Value Stream Mapping 8 Steps To Critical Thinking

This value stream mapping guide aims to help you familiarize yourself with the concept of value stream mapping. It offers a detailed overview on everything related to VSM, from its origin to steps you should follow when carrying out a value stream map analysis.

Value Stream Mapping is a Lean tool that is used to visualize a production process. It helps increase the value of the product or service by identifying bottlenecks and eliminating waste.

In this value stream mapping tutorial, you will learn

The Origin of Value Stream Mapping

The origin of value stream mapping (then known as the “material and information flows”) can be traced back to a technique of visual mapping the Toyota Motor Corporation used to understand the material and information flow within the organization.

The term ‘value stream’ was first coined by James Womack, Daniel Jones and Daniel Roos in their book, The Machine that Changed the World in 1990. It was further popularized in Lean Thinking by James Womack and Daniel Jones in 1996.

According to them, a value stream is the “set of specific actions required to bring a specific product through the three critical management tasks of any business…the problem-solving task,…information management task,…physical information task”.

In Learning to See (1998) Mike Rother and John Shook explained in detail the application of the method in manufacturing. Then in 2004, Beau Keyte and Drew Locher discussed the extended application of value stream mapping in office and administrative processes.

What is Value Stream Mapping?

A value stream map, in the simplest of terms, is a way to visualize the steps required to transform a customer request into a good or service, or in other words, a product’s production path from supplier to the customer.

A value stream map, which offers a holistic view of the process or the system, can be drawn at any scale; to map a simple administrative process as well as a complicated global-level manufacturing and sales process. It helps identify non-value adding steps that should be eliminated and areas in the process that should be improved to achieve better and faster outcomes at a lower cost in a safer work environment.

A value stream map can be divided into 3 segments,

  • Production or process flow

In this section, as in a traditional process flowchart, the flow of the process is drawn from left to right. If there are subtasks or parallel tasks, they should also be drawn from left to right beneath the main flow. Drawn this way, it is easier to tell apart the major tasks that occur time and time again throughout the process, from the minor steps.

  • Information or communication flow

In this section (at the top portion of the map) all the communication, both formal and informal, that occurs within the value stream is shown.  There’s no standardized flow of communication as communication can flow in any direction.

  • Timelines and travel distances

Timelines appear at the bottom of the value stream map. This set of lines conveys the time-related data measured in the process improvement. While the top line indicates the process lead time, the bottom line indicates the total cycle time (some maps contain labor content instead of cycle time; when that’s the case, the line is called total work content). The other line, placed at the bottom of the map shows the travel distance (of the product or work or of the people moving) through the process.

As an effective tool to evaluate existing business or work processes, value stream mapping could be a beneficial to companies of all extents;

  • They provide a glimpse at the customer’s perspective
  • A common language to observe and examine the value stream
  • Provide a holistic view of the entire process required to deliver a product to a customer
  • Help detect inefficiencies in the process at a glance
  • Help deepen employees’ understanding of the work system
  • Powerful tool  to improve manufacturing production workflows

Value Stream Mapping Symbols

There are standard symbols used in drawing value stream maps. These can be typically used to map manufacturing processes. However, in VSM you can devise your own symbols to represent different components in the process for easy understanding. As long as the team involved in the mapping process is familiar with the symbols used, you can design your own symbols to match the needs of your own organization.

Following are the most commonly used VSM symbols.

Value Stream Mapping Process Symbols

Customer/Supplier Icon

When placed in the upper left corner it represents the supplier, and when placed in the upper     right corner, it symbolizes the customer.

Dedicated process flow icon

Symbolizes the continuous material flow through a department, process, operation or a machine.

Shared process icon

Represents a process, operation, work center or a department that is shared by other value stream families.

Data box icon

Placed under icons that carry significant data (such as quantity produced per day, the quantity of waste, cycle time etc.)needed to analyze and observe the system.

Workcell icon

Used to indicate multiple processes that are integrated into a manufacturing workcell.

Value Stream Mapping Material Symbols

Inventory icons

Represents inventory between two processes.

Shipments icon

Symbolizes the movement of raw materials from the supplier to the factory, and of finished goods from the factory to the customer.

Push arrow icon

Can be used to indicate the ‘pushing’ of material from one process to another.

Supermarket icon

Also known as a Kanban stockpoint, is a symbol for a supermarket.

Material pull icon

This icon is used when supermarkets connect to downstream processes.

FIFO lane icon

Represents a First-In-First-Out inventory system that limits input. ‘MAX’ indicates the maximum number of items that can be allowed to pass through the FIFO lane.

Safety stock icon

Represents a safety stock that can be used to protect the system when disruptions such as downtime, system failures etc. occur.

External shipment icon

Symbolizes shipment of raw materials to/ from the supplier or of finished goods to the customer.

Value Stream Mapping Information Symbols

Production control icon

Symbolizes a central production scheduling or control department.

Manual info icon

Represents the general information flow from memos, reports etc.

Electronic info icon

Maps the flow of electronic information such as the internet, LANs, WANs etc.

Production Kanban icon

Is used to indicate the quantity to be produced as pulled by the customer.

Withdrawal  Kanban icon

Symbolizes instructions about transferring parts from a supermarket to the receiving process.

Signal Kanban icon

Used to indicate the number of items in a batch that needs to be produced to restock them in the supermarket.

Kanban post icon

Represents the location where Kanban signals reside for pickup.

Sequenced pull icon

Represents a pull system that offers instructions to subassembly processes to manufacture a product without using a supermarket.

Load leveling icon

A tool that can be used to batch Kanbans to level the production volume.

MRP/ ERP icon

Indicates scheduling using material resource planning and enterprise resource planning

Go see icon

Refers to using visual means to gather information

Verbal information icon

Indicates the flow of verbal and personal information.

Value Stream Mapping General Symbols

Kaizen burst icon

Is used to highlight the improvements that should be done at specific processes to achieve the future state map.

Operator icon

Represents the requirement of an operator’s presence in a certain location.

Other information icon

Icon to indicate other information that is useful or could be potentially useful

Value Stream Map Analysis and Best Practices

A value stream map outlines the sequence from the input of raw materials to the delivery of the finished goods or services to the customer. This mapping event can be divided into 4 stages that are described in detail below.


The preparation step is crucial to the successful implementation of the ideal state map. This step involves getting together a competent team to carry out the mapping process. While the team should include cross-functional participants, having a value stream manager to lead the team and set guidelines would make things easier.

During the preparation period, the team and the manager should measure the scope of the mapping event, decide the business objectives and ready plans for difficulties the team might come across.

It is equally important to identify the product family that will be mapped. A product family includes a group of products of services that share the same process steps. Drawing all of your product flows in one single map would make things complicated; therefore always outline one product family in one map.

Tip: Use a product or service matrix to identify the families of products or services

Current State Map

The current state map serves as a starting point to the process improvement. The current state map visualizes the process at its existing state. It helps discover the ineffective and wasteful practices in the current system and find ways to eliminate them.

Drawing a current state map requires gathering information on the product’s production path. To do this, you need to walk down the path the product takes as it travels through the production factory.

First, draw a rough sketch of the entire value stream (of information and material flow) to help everyone involved understand the skeleton of the map.

Start from the most downstream processes (from the customer end) and move upstream as you draw the current state map. Collect the following data as you go on,

  • Total time per workday
  • Regularly planned downtime such as lunch breaks or meetings
  • Number of people working in the process
  • Quantity of work a person performs within a day
  • Number of product variations
  • Pack size
  • Cycle time (from the beginning of the process to its completion)
  • Queue time  (how long a work unit waits until a downstream process is ready to work on it)

Once the process data has been collected you can proceed to draw the current state map

Step 1

Begin by drawing the external (or internal) customer and supplier at the top of the page. If the customer and the supplier are separate, draw the supplier icon on the upper left-hand corner, and customer on the upper right-hand corner. Then list down their requirements.

Step 2

Draw the entry and exit processes to the value stream (far right and far left portions of the page).

Step 3

Create a  map shell by drawing the processes (beginning from the furthest downstream point) between the entry and the exit processes.

Step 4

List all the attributes of the processes.

Step 5

Add queue times between each process. Use the same unit of measurement for all queue times (hours or days).

Step 6

Proceed to map all the communication flows that occur within the value stream.

Step 7

To identify the type of workflow, add push or pull icons.

Step 8

Add any other data left to complete the map

While this sequence of steps is a generic one, you can always modify it to match the needs of your own organization’s value stream. (Refer to Template 2 for an example of a current state map)

Future State Map

Once the current state map is documented and lean metrics (which are needed to help you achieve the lean goals you have set) have been decided, the next step is to draw the future state map. While drawing the current state map you will be able to identify the areas of overproduction and of waste in the current production system. This information you gather becomes the basis of your future state map.

Planning and Implementation

The final step is creating an action plan to implement the ideal production path you have designed with the future state map. The best way to do this is by breaking down the future state map into smaller segments and proceed to implement changes within one segment at a time.

The work plan should have measurable goals as well as checkpoints.  When the future state map is implemented, you will be able to create a new and improved current state map, and to keep generating better results the cycle should continue.

Tip: Hold an annual value stream review to monitor improvements

Value Stream Mapping Mistakes to Avoid

  • Splitting up the mapping task among different departments in the hopes of stitching the individual segments together later at the end. This makes things complicated. When carrying out a value stream analysis, it is essential to have a cross-functional team which works together during the mapping event. Make sure that everyone involved in the mapping event is well educated in VSM. And there should be a head figure (value stream map manager) who can lead the team throughout the process.
  • Rushing through the current state mapping step. If the team does not spend enough time to collect accurate data on the current state and analyze them thoroughly during this period, implementation of the future state map will not be successful.
  • Drawing the value stream maps without metrics. As mentioned earlier, a VSM has three parts; workflow, information flow and the timeline. Without the timeline, it is not possible to measure the time it takes people in the process to perform tasks or to gain insight into errors that may lead to organizational chaos. Without metrics, it is also difficult to measure how much progress you have made.

Value Stream Map Templates

Template 1 -Funnel Shape Value Stream Map

Click the template to edit it online

Template 2 – Toyota Production System Value Stream Map (Current State)

Click the template to edit it online

Template 3 – Supply Chain Management Value Stream Map

Click the template to edit it online

For more professionally designed VSM templates, visit the Creately Diagramming Community.

Feedback on the Value Stream Mapping Guide

This value stream mapping tutorial covers everything important you need to know about value stream maps. If you have any questions regarding the guide, leave a comment below.

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Value stream mapping is a visual means to depict and improve the flow of manufacturing and production process, as well as the information that controls the flow of materials through the process.

It is the preferred methodology for identifying the inherent waste and losses within an operation.

As a management tool, value stream mapping (VSM) is used to:


  • Graphically illustrate, analyze and understand the flow of materials and the information needed to process them. Unlike process maps that are limited to mapping the sequence of tasks that are performed to complete a procedure or process, value-stream mapping provides the means to:
  • Display the interaction between multiple functions within the manufacturing process as well as ancillary functions such as production planning, scheduling, and materials management, etc.
  • The flow of information (communications) and materials throughout the complete manufacturing or production process.  Coordination and in-process materials are common sources of significant loss in far too many plants. Value-stream mapping provides the means to visualize and recognize these limiting factors.
  • Highlight problems, inefficiencies and losses within complex systems. Since the value stream map integrates information and materials flow, as well as the sequence of tasks -- including cycle time and lag between tasks -- the ability to identify restrictions, bottlenecks and all other factors that limit effectiveness and efficiency is greatly enhanced.
  • Develop and implement countermeasures in a highly visual way that facilitates culture change within the organization. The entire value-stream mapping process utilizes graphical depictions of limiting factors that all stakeholders can easily visualize. The process is also designed to actively involve all stakeholders in each stage.
  • Focus direction for the lean transformation teams, front-line supervision and upper management towards continuous improvement.
  • Serve as a dashboard to monitor and continuously improve the process

First Pass: Understand the Current State

  • Train your value stream mapping (VSM) team: Select a cross-functional team that includes all stakeholders of the process or area to be mapped. These teams must include the operators and maintenance personnel with first-hand knowledge of the process or area as well as those who must support them.
  • Physically walk the path of the material flow, beginning from each source of primary and secondary materials required to support the operation as well as the actual manufacturing or production process that is being mapped.
  • Document each step observed or discovered as part of the walk-down. Identify the communication points and how communication occurs.
  • Create your “current state” VSM and include all pertinent data and information. Now is not the time to skimp on detail or short-cut the process. Dig until you are sure that the VSM accurately and completely describes the current process.

Second Pass: Analyze and Reflect

  • Analyze and gain consensus for your value stream analysis. Socialize the current state VSM with all stakeholders. Gain their consensus that the map truly reflects how the process is currently performed.
  • Identify limiting factors, deficiencies and losses associated with the current process. Think outside the box and do not be constrained by perceptions or artificial boundaries. Quantify the impact on performance and cost for each of the limitations identified. Care must be taken to assure the true root causes, not the symptoms, of each limiting factor are identified.
  • Develop cost-effective solutions for each of the factors, deficiencies and losses that are limiting the effectiveness and efficiency of the current process. Solutions must directly address the root cause of the identified issues and be affordable.
  • Change the VSM to reflect the proposed changes that will eliminate or mitigate the limiting factors associated with the initial process map. Make sure that all recommended changes are clearly identified and included in the “Future State” VSM.

Third Pass: Improve

  • Socialize the future-state value stream map with all stakeholders. It is imperative that you gain their consensus and buy-in before proceeding to the implementation stage. Assure that all stakeholders are given the opportunity to review and comment on the new process.
  • Modify all affected procedures, bills of material and training materials to reflect the changes to be implemented. This step cannot be omitted or minimized without incurring serious restrictions in any real benefits derived from the proposed changes.
  • Train all affected personnel on the new procedures.  Assure that all are trained and can apply them before attempting to implement.
  • Implement the changes identified through the VSM process. These changes should be implemented based on descending priority—greatest benefit first and thoroughly documented.  The preferred approach is to implement the changes in discrete increments with sufficient time between changes to determine the resultant benefit derived from each discrete change.

Fourth Pass: Sustain

  • Establish effective key performance indicators (KPIs) that will accurately measure performance and cost change within and for the applicable process. These KPIs, in conjunction with a verified baseline of the current-state process, will be used to verify and validate change.
  • Monitor and reinforce compliance with the new standard procedures and practices established as part of the improvement process. One cannot assume that all stakeholders will immediately and voluntarily adhere to the changes that are being implemented.
  • Verified and validated improvements should be institutionalized across the manufacturing site.

VSM is a highly effective continuous improvement tool, but it must be used effectively. Any and all short-cuts will limit the value of the tool, and too many will assure that little gain will be achieved. Use it properly and completely and it will provide a direct path to process optimization and an operation that is assured long-term survival.

R. Keith Mobley is a Principal at Life Cycle Engineering, which provides consulting, engineering, applied technology and education solutions that deliver lasting results for private industry, public entities, government organizations and the military.Mobley has earned a reputation for his expertise in the fields of plant performance optimization, reliability engineering, predictive maintenance and effective management. He has more than 35 years of direct experience in corporate management, process design and troubleshooting. For the past 16 years, he has helped hundreds of clients worldwide achieve and sustain world-class performance. Mobley can be reached at [email protected].       

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