Learning to Apply Value Stream Mapping as a Beginner

Learning to Apply Value Stream Mapping as a Beginner

7 mins readComment
Syed Aquib Ur
Syed Aquib Ur Rahman
Assistant Manager
Updated on Mar 14, 2024 16:37 IST

If you are planning to brush up or move ahead in the world of operations and quality management, learn about value stream mapping. Even if you are completely new to the subject, we have covered the best resources to get you started in your learning path.


As you advance in Six Sigma belts, concepts such as Value Stream Mapping are quite often necessary. This is a lean way of thinking when it comes to process improvement. Let’s get a basic idea on what VSM is today. 

What is Value Stream Mapping?

Value stream mapping (VSM) is a flowchart of visualising all the current processes required to develop and deliver a product or service to the customer. Derived from lean manufacturing principles, the purpose of VSM is to help identify and eliminate waste, and improve processes continuously. 

The diagramming of this value stream map shows information and material flows. It describes the current state of inputs and outputs. By looking at the current bottlenecks the business can draw on the future plan. This Lean tool can then help streamline operations and, ultimately, offer products that make customers satisfied to keep returning. 

Understanding a Value Stream Map: Components and Diagram

Go through these terms first. 

  • Entities for Supplier and Customer: These represent external parties involved in the process.
  • Production Control Box: It manages orders and coordinates between Supplier and Customer.
  • Material Flows: It shows movement of materials through various processes.
  • Lead Time Ladder: This breaks down total lead time into segments for each process.
  • Legend: The legend provides additional information and metrics for interpretation.
  • Cycle Time: It is the time it takes to complete one cycle of a process or task.
  • Uptime: This is the duration during which a process or system is operational or available.
  • Shifts: These are scheduled periods of time during which workers are assigned to work.
  • Lead Time: This is defined by the total time taken from the initiation of a process to its completion, including waiting time.
  • Cycle Time Observed: This is the actual time taken to complete one cycle of a process, observed in real-world conditions.

Here is a basic explainer on a Value Stream Map. 

value stream map example wiki

Source: Wikipedia

This image illustrates a production process with material and information flows, along with a lead time ladder.

At the top, there are entities for the Supplier and Customer, with information flows represented by arrows. The Production control box receives a weekly order from the Supplier and sends a monthly order to the Customer.

In the middle section, the Material flows are depicted, showing four processes: Process A, Process B, Process C, and Shipping. These processes are connected by arrows, indicating the flow of materials. Each process has details such as cycle time (C/T), cycle time observed (C/O), uptime, shifts, and available seconds.

Below the material flows, there is a Lead time ladder that breaks down the total lead time of 14 days into smaller segments corresponding to the time required for each process, with the specified durations shown (e.g., 6 days for Process A, 4 days for Process B, 1 day for Process C, and 3 days for Shipping).

The legend at the bottom provides additional information, such as the total processing time of 585 seconds.

Top 5 Benefits of Value Stream Mapping

Some top advantages of VSM include the follwoing with some examples.  

1. Provides Comprehensive Insight 

VSM offers a complete visualisation of material and information flow across the process. 

As an example, a manufacturing company uses VSM to map out the production process of a product. The map would include everything, from the procurement of raw materials to the delivery of the finished goods to customers. 

This mapping helps them understand every step involved and how they connect to each other.

2. Identification of Bottlenecks 

VSM aids in pinpointing bottlenecks or areas where work flow is obstructed. 

For example, in a software development company, VSM could reveal that the testing phase is consistently delaying the release of new features due to inadequate resources. Identifying these bottlenecks allows organisations to prioritise improvements and enhance efficiency.

3. Reduction of Lead Times 

Value stream mapping also reduces lead times by streamlining processes and eliminating unnecessary steps that don't contribute value to the customer. 

Consider a retail company using VSM to analyse its supply chain. Challenges including excessive handling or inventory management can be significantly reduced when it comes to  the time it takes for products to reach the shelves. Ultimately benefiting customers with faster service.

4. Increased Productivity

Through visualising material and information flow, VSM helps teams to recognise inefficiencies and waste within the process. 

For instance, in an administrative department of a company, VSM might reveal redundant paperwork and unnecessary approval loops that slow down tasks. By streamlining these processes, productivity can be significantly enhanced.

5. Implementation of Lean Principles 

Value stream mapping aligns with Lean principles, such as just-in-time production and continuous flow. By identifying areas for enhancement, organisations can effectively implement Lean practices to refine their processes. 

For instance, a food production company might utilise VSM to identify opportunities for reducing inventory stockpiles and implementing a leaner production process. That reduces waste and maximises efficiency.

4 Steps in Value Stream Mapping: How to Create One

There are broadly four stages in VSM. 

You can find several software tools that help you diagram a VSM. Notable ones include Lucidchart and Jira. While you can find templates there and many online, here is how you can start doing on your own. 

1. Select a Product or Product Family 

Choose a specific product or a group of related products (a product family) to map out the process.

2. Create a Current State Map 

This map illustrates the existing process as it is currently being executed.

3. Develop of a Future State Map 

Here, the focus is on envisioning the ideal process with various improvement ideas incorporated. This future state map outlines what the process should ideally look like.

4. Develop an Action Plan 

Once the future state map is established, an action plan is devised to bring about the necessary changes to achieve the desired improvements. Implementation of this plan may take several months.

In intermediate level Six Sigma training for Yellow and Green Belts, Coursera’s Six Sigma Advanced Improve and Control Phases, expands on the DMAIC framework, these are the four stages of VSM explained. 

Learning More on VSM 

If you want to go in-depth, take the Value Stream Mapping Masterclass: Become a VSM Specialist course on Udemy. 

This course is offered by PMI member AIGPE™. By completing this course, you will gain expertise in creating current and future state Value Stream Maps, identifying waste, and implementing Lean Management principles. These skills are highly valued in various industries, particularly in service and manufacturing organisations.

You will become equipped to analyse complex business problems and develop effective solutions. By executing VSM projects effectively, you can contribute to reducing operational costs and improving overall efficiency.

Enrolling in this course also grants you access to a wealth of resources, including 60 downloadable materials and on-demand video training. These resources supplement your learning and provide valuable reference materials for future use.

Best is, there is no eligibility for this course. The course is designed for individuals with no prior process improvement background. 


How does VSM integrate with Lean and Six Sigma methodologies?

Value Stream Mapping is a core component of Lean management practices and complements Six Sigma methodologies by providing a visual means to identify and eliminate waste. It identifies both value-added and non-value-added activities and process variations. These are key areas where metrics are drawn in Lean and Six Sigma projects.

What are the key symbols used in a Value Stream Map, and what do they represent?

A Value Stream Map uses a variety of symbols to represent different elements of the process, such as rectangles for process steps, arrows for material and information flow, triangles for inventory, and more. Understanding these symbols is crucial for accurately interpreting and creating VSMs.

Can VSM be used in non-traditional sectors like healthcare or education?

Yes, VSM is not limited to manufacturing or service industries. It can be effectively applied in healthcare, education, and other non-traditional sectors to improve processes, enhance service delivery, and increase efficiency by identifying and eliminating waste.

What challenges might organizations face when implementing VSM, and how can they be overcome?

Organisations may encounter resistance to change, lack of understanding of VSM principles, or difficulties in identifying true value from the customer's perspective. Overcoming these challenges involves thorough training, engaging all stakeholders in the mapping process, and focusing on customer needs to guide improvement efforts

How often should a Value Stream Map be updated or revised?

A Value Stream Map should be reviewed and potentially revised whenever there are significant changes to the process, product, or service being mapped. Additionally, it's good practice to periodically review the VSM to ensure continuous improvement efforts are aligned with current state processes and customer requirements.

About the Author
Syed Aquib Ur Rahman
Assistant Manager

Aquib is a seasoned wordsmith, having penned countless blogs for Indian and international brands. These days, he's all about digital marketing and core management subjects - not to mention his unwavering commitment ... Read Full Bio