Recommended Reading is brought to you by The Lean Book Shop. Think book reviews, without all the fluff. Recommended Reading presents a concise summary of the key themes, concepts and learning points that will contribute to your lean journey. Featured books will include new and significant texts from the world of lean thinking, as well as other hand-selected pieces that will drive to the continuous improvement . . . of you.
This month’s recommended reading from The Lean Book Shop:
Value Stream Mapping by Karen Martin and Mike Osterling
Full Book Reviews
The Value Add
I know that I’m a little late to the blog party of reviews on this text, but The KaiZone was more a dream of mine than a reality at the time when the book was published. But at the risk of being stale, I believe the discussion over value stream mapping that has been popping up in recent months makes it worth revisiting.
In my opinion, the ongoing discussion over the role – or the suggested lack thereof – of value stream mapping in a lean organization is a fascinating one, which has yet to be settled by the lean community.
Rother et al. popularized the term value stream mapping in the 1999 book, Learning to See: Value Stream Mapping to Add Value and Eliminate MUDA. Ever since, the tool / methodology has become nearly ubiquitous within organizations beginning their lean journeys. And therein lies the problem . . .
Many lean practitioners do not realize that the value stream map has a rich history that predates Rother’s seminal text during which the tool was known as the material & information flow map. (Note: the evolution of value stream mapping / material & information flow mapping through time is at the heart of the debate. Thankfully, Michel Baudin has curated information from a number of primary sources into a concise yet thorough historical summary in the blog post, Where Do “Value Stream Maps” Come From? Do check it out.)
Proponents of value stream mapping suggest that the tool serves as “the keystone Lean diagnostic and visualization tool” and “a starting point to help management, engineers, production associates, schedulers, suppliers, and customers recognize waste and identify its causes”.
Opponents claim that “focusing on value stream mapping is heralding a tool to be much greater than it really is . . . a very specific approach to a very specific problem” and that the focus on the big picture that value stream mapping brings causes people to lose energy (problems are found but not fixed), become frustrated (little is changing at the activity level) and fail to develop the ability to see waste on the gemba.
However, it would be an oversimplification of the argument to frame it as one side vs. another; it’s not merely a matter of clashing pro-VSM and anti-VSM factions. The discussion is multidimensional and many valid and well-reasoned arguments have been made from various points within the debate space as to the fundamental role that value stream mapping plays.
In these situations, I see education as a critical first step in gaining traction on an issue and I feel Ms. Martin and Mr. Osterling’s Value Stream Mapping can help us do just that. To this end, the book does two things very effectively.
First, the authors dedicate a significant amount of page space discussing the common misconceptions and failure modes of value stream mapping that have led to much of the negativity surrounding the tool.
Second, the book sidesteps much of the technical details and conventions of the tool itself, as does Learning to See. Rather, the authors outline value stream mapping as both an organizational mindset and as a holistic methodology for strategic improvement. Consequently, the book is dedicated to the planning, socialization and execution of the value stream mapping methodology within the context of the complex social, organizational and leadership challenges at play in a lean transformation. The book excels in taking this very complicated subject matter, simplifying it, and distilling it down to what is critical and practical.
It is my hope that Value Stream Mapping will help in educating the lean community on the appropriate and effective use of the methodology. Value stream maps should not be considered requisite for a successful lean transformation, but that does not mean we should eliminate their use altogether. In regard to the great value stream mapping debate, I echo the author’s words, and add my own emphasis: “suspend your disbelief until you reach the last page of this book and have experimented using value stream mapping AS IT WAS ORIGINALLY INTENDED.”
I would be remiss, however, if I did not note that the book is not wholly undeserved of criticism. The material does at times feel more like a sales pitch for value stream mapping than a reference, even going so far as to call it “the missing link in business management”. Moreover, the chapter on designing the future state is scant on guiding design principles, boiling perhaps the most critical phase of the value stream mapping methodology down to an affinitized set of questions to consider. I would have liked to see the effort devoted to this section more commensurate with the importance of the activity.
Useful Learning Points
- Before embarking on a value stream mapping activity, consider carefully whether it is the appropriate tool for the need. Value stream mapping is a tool used to design strategic, high-level improvements to how work flows through a system. It should not be considered a tool used to make small, tactical, activity-level improvements to a process. The value stream map may serve as a precursor to help identify and prioritize the need for working-level improvements, but it lacks the diagnostic information required to understand the current condition of how the work is done at a detailed level.
- The scope of a value stream mapping exercise is typically limited to a single product or service family, which may include multiple similar offerings. As a result, value stream mapping efforts may get bogged down by trying to map the current state material flows, information flows and baseline performance metrics for each individual product or service within a family. Although each product or service is invariably unique, the differences at the macro-level – the value stream level – are usually not as big as they seem. As a result, even though the value stream map may only directly reflect a small percentage of goods or service offerings, the future state design will yield improvement that is applicable to most, if not all, products and services within the family.
- Lean is both a social and a technical system, and value stream mapping is no different. A common failure mode encountered in the pursuit of value stream improvement is a lack of organizational buy-in. Merely communicating our intentions, for example by sending out a charter or transformation plan to key stakeholders via email, only builds awareness. Awareness will not suffice. What we need is commitment, which requires an understanding of the who, what, where, when, why and how by those impacted. Instead of communicating, focus on socializing the efforts – before, during and after the mapping is complete – by opening up a dialogue with the affected leadership, the individuals who will participate as part of the value stream mapping team, and those that work in the impacted areas.
Value Stream Mapping: How to Visualize Work and Align Leadership for Organizational Transformation is one of many resources available for purchase in The Lean Book Shop (fulfilled by Amazon.com).
So, where do you stand on the value stream mapping debate? Powerful component of lean transformation? Or a primary contributor to the “lean wall paper phenomenon“? Share your thoughts below.