Value Stream Mapping: Find Out How The Sausage is Made So You Can Make it Better, Cheaper, Faster

By Abigail Rosenson


We know what you’re thinking: Is value stream mapping worth the cost? Can we really afford to hire a team of consultants and take employees out of their normal positions for two days? Do we really want to know how the sausage is being made?

The short answer is “absolutely.”

Value stream mapping (VSM) not only defines your organizational processes as they are actually carried out, but also highlights operational efficiency in terms of direct time spent working on a process. As an exec, you may be completely satisfied with your organization's outputs, whether it's top-notch customer service or the most high-tech running shoes on the market. But there is always room for improving business processes and minimizing costs. Time spent on tasks that do not contribute to the end goal (or to the wellbeing of the business) is considered waste. Whether that waste manifests itself as excessive wait time, unnecessary steps, frequent re-work, underutilized human capital, or something else entirely, the final result is the same: Your organization is spending money that doesn’t need to be spent.

Most leaders expect occasional waste within their organizations, but overlooking inherently inefficient processes equates to sending a constant stream of cash out the door. Even the smallest inefficiencies add up with time, and the numbers can be shocking.

The difficult truth is that even the most informed leaders overlook this kind of waste on a regular basis.

Leaders who are aware of organizational inefficiencies are hard-pressed to accurately pinpoint their sources. Addressing these discrepancies at an executive level is typically ineffective because many processes occur very differently in theory than in practice. Value stream mapping must be done in a detailed and comprehensive manner in order to maximize ROI.

Without input from those closest to the process (i.e. on-the-ground employees who are personally involved in each step), process analysis is limited to conjecture and is often incomplete and inaccurate. Furthermore, if analysis is rushed, disorganized, or subjective, the time spent unearthing extraneous information becomes yet another source of waste.

Realistically, bringing in an experienced and objective team to facilitate a value stream mapping session can be the most cost-effective way to ensure that your organization uses its financial resources as efficiently as possible. The initial investment of time and money truly pales in comparison to the cost of letting inefficiencies go unnoticed. As an added bonus, this exercise can also help to improve employee effectiveness. Ultimately, value stream mapping not only pinpoints these inefficiencies, but also allows your organization to reallocate the savings towards other top priorities.

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BBQ Sausage by Christopher Craig CC-BY