Companies are always looking for ways to operate leanly by reducing waste and redundancies in business processes throughout the organization. Value stream mapping (VSM) found its start in manufacturing, but it\u2019s proved equally helpful in the enterprise as a visual mapping technique for optimizing and improving systems and processes. By implementing value stream mapping techniques, companies can eliminate waste in the development processes, identify and predict supply chain bottlenecks, and increase customer value by delivering improved services and products.\n\nWhat is value stream mapping?\n\nValue stream mapping is a lean management technique for analyzing the flow of materials, requirements, and data associated with a given process, system, or product. VSM requires strong communication and collaboration between departments. For organizations that have siloed or isolated departments, encouraging more cross-collaboration between business units might be a worthwhile adjustment.\n\nImplementing value stream mapping can be time consuming, especially if you choose a complex process, product, or system to analyze. The larger the project, the more people and business units that will be involved \u2014 that means you might need to allocate several months, or even years, to complete and implement your VSM strategy.\n\nValue stream mapping benefits\n\nVSM benefits organizations as an efficient technique for identifying and communicating the necessary features of complex systems. It enables businesses to visualize every step in a process \u2014 typically a manufacturing or development process \u2014 and identifies every necessary input and stakeholder for each step. With VSM, everyone can see how their work supports and adds value to the system, and it creates an efficient way for all stakeholders to track progress.\n\nA value stream map also gives insight into any issues with resources, progress, and availability, facilitating continuous process improvement. It can help establish labor needs, track downtime, identify error rates, spot production delays, and catch inventory issues before they become a problem. VSM gives everyone involved a central point to check in, make improvements, discover any potential problems, and see how things are progressing towards originally established goals. \n\nValue stream mapping process\n\nBefore you can start building a value stream map, you need to objectively evaluate your organization\u2019s business processes, products, and systems. Start by talking to leadership, department heads, and other key stakeholders who can give you more insight into what can be improved. You\u2019ll need to get hands-on experience with the process, product, or system yourself and have other employees walk you through their part. A successful VSM involves everyone who has experience, knowledge, and expertise about the product or system being mapped, so that no details are overlooked, and everyone is working with the same information.\n\nIt\u2019s important to collect as much data as possible \u2014 for example, any inefficiencies in the process, how many workers are involved, what resources are used, and any downtime. Any potentially relevant or noteworthy data is helpful in fleshing out your final VSM flow chart and achieving insights into what can be refined or improved.\n\nYou\u2019ll then create two separate VSM flow charts \u2014 a current state value stream map and a future state value stream map. Your current state VSM will be used to establish how the process currently runs and functions in the business. This is where you will demonstrate issues, significant findings, and establish key requirements. The future state VSM, on the other hand, focuses on what your process will look like once your organization has completed the necessary improvements. \n\nAs you work as a team on developing the maps, you may eliminate or consolidate steps to make the final flow chart easy to follow. Once established, you can put the value stream map into a framework such as Kanban, which is used for agile development. With Kanban boards, you can create a visual construct either physically or digitally to enable everyone to track the progress between each step.\n\nWhenever the organization updates a process or makes a process improvement, the value stream map will need to be updated to reflect the changes. Typically, this is something that can be done monthly, as needed. Once the changes are implemented, it\u2019s important to see if they introduce any issues elsewhere in the process and to adjust accordingly.\n\nValue stream mapping steps\n\nPeter Hines and Nick Rich of the Lean Enterprise Research Centre in Cardiff, UK, established seven value stream mapping tools in 1997 to help businesses embark on value stream mapping. Hines and Rich note that the VSM toolkit shouldn\u2019t stay confined to \u201cany particular theoretical approach.\u201d It\u2019s up to your organization to decide which agile or lean management framework to use, but the authors attest that following these seven steps will help you implement value stream mapping alongside any IT management framework that you choose. Relevant lean and agile IT management frameworks include Kaizen, Lean Six Sigma, Kanban, or business process re-engineering.\n\nValue stream mapping symbols\n\nSince VSM is all about visualizing a process, symbols help identify various parts of the process on the value stream map. These symbols help organize VSM flow charts, and they are often standardized within an industry or organization.\n\nThere are widely used symbols that organizations adopt, but if there\u2019s something unique or specific to an organization, it\u2019s not uncommon to design your own symbols. The only thing that matters is that everyone involved in the process understands what each symbol means. There are four main categories that these symbols fall under:\n\nValue stream mapping software\n\nYou don\u2019t need advanced tools or software to create a VSM flow chart, as you can easily map one out on a whiteboard. But creating a value stream map can be a long process involving multiple departments and several key stakeholders, so you might want to invest in software designed to make the process easier.\n\nVSM software can help you create flow charts, keep everyone informed, and offer collaboration and visualization features that make it easy for everyone to stay on task. You can also find value stream mapping templates online that can help you get started with mapping out your business processes.\n\nHere are some popular VSM software tools to help you get started:\n\nValue stream mapping training and certification\n\nIf you want to learn more about VSM and how to create a value stream map or implement the process at your company, you can find plenty of courses and training programs on the topic. Most are offered online and you can even find some that are specific to relevant lean or agile management frameworks, such as Six Sigma.