Value Stream Thinking at Apple

“The behavior of the system doesn't depend on what each part is doing but on how each part is interacting with the rest.” Peter Seng

I recently returned from a wonderful beach vacation full of memories and new experiences. I learned some new things - one being iPhones and the Caribbean Sea don’t mix! Sadly, I dropped my iPhonValue Stream Thinkinge in the sea and had to get a new one upon my return. Now don’t worry dear readers, I am a true believer in insurance so it didn’t cost much more than the time to get a new phone from the manufacturer.

During my conversation with the very helpful and knowledgeable customer service representative at the Apple Store, I learned something truly fascinating – and immediately, my “lean thinker” side kicked in. So much that it inspired me to write this blog post about value stream thinking.

The conversation went something like this:

Me: “Thank you for your help! One more thing, are there any improvements around battery life planned for the near future? These smart phones are so smart, I can’t believe they haven’t figured out how to make the battery last longer.”

Apple Guy: “Actually, great question! Our company realized this was a concern of our customers, and found that the software and hardware departments were separated and didn’t collaborate enough. We recently combined the two groups (software and hardware) and now they sit together, in the same building. This will definitely help the improvements.”

Me: (In excited “lean teacher” voice): “Amazing news! In my profession of lean supply chain management we call that “value stream thinking!” As a customer, I am very happy to hear this, and I’m sure great things will result from Apple embracing this fundamental lean practice.”


Successful lean leaders are process and value stream thinkers. They understand that a product- or service-provider’s value proposition comes from a series of process steps that create the product or service and that these process steps work most efficiently when there are no silos or walls between them. Each step and each function participates in flowing streams that create value – value streams, silos disrupt the flow of value and create waste.

Apple understood that the customer only sees and feels the aggregate outcome of all of their departments and processes combined. It is true: I don’t care about how great software is, and how many cool apps I can look at. But if my battery dies often and hardly lasts a day, I am very frustrated (you know what I’m talking about!). Just think about the last time you were at an airport – how many people did you see with their phones plugged in wherever they could find an electric outlet? They were likely sitting on the floor, uncomfortably standing by a wall, etc. The customer cares about the entire product, as a whole entity, representing all the processes within the business that created it.

As lean business leaders, we should follow Apple’s example in aligning our business to the way material and information flows through the value stream. It all starts and ends with the customer.

We also have to become systems thinkers and take responsibility of system-wide results. We should take pride in the entire process, not just the one for which we are directly responsible. Collaboration and cross functional problem solving is the key to success in today’s business environment.

Process and Value Stream Thinking

  • Manage Processes that Create Value
  • Use Value Stream Maps to Create a Plan of Action
  • Focus on Material and Information Flow
  • Manage Connections: Processes-Processes, People-People and Processes-People
  • Prevent Processes from Falling Apart
  • Focus on the Total Cost of Business Decisions

Written by Susie Sterling, Director of Supply Chain Solutions at LeanCor

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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