In the manufacturing world, “lean” principles reduce inventory and work in process, improve quality, boost productivity, and ultimately lower costs. Lean originated in Japan decades ago and has been readily embraced in manufacturing sectors around the world, especially the automotive industry.
With increasing global competitiveness, lean principles have never been more important for making U.S. companies competitive. One of the most simple, yet effective, lean tools is value stream mapping. It can be implemented within days and can reap impressive results in a short period of time.
The purpose of value stream mapping is to take waste out of a manufacturing process and make it as lean and efficient as possible.
The “value stream” identifies all the actions that take a product through a manufacturing process, from obtaining raw materials to delivering the final product.
The first step is to draw—on a single piece of paper—a detailed picture of all the parts of the operation to produce a "current state map" (the situation as it exists today). The entire manufacturing process is mapped out, including cycle times, down times, in-process inventory, material moves, and information flow paths.
Once the value stream is identified, steps are taken to optimize the manufacturing process. This results in the creation of a “future state map” that eliminates waste and utilizes time, talent, and equipment more efficiently.
The third and final step is implementing the process improvements, which leads to reduction of work in progress and production lead times, fewer defects, and faster responses to change requests. Results are often immediate and dramatic, adding value to your products and services that help set you apart from the competition.
Value stream mapping is a low-tech, pencil-and-paper tool that enhances communication, business planning, and overall management. It's not just for the manufacturing shop floor, either—it can be applied to any industry, across a wide range of departments.
Lean is all about eliminating waste, or the non-value-added components in any process. A process is a process, whether it’s in a factory or a professional office building. And usually every process has some element of waste.
Value stream mapping identifies all the actions that take a product through any process—that process can be in production, procurement, facilities management, HR, administration, delivery, customer service, vehicle maintenance—you name it.
It is important that value stream mapping is embraced at all levels of the company. Management must demonstrate that every employee is encouraged to contribute to productivity by facilitating positive change. This allows employees to have more “ownership” of the company, which also results in a better understanding of the entire business operation for everyone involved.
Value stream mapping is just the first step of an on-going lean experience. Lean never ends—ideally it becomes part of the corporate culture, a process, a way of thinking. Most lean consultants agree that a process is not really lean until it has gone through at least seven periods of value-stream mapping.
Any time is a good time to start to get lean. Value stream mapping is easy to understand and implement. It relies on basic, common-sense, low-tech ideas. It is also relatively low cost—depending on your budget, out-of-pocket expenses can be as little as $200 for a few books, or tens of thousands of dollars per year for consultants, training, and related improvements.
To learn more about lean, visit the Lean Enterprise Institute at www.lean.org.