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

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

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

Value Stream Mapping Material Symbols




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

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 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 First-in-first-out Station Indicates a “first in, first out” movement of materials between processes
Service Level Agreement Flow

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 Cross-dock A facility where incoming materials are transferred immediately to outbound shipping, without further processing.
Warehouse Warehouse A facility where physical inventory is stored for an extended period of time.
Truck Shipment 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 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 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 Air Freight Shipment of goods via air.

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

Value Stream Mapping Information Symbols




Schedule Information Schedule information Indicates an information flow or schedule
Information Flow 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 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 Production Kanban Kanban card initiates a process to produce a product, and stays with the product from raw materials to finished goods.
Withdrawal Kanban

Withdrawal Kanban

Kanban card used for moving parts from a consuming process.
Signal Kanban 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

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 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 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 Materials Requirements Planning (MRP) Indicates that an inventory control or scheduling system is used
Verbal Information Verbal Information Represents information flow communicated verbally
Phone Phone Indicates information communicated by phone such as orders.
Go See Scheduling 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 Worker / Operator Indicates where a worker or machine operator is required
Kaizen Burst Kaizen Burst Indicates where kaizen initiatives will be focused. The type of kaizen activity is indicated with the bubble.
Wait Time Delay Queue Wait time (delay, queue) Indicates where a delay is planned/experienced in the process
Inbox Paper Queue Inbox (paper queue) Used to indicate a physical order backlog within the process
Electronic Inbox Electronic Inbox Used to indicate an electronic order backlog within the process
Iteration Or Rework Iteration or rework Symbolizes that repetition is required in the process. Planned repetition is called iteration and unplanned repetition is called rework.
Milk Run Milk run Indicates physical movement by workers to pick raw materials, parts, equipment, tools, or supplies.
Expedited Movement Expedited Movement Indicates expedited movement of materials
Milestone Pacing Milestone pacing Indicates milestones that correspond to specific dates
Solution Improvement Solution/Improvement The cloud symbol is used to indicate proposed solutions, ideas, and suggestions.
Timeline Segment Timeline Segment The timeline symbol is placed at the bottom of the value stream map to show processing times and waiting times.
Timeline Total 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 and find out about your warehouse management strategy. 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.

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