Value stream mapping (a.k.a. material and information flow mapping at Toyota). Done for the correct reasons and in the proper context, and it can serve as a powerful method to transform the way work gets done in an organization. Proponents have even called it, “the missing link in business management“.
But, as the technique has grown in notoriety, so too has the overproduction of the value stream map. Rather serving its true purpose as a diagnostic to shed light on a specific set of challenges, it has become an obligatory first step in the Lean transformation to be used for any and all purposes, and much of the value that is its namesake has been stripped away. Opponents claim that value stream maps have become part of the Lean wallpaper phenomenon; they look good hanging on the wall of a conference or board room, but do little beyond simply keeping up appearances.
Settle the Great Value Stream Map Debate
In the ongoing debate over VSM, the arguments on both sides are valid. So, how do we harness the power of value stream mapping to ensure that we are using the technique only when it truly adds value? Like in most situations in Lean and in life, a little knowledge can go a long way. Education is key.
A good value stream map highlights the unnecessary complexity in our product and service offerings. Ironically, the catalog of books on the topic of value stream mapping itself is unnecessarily complex, with over 100 different offerings on the shelves. Please, allow me to simplify.
VSM: The Only Two Books You Need
To educate yourself on value stream mapping, there are two books – and two books only – that you’ll ever need. It doesn’t matter what industry you call home, or whether you deal in the supply of products, services or information. Two books are all it takes to get started.
- Learning to See by Mike Rother and John Shook. This book was the original text that introduced the concept of value stream mapping, and it is still the best available on the subject. Learn the technical details behind putting together the maps (the symbols, conventions, etc . . . ) and how to apply Lean thinking to diagnose the opportunities within your value stream.
- Value Stream Mapping by Karen Martin and Mike Osterling. This book is a much needed addendum to the former that addresses many of the pitfalls and problems with the current culture of value stream mapping. Learn when and why to use them (also, when and why NOT to use them), and most importantly, how to engage the organization in a practical way to maximize the technique’s potential.
Additional VSM Resources
If you want broader exposure to the available literature on value stream mapping (i.e., you’re a nerd like I am), the below books are the best of the rest on the topic.
Value Stream Mapping for Healthcare
VSM for the Office & Services