Inefficient processes slow the growth of any business or organization. Waste, or Muda in Japanese, is one of what causes processes to be inefficient. It is then vital to be able to spot these wastes and address them. This is where Value Stream Mapping comes into play.
Taiichi Ohno, the founder of the Toyota Production System, said:
– “All we are doing is looking at the timeline, from the moment the customer gives us an order to the point when we collect the cash. And we are reducing the timeline by reducing the non-value-adding wastes.”
Fundamental to any project management endeavor is the identification and elimination of wastes. In order to do this, a holistic understanding of the process is a must. Only when you know the interchanges and interactions between steps in a process, will you be able to diagnose the areas where waste is encountered.
What is Value Stream Mapping?
Value Stream Mapping is an effective lean manufacturing technique to document, analyze, and improve any business process. Its output is called the Value Stream Map, which is a visual representation of the flow of materials and information that are required to produce a product or service for a customer.
Taking its roots from the Lean Manufacturing methodology, Toyota used materials and information flow diagrams to review their processes. With a visual representation of what goes on in the assembly line, they were able to spot where production is slowing down due to handoffs of materials from one step to another. Reducing the time spent on these handoffs by using the Just-in-Time (JIT) philosophy and the Kanban System, improved their productivity and reducing, if not totally eliminating, wastes.
These materials and information flow diagrams Toyota used are now more known as a Value Stream Map. Today, it is not only in the manufacturing industry that Value Stream Mapping can be used. The concept behind it – mapping a business process and identifying value – adding and non-value-adding steps – are being applied to any business process that has repeatable steps and frequent interactions between steps or groups performing the process. Value Stream Mapping can essentially be applied to any industry as any business will most certainly have processes in their operations.
The power of Value Stream Mapping is it establishes a common understanding of what really happens operationally in a production or business service setup. It exposes all the steps that are being taken in order to fulfill a customer need. Now, these steps can either be value-adding or non-value-adding. Value-adding steps contribute to the actual creation of a product or service for which the customer will benefit. Non-value-adding steps, on the other hand, does not directly change the product or service to add to its completion.
How is Value Stream Mapping done?
Before executing this exercise, you must first determine the process you would like to do a Value Stream Map on. You must also determine the level of detail your Value Stream Map aims to cover. It must be detailed enough for you and your team to understand the flow of work through your value stream.
It is then recommended to do the mapping exercise with all actors within the process, or at least have representatives from each of the process steps. This will let you be more exposed to what really goes on within each process step and their interchanges with one another. If the process involves creating a physical product, going through the entire process as it passes through the assembly line will be beneficial in mapping the value stream. If it’s a service or intangible product, a Value Stream Mapping session with your process team will be enough. It is recommended to do this as a pen and paper exercise; making it easier for team members to sketch and piece together what they think is happening in the product line.
To illustrate Value Stream Mapping, let’s take a software development process for example. Let’s say a development team’s process currently looks something like this:
This process shows us all the steps it takes from receiving a customer feature request to deploying it to production. It’s an end-to-end representation of what happens. In closer review, we can probably say that Design and Coding are the only steps that actually contribute to creating the product. Thus, can be considered value-adding. Doing the requirements documentation is more of formally outlining the features so that it’s easier for the developers to focus on what functionalities matter, but these steps don’t create or change the product. Testing activities are quality control checks to ensure the features are working, but again they don’t change the product. But are they necessary? Yes! Without these steps, customer dissatisfaction may become imminent.
Now, how about the step Approval of Feature? Let’s say this step is done by a business stakeholder who is outside of the development team. Thinking further, shouldn’t the Testing step already cover checking that the feature has been developed as expected, and is, therefore, an act of approval on its own? How about User Testing? How confident is the team on ensuring they can get dedicated time from their elected users to test their features and be able to deploy to production based on their project timelines? Won’t these steps just delay the completion of a feature? If the completion of a step depends on actors outside of the process team, then it shouldn’t be included in the value stream.
These are the types of questions and analysis that one goes through when examining a current state Value Stream Map to create the future state Value Stream Map. We need to ensure that the steps included in the value stream are necessary, non-negotiable and are within the control of the process team.
After a team finishes their Value Stream Mapping exercise, their map could change to:
This could be the first iteration of their future state Value Stream Map. You can see how some steps have been eliminated, lessening the time it takes to create the feature.
Once you know the necessary steps in your value stream, it is now time to gather data about your process. Here are some sample guide questions you can use to know more about your value stream:
- How long is each step taking to complete?
- How much is the wait time experienced in between steps?
- Where are you experiencing bottlenecks?
- Are there steps that can be eliminated?
- Are there steps that need to be added?
Depending on the data you have gathered, you and your team could then tweak the value stream map and introduce improvements and changes to make your process more efficient.
Value Stream Mapping and Kanban
In order to better track what happens in your value stream, putting the identified steps in a Kanban board will surely help you. The steps in your Value Stream Map become the lanes on your Kanban board. This is why it’s essential to do Value Stream Mapping first before implementing Kanban.
Putting your value stream in a Kanban board allows you to see the tasks or items as they flow through the stream. A visual representation of the actual work will help you spot bottlenecks, record time spent on each of the steps, and helps your team stay guided when executing the process.
Value Stream Mapping, when applied to Kanban, will help improve collaboration and instill big picture thinking within your team. It also promotes a culture of continuous improvement as the information radiators are apparent to all your team members. Having them see the manifestation of their work, they could apply course corrections whenever things seem to be stuck or not working for them.
The Kanban Zone team encourages you to do Value Stream Mapping with your teams. Let yourselves be immersed in the process and then track your progress through Kanban.