The Continuous Improvement Blog

What is a value stream map and how can you benefit?

Written by Colin McArdle on 29 Nov 2017

Untitled design (73).jpgValue Stream Mapping (VSM) is a lean technique that provides a snapshot of the current state of processes within an organisation. 

It's used by organisations across diverse industries, from manufacturing to engineering, IT, financial, HR, legal and marketing services, as well as in service industries such as healthcare.

In this blog post we discuss what a value stream map is and highlight five key benefits.

What is a value stream map?

A value stream map depicts the key people resources, activities, and information flows required to provide a product or service for a customer.

By creating a value stream map, organisations can visualise how end-to-end processes work, evidence actual performance, and identify opportunities for process improvement. For these reasons, it’s often carried out at the outset of a lean improvement programme.

Taking healthcare as an example, an obvious application for VSM is mapping a patient’s path to treatment to improve service and minimise delays.

Below is an illustration of a value stream map of a hopsital Accident & Emergency department.

Kaisen Value Stream Mapping V2 (2).png

What are the benefits?

1. Helps identify waste

Visualising a process from start to finish helps to illuminate non-value adding activities, or ‘waste’.

Non-value adding activities are those that consume time or resources but do not add value to customer requirements. In other words, the customer gets nothing out of it. Examples could be creating multiple copies of the same document, duplicating process steps in different departments, unbalanced workloads, or unnecessary movement of parts, materials, files or documents.

Once waste has been identified, it can be removed from the process to make it more efficient.

2. Helps identify bottlenecks

A value stream doesn’t solely look at the activities involved. It also looks at the information flows and takes the people side into account by looking at who’s responsible at certain points of the process and where managerial input is required.

For instance, it could be that in a finance department all invoices need final sign off by the Finance Director. But if they are busy on other tasks the invoicing process will be delayed, other functions will have to wait, thus impacting free cash flow and revenues. In the case of the ‘final sign off’ process, if this is the slowest part of the process, it is referred to as the bottleneck or constraint.

If your organisation has been doing things the same way for a long time, it can be difficult to see where bottlenecks are occurring. Taking a step back and creating a value stream map will help bring them to the surface. Bottlenecks can then be removed or reduced to create flow. In the example of the finance department, another senior team member could be appointed as an additional source for sign off or perhaps the process could be improved by error proofing so that sign off is not required.

3. Aligns cross-functional teams

VSM is a team exercise. While it should be led by someone trained in lean tools and techniques, it should involve people from all areas of the process being mapped.

By involving cross-functional teams, you open people’s eyes to more than just their own perspective. Understanding the roles of other people in the business along the process creates an appreciation of what others are doing and how your roles interact.

And seeing the full picture of what it takes to provide a customer with a product or service gets everyone on the same page and working towards a common goal.  

4. Brings process improvement to the forefront

Involving the workforce in value stream mapping brings process improvement to the forefront. It starts the conversation around what parts of the process work well, and what areas could be made easier or more efficient.

Your people know the process best, so even if they’ve never raised frustrations or ideas for solving them before, they’re bound to have some opinions. Creating a value stream map opens up a forum for them to share their views. It becomes a central piece to hold conversations around.

Lean is about more than just eliminating waste and driving efficiency. It’s about building a culture of continuous improvement, and VSM can be an effective first step.

5. It’s inexpensive and fairly easy to do

A value stream map can be created with pencil and paper, or with wall space and post-it notes - ideally somewhere in the working environment where it’s visible for all to see.

It doesn’t to be a glorious work of art or a technical masterpiece. The most important thing is for it to be fluid. You’ll want to rub things out or move post it notes around along the process of mapping the value stream.

But, be sure not to skimp on the details or short-cut the process. Dig deep and leverage the knowledge and experience of your workforce until you can be sure your value stream map accurately and completely describes the current process.


VSM is a powerful technique for visualising processes and identifying areas for improvement. It comes down to this: a process can only be improved once it’s fully understood, and understanding a process is easier with visualisation. By involving your workforce you also open up the conversation of process improvement and align teams to the same goal - delivering a quality and efficient product or service for customers.

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Topics: Business Improvement, lean

Colin McArdle

Written by Colin McArdle

Colin McArdle, the Founder and Managing Director of Kaizen Kulture is a Lean and Six Sigma Master Black Belt who has over 30 years industry experience. Kaizen Kulture's mission is to be true to the ethos of continuous improvement.