VSM - Value Stream Mapping write on sticky notes isolated on Woo

Value Stream Mapping (VSM) is a valuable tool for process managers and teams alike. The pursuit towards a lean process starts with the evaluation of the current state process and identifying wasteful activities. If you’ve seen a value stream map before, you’d know that there are many symbols used to make one. Now, don’t be scared if you haven’t done a VSM before. We have rounded up the list of value stream mapping symbols you need to know to create your own. 

What is Value Stream Mapping?

Before we enumerate the value stream mapping symbols, let’s first discuss what value stream mapping is and why you should use them. 

Value stream mapping is an effective lean manufacturing technique to document, analyze, and improve business processes. The output of value stream mapping is a value stream map. It shows the flow of materials and information that are involved in delivering a product or service to a customer. The goal of value stream mapping is to show all the steps that go into the customer value delivery chain and expose its inefficiencies. When inefficiencies have been detected in the value stream map, corrective action is then implemented on the step or part of the process where the problem occurred.

Corrective action can be in different forms and is mostly dependent on the type of waste or problem that is experienced by the process. Some of the most common corrective actions applied in value stream mapping are the following:

  • 5 S
  • Standardization
  • Visual controls or displays
  • Layout/Work Cells
  • Balancing
  • Leveling
  • Quick changeover

Read more about value stream mapping to learn what it takes to create your own. 

While value stream mapping is more commonly used in manufacturing, it can be used for other types of business processes with materials and information flows. 

Value Stream Mapping Symbols and What They Mean

Now that you know what value stream mapping is, let’s get to know the value stream mapping symbols and when to use them.

Value Stream Mapping Process Symbols




Value Stream Mapping Symbols - Dedicated Process Dedicated Process Represents any single department, operation, or process with a fixed and continuous material flow.

Examples in manufacturing: Cutting, Packaging, Stamping

The small box on the lower-left is used to indicate an information system used by the process, if any.

Value Stream Mapping Symbols - Shared Process Shared Process Represents a department, operation, or process that is shared by multiple value streams
External Supplier.png 1 200x152 External Supplier Any external supplier or provider of raw materials, services, or supplies that feed into any of the system’s processes.

The name of the supplier is indicated within the symbol.

Customer 200x200 Customer The recipient or destination of the final output/product.

The name of the organization/customer is indicated within the symbol.

Data Box 200x130 Data Box Shows information about a process, department, facility, or manufacturing plant.

This symbol is placed under other icons, for example a process that requires data to analyze a system.

Workcell 200x130 Workcell This icon is used to show that multiple processes are integrated into a manufacturing workcell.

Value Stream Mapping Material Symbols




Inventory 200x171 Inventory Indicates inventory between processes. This can also be used to indicate inventory at the start/end of a process and stored inventory.

If you need to indicate an inventory count, you should add it below the icon.

Movement Of Inventory 200x92 Movement of Inventory Symbolizes the movement of products from one process to another.
Push Movement 200x92 Push Movement Symbolizes the movement of materials within the facility/plant
Withdrawal Or Material Pull 200x204

Withdrawal or Material Pull

Indicates a downstream process pulling inventory from an upstream process. It can also indicate physical removal or pulling of stored inventory from supermarkets.
Supermarket.png 200x430 Supermarket Represents a controlled inventory of work that is used to schedule upstream production. The open side faces the process that supplies the inventory to another process.
First In First Out Station 200x130 First-in-first-out Station Indicates a “first in, first out” movement of materials between processes
Service Level Agreement Flow 200x86

Service level agreement flow

Indicates a delivery of materials following a Service Level Agreement (SLA). SLA’s usually dictate minimum quantities, maximum delivery times.
Buffer Safety Stock Buffer / Safety Stock Indicates excess (safety) stock intended as a buffer to address variations within the production times of a process.
Cross Dock 200x130 Cross-dock A facility where incoming materials are transferred immediately to outbound shipping, without further processing.
Warehouse 200x128 Warehouse A facility where physical inventory is stored for an extended period of time.
Truck Shipment 200x130 Truck Shipment Shipment of goods via road.

Frequency of shipments should be indicated below the symbol. For example, “daily, weekly, monthly, M-W-F.”

Train Shipment 200x130 Train Shipment Shipment of goods via rail.

Frequency of shipments should be indicated below the symbol. For example, “daily, weekly, monthly, M-W-F.”

Boat Shipment 200x112 Boat Shipment Shipment of goods via boat.

Frequency of shipments should be indicated below the symbol. For example, “daily, weekly, monthly, M-W-F.”

Air Frieght 200x130 Air Freight Shipment of goods via air.

Frequency of shipments should be indicated below the symbol. For example, “daily, weekly, monthly, M-W-F.”

Portfolio Kanban - Reduce Overburden - Improve Flow

Value Stream Mapping Information Symbols




Schedule Information 200x130 Schedule information Indicates an information flow or schedule
Information Flow 200x43 Information flow Symbolizes information or data flow/exchange between processes.

The frequency and type of information can be indicated below the symbol.

Electronic Information Flow 200x49 Electronic Information Flow Symbolizes information or data flow/exchange between processes through electronic media e.g. email, online channels, etc. 

The frequency, type of information, and media can be indicated below the symbol.

Production Kanban 200x70 Production Kanban Kanban card initiates a process to produce a product, and stays with the product from raw materials to finished goods.
Withdrawal Kanban 200x70

Withdrawal Kanban

Kanban card used for moving parts from a consuming process.
Signal Kanban 200x73 Signal Kanban Signal Kanban is used to indicate when a batch of raw materials has been depleted and a new batch is needed.
Kanban Arriving In Batches 200x92

Kanban arriving in batches

Symbolizes multiple Kanban cards moving through the process together
Kanban Post Kanban Post Indicates a place where the Kanban cards are collected and held for transfer/distribution
Load Leveling 200x130 Load Leveling Symbolizes a tool used to intercept batches of Kanban cards and level the volume and mix over time. Leveling aims to smoothen the production process and avoid overburden.
Sequenced Pull 200x196 Sequenced Pull Indicates that a sub-assembly process needs to produce a specified customer order within a timeline. This pull process removes the need for inventory storage between processes.
Materials Requirements Planning MRP 200x213 Materials Requirements Planning (MRP) Indicates that an inventory control or scheduling system is used
Verbal Information 200x130 Verbal Information Represents information flow communicated verbally
Phone 200x132 Phone Indicates information communicated by phone such as orders.
Go See Scheduling 200x111 Go-see scheduling Symbolizes that the process requires physical observation to obtain information, such as schedule adjustment or confirmation by a worker/operator.

Value Stream Mapping General Symbols




Worker Operator 1 200x158 Worker / Operator Indicates where a worker or machine operator is required
Kaizen Burst 200x129 Kaizen Burst Indicates where kaizen initiatives will be focused. The type of kaizen activity is indicated with the bubble.
Wait Time Delay Queue 200x200 Wait time (delay, queue) Indicates where a delay is planned/experienced in the process
Inbox Paper Queue 200x119 Inbox (paper queue) Used to indicate a physical order backlog within the process
Electronic Inbox 200x137 Electronic Inbox Used to indicate an electronic order backlog within the process
Iteration Or Rework 200x200 Iteration or rework Symbolizes that repetition is required in the process. Planned repetition is called iteration and unplanned repetition is called rework.
Milk Run 200x95 Milk run Indicates physical movement by workers to pick raw materials, parts, equipment, tools, or supplies.
Expedited Movement 200x80 Expedited Movement Indicates expedited movement of materials
Milestone Pacing 200x43 Milestone pacing Indicates milestones that correspond to specific dates
Solution Improvement 200x108 Solution/Improvement The cloud symbol is used to indicate proposed solutions, ideas, and suggestions.
Timeline Segment 200x54 Timeline Segment The timeline symbol is placed at the bottom of the value stream map to show processing times and waiting times.
Timeline Total 200x70 Timeline Total Shows the total cycle time of a value stream map. The box can also indicate the Total Value-adding Cycle Time, Total non-value-adding Cycle Time, and Lead Time.

Creating a Lean Process using VSM

Value stream mapping is an effective tool to gain control of your business process. When venturing into a value stream mapping activity with your team, have an open mind and be prepared to dive into the nitty gritty of your processes. Interview your process owners. Go directly to your assembly lines and production floors. See the process for yourself by performing genchi genbutsu. Then use the value stream mapping symbols to create a visual and accurate representation of your full value stream. 

Once you have your current state value stream map, start identifying opportunities for improvement and kaizen bursts. Maximize the flow delivered value that you’re getting out of your value streams with your value stream maps as a guide for creating a lean process.

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About the Author: Lena Boiser

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Lena Boiser is an Agile enthusiast. Starting off her career as a Software Business Analyst in 2010, she eventually performed other roles including Project Manager and IT Business Manager. When she was immersed in Agile methodologies in 2014, Lena found her way through honing her craft and eventually became a Certified Scrum Product Owner. In 2017, after 7 years of working in the corporate world, Lena started her own remote consulting practice. Today, she provides project management and Scrum Product Ownership services to various businesses including software development companies, e-Commerce business owners, and small to medium sized companies. She believes that even teams working remotely can harness the benefits of Agile in order to deliver results for their companies. In her free time she likes to write. One day she could be writing about Agile, the next she could be writing anything about fashion or travel.