Ask GembaLean Manufacturing

Where Did Value Stream Mapping Come From?

By Jon Miller Published on February 10th, 2009

MIF diagram Eng.PNG
Harish Jose asked about value stream mapping:

Is this “tool” used and abused by lean manufacturing practitioners? Why is this tool not explained in Ohno, Monden or Shingo’s books? Shingo does talk about the process and operations flow. The closest I have seen is process flow in Suzaki’s books.

Harish recently started a blog called Onward Solutions and wrote about this topic today, arguing that spaghetti charts can be used for material and information mapping as well. Both are great tools for visualizing the process flow, but there is an important difference in that the value steam map is 2-dimensional (info flow top-down, material flow side-to-side) while the spaghetti chart is 1-dimensional (side-to-side). If you are new to value stream mapping, Ron Pereira has a series of how-to articles on value stream mapping at the Lean Six Sigma Academy.
Where did value stream mapping come from?

John Shook and Mike Rother co-authored the book Learning to See, published by the Lean Enterprise Institute. They were pioneers in introducing material and information flow diagramming and how to develop lean thinking using that practice. This book made material and information flow widely accessible and applicable outside of Toyota for the first time. Value stream mapping is a flexible tool that let’s us put all of the information in one place in a way that is not possible with process mapping or other tools.
How long as value stream mapping been around?

My guess is that this is a relatively recent addition to the TPS toolbox. It probably did not make an appearance in the early books on TPS because it was not in use until about 20 years ago. The mapping of information flow in parallel to material flow may have become more useful as TPS expanded beyond the factory to cross multiple factories, suppliers and distribution centers. This required a more deliberate depiction of information flow between these locations. Or it could have been related to increased application of electronic information flow, requiring a way to show a wider variety of information flow methods than just the intuitive and visual kanban card signals. Another theory is that it was not formalized until Toyota began translating their system into English and needed to give the scribbles on material and information flow diagramming an official name.
What makes value stream mapping so special?

The interesting thing is that many of us got along just fine doing kaizen for years without value stream mapping. Mike Wroblewski is a seasoned lean and six sigma practitioner and sensei who says value stream maps are muda, while also recognizing the value in value stream mapping. Even at Toyota there was a time before material and information flow diagramming was widely used. So do we really need it?
Has the value stream map made continuous improvement easier or better?

That’s a question each of us has to answer. Like any tool it’s success lies in how we use it. Stakeholder maps are essential tools of change management but only as useful as what you do with the findings. Inventory maps show where cash is tied up as stock, but we still need to take actions to address the root causes rather than just push the triangles back up the supply chain. We should make use of every available improvement tool to the extent that it helps us see the situation, understand the situation and do something about the situation.

  1. Chet Marchwinski

    February 10, 2009 - 6:08 pm

    A little background on the Learning to See workbook might help –I joined the Lean Enterprise Institute about two years after the book introduced value-stream mapping in 1998. Co-author John Shook (with Mike Rother) has said and written that he was familiar with the tool during his 10+ years at Toyota. It was called “material and information flow mapping,” as noted, and was done almost as an afterthought among TPS practitioners to depict current and improved states of processes while developing implementation plans. (BTW, the symbol used for inventory was a tombstone, which, frankly, I think is more descriptive than the triangle symbol created for the workbook.)
    In the Introduction to the book, John and Mike note that at Toyota the tool never was used as a training method, nor was the term “value stream” used, however, the company put a lot of work into creating flow across processes. Mike came across mapping while studying Toyota’s methods at the University of Michigan and realized its potential to help people think horizontally — to implement lean systems instead of spot improvements or “kamikaze kaizens” as they were being called 10 years ago. But, I agree that maps become “corporate wallpaper” without future-state implementation plans that are regularly updated, revisited, and that assign responsibility.

  2. Harish

    February 11, 2009 - 4:02 am

    Hi Jon,
    Thank you for your insight. I learn from you everyday. Thank you for the history, Chet.
    I loved the original VSM you have on your posting. I noticed that it said Heijyunka and not heijunka. I am thinking it is the original Material and Information Flow Analysis chart. Am I correct, Jon?
    Thanks again,

  3. Harish

    February 11, 2009 - 5:21 am

    Hi Jon,
    I use spaghetti chart to include both information(electronic & hard copy) and material flow. I would like to stress that a value stream map looks neat no matter how bad the process is where as in spaghetti chart one can see instantly what is wrong. One more additional point with spaghetti chart is that it includes the layout, and helps in designing the future state. I do not argue that VSM is not useful. I have found spaghetti charts to be more useful in my personal experience. I have modified the spaghetti chart concept to include my needs.
    I do not see the value of having material and information flow perpendicular to each other when you said “value steam map is 2-dimensional (info flow top-down, material flow side-to-side)”. They either flow in same direction (traditional push flow), or in opposite direction (pull flow) or in no relation to one another (common in many production floors). Why is it useful to see the 2-D view when it may not be the actual scenario. I have read a pull flow can defined as a system where material and information flow in opposite directions (toward each other).

  4. Dwane Lay

    February 11, 2009 - 6:24 am

    Thanks for the information (and that includes you, Chet.)
    I’ve been part of numberous discussions on VSM in my organization. I’ve noticed it is one of the skillsets that seems to be lacking, and underused. The feeling many have is that the icon set is too poliferated and unfamiliar, and it drives people away.
    We’ve taken to approaching the task with basic process maps, but adding the data boxes where appropriate. It’s a good compromise that gets us the information we need, while making people more comfortable with the end result.

  5. ardeahsyah

    October 17, 2013 - 6:28 pm

    For me, Value Stream Map is just a simple tool to help you to visualize your operation flow. As a owner of the company, this tool is very effective in order for you to know the overall what happen to your operation flow (information + material flow) and asking yourself whether this is what you want? and what you actually want.

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