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Book Review: Value Stream Mapping

Karen Martin and Mike Osterling are consultants that have been helping companies with seeing their business through a different lens.  Karen and Mike have co-authored two books in the past: The Kaizen Event Planner, a well written how-to guide for planning, executing and following up after a kaizen event and Metrics-Based Process Mapping, a how-to for using key metrics to analyze and improve processes.  Value Stream Mapping is their third book together and again they have done a fantastic job.

Name of the Book:  Value Stream Mapping: How to Visualize Work and Align Leadership for Organizational Transformation

Author: Karen Martin and Mike Osterling

Publication Date:  December 2013

Book description: what’s the key message?

Karen and Mike explain the in’s and out’s of understanding and completing a value stream map.  They discuss how a value stream map is a tool that can help senior leaders and executives see their business in a new way.  A transformative way.

Karen and Mike take the reader through all the steps.  They explain the importance of setting the stage prior to the starting the value stream map in order to enable success in changing the business.  Karen and Mike also walk the reader through the best ways to understand the current state of the business and the importance of understanding the current reality no matter how sobering it is.  Next they walk the reader through developing the future state and then the transformation plan.

This book is not just a “Go do it this way,” book.  The book is very complete and explains why the process they describe works.

What are the highlights? What works?

Most people miss the main point of value stream maps.  They are about changing the mindsets of an organization through building a strategic direction with a lean lens.  Karen and Mike do a great of reiterating this point throughout the book.

If you have never seen or been through a value stream mapping session this book is a great guide.  The explanations are spot on.  Karen and Mike hit on the most important metrics that can be used on a value stream map in order to get the most out of it.  They explain how the map is not complete without the metrics, which is something a lot of people will leave off when doing the map.

The examples of value stream maps in the back of the book can help a reader with guidance in building their own.  I know they are in the appendices but it is worth it to study all the examples.

The book also has a link to a downloadable charter and transformation plan templates.  I found them to be very helpful.

What are the weaknesses?  What’s missing?

The book is very well done.  Not only a step-by-step but a great explanation of why for each step.  There is one thought that I believe is missing in doing a value stream map.  That is the concept and discussion around ideal state.

When doing a value stream map, I find invaluable to have a discussion on the difference between ideal state (perfection) and future state (somewhere between current state and ideal state).  Usually, this discussion takes place after building the current state map.  The team writes out bullet points of what the ideal state would look like.  After that is completed, then build the future state.  The ideal state discussion helps to stretch the thinking of the team and as Karen and Mike put it “help change the DNA of the organization.”

Having a direct conversation around ideal state is a step that I feel is important and I wish Karen and Mike would have spent some time on in the book.

How should I read this to get the most out of it?

The book can be used in two ways.  One way is by someone that has been tasked to help an organization create a value stream map.  It can be used as a learning text book.  It can help the reader learn the in’s and out’s of creating a value stream map and give them guidance.  Or even as a refresher for an experienced value stream map facilitator.

Another way for the book to be used is as an education piece for executives and senior leaders that want to change their business.  It can help them understand their role in the value stream transformation process and how they can help the facilitator before, during and after a mapping session.

Kudos to Karen and Mike for another great book.

Value Streams Are Misunderstood

I really like seeing more and more organizations trying to implement lean.  Seeing organizations start to understand lean and want to improve using the lean mindset and principles is very refreshing.  A great step in the right direction.

But not all lean starts are created equally.  Or for that matter even get off on the right foot.

I recently saw a company giving a presentation on some HR practices and apprenticeship.  They were doing some really great stuff around apprenticeship for a machining shop.

What caught my eye was their comments about lean and aligning to value streams.  The company listed their value streams on a slide.  The first few sounded more like machining functions rather than a value stream but I don’t understand the business so I could be wrong.  Then I saw the bottom half of the list: Accounting, Project Management, Human Resources, etc…

Yikes!  These are not value streams.  These are functions that support value streams.

Misunderstanding of value streams is quite normal.  In order to be a value stream, it has to create value for the customer.  To understand what creates value a company has to have a definition of value.

I use one I learned from the Lean Learning Center:

  • The customer must be willing to pay for it
  • It must change the form, fit or function of the product/service
  • It must be done right the first time

In a machining shop, accounting does not create any value for the customer.  Nor does Project Management.

Value streams are linked process that create value to a product or service for customer.  The are not departments (accounting , project management) or functions (milling, cutting).

Grasping the true meaning of value streams and what your companies value streams are can really open your eyes to the improvement possibilities.

Value Stream Management at Schlitterbahn

My family and I had a nice day at Schlitterbahn waterpark a couple of weeks back.  It was a lot fun and the rides were great.  While waiting in line for each of the slides, I couldn’t help but think about the very poor value stream management for the rides.

For one set of three slides,  the line was split in two.  For two particular slides the line was to the right and for the third slide the line was on the left.  When you got to the top the lines then crossed each other causing a ton of confusion and a park employee trying to keep the lines separate and correct.  See the diagram below.


Also, if one of the first few didn’t want to ride one of the two slides from the line on the right then that slide would sit idle for a few minutes until the riders on the other slide unclogged the line.  It was a waste of time and use of the one slide.

There was a second group of three slides at another part of the park.  At this group of slides, two of them needed mats to ride down and the third needed a tube to ride the slide.  They didn’t mark this line with two separate lines so people had to tell you there were two lines.  Also, the mats for two of the slides were not stored at the entrance to the slides but at the exit.  You had to fight people through the exit, get a mat, then walk back around to the entrance.  All the tubes were stored at the entrance for the one slide.  This caused over an hour wait for the one slide but only a 10 minute wait for the 2 slides with the mats.

The way the park handled the value streams for the slides caused unbalanced lines and confusion for anyone that had not been there before.  It was a great lesson in making things visual and easy to understand in order to make a better experience for the customer.

Use the Right Visual

Visual management and visualization is a concept that lean relies heavily on.  There are a lot of standard visuals like metric boards, kanban signals, 5S and value stream maps.

Visuals really help people understand the information.  Everyone sees the same visual and it starts a good conversation allowing people to gain high agreement.  The issue is all the visuals I listed are tools and as with any tool you need to understand when to use it.

To be effective with using visuals, you need to understand what information the group is trying to understand.  What is the purpose of the visual?  Who is the audience?  What do they need to learn from it?

Most of the time the standard visuals will be perfect.  You can use them and get everything you need.  That is why those tools are well known, because they are used all the time and work.  But sometimes, they won’t.

Don’t be afraid to make up a visual tool to present the right information in an easily digestible manner.

Here are a couple a colleague and I came up with for a recent event:


This one shows the % of time people spent doing different tasks throughout the day.  It helped the group better understand who was doing what and for how long.


This one shows the frequency of tasks.  Daily, Weekly or Monthly?  What was the task done on?  Who many times on that day?

In both cases, the different colored post-its represent different areas of the company doing the work.

As you can see, the standard visual tools would not have shown this information in a easy manner to understand.  We designed this for the group and it worked very well.

We can’t always rely on the tools we have and know in our toolbox.  Sometimes we have to think outside the toolbox.  It is important to understand what your customer/group is trying to accomplish and design the visual accordingly.  Don’t meet the needs of the tool.  Meet your group’s needs.

Process Before Technology

Before I start, technology is a wonderful thing.  It has helped to make processes more efficient and work to be done much easier.

With that being said, before technology is used or put into place, the processes that technology will support should be examined.  Take the time to create a value stream map or a process map and examine the process for waste.  Design the future state of the process.  Then define what are the changes where technology is not needed and what changes where technology is needed.

The technology should be designed to support the process.  Not the process designed to support the technology.  This is an issue that occurs quite often.

Improving the process first creates a better understanding what is truly needed from the technology.  A company can save a lot of money by improving the process first because technology may not be needed at all or fewer components may be needed than originally thought.  Also, if your put technology into a bad process all you have done is make a bad process go faster.  That means you are throwing away money faster than you before because of the waste in the process.

The key to remember is the technology should support the process.  We shouldn’t be putting in technology as a substitute to better the process.

Technology is here to stay.  We should use it to our advantage, but we should use it correctly to support our processes, not to define them.

Directly Observing in a Transactional or Service Environment

One of the lean principles I use is directly observe work as activities, connections and flows.  This sounds like a principle that would be easier to change.  In an environment where the deliverable is physical and moves between physical work spaces this principle is easier to live.  An example would be a manufacturing environment, where a widget is moving from machine to machine.  Is is easier to take the principle literally and go out and directly observe the widget.  A person can see the widget and the changes made to it.

Lean is not just applicable in these type of environments.  Lean is applicable in a transactional office or service environment as well.  This does not mean directly observing work is not possible.  It just means it is harder.

In a transactional/service environment you can sit with the person doing the work and ask questions as they do the work.  You will be able to learn a lot on an individual basis.

What if a group needs to learn and wants to observe?

It is really hard to cram multiple people into a cube or office…believe me, I have tried.  A different way to directly observe the work as activities, connections and flows is by creating a visual map of the process on a wall.  There are many types of maps and ways to map.  That isn’t as important as getting everyone to have a common understanding of what is actually happening.

The deeper purpose of directly observing work is to gain a thorough understanding of what is actually happening.  Not just one person.  Every person that is necessary must have a common understanding.  Reports can’t do that.  Neither can  sitting behind a desk.

There may be other ways to directly observe the work.  What is it you need to know?  What don’t you know/understand about the problem or process?  Once you understand what you need to know then you can determine how the way to gain that common understanding is for your situation.

How have you gained a common understanding around a process or issue?

Discussions are What Is Value Added

Before anyone understood the thinking behind the tools used by Toyota, people copied the tools.  There are many examples of companies trying to copy the tools and not succeeding.

Today, many more people are starting to understand it is about the thinking and not the tools that makes lean successful.  Yet, because it is human nature we still rely on tools and templates.

Last week, Jamie Flinchbaugh had a great video post about focusing on the discussion and not the template when developing a lean strategy.  I would extend that thought to be the same same when creating value stream or process maps or A3’s.

Too many times I have caught myself as well as colleagues worrying about the format or template use of a map.  I would get questions like, “Why didn’t you follow the normal standards for the map?”  or “That doesn’t look like the A3 I was taught to use.”  These questions are missing the point.  The discussions we have around, “what is the problem and how did we fix it,” or “what is the lean strategy and how do we execute it” are what is important.

Discussions are where we can gain clarity and come to agreement on what is the issue and how to go about resolving it.    When you have an issue at home to you ever talk with your spouse about what template to put the information on?  I bet it is safe to assume no.  It is the discussion you are concentrating on.

Templates are tools to help facilitate and draw out the discussion.  Not hinder it.  Next time you use a template, make sure you use it to enhance the discussion, because the discussion is what adds value.

Separate Mapping Can Bring People Together

Mapping is a common tool used with many people whether they are associated with lean, six sigma, or just doing business.  There are all kinds of maps.  Value Stream Maps, process maps, flow charts, etc.

The difference is how people use the maps.  People with a lean lens use maps as a way to directly observe the process because somethings the process only happens on a rare occasion.  The lean mindset also uses mapping as a way to get everyone to have a common understanding of the current process.  The mapping involves every role that touches the process including the suppliers and customers.  It helps to ground everyone in what actually is happening.  When doing a future state of the process, it helps everyone go forward with a consistent message.

But, what if you can’t get everyone to agree on a future state map?  Then what?

I had this happen a few weeks ago when I was facilitating an improvement event.  There clearly were two factions of people in the room.  One that wanted to really stretch the new process and one that wanted to make a few changes.  The group was split almost 50/50.  The team spent 3 hours that afternoon debating and arguing points.  Consensus was not happening.  As the facilitator, I saw the group was getting frustrated and worn out so I called it for the day.  That night I regrouped with the project leader and we decided to split the group into two teams.  One would map out the stretch future state and one would map out the small changes future state.  Then we would debrief each other.

I didn’t notice a big difference in the concepts, but the group thought there was a huge valley between them.

The next morning, I split the group into the teams and have them 1 hour to map their future state.  One team had the stretch and one team had the small changes.  After the hour was up, the teams debriefed each other on their future state maps.  To the groups amazement, the maps came out to be the same!  A quick 40 minute debrief on the maps and both groups were on the same page and gained not only consensus but unanimous agreement on the future state.

The maps allowed a clear and concise message to be understood by all involved.  The group accomplished in 1 hr 45 min what they couldn’t do the previous day in 3 hrs.  This created a strong united team that went to the sponsorship with the recommendation.

In this case, having teams build separate maps was the remedy needed to bring this group together.  This method may not work with all groups, but it is one that might be able to help at some time.

Create Engagement During a Value Stream Map

Have you ever led a team during a value stream mapping event?  Are you tired of being the one person always standing in front of the group writing down the value stream processes, information and material flow, and data?  I know I was tired of being the only person working during the creation of the value stream map.

I also noticed the groups I facilitated would become disengaged during the map creation part of the event.  The groups always loved the ‘go and see’ aspect.  They would be engaged and asking lots of questions.  The groups would learn a lot about what is actually going on.  Then we would get back to the room to map what we just saw and the energy would drop.  I would stand in front asking for the information one process at a time, write it down on a post-it note and then put it on the map.

Almost every time, only 2 or 3 people (of a group of 10) would be feeding me information to put on the map.  It would take at least an entire afternoon to map a relatively simple process.

Not satisfied with this situation, I decided to use some of the facilitation techniques that I had learned to help create a better map, faster.

Now, I break the group up into smaller groups (the number of smaller groups depends on the map we are building).  I would give each small group post-it notes and ask them to map a specific portion of the process and then post it on the wall.  We would pull all the maps together and then go over it as a group looking for anything that needed to be added or changed or deleted.

This cut the time to create the map by at least a third.  It also kept the energy up during the mapping part of the session.  Another benefit I found, was the group took better notes and retained the information during the ‘go and see’ when they were told up front they would be doing the mapping.  It worked out very well.

One last note, I never put an expert on a part of the process in the smaller group that would work on that part of the process.  If that is done, the group relies on the expert to create the map.  I try to get everyone thinking about the process.

I hope my learning can help someone else.

Think Before Developing a Future State

One of the most common tools used in lean is a Value Stream Map (VSM).  During this process a team draws out the current state using certain mapping techniques.  The second step is to draw out a future or ideal state map, then add improvement ideas to the current state that would help to get to the future state.

I completely agree with the need to draw out the future state so you know what direction you are heading in.   It helps give guidance to the improvement ideas.

What if part of the future state is given to the team ahead of time?  An example might be, the lead time must be X.  What if you suspect the team will shoot for the target exactly, saving anything extra for the next year because they know they will have to keep improving?

I have found drawing the future state can impede stretching the limits of improvement.  When I suspect this to be the case, I have the team ’empty their pockets’ of all their improvement ideas.  I do this after the current state map but before the future state map.

I then take the team through a vetting exercise.  What would be the benefits?   The hurdles?  What kind of resources would be needed?  Then as a team we decide on the top ideas to implement.

The next step is to draw the future state map showing all the benefits of the top improvement ideas.  Did we reach the goal given to us?  Or exceed it?  If so, we are done.  If we fell short then we go back to the ideas not selected and pick more to add to the future state map.  So far, in every case the future state map has shown bigger improvements than the targets that were set.  Now the team has a little wiggle room for error and still hit the target.

Like every lean tool, we have to think about the purpose of the tool and our situation in order to use it best.