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Using Value Stream Mapping To Identify Lean Six Sigma Projects

One of the best ways to identify potential Lean Six Sigma projects is through Value Stream Mapping (VSM). VSM is a comprehensive end-to-end system analysis to identify waste at all levels of an organization so that it can be eliminated.

What is Value Stream Mapping?

This visual tool creates two maps (current state and future state) of the complete end-to-end flow of a product or service through the value stream. Comparing and contrasting these two maps helps to understand the course of materials and information, and uncover wasteful actions (or inactions) that reduce efficiency and waste money.

VSM takes into account everything related to the value stream, not just one or two processes. It starts at the beginning and works through to the end, charting a comprehensive path that includes every single direct and indirect influence. It makes waste and problem areas easy to spot by showing gaps between current and future states. It does not provide solutions, but rather provides information to identify and select appropriate Lean Six Sigma projects.

Is VSM different from standard Six Sigma Process Mapping?

Yes. VSM considers a much broader range of information and delves deeper into the details of both direct and indirect components of the value stream. Some practitioners describe VSM as looking at the “forest” of an entire system rather than just a specific “tree” or process within that system.

The following table offers a comparison between the key characteristics of Value Stream Mapping and Six Sigma Process Mapping.

Value Stream Mapping

  • End-to-end value stream system map
  • Two maps: current state and future state
  • Both maps identify and map direct components of value stream; examples might include raw materials, fabrication, assembly, shipping, etc.
  • Gaps between current and future state identify potential Six Sigma projects
  • Used to plan and prioritize application of resources

Six Sigma Process Mapping

  • Process specific map
  • Identify and map each step of the specific process
  • Identify and map steps that affect critical characteristics of the process end result; examples might include quality, cost, customer satisfaction, etc.
  • Part of the Define phase of core Six Sigma methodology – DMAIC
  • Identify problem step(s) prior to moving into the Measure phase of DMAIC

How does VSM help to identify Six Sigma Projects?

VSM is a very effective way to identify Six Sigma projects because it is a comprehensive end-to-end map of the entire value stream. It allows you to see all parts of the system, not just individual processes directly related to creation and delivery of a product or service. VSM uncovers waste and problems that otherwise would remain obscured because they exist in functions or areas that have a support role in the value stream, such as management systems, information systems, administration, etc.

One of the key reasons VSM is so effective is that it illuminates the flow of decision-making in the value stream as well as the actual flow of processes that produce the product or service. Many companies who use VSM find that a great deal of waste lies within the decision-making arena, and without VSM, these problems would likely continue unnoticed.

VSM Step #1 – Pick a Value Stream to Map

The first step is to pick a value stream to map. A manufacturing company might choose a value stream related to making a particular product or category of products, while a service-oriented company might choose a value stream related to a particular product line or family of services.

In either case, the value stream chosen for VSM does not necessarily have to be one which is struggling or has readily apparent problems. For example, Toyota has publicly stated its belief that VSM must be applied to a value stream at least seven separate times to maximize the stream and develop proficiency in VSM application.

VSM Step #2 – Map the Current State of the Value Stream

Once the value stream is selected, the next step is to map the current state of that value stream. This map goes into great detail and includes comprehensive information about all aspects of the value stream, including:

  • Direct components and processes
  • Support functions and peripheral components
  • End-to-end flow of materials
  • End-to-end flow of information

VSM Step #3 – Map the future state of the value stream

This step takes a future view, mapping the value stream to show its desired future state. It is a map of how the value stream should flow, including the same aspects of the current state map from the previous step. With both maps in hand (current and future) it is possible to see where gaps exist between what is and what should be so that those gaps can be addressed in the next step.

VSM Step #4 – Close the gap

With gaps and problems identified, potential changes can be considered and put into motion. Most VSM processes uncover far more gaps than it is possible to address all at once, so it is critical to evaluate the information and prioritize actions.

Some gaps are quite easy to fix with a minimum of time, energy and expense. For example, maybe a particular step in the manufacturing process requires a worker to walk 30 feet to pick up materials but those materials could easily be stored in a location that is only 10 feet away. The reduced distance makes the worker more efficient and is an easy fix.

Some gaps are more complex or have less obvious solutions, so they become candidates for a Six Sigma project. Having a list of candidate projects makes it much easier for an organization to allocate existing resources and plan for future requirements.

Step #1: Pick a Value Stream

  • Can be any value stream
  • Does not have to be struggling or obviously broken
  • Can be a value stream that has been previously mapped one or more times

Step #2: Map The Current State

  • Comprehensive information about current state
  • Direct components and processes
  • Support functions and peripheral components
  • End-to-end flow of materials
  • End-to-end flow of information

Step #3: Map The Future State

  • Comprehensive information about future state
  • Direct components and processes
  • Support functions and peripheral components
  • End-to-end flow of materials
  • End-to-end flow of information

Step #4: Close The Gap

  • Identify gaps between current state and future state
  • Consider potential changes
  • Categorize and prioritize “easy fixes” and “complex fixes”
  • Select and prioritize gaps for Six Sigma projects

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