If you’re too close to an issue, it’s like being lost in a maze. You can’t find the exit unless you zoom out and gain perspective.
Value stream mapping offers this bird’s eye view, helping you assess inefficient workflows and unnecessary steps to improve product quality and reduce lead times.
Beyond its immediate operational impact, these value maps encourage a culture of continuous improvement and cross-functional collaboration, with teammates trying to refine processes at every juncture.
What’s value stream mapping?
Value stream mapping creates a flowchart that represents every step of a process. You might visualize the entire flow of materials from supplier to customer or how information passes between teammates and clients.
The aim of value stream mapping a process is to pinpoint where you deliver customer value throughout — and where you could deliver more. Reducing inefficiencies and redundancies means releasing a better product to the customer sooner, and improving processes and technologies might mean offering a higher-quality item.
The 4 key elements of a value stream map
While the process you’re auditing dictates precisely what your map looks like, typical flowcharts include the following four elements:
- Product flow: Showcase how materials move through the process, from acquisition to completion.
- Information flow: Outline how information flows through the process, like updates to external stakeholders and project roadmaps teammates receive and update.
- Customers: Often the first thing added to a value stream map, draw attention to the customer demands relevant to each part of the process.
- Suppliers: Move through your map, noting when you’ll receive supplies and from whom.
Value stream mapping terminology
To create a document that external stakeholders understand, you’ll want to match typical stream mapping terminology. Keep these terms consistent across your value stream maps organization-wide so employees also find these visualizations useful.
Here’s some of the most common stream mapping terminology:
- Cycle time (C/T): This defines the frequency of units/features your team produces. You can also use it to state the average time between completing one unit/feature and another.
- Setup time (S/T): A team’s setup time outlines how much time they need to prepare to tackle a step. This might include reading over the project plan, familiarizing themselves with a new technology, or acquiring the materials they need to start.
- Kaizen burst/blitz: This is when a team works together to solve an urgent issue, and teams typically take 3–5 days to solve it.
- Lead time: This is the average time it takes for a product or feature to make it through the entire development cycle, including initial ideation and project closure.
- Takt time: One of the most important and unique terms for value stream maps, Takt time defines the rate your team must work at to release a product or feature to meet customer demand.
- Uptime: You’ll define this for each step in the process, and it notes the total percentage of time this step is active, meaning someone’s working on it or something’s happening to it.
The pros and cons of creating value stream maps
Sometimes, a bird’s eye view isn’t what you need. Instead, focusing on a single step offers the necessary perspective to find improvement areas and deliver a higher-quality product.
Here are a few advantages and disadvantages of creating value stream maps.
- Reduces waste: Eliminating waste in the workflow — be it by changing out tools or automating tedious tasks — increases team productivity and improves your bottom line.
- Creates an improvement-oriented culture: Having all teammates work on value stream maps with managers instills the concept of continuous improvement into the company culture. This increases the chance teammates feel responsible for pointing out inefficiencies in the future for even more improvement.
- Supports project managers: These maps deliver thorough overviews of your processes, which project managers might find handy when creating project plans and roadmaps.
- Takes time: Creating a comprehensive value stream analysis takes time your team might not have, and the effort required might outweigh any advantages.
- Focuses on weak areas: You might become so caught up on finding improvement areas that you forget to celebrate things your team does well. And at some point, constantly creating and auditing value stream maps can get in the way of teams doing their work. Plus, constantly learning new processes can tire out and defeat a team.
- Necessitates cross-collaboration: Making these maps is highly cross-functional, meaning you’ll often need to involve leaders from other teams and departments. If you don’t typically work cross-functionally, this collaboration might be an adjustment.
Industry-specific value stream mapping examples
Considering the pros and cons, some industries suit this type of process mapping more than others. Here are a few examples of where these maps shine:
- Manufacturing professionals might use value stream maps to eliminate resource waste during the production process.
- Healthcare workers might audit their methods to find ways to offer their patients more valuable treatment.
- Software developers often use value stream maps to reduce inefficiencies between product or feature ideation and end-user release.
6 essential value stream mapping steps
If you think value stream mapping suits your team’s needs and are ready to foster a culture of continuous improvement, here’s a six-step guide on creating a value stream map.
1. Choose a process
The best value stream maps focus on a single process to avoid complicating the map and overwhelming the viewer. Work with your team to consider the most optimizable process — one that directly affects your customers — and start there.
2. Choose the problem
Create a clear value stream map objective, like “To deliver this feature to the customer sooner” or “To increase the company’s ROI so we have the funding we need to deliver a higher-quality product.” This offers your team more focus when auditing the process.
3. Map out the process
Now, choose your preferred online value stream mapping tool, like Lucidchart or Microsoft’s Visio, and work with team leaders closest to this process to create an accurate process map. Remember to define product flow, information flow, and where customer demands and suppliers come into play. You might also add the following details to each step:
- Who’s responsible
- Setup time
- Complete task timeline
- Necessary resources
After your first draft, walk through the process again with your team to ensure you haven’t missed any steps and that all the information is accurate.
4. Find solutions/improvement areas
From the customer’s standpoint, consider any inefficiencies, like if there’s a spot where it’s taking too long to deliver a client deliverable. Keep the map’s objective in mind as you find “solutions,” i.e., process improvement areas that might solve this problem.
Here are a few examples of potential weaknesses:
- A too-long lead time
- Unstable working environments
- Unreliable suppliers
- Too many task dependencies that force employees to wait around
5. Map out the new and improved process
Now, work with your team to create a process that eliminates every weak area possible. Test it several times, making adjustments as necessary until it meets your original objective.
6. Create and execute an implementation plan
Discuss a reasonable implementation plan with your team, one that acknowledges any learning curves necessary to action this new process. You might need to train team members on a new technology or onboard a new employee, so make your start date flexible in case this adjustment period takes longer than expected.
Increase team efficiency with Tempo’s tools
Value stream maps offer project managers valuable insights into the necessary timelines, resources, and team bandwidth for a product development project.
Further support this work with Tempo’s suite of project management tools. Use Roadmunk to create visually stunning and flexible roadmaps and Timesheets to monitor team tasks to ensure everyone understands project expectations and stays on track.