By Xavier Perrin (firstname.lastname@example.org)
As a reminder, a VSM (Value Stream Map) is a graphic representation (map) of material and information flows related to a “value stream”. The same acronym is used to name the Value Stream Mapping process. The value stream is made of all the steps the material flow goes through. Some of these steps transform the product and thus create value for the customer. Some others don’t create value. The goal of Value Stream Mapping is to identify those ones in order to think about solutions for eliminating or limiting them, for reducing lead time and inventory as well as for improving productivity.
Lately, a colleague and friend told me about a startup with which I could collaborate for developing an innovative solution to draw Value Stream Maps. Said startup was offering: “in-situ flow tracking, solutions for real-time identification of abnormalities of flows, based on a multidimensional data-warehouse storing data coming from radiofrequency captors allowing localization of moving containers or other logistics resources…” The developer thought that “such solutions were perfectly suited for drawing VSM, and thus to manage continuous improvement.”
My reaction was unequivocal: I was totally opposed to the idea of collaborating in such a project! Indeed, VSM is a wonderful tool. It is something that I use regularly in many companies. Coaching working groups to do this exercise is a fascinating and extremely enriching experience. Watching a team discovering, on the gemba (shop floor observations), the value stream to which they’ve been contributing often for years, seeing their astonishment when they realize what the lead time is made of, feeling their enthusiasm when they realize all the potential improvements… This is why I love this job!
Recently, I had the opportunity to coordinate a work session during which we mapped a value stream. It has been a remarkable experience: the enthusiasm of team members was infectious, and I have no doubt we will reach the goals set by the board (whose support of the process is actually exemplary by the way).
This is why VSM is interesting. What a “multidimensional data-warehouse stocking data with radiofrequencies captors” can add to that? Nothing. Worse than that: offering such tools is leading lean beginners to believe that VSM is nothing but drawing figures that will be then analyzed by some engineers who will suggest possible improvements. It completely misses the most important point, which Rother and Shook perfectly summarized in the title of their book, “Learning to See”, an introduction to VSM. It is concealing the human dimension that makes VSM such an interesting tool.
What is the best tool to draw a VSM? In the example I mentioned earlier, we had a large white board and white-board-markers… Sometimes, when I can’t use such a board, I use a large brown-paper sheet and some adhesive notepapers (not to name a famous brand!), and that’s it. The map stays in the meeting room for as long as it is needed. If you want to keep it for further use, you can take a picture of the map… or (carefully!) roll the brown-paper sheet… Some companies care a lot about formatting the work that has been done with a graphic tool more or less fitted for the task, such as the ones you can find in any office suite. According to me, this is not very important since it is just about copying the working group’s work. The added value of VSM is to share the observation of a flow with the people who live with it day by day, not the final form of the map.
As a conclusion, I would ask this question: since the goal of VSM is to highlight what doesn’t add any value – in other words, “waste”, how could we call the use of a “multidimensional data-warehouse stocking data with radio-frequencies captors” in a VSM process?