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3 Tips for Accurately Assessing Your Current State

by Drew Locher
April 7, 2016

3 Tips for Accurately Assessing Your Current State

by Drew Locher
April 7, 2016 | Comments (0)

In a previous post I wrote about a fundamental part of value stream maps that too many completely miss – the future state, powered by the future-state questions. I wrote that, “50 percent of the maps I am asked to review are just current states with no true future states.” Nobody seems to forget the current state.

But just because everyone remembers to include the current state doesn’t mean it’s always done as well it could be. Grasping the current conditions or ‘state’ is an important part of all improvement methodologies.  An effective VSM can’t even exist without an accurate and sufficient representation of the current state, plus a group understanding of how things actually work.

So that’s why today I wanted to share a few things that a VSM team should do before they call their current state ‘complete:’

Seek a visual understanding

For the most part, organizations are doing a fine job in creating current state maps, properly using the various mapping icons, and including the requisite data. But this is secondary to having a thorough understanding of the current state within all parties involved. How to get a truly thorough understanding? Through learning, and one suggestion for enhancing the learning experience is to ‘show and tell,’ or going to see the process. Often I observe team members verbally describing what they do at a particular process step and how they do it. But I always encourage the member to show what they are describing to the VSM team. Value Stream Maps should not be created entirely in a meeting room. Preferably, the VSM team will ‘go see’ the process being actually performed. This is not always possible in some office and service environments, where the work is not as visible, so short of this, in the meeting room the member can show the computer tools and screens that are used, call up the forms and reports being referenced, etc. Even in this case, the VSM team should still ‘go see’ to at least gain an understanding of the environment in which the work is performed. Make the ‘fuzzy’ tangible. Then and only then will the team members have a common and correct understanding of what is truly the current state.

Adequately ‘socialize’ the current state

A VSM team will consist of ‘representatives’ from the different functions and departments within the value stream. To the last point, this team needs to share the current state (and certainly the future-state map later in the process) with others in the organization to get their perspective, input and involvement. Such engagement beyond the immediate team is important to ensure greater commitment to the successful implementation of the future state. My experience is that organizations are not sufficiently involving others in establishing the current state, and this is a common cause for failed future state implementations.

Don’t be afraid of ranges

Lastly, many current-state maps that we are asked to review do not adequately convey the variability that exists in the current process. Conveying variability is crucial in office and service processes, which tend to have a higher level of variation. Yet too often we find a current state’s data expressed in a single number despite variability in the current state. When this happens, important discussions about the nature of the variability do not take place, and potential causes and countermeasures to reduce it go unaddressed. Often when asked people seem unaware that ranges for data can be put on the map, when appropriate. Again the purpose of a current state map is to depict what is actually happening. If variability occurs, it should be represented on the map. Even if the variability cannot be addressed in the future state, it must at least be accounted for later reference.

Are you practicing ‘show and tell’ or just ‘tell’? Do all team members really understand how the process works today? Are you properly sharing the map to verify its accuracy and to engage others? Is your current state map oversimplifying things by not displaying where variability occurs? Leave a comment below – I’d like to know!

The views expressed in this post do not necessarily represent the views or policies of The Lean Enterprise Institute.
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