Plot your way to success with Value Stream Mapping

  • Monday, May 23, 2022
  • Posted By The Growth Company

If you want to realise improvements in your competitiveness, you first need to understand exactly how your process works in reality, not just how you think it works. That’s where Value Stream Mapping (VSM) comes in – and the Lancashire Manufacturing Growth Fund can help, explains Manufacturing Advisor, Steve Wilkinson.

When trying to improve a process, every business will inevitably face the following questions:

  • Who should we involve, and how do we engage them all?
  • How do we ensure everyone appreciates and understands a) what’s actually going on in the process; b) what the bigger picture is; and c) what possibilities exist for positive change?

The most universal way of communicating ideas is visually. Pictures and graphical representations can be quickly and easily interpreted by most individuals at all levels of the business.

So how do you best visualise a process? Map it out!

Basic process mapping

Mapping of whatever sort is a great starting point for any improvement project. It will ensure everyone around the table has a common understanding of the process you’re trying to improve and make it easier to identify any issues or opportunities.

You’ll need a good cross-section of individuals from across the business to map a process from end to end. Generally speaking, this could include the process owner on the shop floor, the production manager, the salesperson responsible for the relevant account, the procurement or supply chain manager, and any relevant senior managers.

A basic process mapping exercise can be as simple as plotting out ‘step 1 > step 2 > step 3’ on post-it notes, but some of the more detailed approaches can be found on the link below.

Approaches to process mapping

Always start by mapping ‘the now’ before trying to map what the future should look like. It’s surprising how enlightening this can be. Provided everyone is engaged in an honest and non-judgemental way (more on that later), it will always throw up some disturbing truths about how things really happen in reality.

The next level: Value Stream Mapping

Basic process mapping is a useful and valid tool, but it has its limitations. Value Stream Mapping (VSM) takes process mapping to the next level.

Essentially, VSM enhances your map with key metrics like timings, volumes and yields at each stage in the process, as well as the supply chain and, crucially, the customer. When you add this information, it quickly brings to light issues that might otherwise be difficult to identify and starkly pinpoints areas for improvement.

VSM is perfect for putting everything into context and showing the big picture, especially for those who aren’t comfortable looking at abstract data in tables. It’s a complete visual consolidation of what and how you are doing today – a vital prerequisite for working out what and how to improve tomorrow.

Value Stream Mapping in more detail

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Value Stream Mapping and Lean

VSM can be used to great effect as a forerunner to any kind of lean initiative in your business. What it does is reveal, in a visual format, the waste (non-value-added activity) hidden in your process.

The results can be alarming. You might find that the actual value-added activity needed to produce your product is just 15 minutes, but the lead time you’re experiencing is closer to two weeks. Where is all that time being spent? Why is a half-finished component hanging around at step 3 for 2 days? Why is there such a big bottleneck at step 5? These are questions that might never be asked without a good VSM exercise.

Honesty is the best policy

When you have the right people together in one room, each with a unique knowledge of their process, what VSM will doubtless flush out is that what management think is happening, is not what’s actually happening.

However, if the environment doesn’t allow for total honesty, you aren’t going to get the best out of the exercise. Everyone should feel empowered to be open and truthful, without being judged.

The truth hurts

Beware: VSM can be an exhausting process. Prepare to come away from your first session a bit deflated, because what you end up with is a room full of people with a different understanding of how things work.

Expect a few ‘head in hands’ moments at the start as long-standing shortfalls in the process are exposed. But remember; every shortfall exposed is an opportunity for improvement. And if your map seems too good to be true, it probably is – so compare the mapped theory with the physical reality to validate your findings.

Mapping the future

Once you’ve mapped ‘the now’, you can begin to plan how your process can be improved. This should be explored with all members of the group in a methodical and encouraging way; not discounting any ideas (even the most radical suggestions can sometimes end up being real nuggets!).

The original Value Stream Map will act as a useful barometer of progress, allowing you to come back and check how things have improved over time. That in itself is a powerful tool and an excellent opportunity for a welcome back-patting exercise.

How we can help

VSM is often best conducted with an ‘outsider’ – someone who broadly understands what’s going on, but can approach the whole exercise from a fresh perspective that isn’t entrenched in what can often be years of doing something the same way.

That’s where the Lancashire Manufacturing Growth Fund can help. We offer Lancashire-based SME manufacturers grants of up to £8,999 towards the cost of bringing in specialist expertise for eligible projects. This may include funding a skilled consultant to undertake a full VSM exercise and any subsequent action planning and lean implementations.

So, if you think your process could be improved but you’re not sure how or where to start, get in touch today.

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