Value Stream Mapping: Seeing the Problem Before it Becomes Your Customer’s Problem

By: David Sherman, Manager, Lean Supply Chain Operations

Thinking in terms of the entire systems approach to a problem can help a problem solver understand the impact each decision can have on each node within the supply chain network. Value stream mapping can help an organization, or group of organizations, better determine each process within the entire supply chain network. The importance of the value stream mapping exercise is to determine where there are gaps and opportunities for improvement in regards to the entire system.

Process ManagementData flow

Value stream mapping fundamentally gives insight to key relationship connections in regards to people, processes and information. Understanding where each node of each function operates and how information and work moves through the value stream is key to determining where waste lies. Value stream mapping must lead to focusing on total cost reduction throughout the value stream itself. Inherently this is done by determining where value is added to the customer, and where waste lies in order to eliminate non-value added activities and to reduce wastes within processes and functions. Another key to process management within the value stream is to ensure that all processes within the value stream are following the same improvement plan from current state to future state. This involves input(s) from all functions within the organization(s) involved in the value stream mapping.

What next?

After determining where waste lies within the value stream, it is important to understand the problem solving aspect of the process. In order to realize improvements to the entire value stream, each process must be aligned with the core purpose and values of the firm. Asking the question: does this process or task add any value to the customer? Is key to helping prioritize these decisions. Along with determining wasteful processes, it is also paramount to understand the information flow in addition to product flow. Most firms are structured vertically while material and information flows horizontally. Allowing this information to flow more freely to the respective nodes within an organization/supply chain network is critical to maintaining and improving processes. As the second law of thermodynamics states: in a system, a process that occurs will tend to increase the total entropy of the universe. What this relates to, is that processes will inherently fall apart if the flow of information and/or material is not moving throughout the organization/supply chain network appropriately.


To counter the entropy that all processes inherently promote, the PDCA (plan, do, check, and act) cycle is needed to help repair processes and eliminate waste from them. The PDCA cycle will help organizations plan for a course of action to a problem, execute that plan to eliminating waste, check to ensure that the problem is solved at the root cause, and act to revise any items that have changed since the planning stage. These measures will help problem solving become ingrained into an organizations work structure and allow them to better see problems before they become a problem for the end customer. Value stream mapping allows for the entire organization to determine problems and waste between each function/process. Has your organization completed a value stream mapping exercise lately?

Posted by LeanCor Supply Chain Group

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LeanCor Supply Chain Group is a trusted supply chain partner that specializes in lean principles to deliver operational improvement. LeanCor’s three integrated divisions – LeanCor Training and Education, LeanCor Consulting, and LeanCor Logistics – help organizations eliminate waste, drive down costs, and build a culture of continuous improvement.

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