What Is Value Stream Mapping in Lean Manufacturing?

Value Stream Mapping Image

As a continuation of our look at key concepts in lean manufacturing, this article is going to explain value stream mapping.

Value stream mapping is an important part of attaining the general lean goal of reducing waste in manufacturing (or in any workplace).

Before you begin reading about value stream mapping, know that we’ve included a free lean manufacturing infographic you can download at the bottom of this article, too!

What Is Lean Value Stream Mapping (VSM)?

At its root, value stream mapping is a tool used in lean manufacturing to reduce waste (and therefore increase efficiency and value production). And that’s important because, as you may remember, lean manufacturing is all about reducing waste and increasing value.

A value stream map is a flow chart that you can use to better understand and analyze how your company currently delivers your product or service and then improve that process.

Value stream mapping begins with an analysis of your current state. You then identify areas of waste in your current state, and you use the exercise as a way to refine your processes.

To create your value stream maps (representing both the current state and your future, ideal state) you create a diagram or schematic that represents all the different flows in your production process, starting with your suppliers and ending with your customers. Your value stream map should include three different “levels” or tiers representing:

  • Flow of information
  • Your production process
  • A timeline

Industries That Can Benefit from Value Stream Mapping

Although VSM is associated with manufacturing, it can be used in many industries or applications, including:

  • Manufacturing
  • Supply chain and logistics
  • Software development
  • Healthcare
  • Office work

Mapping Your Value Stream: Getting Started

Here are some questions to ask yourself as you begin the value stream mapping:

  • What process am I analyzing/mapping?
  • What will be the scope of my project (where will I begin and end analysis/mapping)?
  • What are the process steps? (You may have to get out on the floor, review documents, and talk to coworkers here.)
  • Collect your process data, including  inventory, cycle time, active work time v. down time, numbers of operators and shifts, machine uptime and downtime, scrap and waste, necessary and unnecessary movement, etc.
  • How does communication occur/information flow during the process?
  • Create a timeline, including lead time, process time, and timing issues related to inventory

Creating the Value Stream Map

To keep things simple, you may want to create a value stream map on a white board or similar writing surface, perhaps by using Post-It notes. You can also use the lean manufacturing workplace visualization technique known as kanban for this (there are now plenty of good and inexpensive online kanban software applications, including Jira, Trello, and others). If you want to get a little more fancy, you can use the special symbols that are often used in value stream mapping to represent things such as inventory, shipments, suppliers and customers, and more.

If you’ve used value stream mapping at your work, we’d love to hear about your experiences and get your tips. Use the comments section below.

And before you leave, be sure to download our free Five Principles of Lean Manufacturing infographic! 

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Free Five Principles of Lean Download

Download this free infographic explaining the five principles of lean manufacturing as listed in the book The Machine that Changed the World.

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Jeffrey Dalto

Jeffrey Dalto

Jeffrey Dalto is an Instructional Designer and the Senior Learning & Development Specialist at Convergence Training. He's worked in training/learning & development for 20 years, in safety and safety training for more than 10, is an OSHA Authorized Outreach Trainer for General Industry OSHA 10 and 30, has completed a General Industry Safety and Health Specialist Certificate from the University of Washington/Pacific Northwest OSHA Education Center, and is a member of the committee creating the upcoming ANSI Z490.2 national standard on online environmental, health, and safety training.

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