Value Stream and Value Stream Mapping

Man pointing at value stream map

Understanding the Value Stream

Before we explore the intricacies of value stream mapping, it’s essential to grasp the concept of a value stream. Simply, a value stream is the sequence of activities and processes an organization uses to deliver a specific product or service to its customers. It encompasses every step, from the initial request or order to the product’s or service’s delivery to the customer.

Value, in this context, is determined by the customer. Anything that doesn’t directly contribute to meeting the customer’s needs and expectations is considered non-value-added (NVA) and is, therefore, a potential source of waste. A crucial element of Six Sigma is identifying and eliminating this waste, as it hampers efficiency and adds to costs.

The Art of Value Stream Mapping

Value Stream Mapping (VSM) is a visual and analytical tool used to document, analyze, and improve the flow of materials, information, and activities within a value stream. Essentially, VSM is a graphical representation of the end-to-end processes, helping organizations understand how work is currently being done and identifying areas where improvements can be made.

Key components of a value stream map include:

  1. Process Steps: These are represented as symbols or boxes, illustrating specific actions or activities in the value stream.

  2. Information Flow: Arrows depict the flow of information and communication between different steps.

  3. Inventory and Lead Time: Quantities of materials or work in progress at each step and the time it takes for a product or service to move from one end of the value stream to the other.

  4. Value-Added and Non-Value-Added Activities: These are differentiated to help identify waste within the process.

  5. Key Metrics: Information on cycle time, process time, and other relevant metrics to evaluate the efficiency of the value stream.

  6. Current State vs. Future State Map: The current state map represents the existing process, while the future state map outlines the ideal or improved process after Six Sigma interventions.

The Role of VSM in Six Sigma

Value Stream Mapping plays a pivotal role in Six Sigma by providing a structured approach to process improvement. Here’s how VSM contributes to the success of Six Sigma initiatives:

  1. Identification of Waste: VSM helps organizations identify and classify different types of waste, such as overproduction, waiting, excess inventory, and more. This identification is crucial for reducing costs and enhancing efficiency.

  2. Visualizing the Flow: VSM provides a clear visual representation of the entire process, which makes it easier for teams to understand and analyze the value stream. This visual aspect helps in identifying bottlenecks, redundancies, and inefficiencies.

  3. Prioritization of Improvement Efforts: Once waste is identified, organizations can prioritize which areas to focus on for improvement. VSM allows teams to see where the most significant improvements can be made and where Six Sigma tools and techniques can be applied effectively.

  4. Continuous Improvement: Value Stream Mapping isn’t a one-time exercise. It is used iteratively to assess the impact of improvements continuously and to create a culture of ongoing enhancement.

  5. Alignment with Customer Needs: Six Sigma’s focus is on meeting and exceeding customer expectations. VSM ensures that the processes within the value stream are aligned with customer requirements and aims to reduce lead times and increase responsiveness.

  6. Data-Driven Decision Making: In Six Sigma, data is of paramount importance. VSM facilitates data collection and analysis, which, in turn, guides decision-making for process improvement.

The Role of the Six Sigma Green Belt in Value Stream Mapping

A Six Sigma Green Belt is a trained and certified professional who plays a vital role in organizational process improvement. Value Stream Mapping (VSM) is one of the tools that Green Belts use to analyze and optimize processes. Here’s how a Six Sigma Green Belt can use Value Stream Mapping effectively:

  1. Identifying the Target Process: The first step for a Green Belt is identifying the specific process needing improvement. This could be a manufacturing process, a service delivery process, or any other operation within the organization.

  2. Gathering a Cross-Functional Team: Green Belts often work with cross-functional teams that include individuals from different departments or areas related to the process under review. This ensures a well-rounded perspective during the VSM exercise.

  3. Data Collection: Collect relevant data about the current process. This includes cycle times, lead times, production rates, inventory levels, and other metrics that help in understanding the process’s current state.

  4. Creating the Current State VSM: Green Belts work with the team to create a visual representation of the current state of the process using VSM. They map out each step in the process, including activities, information flows, inventory levels, and any identified waste. The VSM should provide a clear picture of how the process operates.

  5. Analyzing the Current State: Green Belts use the VSM to identify areas of improvement and waste within the process. They differentiate between value-added and non-value-added activities. This analysis helps prioritize which aspects of the process need attention.

  6. Brainstorming and Ideation: Green Belts facilitate brainstorming sessions with the team to generate ideas for process improvements. These ideas should be aligned with Lean and Six Sigma principles, aiming to reduce waste, improve efficiency, and enhance quality.

  7. Creating the Future State VSM: Green Belts will work with the team to create a future state VSM after identifying improvement opportunities. This map outlines the ideal process with the suggested changes implemented. It serves as a roadmap for what the process should look like after improvements.

  8. Implementation Planning: Green Belts assist in developing an implementation plan to transition from the current state to the future state. This plan may include specific action items, responsible parties, timelines, and key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure progress.

  9. Monitoring and Measuring: Green Belts continue to work with the team to monitor the process after implementing changes. They track relevant metrics and KPIs to ensure that the improvements are effective and sustainable.

  10. Documentation and Reporting: Green Belts maintain documentation of the VSM process, current and future state maps, and all relevant data. They provide regular progress reports to the organization’s leadership and stakeholders.

  11. Continuous Improvement: Value Stream Mapping is not a one-time activity. Green Belts promote a culture of continuous improvement by using VSM iteratively to identify new opportunities and refine processes over time.

  12. Knowledge Sharing: Green Belts play a crucial role in disseminating knowledge about Value Stream Mapping and process improvement within the organization. They may train and mentor team members and colleagues in VSM techniques.

Six Sigma Green Belts use Value Stream Mapping as a powerful tool to identify, analyze, and optimize organizational processes. Their role involves facilitating the VSM process, working with cross-functional teams, and driving improvements that align with Six Sigma principles, ultimately leading to enhanced efficiency, reduced waste, and better overall process performance.

The Role of the Six Sigma Black Belt in Value Stream Mapping

Value Stream Mapping (VSM) is also a tool wielded by Certified Six Sigma Black Belts. Having reached the highest level of Six Sigma certification, these experts play a crucial role in driving organizational transformative change. Black Belts leverage their extensive knowledge of Six Sigma methodologies and advanced statistical techniques to lead complex improvement projects, ultimately guiding their companies toward operational excellence and customer satisfaction.

Value Stream Mapping, as employed by Black Belts, begins with carefully selecting the process in need of enhancement. They assemble cross-functional teams to ensure a comprehensive perspective and oversee the collection and analysis of relevant data.

This data serves as the foundation for creating the current state VSM, visually outlining the existing process from start to finish. Black Belts and their teams then distinguish between value-added and non-value-added activities, pinpointing various forms of waste that hinder efficiency.

With an intimate understanding of the process’s current state, Black Belts guide their teams in crafting a future state VSM. This map serves as a blueprint for the ideal process with suggested improvements, setting the course for transformation. Beyond planning, Black Belts take an active role in implementing change and developing detailed strategies.

They continue to monitor the process post-implementation, ensuring the improvements are effective and sustainable. Through meticulous documentation, knowledge sharing, and mentorship, Black Belts drive lasting change within their organizations and pave the way for operational excellence in today’s competitive landscape.

Issues with Value Stream Mapping During a Six Sigma Project.

While Value Stream Mapping (VSM) is a valuable tool in Six Sigma projects, practitioners may encounter various issues when using it. Here are some common challenges they might face:

  1. Lack of Data: One of the primary challenges is the unavailability or inaccuracy of data. VSM relies on data to analyze the current state and identify areas for improvement. If the necessary data is missing or unreliable, it can hinder the accuracy of the VSM and the project’s success.

  2. Resistance to Change: Implementing VSM often involves making changes to existing processes. Resistance from employees or management who are reluctant to change can be a significant hurdle. Convincing stakeholders of the benefits of VSM and the proposed improvements can be challenging. [Learn about Change Management]

  3. Overemphasis on Tools: Some practitioners may become overly focused on the VSM as a tool, forgetting that it is just one component of the broader Six Sigma methodology. This tunnel vision can lead to missing out on other valuable tools and techniques that could complement the project.

  4. Incomplete Understanding: VSM requires a deep understanding of the process being analyzed. Insufficient knowledge of the process can result in an inaccurate representation of the current state and ineffective improvement plans.

  5. Neglecting the Human Element: VSM may overlook the human aspect of a process. While mapping out the flow of materials and information is crucial, people’s roles, behaviors, and interactions can also significantly impact process efficiency.

  6. Inadequate Cross-Functional Collaboration: VSM is most effective when developed collaboratively by a cross-functional team. If team members don’t communicate well or fail to contribute their insights, the VSM may miss critical issues and potential improvements.

  7. Overcomplicating the Map: Sometimes, practitioners may overcomplicate the VSM with excessive details and symbols. This can make the map challenging to understand, defeating its purpose as a communication and visualization tool.

  8. Lack of Follow-Through: Even with a well-constructed VSM and improvement plan, implementing suggested changes can undermine the project’s success. A failure to monitor, measure, and sustain improvements can lead to regression to the previous state.

  9. Inadequate Training: Using VSM effectively requires training and expertise. A lack of training for the practitioners can lead to misinterpretations, errors, and inefficiencies in the mapping and improvement process.

  10. Scope Creep: Sometimes, practitioners may encounter scope creep, where the project’s scope expands beyond its initial boundaries. This can lead to delays and increased complexity, making achieving the project’s objectives challenging within the defined timeframe and resources.

  11. Failure to Prioritize: Not all identified improvement opportunities are of equal significance. A failure to prioritize improvements can lead to resources being spread too thin and may result in minimal impact on the overall process.

Overcome Challenges Associates with Value Stream Mapping

Overcoming the challenges Six Sigma practitioners face when using Value Stream Mapping (VSM) requires a combination of strategies and best practices. Here’s how these challenges can be addressed:

  1. Data Collection and Accuracy:
    • Invest time in thorough data collection. Ensure that all necessary data is available and accurate before starting the VSM.
    • Implement data validation and verification processes to minimize inaccuracies.

  2. Resistance to Change:
    • Communicate the benefits of VSM and the proposed improvements to all stakeholders, highlighting how these changes will lead to enhanced efficiency, reduced waste, and better outcomes.
    • Involve key personnel in the process, including those who will be affected by the changes, to gain their buy-in and input.

  3. Overemphasis on Tools:
    • Keep VSM in perspective as one tool within the broader Six Sigma methodology. Encourage practitioners to use other tools when appropriate and ensure that the chosen methodology aligns with the project’s goals.

  4. Incomplete Understanding:
    • Prioritize a deep understanding of the process being analyzed. Ensure that practitioners are well-versed in the process before creating the VSM.
    • Conduct thorough research, interviews, and process observations to gain a comprehensive understanding.

  5. Neglecting the Human Element:
    • Incorporate the human factor into the VSM. Understand roles, behaviors, and interactions to address how people impact the process.
    • Encourage collaboration and open communication among team members to capture the human aspect of the process effectively.

  6. Inadequate Cross-Functional Collaboration:
    • Foster a culture of collaboration within the team. Encourage team members to communicate openly, share their insights, and work collectively on the VSM.
    • Ensure that team members from various functions clearly understand their roles and responsibilities in the VSM process.

  7. Overcomplicating the Map:
    • Keep the VSM map clear and concise. Use a standard set of symbols and ensure the map is easy for all team members to understand.
    • Use supplementary documentation for in-depth details, if necessary, to prevent the map from becoming overly complex.

  8. Lack of Follow-Through:
    • Develop a detailed plan for implementing suggested improvements, including assigning responsibilities, setting timelines, and establishing KPIs.
    • Monitor and measure progress regularly and ensure sustainability through ongoing process management.

  9. Inadequate Training:
    • Provide comprehensive training in VSM techniques and the broader Six Sigma methodology for practitioners.
    • Encourage ongoing professional development and certification to ensure practitioners have the necessary skills.

  10. Scope Creep:
    • Clearly define the scope and objectives of the VSM project from the outset. Ensure all team members and stakeholders understand and agree on the project’s boundaries.
    • Use a structured change control process to manage any proposed scope changes, ensuring they are well-justified and do not jeopardize the project’s success.

  11. Failure to Prioritize:
    • Prioritize improvement opportunities based on their potential impact on the process, cost savings, and alignment with organizational goals.
    • Create a clear roadmap that outlines the order in which improvements will be addressed.

By addressing these challenges through a combination of effective communication, training, data management, and change management, Six Sigma practitioners can optimize their use of Value Stream Mapping and achieve more successful process improvement projects. It’s crucial to approach VSM as a holistic tool that integrates both the technical and human aspects of the process.

Examples of Value Stream Mapping

Value Stream Mapping (VSM) is a versatile tool that can be applied in various industries and scenarios within the context of a Six Sigma project. Here are three examples of how VSM can be used in different settings:

1. Manufacturing Process Improvement:

    • Scenario: A manufacturing company is facing challenges with high lead times, excess inventory, and inefficient production processes.

    • VSM Application: In this scenario, VSM can be used to map the entire manufacturing process, from receiving raw materials to delivering finished products. The VSM will help identify bottlenecks, excess inventory, and non-value-added activities in the production line. By creating a current state VSM, the team can visualize the existing issues and waste within the process.

    • Outcome: After analyzing the current state VSM, the team can create a future state VSM that outlines the ideal, optimized process. This includes changes such as reducing inventory levels, improving cycle times, and streamlining workflows. Implementing these changes can lead to reduced lead times, lower costs, and improved product quality.

2. Healthcare Process Optimization:

    • Scenario: A hospital is looking to enhance the patient experience and reduce patient wait times in the emergency department.

    • VSM Application: In this case, VSM can be used to map the patient journey within the emergency department. The map would include steps from patient arrival, triage, diagnostics, treatment, and discharge. VSM can help identify bottlenecks, delays, and inefficiencies in the patient flow.

    • Outcome: The current state VSM reveals opportunities for improvement, such as optimizing resource allocation, reducing handoffs, and enhancing communication. By creating a future state VSM, the hospital can develop a plan to decrease patient wait times, increase patient satisfaction, and ensure that healthcare resources are used more efficiently.

3. Service Process Streamlining:

    • Scenario: A financial services company is struggling with a slow and error-prone mortgage application process.

    • VSM Application: VSM can be applied to the mortgage application process, from the initial customer inquiry to loan approval and funding. By mapping the current state, the team can identify where delays, rework, or inefficiencies occur in the process.

    • Outcome: The VSM process helps pinpoint areas for improvement, such as simplifying documentation requirements, standardizing processes, and enhancing communication between departments. The future state VSM offers a vision of a more efficient, error-free process with reduced lead times. Implementing these changes leads to improved customer satisfaction, quicker loan approvals, and cost savings.

In these examples, VSM plays a critical role in identifying process inefficiencies, waste, and areas for improvement. It provides a visual representation of the current state, allowing Six Sigma teams to create future state maps and plans for optimizing processes, reducing costs, and improving customer experiences, no matter the industry or context.


Understanding and optimizing the value stream is essential for achieving operational excellence and customer satisfaction. Value Stream Mapping serves as a vital tool in this endeavor, enabling organizations to visualize their processes, identify waste, and streamline operations. By employing VSM as part of their Six Sigma toolkit, businesses can significantly enhance their efficiency, reduce costs, and ultimately deliver superior value to their customers. Embracing these principles, organizations can embark on a continuous journey of improvement, ensuring their long-term success in today’s competitive business landscape.

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