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12 Common Errors or Lessons Learned with Value Stream Mapping – Part 2

September 6, 2011


Here’s Part 2 of my list of 12 common mistakes when Value Stream Mapping.

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. For Part 1 click here>> 12 Common Errors or Lessons Learned with Value Stream Mapping – Part 1

7. Not following the plan

This is a huge problem. We take all the time and trouble to create the plan and then we don’t even follow it. What a waste! There was a company that created their plan and decided to do other things that popped-up during the next six months. They stayed in their old mode of “fire fighting” instead of using the plan to improve the value stream. They even decided to redo the office (not on the plan) with new furniture instead of focusing on the more important projects from the plan.

On my first training VSM, we were asked to facilitate an event for a company on a specific process/product family. A year later they asked us to come in and facilitate another VSM event. When we asked what they did with the first VSM they created. Their response was “not much.” We declined the offer to work with a company that wasn’t serious about lean. On a side note, while driving by that company a few years later, they were gone; literally – the whole building was demolished.

8. Not using a proper VSM conventions and symbols (i.e., using “butcher paper”, flowcharts, etc. and calling them a value stream map)

Not a real Value Stream Map - sticky notes and 100 boxes

This is where I see people calling things value stream maps that are not drawn and performed in the correct methodology. They might be “value stream maps” in spirit, but they are not following the true Value Stream Mapping (material and information flow) techniques created by Toyota.

One of the most common things to see is people using the brown butcher paper down an entire wall of the room with different color-coded post-it notes for every single step in a process (sometimes there are hundreds of steps symbolized by a post-it note) and they call this their value stream map. Wow! That was a lot of work, now they have every step down to the nitty-gritty detail, but it is so over-whelming that they become paralyzed in trying to make any improvements. Follow the four step process and use high-tech tools like 11” x 17” (A3) paper, pencil and a BIG eraser.

My other issue is when consultants or trainers want to use post-it notes or software to create maps for their clients. I got sucked into this mode for a little while, but realized that I was causing more harm than good. When I discuss this with my consultant friends, they usually say it’s easier to train people this way. I ask “easier for whom?” It’s usually easier for the trainer, but it is not truly giving your participants the chance to learn VSM. Besides, if you think about the real nature of VSM being on an A3 piece of paper, it’s portable, you can have stand-up discussions with people regarding the VSM, and you can quickly and easily make changes with an eraser.

One more thing, stop putting red, yellow and green dots on process boxes that are non-value added (NVA), non-value added-but required and value added (VA). I’m not sure who invented this technique (they probably had good intentions), but I think this is one of the worst things you can do. When facilitating a team, it is hard enough to make sure you are getting buy-in and active participation. How would you like it if someone put a red dot on your process box that basically says you’re non-value added? I know it’s about the process and not the people, but you shouldn’t be turning people against the VSM process. I have found that the teams can easily identify what is VA vs. NVA, you don’t have to call it out for them.

9. Not having an expert lead the first few events

The reason I say this is because people read books on VSM or even attend a seminar or workshop on VSM and then all of a sudden there are experts in VSM. Most books and training have to use case studies to present the ideas of Value Stream Mapping. In most instances, these are overly-simplified processes. To be fair, I do this too during training or seminars because there is usually not enough time to do a whole, real map and these maps are hard to see when projected up using PowerPoint. Real maps are much more complex. For instance a case study may show a few process steps for the information flow and a few for the material flow, but in real life there may be many process boxes used to represent the value stream. A person that has drawn several maps can help determine for process families with the team, teach the team the correct way to draw the maps and in general facilitate a successful event. Since every value stream map is different, having a Value Stream Mapping Champion (subject matter expert) lead and teach value stream mapping to the others will produce superior results for now and for subsequent maps that the team creates on their own in the future.

10. Not communicating and posting maps in areas for employees to see

Question: “Where are your maps?” Wrong answer “In my desk drawer.” Correct answer “Posted on our Lean Communication Board.”

Don’t hide the maps. One of the key benefits of displaying your value stream maps on an A3 is to communicate what is going to happen at your organization over the next few months or year. Many people resist change because of the fear of the unknown. If you post the maps with the plan it will remove or reduce this fear. Also, it is a way to start discussions to get buy-in and ideas for improvement. Don’t hide your maps, be proud of them!

11. Relying on software to create maps – instead of learning to do it by hand first

There are some great software programs out there that will help you draw value stream maps and perform many data manipulations. In my opinion, learn to draw it by hand first. You’ll understand the system better. I don’t see any real value-added activity in software, but if you have to have it make sure you are using it for good reasons and not just to make your maps look prettier. Many of the calculations can be done on a spreadsheet without any fancy software manipulations. I had one company that insisted that their maps be done on software because they wanted to present them to their board. I thought that the board should be more impressed with what they did with the maps and plan then how they look.

12. Trying to collect too much data or not enough

I tend to fall towards the notion that we can gather the data during our walkthrough and if we collect more information than we think we need, that’s o.k. I would rather have extra information where the team can decide if it has an impact later versus having to send people back out to collect data. This might sound anti-lean, but it isn’t. This will make your task of creating the maps much easier. We don’t want to get into analysis paralysis. Just jot down a few quick notes and see if you need that information later.

I’m sure if I thought about it I could come up with more, but I think this is a good jumping off point. Please don’t repeat these same mistakes. Also, when you perform and use your Value Stream Maps think of waste (or muda). This may seem obvious to the lean practitioner, but I am thinking of a different kind of waste. I have seen too many times when people get enamored with their own bureaucracy or analysis when it comes to VSM, that they are just wasting valuable resources – especially time. I’m talking about the people who spend too much time making fancy graphs from the data that was collected, or the ones that want to get the data down to the one-hundredth decimal-point. Remember what you are trying to do here – eliminate waste, not create more!

Let me know you thoughts. – Tony

P.S. Sign up for our free webinar “Introduction to Value Stream Mapping” on Thursday, September 29, 2011.

P.P.S. For more resources for VSM, click here>> 5S Supply & Value Stream Mapping

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