How to Use Value Stream Mapping to Eliminate WasteThrough value stream mapping, you can visualize any production process and identify waste in both production and design processes. You don't need expensive solutions, the most important tool in implementing lean manufacturing to reduce waste may be the most low-tech thing on your desk: A pencil.

What is Value Stream Mapping?

In its simplest form, value stream mapping is a visualization tool tracing a product family's path backwards from the customer. The exact structure may vary, but one common method involves drawing steps that add value across the map's center and placing non-value-adding steps vertically at right angles to the value stream. Though a value stream map can be created with in-depth research, many leaders also draw rough value stream maps while observing a manufacturing process as it takes place.

The ultimate goal of value stream mapping is the creation of a future state map, which lays out a vision for the implementation of a value-adding flow in the production and design of products or the delivery of services. Setting a current value stream map and a future state map side by side provides leaders with a valuable, yet simple, method of demonstrating the need to eliminate waste in an organization.

Value Stream Mapping as an Introduction to Lean Manufacturing

If you are not already working in a lean environment, you can argue powerfully for adoption of lean practices by presenting a value stream map  demonstrating waste. Whether you identify a feature that fails to add value for the customer or an unnecessary movement slowing production, if your suggestions increase efficiency and improve product flow, you'll boost profitability.

When creating your first value stream map, consider reviewing others' maps and techniques. Many helpful resources are available online. Two particularly relevant books, both by Mark Rother (one co-authored with John Shook), are excerpted free through Google Books: Learning to See and Toyota Kata. A simple image search for "value stream map" also yields relevant examples.

Who Should Create a Value Stream Map?

Though anyone can draw a basic value stream map, some large organizations appoint one or more value stream managers responsible for understanding products from a value stream perspective. These individuals function as an antidote to siloing and miscommunication.

Though a value stream manager, if available, should take primary responsibility for building in-depth understanding of current value streams and creating future stream maps, any executive implementing lean methodologies should know how to read or draw a value stream map.

Quality and Your Value Stream

The most common objections to value stream mapping revolve around quality: "But what if eliminating a process the map shows as wasteful reduces product quality?"

In reality,  the opposite result is likely. Defects in quality are immensely disruptive to product flow and manufacturing efficiency. Likewise, inefficiency is immensely disruptive to customers' perceptions of quality. After all, the customer can hardly praise a product's quality if it hasn't been shipped due to a wasteful process delaying production.

Do you use value stream mapping in your organization?