What is a value stream?

A value stream represents all of the activities, from start to finish, that take place in the production process. Value stream mapping, mapping the flow of goods from the supplier all the way to the customer and detailing all the steps involved in the work process is a popular tool in Lean manufacturing. Breaking down each process will allow you to evaluate which activities add value to the end product and which ones don’t. You’ll be able to see where waste occurs in the manufacturing process, bottlenecks, and where work flow is interrupted.

Value streams begin with what triggers the flow of value, such as a customer order or request, and ends with the delivery of value, i.e. a shipment or purchase. All activities in between those two points are a part of the value stream map, including the people involved, systems operated, the flow of materials, and the flow of information. It is important to understand which job tasks are considered value added and non-value added. For instance, product inspection is not something that directly adds value to the product itself, but customers would not be satisfied with a defective product. Therefore, quality inspections are a value-added activity.

In addition to the flow of work, you should include contextual information like cycle time, changeover time, number of operators, batch size, etc. to the value stream map. The goal of creating and documenting the value streams in your facility is to clearly show you where waste is happening and areas in need of improvement. Some common issues that revealed with a value stream map are areas of excess inventory, long wait times, low uptime, and poor quality assurance.

Depending on how you want to complete a value stream map, you may consider holding a Kaizen event or at the very least gather a team of employees from different departments and roles. Following the VSM process, you will want to develop a plan of action for the future while setting goals by creating a future VSM, a value stream map that shows the ideal state of your process.


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