lessons learned in manufacturing should be taken into account for the next design, frontloading issues to be solved and problems to be prevented. In the early design phases, lean thinking should help to design and build-in future sustainable performance. Design for Manufacturing and Assembly (DFMA) is one way.

While many designers may claim doing it, in reality they face great pressure to design-to-cost and speed-up to deliver products fast. Design-to-cost is usually flawed because it ignores the cost of later problem solving, error correction, scrap, rework, inefficiency and so on.

Problem solving and preventing is often ignored for the sake of design and engineering local objectives. But remember, those without memory are committed to repeat the same mistakes.

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