Learning To See…Value Stream Mapping

By: Ronette Kersting


A visual lean tool that helps analyze and optimize an entire process. It is a method for analyzing the current state and designing a future state for a series of events. It visualizes the steps needed to take a product, service, or other deliverables from beginning through to the customer. It displays the interaction between items within the process including information and material flow. By visually mapping the relationships of all items within a process, potential problems, and waste (time, resources, inventory) are easier to identify. All activities are also categorized as either value enabling, value-adding, or non-value adding. The focus of this tool is to identify and eliminate the non-value-added activities in each process step as well as reduce the wait time between consecutive steps where possible.


VSM provides an end-to-end perspective on a product, service, or business process to help identify waste and its sources. That is its primary purpose. Each process step is identified and evaluated on how it is adding value or not adding value from the customer’s perspective. Value is defined as something the customer is willing to pay for. The goal is to utilize the Value Stream Map to produce the most value for the customer in the most efficient way possible. VSM allows you to see not only the waste but the source or cause of the waste. It should be utilized as part of the PDCA cycle for continuous improvement. Since VSM is a powerful visualization tool, it is also an effective tool for communication, collaboration, and culture change. People can clearly visualize the current state process as well as the Future State and/or the Ideal State VSM.


Value stream mapping (VSM) is a team exercise and should involve representatives from each of the areas within the process being mapped. It is also important that you have leadership’s buy-in. The map is typically created by hand with a large poster

paper and Post-it notes as you will likely need to make several corrections and updates. It is better to create by hand and involve the entire team in its creation rather than have an expert take the information and return later with a finished map. The following steps are best practices for creating a VSM


STEP 1 – Select the Product or Product Family

STEP 2 – Understand Value/Customer Requirements

STEP 3 – Determine the Problem (from the customer’s perspective)

STEP 4 – Define the Scope for the Map

STEP 5 – Identify the Process Steps, separated by inventory

STEP 6 – Gather Process Data

STEP 7 – Gather Inventory Data

STEP 8 – Determine External Material Flow

STEP 9 – Map the Information and Internal Material Flow

STEP 10 – Calculate & Map Total Cycle Time

STEP 11 – Calculate Takt Time, Response Time


Next, reflect on the Value Stream Map to see things that might not have been entirely apparent at first. This is an opportunity for the team to “learn to see” together by utilizing the information collected and the map to find the waste. This could be problems such as excess inventory, too much downtime, long process times or setup times, or quality problems resulting in rework. Based on these learnings, the team should create a Future State Value Stream Map and/or Ideal State Value Stream Map illustrating a leaner, more efficient process. This vision must be agreed upon by leadership and becomes the goal of the VSM project. The Value Stream Maps help simplify complex systems to facilitate understanding and communication as well as guide the work.

Finally, using the Value Streams Maps as a basis, implementation plans must be created and executed. Results should be consistently monitored, adjustments made and PDCA cycles followed to ensure ongoing continuous improvement.

“Whenever there is a product for a customer, there is a value stream. The challenge lies in seeing it.” -Learning to See, Lean Enterprise Institute

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