If you saw my previous interview with LEI, you know that I took liberties with General Eisenhower’s quote about plans and planning and applied it to value stream maps. I also took a little poetic license because of course I do not believe that value stream maps are useless. Indeed, a well drawn map in John Shook’s words constitutes a story board that clearly and concisely documents how a value stream (or process or work flow) currently works AND how well it works—or doesn’t.
Most organizations see only a small amount of the potential return to be gained from a value stream improvement effort built around a mapping exercise. Such an exercise can be a powerful organizational development tool as well as one for improving value-stream performance on quality, efficiency, and safety. However, before you embark on such an endeavor, here are 10 key things to keep in mind:
1. Pick Processes (Value Streams) That Matter
In other words, select value streams (or value stream segments) that link to your strategic plan, annual goals, balanced score card performance, etc. This means you need to be clear about your customers and what they require, about the major value streams (not programs) by which you are delivering value to those customers and how well those streams are currently performing. And, if you are publicly funded, you may have stakeholders you need to consider as well. Picking value streams that impact organizational performance will help justify the time and effort required to map well and improve the work.
2. Start With a Win – For the People Doing the Work
Lean is full of paradoxes, and here is one. Sometimes you may need to select a value stream for improvement based on the potential impact on your employees. This is especially important when people are just learning lean improvement methodology. It’s not by accident that CEO Paul O’Neill started his turnaround at Alcoa with a focus on employee safety. Once he demonstrated that commitment, he got full cooperation for other improvement efforts from the union and workers on the front lines. Starting with a value stream characterized by high employee dissatisfaction or undesired turnover builds support for future improvement efforts.
3. Be Clear About Scope – And Don’t Creep!
We all want to end world hunger and achieve world peace—but without focus, we won’t achieve anything. Most high-level value streams are really more like value rivers. Sorting out which are the major contributing streams and identifying those that need to be improved to impact organizational performance increases the value of your mapping and improvement efforts. And determining up front where the value stream starts and stops and what is in scope and out of scope for people doing the improvement work prevents a lot of wandering in the wilderness. Address these and other issues before you start a mapping exercise if possible, in the form of a Value Proposition or Team Charter.
4. Get the Right People on the Bus
Involve people closest to the work (at whatever level that work is performed) and in all the key processes involved in developing the map(s), defining problems and crafting solutions. See Together, Learn Together, Act Together and Improve Together. And, wherever possible, ensure that those people include suppliers and customers, not just doers. If you have to map with a small group, make sure you socialize their draft products with the value creators for the value stream. Keep a regular communication link to all levels of the organization.
5. GO AND SEE how it’s really done!
Supplement spreadsheet data with direct observation and interviews at the gemba. You’ll be amazed at the things you learn that never show up on the spreadsheets.
6. Eat the Elephant One Bite at a Time – but Plan to Eat It All – or at Least As Much as You Need
As you begin your improvement effort, try to get action teams involved in rapid cycles of learning within two to three weeks after concluding a mapping exercise. Craft quick wins and 30-60-90 days plans for implementation but think about a future state that is 18-to-24 months out. In other words, nest those short-term improvement efforts in the context of a longer-range vision. That way, people have some sense of where they’re headed and you have insurance against doing improvement work that optimizes some portions of the value stream and sub-optimizes others.
7. Count, Count, Count – But Count the Right Things
Before you start, be clear about the “vital signs” for your value stream—the few key metrics that tell you whether the value-stream performance is healthy and the key few metrics for the individual processes that make up that value stream. And measure things that are meaningful to the people doing the work, allow them to see the improvement and have linkage back to the higher-level organizational goals and metrics. Use existing information systems when you can but you may need to measure manually when you are getting started. If so, keep your measurements SIMPLE. Otherwise, they won’t get done—or done honestly.
8. Experiment Before You Implement
Insist on experimentation. Establish a ground rule that no “solution” gets implemented that hasn’t been tested to confirm that it will address the problem for which it was identified.
9. Don’t Be Afraid to Take It Outside
Some of the most critical value stream redesign involves working across functions and across organizations. Indeed, here’s where value stream mapping comes into its own. Many organizations jump from a current state map to point kaizen improvement. However, value stream mapping of cross functional and cross organizational value streams with all key stakeholders represented to reach agreement on the key problems that need to be solved and reach consensus on a future state vision (in the form of a map) that eliminates or addresses those problems turns value stream mapping into a powerful tool for SYSTEM LEVEL problem solving.
10. Make It Fun! (Or at Least Not Painful)
I’ve already alluded to the importance of engaging people in improvement activities that are personally meaningful to them. However, we’ve seen many of our client organizations get downright creative when it comes to engaging staff members in socialization of maps and improvement plans and involving them in rapid learning experiments. Such efforts include rolling out updates at shift-change spaghetti suppers or casino nights, using special themes (often involving sports) for obeya boards and board meetings, including pictures of employees involved in the work and providing recognitions for people who have going above and beyond in the improvement efforts. My all time favorite is still a board series with a movie theme for a general radiology work flow—“Playing Now” for the improvement effort underway, “Coming Attractions” for scheduled work flows to be improved, “Critic’s Corner” for staff member comments re experiments and problems.
In summary, value stream maps can tell a story and tell it effectively. But a well planned and executed value stream mapping exercise with the right people engaged and appropriate follow up can change that story in ways that make a real difference for the long haul—in value stream performance and teamwork.
Learning to See Using Value Stream Mapping
A go-at-your-own-pace, web-based workshop faithfully based on the innovative content in the landmark Learning to See workbook that introduced value-stream mapping to the world.