Value stream improvement, sometimes called “flow-level kaizen,” is the best tool for identifying and planning opportunities for process kaizen. People often mistake value stream mapping for process mapping. Process mapping simply involves mapping any process. Value stream mapping involves mapping information and product flow for a given value stream. The mapping is done in such a way that allows one to visualize the current state and to plan and implement a future state with measurable goals.

Before value stream mapping was popular in the United States, organizations utilized process kaizen tools while largely ignoring their effect on the entire value stream. This led to successes in individual areas without the ability to demonstrate significant improvement to the value stream as a whole. Value stream mapping allows organizations to target the right areas for process kaizen and to track, measure, and demonstrate the effects that process kaizen improvements will have.

How does it do this? First, current state value stream mapping allows an organization to identify waste and sources of waste. It forces people to ask why things are done a certain way, which uncovers many opportunities for improvement. The current state provides a baseline from which people can work to create a lean future state.

Future state mapping is a process by which organizations identify a lean future condition. This future condition includes things like continuous flow manufacturing wherever possible, supermarkets or FIFO lanes (depending on the degree to which the products are custom) where continuous flow is not possible, and level production. Finally, they identify the types of process improvements that need to be made to achieve the future state. We recommend conducting a brainstorming session to identify such improvements.

After the future state has been created, a critical part of value stream mapping is creating an implementation plan. Based on the future state map, an implementation plan identifies each activity required to achieve the future state, the responsible team/individual, and the due date. Activities on an implementation plan will typically include kaizen events and "Six Sigma" type projects. Targeting such activities improves their bottom-line effectiveness since each activity will be leading to value stream improvement.

Value stream mapping is primarily a planning tool. It allows an organization to identify waste and sources of waste for a given value stream, systematically create a lean future state with less waste, and plan the implementation of the future state.

About the author:

Darren Dolcemascolo is an internationally recognized lecturer, author, and consultant. As Sr. Partner and co-founder of EMS Consulting Group, he specializes in productivity and quality improvement through lean manufacturing. Mr. Dolcemascolo has written the book Improving the Extended Value Stream: Lean for the Entire Supply Chain, published by Productivity Press in 2006. He has also been published in several manufacturing publications and has spoken at such venues as the Lean Management Solutions Conference, Outsourcing World Summit, Biophex, APICS and ASQ. He has a bachelor of science degree in Industrial Engineering from Columbia University and an MBA with graduate honors from San Diego State University.