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12 Common Errors or Lessons Learned with Value Stream Mapping – Part 1

September 1, 2011


Through my experience over the years I have seen many things go awry when creating Value Stream Maps. Here is a condensed list of twelve of the most common problems that I have seen. The point here is not to repeat these same mistakes, but to learn from them. I will present the first six in this post and the rest in a later update.

1. Not determining the process families incorrectly or at all

Basically, companies want to skip this step because they are not sure how to do it, they think their processes are overly simple when they are not, or they think it is too hard to do. Do not skip this step! If you do, you may be setting yourself up for failure by trying to bite off more than you can chew. When you complete this step, you’ll also have completed the first step of creating a work cell (for manufacturing or office). Even if you are doing a process level VSM I highly recommend performing this step. While mapping complaints in a customer service department we discovered that there were six different types or streams through the work area. Don’t assume you already know all your value streams.

2. Not having a Value Stream Manager or the Value Steam Manager doesn’t do his or her job

If you do not appoint the appropriate person to be the value stream manager, the maps and plans may languish in the ether. As Will Rogers once said “Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.” I’ve seen organizations trying to apply the concept of a Value Stream Manager without really putting the appropriate amount of thought behind the concept. For example, a VS Manager needs to work across multiple departments without having direct authority over those areas. To answer this issue, I’ve witness a Vice President of Operations take on the role of VS Manager. When I asked him if he actually had time to take on this role, he added he did not. On the other extreme, I’ve seen a company that took the newly hired young engineer and put him in the role of VS Manager. He lacked the experience and knowledge of the organization to be effective in this role.

3. The map is created by a team of one

Having one person create the map means you only used one brain and two hands. The information gathered may be biased or even worse – incorrect. We are trying to make decisions for what is best for the entire value stream and that is hard to do with only one person. Make sure you use a good cross-functional team to walk the flow, gather the information and then draw the map.

4. Not considering things that might not typically show up on the map like change management, training, communication, team building, 5S, etc.

Even though the maps will give us great information and insights for improvement, they typically do not have other enterprise-wide initiatives that an organization should undertake during its Lean journey such as 5S workplace organization and standardization. What I am trying to say is that a company needs to have 5S everywhere and value stream maps may only show an area or process that needs 5S, not the entire facility. Also, other important functions like communication or good change management do not usually show up as an action item on a value stream map but are extremely important while implementing Lean.

5. Trying to jump to a higher level building block of Lean (i.e., Cells, TPM, or Kanban, etc.) before the basic building blocks are in place.

An example of this is trying to create a manufacturing cell when basic concepts such as 5S, Standard Work or teamwork are not even present in an organization. Now, I’m not saying that you can’t jump to a more complex tool right away, I am saying, in my experience, that you will have a higher probability for success and get better results if you have the basic concepts already started. This also goes for Lean concepts like Pull Systems and kanban, Total Productive Maintenance or Just-in-time (JIT).

I mentioned the concept of starting with the basics during a 5S event at a company before trying to do more complex things like kanban. During a break an engineer Nikki came up to me and she said “Tony, we already have kanban.”  I asked how it was going. She said “Not so good.” After our discussion we discover that it was obvious that they had not developed the discipline with the value-adders to pull the kanban cards and place them in the correct spot. I mentioned to her that a good 5S program, visual controls and Standard Work helps sets the stage for the discipline needed to have a successful kanban card system.

6. Not updating the map

One of my favorite questions received while presenting during a conference was “How often should we be updating our maps?” I replied “Basically, whenever there is a change, probably once a week or at least once a month.” There was a long pause and then the person said “I guess we are a little behind.” I asked “When was the last time you updated your map?” He said “Two years ago.” There was a big roar of laughter from the crowd. Obviously we need to keep the maps updated. For one reason it is easy to do if you use paper and pencil and also remember that we use these maps to communicate. If you don’t show your progress, you are not communicating effectively.

Have you run into these issues before? What did you do to correct them? Let me know your thoughts.

Thanks – Tony

P.S. At 5S Supply this month we are highlighting Value Stream Mapping. Join us for a Free Webinar – Introduction to Value Stream Mapping, September 29, 2011

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