Value Stream Mapping Principles for Leaders

Walt Tarpley, Manex Consulting

Value stream maps are not as much about seeing flow as they are about understanding how to improve flow, by providing ways to link and align disconnects between customer value and how that value is created. Value stream mapping (VSM) is a key strategy for improving operations, by discovering constraints and then planning improvements. Your first mission is to acquire value stream data.

A leader’s central purpose for VSM is to quantify opportunities, then distill those into strategic projects. Value stream maps are data-rich depictions and include information on each process, such as yields, downtime, speeds, efficiencies, demand, capacity, and cycle times. This data is used to identify gaps or constraints.

So, the tough work inside VSM is acquiring data to identify constraints and is accomplished through either a treasure hunt or homework. The treasure hunt is faster, while the homework method helps when the time between sessions creates an advantage. The data leads to identifying operational constraints of performance, quality, downtime, cost, and capacity across every process.

Opportunities must be distilled from the situations. Traditional solutions often center on capital equipment purchases and installations, however, value stream analysis looks to first exploit present process capacity through other means, like reducing quality losses, or reducing equipment setups and downtime. These approaches improve returns on existing assets and returns on investments.

The trickiest part of VSM is the distillation of these solutions through non-traditional thinking. Manex consultants have years of expertise in developing non-traditional solutions to operating constraints. For example: if your current process capacity is 20% lower than will be required to achieve demand in four months, then you must search for solutions that would yield that amount of additional capacity, not how much more equipment do you need to buy given your current performance.

Distilling better solutions is difficult due to cultural norms driven by thinking and routines. A good coach is needed to help identify and break ineffective patterns of thinking, which lead to less effective and more costly solutions. Then implementation of solutions also requires a bit of coaching to navigate ineffective goal-seeking behaviors. Better solutions require separating assumptions from the knowledge and using fact-driven learning methods. A good coach will test the boundaries of knowledge to navigate the learning and implementation of effective solutions. Avoid deploying faster than your organization can develop and demonstrate skill proficiency, which inadvertently teaches the wrong lesson.

About the Author:

Walt Tarpley has over 25 years of extensive manufacturing experience and expertise in general management, manufacturing operations, quality systems, engineering, and continuous improvement initiatives, including Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma. As an experienced change agent, he has led numerous process improvement initiatives resulting in top-line and bottom-line growth across a range of industry sectors and geographies, in 40 U.S. states, South Africa, Canada, Caribbean, Europe and the United Kingdom. Walt can be reached at