• Joe Rizzo. Director of the New England Lean

Value Stream Mapping - the Most Powerful Lean Tool

I received my training in Value Stream mapping while employed as a Project Manager at the Mass MEP, from 2003 thru 2007. The Mass MEP used the Timewise® suite of tools exclusively. My training consisted of tagging along with other Project Managers as they conducted a VSM, until I felt comfortable enough to conduct a VSM on my own.

While at the Mass MEP, I was able to learn from each successive VSM and make adjustments to the way I conducted a VSM, with better results.

Over the years, I have conducted over fifty VSMs. I have come to the conclusion that a VSM is one of the most powerful tools for Lean and therefore is one of the most valuable tools of Lean. And, why is that? It is because I have seen the great interaction and brainstorming of the participants to identify not so much the Waste in the system, but to identify the problems and issues that they have to deal with each and every day.

This interaction also provides an opportunity for the participants to see and understand the entire process within which they work. The great “aha” for each of the participants is the realization of how their work affects both their upstream and downstream associates. The participants come to realize that they are both a customer and a supplier of services for the next operation in the Value Stream.

Six Step Value Stream Map

Value Stream Mapping

Many of the improving ideas of the brainstorming discussions are a result of asking the question, “How can I make your job easier and better?” In my opinion, the true value of a VSM is the opportunity for all the members of a Value Stream to get together for some quality time to discuss the problems and issues that each person faces each day, and provides a group resolution of those same issues and problems. The net result is some spectacular improvement in the process as measured by reduced lead time, reduced cycle time, improved productivity, better service to the customer, reduced costs, reduced inventories, and improved quality.


One of my most memorable VSMs during my time at the Mass MEP was for a major pharmaceutical company. This event was promoted within the company as a major Lean Event. As a result, at team of people came up from the corporate offices in Delaware. Other team members included production, R&D, and people from the support functions. In total, there were thirty two participants. I quickly learned that this is too large a group to have for a VSM. Over the years, I found that an ideal number of people are from six to ten people. The great “aha” that I remember was related to the location of the Process Instructions for the operator.

With the help of a consultant, the company recently completed a project to eliminate particulates from the Production area by removing all paperwork, include Process Instructions, from the Production area. The new location was in an office area several hundred feet from the Production area. The distance was so far away from Production that it was a disincentive for the operator to ever refer to the Process Instructions. As a result, there were numerous errors and out of spec batches of material. The company had solved one problem, but created several others. The major action item of the VSM was to find a way to have the Process Instructions at the Point of Use or easily accessible to the operators.

A second memorable VSM during my time at the Mass MEP was for a major bottling company. Again, apparently a VSM was a major event to this company as well, as two people from the Corporate Offices attended the session. As we got into the process, we found that Production Control was scheduling the plant based on weekly demand. However, Production had their own weekly production goal, which was considerably less than the Production Control Goal. As a result, Production was able to report to the General Manager that they were meeting or exceeding their goal every week. However, the plant was falling behind the Production Control Goal by one or two hundred cases per week. Obviously, this had to be corrected. The Production Manager and Production Control had to have the same goal. Another “aha” for this VSM was an issue with the Maintenance of the packaging equipment. It seemed that the equipment was always breaking down and there were several hours of lost production each week. Both of these issues were not being addressed by Senior Management and were a source of irritation and frustration on the people that worked in the plant.

More recently, I conducted a VSM for a company that manufactures capital equipment. The demand for one of their larger machines was increasing and management set a goal of four machines per month, double current rate of two machines per month. We conducted the VSM with all of the operators in that Value Stream with great results. Through the interaction and group discussions of the team members, and the resulting improving ideas, the company not only achieved the production rate of four machines per month, but actually achieved a rate of six machines per month. As a facilitator of a VSM, I generally do not offer improving ideas. I only ask questions to stimulate the thinking of the participants to come up with the improving ideas. In this case, the team members found ways to help each other. But the key improving idea was to conduct certain steps in the assembly process in parallel rather than sequentially.

Again, over the years, I have found that one of the most significant ways to improve a process is to re-sequence the steps in the process. If the steps in the process do not seem logical or right to you, there may be an opportunity to re-sequence the steps in the process.

In general, a good question to ask yourself is: “Does this make sense?”