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10 Easy Steps to Complete a Value Stream Map

Value stream mapping is a method of illustrating, analyzing, and improving the steps necessary to deliver a product/service. VSM is a key component of lean methodology. It examines the flow of information and steps from the origin to the delivery to the customer. It uses symbols, just like other types of flowcharts to show various work activities and information flows. VSM is particularly useful for eliminating waste. The purpose of VSM is to identify and eliminate waste. Items are categorized as adding or subtracting value based on the customer’s perspective.

What is Value Stream Mapping?

Value Stream Mapping (VSM) Terminology

There are many terms and features in a VSM that can be confusing. While we will explain some of the standard VSM features, it is possible to modify them to meet specific goals. 

Time (C/T)

The frequency of features/units produced, or the average time it takes between one completed unit/feature and the next? Using our scenario of feature development for an enterprise software solution, the cycle time is the average amount of time it takes from the completion/deployment of one feature request to the completion/deployment of the next.

Setup Time (S/T)

This is the time taken to prepare for a step. This can be used to indicate, depending on the step (application to software development), how much time is needed to fully understand the requestor to set up, spin up, or allocate a test environment.

Uptime (%)

This gives you an indication of how much time the systems or processes are in use. This can be used to show the system uptime and employee availability times in our example.

Lead time

This is the time it takes for one feature request to go through the entire development process from concept to delivery.


This term is often used in VSM. It is the time required to produce products at a rate that meets customer demand. Figure 2 illustrates how takt is calculated and applied.

Kaizen Burst

Kaizen Blitz is also known as a team activity that focuses on solving specific problems. It lasts for 3-5 days. The purpose of the mapping activity was to plan and identify the problem. A Kaizen burst aims to solve the problem. You can use it to resolve issues that aren’t getting resolved as quickly or as planned. It is designed to help a team focus their energy and resources on a specific problem, process, or activity to remove or reduce waste or implement a solution.

Four Elements of a Value Stream Map (VSM)

What are the four elements of a Value Stream Map?
What are the four elements of a Value Stream Map?
  • Product Flow

The product flow illustrates how the material moves through the process. How does the finished product, whether it is purchased components or raw materials, become a finished product that can be sold to customers? 

  • Information Flow

Information flows govern the product flow. This document explains how the process is managed. 

  • Customer(s)

Customers are the first thing you should draw on your value stream map. Start value stream maps in the shipping area and move upstream. Include a data box that shows the customer’s demands in addition to the customer symbol drawn on the map. This data can be used to calculate Takt time. This gives the company an indication of how frequently they must produce units to meet customer demand. This is important in relation to the cycle times for the products. If the Takt time is longer than the cycle time, it means that there is a bottleneck or constraint to be addressed.

  • Supplier(s)

Next, draw the suppliers. You don’t have to include every supplier on the map. Sometimes, it’s more efficient to include just one type of supplier. You could do this by geographic region (e.g., capture all the Asian, European, and American suppliers) to cover at least the main flow routes of inbound material.

10 Easy Steps to Complete a Value Stream Map (VSM)

One of the most powerful tools in the Lean Toolbox is the Value Stream Map. In a brief time (usually less than an hour) you can effectively communicate where the focus of your Continuous Improvement efforts will have the most effect.

The Value Stream Map is full of pictures and friendly symbols which make it a simple tool to understand and develop.

Step 1: Understand the Value

The first step to developing a Value Stream Map is to understand the concept of “value-adding activities”. There are three criteria for Value-Adding Activities:

  • The customer wants you to do it
  • The material or information is being processed or transformed into final products
  • It is done right the first time

Any activity that exists outside of these three criteria is considered “Waste”. Once we understand and define value for the organization and we understand the focus, we start to develop the VSM. I have worked with hundreds of teams and have found that developing a Value Stream Map manually with Post It notes and flip charts works best.

Step 2: What is our Focus?

Before we learn how to define our focus, let’s correct a misunderstanding that I see in many teams when developing a Value Stream Map.

A Value Stream Map is not a process flowchart. What I mean by this is that a Value Stream Map does not track all paths that the process can take. A Value Stream Map tracks one part, service, or transaction or a family of parts, services, or transactions through the process. We only track one path of the “value stream”.

To define our focus, we can use a tool like a Product Family Matrix to help us understand which of the products or family of products has the “biggest bang for the buck”. Value Stream Map example: An example of the Product Family Matrix is below.

What is an example of a Value Stream Map?
What is an example of a Value Stream Map?

When choosing the product or product family to map, consider:

  • Customer Return Rates
  • Greater Proportion of Units
  • Largest Dollar Volume
  • Defect Rates
  • Complex Products (use the most processed)

Step 3: Go to Gemba (Walk the Process)

I see lots of teams draw a VSM in a room far removed from the process that they are trying to improve. Worse, they try and develop a VSM from reports and SME accounts without ever experiencing the process themselves. Go to Gemba! Draw the Ohno Circle! Get a notepad, take notes, and watch the process unfold in front of you. Develop the VSM somewhere that the team has quick and easy access to the process. Optimally you will be in the process.

Step 4: Work Backwards

The most difficult part of drawing a VSM is not turning it into a flowchart where we track all the different paths of the process. There is a trick to avoiding that mistake… Start from the end of the process and work backward. When you start from the end customer and work backward, you have no choice but to track that “one thing”.

Step 5: Define the Basic Value Stream

From the data that we have collected from “going to Gemba” and SMEs, we define the basic steps in the value stream

What is an example of a Value Stream Map?
What is an example of a Value Stream Map?

Step 6: Fill in Queue Times

After we define the basic steps in the value stream, we fill in the Waiting (Queue) Times between each process. In most VSMs, the focus is on the Process Cycle Time. Separate the cycle times between NVA time and VA time. Recall our discussion in Step #1 to define what is a Value-Added Step (VA).

What is an example of a Value Stream Map?
What is an example of a Value Stream Map?

Step 7: Fill in Process Data

Enter all pertinent process data in Boxes beneath each main process step box (from step #5).

Examples of Process Data:

Enter any data that you and the team have defined as important to the process.

What is an example of a Value Stream Map?
What is an example of a Value Stream Map?

Step 8: Include Smiley Faces

It is important to understand the amount of capacity in labor at each process. When developing the VSM, you might see that a bottleneck exists because of an imbalance in labor. Add a smiley face over each process box to define the number of laborers that we were in the process when the value stream was captured.

What is an example of a Value Stream Map?
What is an example of a Value Stream Map?

Step 9: Include the Value-Added Percentage (%VA)

Add up all the data in the VA section and divide it by the total process cycle time (the time it takes for the product or product family to travel through the entire value stream). Convert the resulting number to a percentage (%) by multiplying by one hundred. This will give you the Percentage of Value-Added activities or %VA.

What is an example of a Value Stream Map?
What is an example of a Value Stream Map?

Step 10: Interpret the Value Stream Map (VSM)

The VSM should now be a very pictorial view of the process and what has happened to that product or family of products.

  • Bottlenecks / Constraints
  • Long Process Cycle Times
  • Poor Uptimes
  • Excessive Setup Times
  • Poor Quality / Rework