In product development a lot of people are working on the same data at the same time. And there are a lot of trade-offs in interfaces in the design work. When we don’t have those things synchronized, a lot of times we are working with unstable data. We start doing work and then we have to rework it as we’re going through. And that causes more time on the project. But frankly, it also causes more frustration on the team members. No one likes to do work and have to rework it again.
… product development value stream mapping has been a useful technique to help teams really see how they do their work and how their work fits together. And as they see how their work fits together, they also see opportunities to how they can improve their work …
So product development value stream mapping has been a useful technique to help teams really see how they do their work and how their work fits together. And as they see how their work fits together, they also see opportunities to how they can improve their work as well. It [VSM] was originally created by John Shook and Mike Rother, in their book Learning to See many years ago, and the goal, whether you’re creating a product, a service, a process, you’re really trying to create new value for your customers.
In that regard, the product development value stream map helps us visualize where that value is being created and also where we are being blocked from creating that value as a team and in our individual work.
So, the main components of product development value stream mapping, starting with the current state: Where are we today? What’s going on? And where are the challenges? The future state, where we want to be in the future by eliminating some of those wastes and pain points. And then, in order to get there, the most important part is having an action plan to moving from that current state to the future state.
The Current State Map
The current state map is the starting point of the product development value stream mapping process. Before we can make any improvements, we all need a common understanding of how we’re doing the work today. As we start seeing how the work is being done and we’re sharing and comparing, we start seeing how it all fits together. And as we start seeing it coming together, we start understanding where the value is created.
As we said, product development is a team sport. You will see that there are multiple swim lanes, on your value stream maps. Everybody needs to have a place to show their work. Each line represents a different person or a different group and how they are contributing value to the particular product or service that is being delivered and designed. As we look along the top, teams run to a timeline. We need to not only understand what the team is doing and what kind of work they’re doing, but when it’s happening.
Time is a very important element and we need to understand where that work is happening not in time. And usually you need a pretty big piece of paper or big wall as you can see behind me, because there’s a much larger timescale. In manufacturing, we use a stopwatch, in product development, we use a calendar in terms of measurements. So the timescale is dramatically different and the number of actors are very different.
We have process boxes, which are the squares. There are delay points as well, which are usually represented by triangles. And of course, we have connections between the different groups.
And I think in the product development value stream maps, you will see that there are a lot of interdependencies, and bringing those interdependencies out is really gonna be the way to help synchronize that work or see where it’s not being synchronized.
And the last part you will see are diamonds. Diamonds are very important aspects in product development because all the way through the project, there are critical events where we are bringing together knowledge, integrating work, and making decisions. And those diamonds are important places to see where that value is coming together.
The map you see here is from a company that designs and manufactures high precision equipment. In their current state, they were taking 27 months to bring a product to market. The project team designing their next generation product had the challenge to significantly reduce that time to meet their customers’ needs and to stay ahead of the competition. By visualizing their current state, the team was able to identify areas where they could improve the process and accelerate the time to market.
When you put together a current state map, another thing that happens is you start seeing the pain points. Here are some pain points, or wastes if you will, typically found when mapping the current state that stop teams from creating value. As we map, we also start understanding really where those pain points are hiding and how big they are and, most importantly, how they impact not just one person, but the overall team.
Product Development is not a one person show. In many ways, the entire enterprise is interconnected into creating that future value stream for the customer. So, we really have to have those different perspectives in order to understand what the current state is. And as we started getting those groups together, we also started getting, I think, a little more empathy on what each other needs. That empathy then allows us to be able to work together to try and find solutions and help each other work more effectively.
The Future State Map
The future state is really a vision of where we want to go with our product development system. It’s designed to try and bring out people’s talent and help them be able to create value in the most effective way possible. Coming back to the earlier example, the project team created their future state by incorporating some of the Lean Product & Process Development practices to address their pain points they identified in their current state. As a result, they were able to shorten their development time from 27 months down to 15 months.
The future state map is obviously going to be different for each organization. Each organization has different value creation, different customers, different challenges. So, when we talk about what is a good future state, that’s really in the eyes of yourselves, but that being said, in lean product and process development, we do have a few guiding principles to help you as you’re starting to go through that journey. The concepts at a very high level and principles are fairly straightforward, but putting them into practice sometimes is very challenging.
By going through the future state, we actually create a scenario where people see that vision of how they’re going to take those principles to attack the challenges and waste they have in their process. And quite frankly, make it real. Some challenges are going to arise. Some surprises are going to happen. And you want to make sure that you pivot obviously to adjust to those situations, but also keep true to your course. And that future state is a great anchoring point.
The Implementation Plan
As you’re creating your future state, it doesn’t answer all the questions. It gives you a direction. The implementation is where you test it out. We need to change the process toward the future state. There will be challenges along the road. You will need to do several learning cycles and run experiments. The future state in many ways is a hypothesis; it should be based on some reality and buy-in from the team. But it should be aggressive enough so that we really challenge ourselves on how we can improve to deliver that value to our customers.
The other thing is the future state is not a one and done. As you start moving forward, you will probably maybe see some opportunities to go to a future future state, and that’s okay too. But as a team, it’s really important that you have a good implementation plan that lines up and applied to the project that you’re working on.
… we’re designing the future product or service, and we’re improving the way we do that process at the same time. So in many ways you’re making improvements to the railroad as the train is going down the track.
That’s one of the things that’s a little unique in terms of implementation for us in product development, we’re designing the future product or service, and we’re improving the way we do that process at the same time. So, in many ways, you’re making improvements to the railroad as the train is going down the track. And that’s part of the improvement process, but it’s very, very important to have a good game plan because after you’ve created your future state, everybody’s going back to work. So we need to make sure that we’ve got actions to improve built into our project plans.
Product development value stream mapping is a universal technique. It can apply to pretty much any industry, whether it’s a product, whether it’s a service, hardware, software. I’ve seen it applied to everything from very simple processes to develop a squeegee, all the way up to an aircraft carrier, and anything in between.
My sincerest hope is that you can use this methodology to get your teams talking to each other, see how their work fits into the big picture, and get that mutual understanding of how it fits together–and see where we can help each other out to eliminate those pain points or waste that get our way every day, so that we can free up our people’s time to work on those really important elements of creating value, and addressing the challenges that we have within our organizations and society is at large.