Value Stream Mapping – When to Use (And When Not To)

A key element of successfully solving problems is in selecting the right tools.  Value Stream Mapping (or VSM) is often used to help to understand “current state” and build an overview of the processes involved.  It is most commonly applied at the start of improvement initiatives (and can be built upon as the programme progresses). 

VSM In Practice

As part of a recent improvement programme in a white goods manufacturer in Lagos Nigeria, we successfully applied the VSM technique (pictured above).  In most scenarios, it is beneficial to keep it simple.  Don’t overcomplicate the process map by trying to add too much complexity too soon.  The Three Golden Rules below can be used as a basic guide:

1. Get the right people in the room

Every stage of the process being mapped must be represented by a subject matter expert.

Around five to eight team members is often ideal.

2. Clarify the scope of the process to be mapped

  • Where does it start? 
  • Where does it end? 
  • What are the current targets and outputs?

3. Go and See!

There is often the temptation to stay in the room and build the map.  However, what happens in real life can significantly differ from our perception.  It is often beneficial to go and see the process in question to aid understanding. 

In the example above, we combined the VSM with a “Waste Walk” of the process being mapped to help identify issues and constraints in live production.

When Not to Use VSM

A comprehensive understanding of current state is essential to successful improvement initiatives.  Whilst VSM is one of the most commonly utilised tools to this effect, especially in early stages, other methods can be used to suit different scenarios.  For example, in more localised issues, we may already have sufficient data to move forward.  Tools to aid understanding are abundant (e.g. Pareto Analysis, 5 WHY, Fishbone Diagrams).  Select the right tool to fit the desired outcome.

Some Leaders (or even Consultants) may be keen to see a process map, however it’s always beneficial to ask the question:

“Will a VSM show me anything of merit specific to this issue that I don’t know already?”


VSM is a useful tool to help build our understanding of a process, however it does not need to be the default tool.  It is always beneficial to consider the reasons for applying it.  We may already have the information we need to sufficiently understand the problem, or indeed other tools may prove to be more suitable.

We specialise in the implementation and the training and coaching of people involved in Transformational Change.

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Dermot Kelly, Senior Consultant, NewLeaf International Ltd