Some Thoughts on Future State Value Stream Mapping

To paraphrase a military expression “The most dangerous thing in a combat zone is an officer with a map” in Lean manufacturing terms: “The most dangerous thing on the shop floor is a manager with a value steam map.”
I have nothing against value stream maps. In fact we offer a 1-day value stream mapping training class. Value stream maps are a great way for a cross functional team to make the overall process flow from customer request to fulfillment and collection payment all visible on one sheet of paper.
The effect of upstream and downstream processes on quality, cost and delivery can be identified and with a little training in Lean manufacturing fundamentals, you can identify the 7 wastes and greatest opportunities for kaizen. Value stream maps are very versatile and with slight modification can be used in manufacturing, distribution, healthcare, or fianancial and administrative processes.
The problem with much of value stream mapping as it is taught today is that the current state map or “as is” is presented as a simplistic opportunity to apply Lean tools and select kaizen events. Long set ups? Apply SMED. And so on, to draw the future state based on the equation that current state map + Lean tools = future state map. If only it were that easy.
Too often this process of developing the future state and the implementation happens quickly and in a meeting room away from the gemba. The future state map presented to management looks like a short cut blasting through many endemic and systemic problems with powerful kaizen dynamite.
It is an easy way out from the hard work of actually going to the gemba day after day and gaining a deep understanding of the issues in business and how things got to be that way. To quote another military expression, “The problem with the easy way out is that it’s already been mined.”
Toyota did not become as successful as they are by implementing what we now call the Lean manufacturing tools. Those were the result of a pervasive culture of problem solving based on the genchi gembutsu philosophy of going to the actual place (gemba) to observe the actual products and equipment (gembutsu) and get the actual facts (genjitsu).
Effective future state value stream mapping requires not only a thorough understanding of how various Lean tools enable strong cash flow and profitability, but also a heavy dose of returning to the gemba with the value stream map in hand to ask the people who work on the front lines every day what are the problems they face each and every day.
The future state map drawn on A3 sized paper is portable. The future state value stream map should be circulated as widely as possible in the company. Ideally from CEO to janitor, with the questions “how does this affect you” and “how do you affect this”.
It may seem like getting this wider input would take longer but it is this type of consensus-based decision making and problem solving that has made Toyota successful. There’s nothing like a well thought out and pre-approved implementation plan to make major changes rapidly.


  1. Lee Massey

    July 13, 2006 - 5:21 am

    After creating a value stream map, I was wondering whether their is a benchmark or recommended method to simply detail the effectiveness of the process. We are using velocity calculated as process VA time / Total time (NVA + VA) as a %. Some of our calculations come out as very small %, less than zero showing the in-effectiveness. Others are approx 10% and our future state shows 20% target. Have you come across this before?

  2. Joe Jud (Gemba)

    August 24, 2006 - 1:07 pm

    VA % is only one of the many possible metrics that should evolve from your current state. Typically 5% is deemed world class. In most every case I come across where someone reports greater than 5%, they are not getting the total value stream (perhaps failing to include RM or FG inventory as NVA). Quite often I come across VA % under 1%, even .01% at times. Don’t let this be the only indicator of progress in your value stream, measurement of lead time, first pass yield & WIP levels are some of the others you should be interested in.

  3. Daryl

    November 28, 2007 - 7:37 am

    Who deemed 5% as world class? 5% is such a small amount and I consider VSM to be far too subjective without World Class guidelines. How would you assess current processes on a par with world class standards?

  4. Jon Miller

    November 28, 2007 - 8:09 am

    That is a good point Daryl. I am not sure who. Perhaps the people who popularized Material & Information Flow diagramming as VSM.
    VSM is not really a world class benchmarking tool, but a way to visualize the material and information flow in such a way that you can build consensus on the condition of badness and what to do about it.
    If a process is on par with world class levels, I would assess it against the “ideal” and not what the best in the world are doing today.