Value stream mapping is a lean manufacturing technique used to analyze the flow of materials and information currently required to bring a product or service to a consumer. At Toyota, where the technique originated, it is known as “material and information flow mapping”. It can be used in any process that needs an improvement.
Organizations continually strive for lean and efficient operations. Particularly in the current economic climate, your company may ask you to find opportunities for lean improvement in your department or area, so that you can deliver the same value to the customer at lower cost to your organization. However, it can be a challenge identifying where these opportunities are.
For example, you may know that you need to improve your production process, because products are coming back with defects. In that situation, what do you need to do to improve quality? One option is to put more resources into physical inspections. But will that solve the problem, or will it just add cost to a process that’s flawed somewhere else?
Process improvement is successful only when you address the underlying problem. A useful way of improving processes successfully is to use a lean manufacturing technique called Value Stream Mapping (VSM). It originated at car manufacturer Toyota, where they called it ‘material and information flow mapping.’ VSM is now widely used in a variety of industries as a way of identifying improvement projects.
The basic idea behind Value Stream Mapping is this: if the underlying process is right, the outcome will be reliable. To get the process right, you have to understand the sequence of activities that provide value to your customers.
VSM looks at the full, end-to-end process. It helps you map visually how information and materials flow through all of the activities that occur – from the time an order is placed, to the time the product or service is delivered. The start is with customer needs, where the map shows how and when information is received. The end is when the product or service is delivered to the customer, with the map showing how decision-making and communication processes affect the whole flow.
By looking at your process from start (receiving orders or forecasts) to finish (warehousing or distributing the product), you can clearly identify steps where no real value is added, or where there’s a bottleneck – and thus, you can eliminate these types of waste. Your original Value Stream Map becomes the baseline for improvement initiatives that eliminate no-value, wasteful activities.