Why Value Stream Mapping? Why Now?

Value Stream Mapping has been released. One of the most common interview questions I’ve been getting is: Why this book? Why now?

The topic may seem a strange one, given that value stream mapping was introduced nearly 15 years ago in Mike Rother & John Shook’s landmark book Learning to See, and followed up by Beau Keyte & Drew Locher’s The Complete Lean Enterprise. Both of these books won Shingo Research and Professional Publication Awards. So hasn’t this ship already sailed?

No. It has not.

For nearly 15 years now, co-author Mike Osterling and I have watched organizations struggle to reap the benefits that value stream mapping offers. We’ve watched as well-intended Lean practitioners and consultants bastardized the approach until it became unrecognizable. We’ve watched as value stream mapping was reduced to an overly simplistic tool with a single goal in mind: eliminate operational waste. We’ve watched as a powerful Ferrari was forced to drive in 35 mph zones rather than using the methodology to truly understand customer value, transform leadership mindsets and behaviors, and accelerate improvement.

For years, clients, colleagues, and students of Lean have asked us to write a practical book about using value stream mapping in a more powerful way than had been written about (especially in office and service environments) and for years we declined. But we frequently faced a concerning fact: precious few people truly understand what value streams are, how to get far enough above the work to see what’s really going on, and how to use value steam mapping to gain leadership consensus on a defined STRATEGY—not to make change at a tactical level.

Let me be clear: value stream mapping is not kaizen. When needed, it’s a pre-condition to effective kaizen. (But, by no means does all kaizen depend on a value stream map!)

You don’t create value stream maps in a kaizen event. You don’t have a sole improvement professional create value stream maps. You don’t have a team of supervisors and front-line workers create value stream maps. You don’t a process flow chart and call it a value stream map. You don’t exclude metrics. After all, how on earth do you know if you’ve made improvement if you don’t have baseline metrics and well-defined target conditions? These are only a sampling of the ways we’ve seen organizations underuse, misuse and abuse value stream mapping.

But the solution isn’t to throw the baby out with the bathwater as is so common in business. Let’s not reject a highly effective methodology because we don’t know how to use it properly. Just today, one of the Lean movement’s leading voices, Bob Emiliani, released a post entitled Lean Heresy that contains several misconceptions and confuses the issue. For example, certain parts of Toyota use classic value stream maps, but nearly all parts of Toyota use what they refer to as “material and information flow” maps, which is what value stream maps are based on.

Two sentences late in the post are spot on: “Value stream maps should be used for strategic, not tactical, purposes.” Yes! Agree. “They teach leaders something about economics and humanity that they did not learn as an undergraduate or in their MBA program.” Yes! Agree! So why reject the methodology in full as the post’s title suggests?

We don’t need to reject. We need to learn. We need to correct bad habits. We need to evolve. Let’s not add confusion to the complex nature of organizational improvement. Let’s experiment with using the Ferrari as it was intended: to travel at great speeds to make significant organizational change, and to create alignment so that smaller incremental change supports the macro vision versus going in another direction as is all too common.

Value stream maps provide clarity—often for the first time. Well-socialized and well-executed transformation plans provide focus and help build organizational discipline—often for the first time. And that increased clarity, focus and discipline create a sense of unity, which enables high degrees of engagement.

In the coming weeks, I’ll share many real-world stories to help you see how powerful properly executed value stream mapping can be. I believe it’s time for significant relearning and for a renewed movement in using this powerful methodology for change. I hope you’ll join me.


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