The process of value streaming products or services has its roots very much within the ‘Lean’ business philosophy of ensuring that there is no waste within a company and that it is as Lean as it possibly can be.

Originating, like the Lean business thinking itself, in the Toyota Production Line, it is referred to by Toyota as a Material and Information Flow Map, rather than a value stream map, but in essence the two are the same.

The basic function or purpose of the value stream mapping exercise is to identify all possible opportunities for ensuring that the time taken to produce items and have them ready and transported out in as short a time as possible. This ensures that there is no stock sitting around waiting to be dealt with. It also ensures that there are no finished items also awaiting transportation. Once the components or items are received they are used within production, then once the production cycle has finished, the goods are shipped out.

What Is Value?

Within the value stream mapping exercise, as within the Lean philosophy, there is value which adds value to the product and is a good thing. But there is also necessary value, which does not have a worth, but is required to meet statutory duties, for example Health and Safety requirements. There are other steps that may take place within the production process that do not add any worth or value and they are not required in the sense of fulfilling any statutory requirements. These steps are wasteful.

All the different steps of a particular process need to be identified and drawn up. These will then be assessed as being value or non-value. Usually any steps that add value will be drawn at the centre of the value stream map and any non-value steps will be at right angles to the centre (ie the value stream) and will be in the form of vertical lines.

This ensures that it is really easy to see exactly where the non-value steps are and thus waste can be readily identified.

A Value Stream Map Is Intrinsically Worthless

To declare that a value stream map or VSM is worthless makes it seem like a pointless exercise that has no purpose or point, but in itself, this is the beauty of the VSM. The VSM has, through identifying all the steps in any given process and classifying these as being of value or adding no value, made it possible for its creators to immediately spot areas where waste exists.

So in a sense, what is important about the VSM is the process that you go through to create it. Once it is created you move on to ensuring that you eliminate the waste from the process.

Usually after a current VSM is undertaken, a secondary future state VSM is created to assess the impact of eliminating the steps that have been identified as wasteful.

The future VSM has as its goal becoming the cornerstone for an action plan that will ensure the process or practice that has been looked at will be much more efficient in the future.

However, once again, the future VSM is also in itself simply a visual ‘snapshot’ of all the different steps within the process, what is important is the analysis of the steps and which contribute value and which do not.

So when thinking about the VSM it is important not to get ‘hung up’ on the finished product, what is important about a VSM is the process that you go through to devise it. It is all about the journey and not about the arrival!

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