8 Steps to Value Stream Mapping

Author: Paul Henriques in: Tutorials

8 Steps to Value Stream Mapping

April 10, 2023

Processes can get muddled. As time progresses and changes are made to other parts of your production cycle, you will find that you must review every step to ensure you are getting the most for your time.

But what should you change? Sometimes, what seems like a small change in one place can compound to actually add work in the later phases of production. The best way to create a clear view of your production line is with a business process map. There are many different process maps available, based on the amount of detail needed or the type of process being run. This post covers Value Stream Mapping, or VSM.

What is Value Stream Mapping?

VSM is a method to illustrate, analyze, and improve a process that delivers a product. Users familiar with Lean will know of VSM and how to use it to better understand the workflow of a process and how it delivers its end-product to its customer (A customer is not necessarily your customer that you sell a product to. It can also be the team in your shop that receives a part in process from a different team, i.e., and internal customer).

By using standardized symbols and flowcharts to show the various steps in the process and the flow of information, VSM clearly shows you where you are generating one or more of the 8 Lean wastes. And with this information in hand, you can analyze your process to understand where you can start removing some of that waste in a way that doesn’t negatively impact the customer deliverable.

While a hand-drawn value stream map was the most common way to display the information, there are apps and websites available that can build a digital version of the map. This makes the map easier to change and easier to share with other users.

Note that a VS map is not a complete process flowchart, but rather a map of one small part of the end product, be it a service, a product, or a transaction.

Reading a Value Stream Map

A value stream map contains 4 elements, 4 types of symbols, and 5 terms. These are:

  • Elements: Customers, Suppliers, Information Flow, Product Flow
  • Symbol Type: Material, Process, Information, General
  • Terminology: Time, Setup Time, Lead Time, Uptime, Takt Time

VSM Elements

These are the elements that make up the map:


Customers are the recipients of the product. This can be an internal team or an external customer. When creating the value stream map, this is the first item to enter. From here, you work back through the process.


Suppliers are the internal team or external vendor that supply the material for the process. You don’t have to include every supplier. For example, if you have a supply route for parts from Europe, you could add one “European Supply Route” on the value stream map.

Information Flow

The information flow shows you what data is reported and where. I.e., the information flow explains how the process is managed.

Product Flow

The product flow shows you what material is used and how it becomes a finished product for the customer. In other words, the product flow shows you how the product moves through the process.

VSM Symbols

The symbols should be a simplified way of showing the meaning of a step. For example, you could use a ship to denote overseas shipping, or a magnifying glass to indicate an inspection process. As mentioned before, the symbols can be broken down into 4 types of symbols: material, process, information, general. Common VSM symbols include:

VSM Terminology

Of the various terms used in a VS map, the following are the most common.

Time (C/T)

The frequency of parts produced.

Setup Time (S/T)

This is the time taken to prepare for a step. This can be the time to setup the machine or, in engineering, the amount of time it takes to understand the customer request.

Uptime (%)

This is the percentage of time in a day that a work center is in use. This can be both the work center work rate or the staff work time.

Lead time

This is the time it takes for a part to go through the entire process within the VS map.

Takt Time

Takt is a German word for the exact interval of time between steps or processes. It was first used in the 1930s as the interval at which aircraft manufacturing moved to the next production station. The purpose is to precisely match production with demand. In other words, Takt time is a calculation of the available production time divided by customer demand:

TAKT = Available Time per Day/ Customer Demand per Day

For example, if a shop is running 8 hours a day (480 minutes) and a customer needs 120 parts per day, then takt time is 4 minutes.

VSM Best Practices

Some of these items have been mentioned, and others you would likely start doing just by following common sense.

Kaizen Blitz/Burst

Assemble a team to investigate, build, and resolve the issue. The Kaizen Burst is a tool that will help you designate a team that focuses their time and energy on that specific problem and implements a solution. This team will run a blitz for 3 to 5 days to focus on resolving a specific issue within the VSM.  Used correctly, the Kaizen Burst will overcome barriers to reducing waste and creating a better process.


Start by walking around the process area and then go over it in greater detail. Start off at the customer side of the production and move backward through the process.

As mentioned above don’t rely on SME, and other, data. Instead, move through the production process with a notepad and stop-watch so you can record your own experience of the process as closely as possible. At least one member of the team must walk the entire stream. To do otherwise will leave you missing an essential perspective of the value stream.

Rough Draft

Begin by drawing the value stream map in pencil. Then, as you are documenting the process, you can make any required corrections. Once you are comfortable with your drawing, commit it to a value stream application to ensure you have a digital copy to better collaborate.

The Five Whys

Every answer to a why should be followed up by another question until you get to the root cause of an issue.

Completing a Value Stream Map

  1. The best way to complete a value stream map is to start at the end and work you way back. That is, draw the customer on the map and move upstream. Customer information should include:
  • Customer demand per day
  • Takt time required to meet customer demand
  1. Next, add the activities to the map and define their value. Activities can be divided up into: Adds values, necessary, and waste.
    To determine what type of activity it is, see if it:
  • Adds value – This is a step that is required to transform the raw material into the desired final product.
  • Necessary – Steps that don’t contribute to the final product but are required, like regulatory inspections.
  • Waste – Actions that take up time or resources but don’t contribute to the end-product. These should be eliminated.
  1. With the data complete, define your basic value stream.
  2. Add the process cycle and queue times that you recorded during your investigation. Be sure to separate the times between the added value, necessary, and waste.
  3. Enter the other relevant process data on the basic value stream, such as:
    • Process Cycle Time
    • Changeover Time
    • Pace/ TAKT Time / Rate
    • Defects/ Problems Per Day
    • First Pass Yield
    • Batch Size
    • Shifts
  4. Define the number of operators required at each step. This will help you visualize the labor capacity. In the above example, this is done with Smiley Faces.
  5. Define the value-add percentage (%VA). This is done by adding up all the added value data and dividing it by the total process cycle time, or:

    %VA = 100*(Total Added Value Time/ Total Process Cycle Time)

Analyzing the VSM

With the VS map complete you will have a visual interpretation of the process. This will allow you to quickly see where you have:

  • Bottlenecks / Constraints
  • Long Process Cycle Times
  • Poor Uptimes
  • Excessive Setup Times
  • Poor Quality / Rework

This data can help you Plan-Do-Check-Act on your processes with the goal of continuous improvement.

PDCA cycle

Now that we know what adds value, we can focus on what matters. This usually means that when you are improving systems, you can to first focus on the processes that will net you the greatest returns for the lowest inputs. Things to consider include targeting the processes with:

  • The highest number of customer returns
  • The largest number of produced units
  • The highest number of sales as a percentage of profit


With an hour of research and note-taking, you can map the value stream of any of your processes. This allows you to efficiently organize and improve your processes in a way that reduces waste and added costs. By targeting your high-value processes, you can ensure you see a faster return on your time spent.

With Value Stream Mapping, you can eliminate waste and add value. By focusing on what generates returns for you and creates value that the customer is willing to pay for.


  • Paul Henriques

    Paul Henriques is the current Manager for the Documentation and Training team at OnRamp Solutions Inc. Paul has over 15 years of experience in writing training material and documentation for various software companies. Having had to learn OnRamp ERP to better document it’s features and write training material; Paul is constantly stunned by the amount of thought that goes into each feature and the capabilities that are within the program, with features for all the various business units of a manufactory. Paul spends most of his free time keeping up to date on all the latest news and best practices for the manufacturing sector. Paul’s favorite manufacturing quote: “There is one rule for the industrialist and that is: Make the best quality of goods possible at the lowest cost possible, paying the highest wages possible.” – Henry Ford

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