The value of lean operations and processes is demonstrated with hundreds of thousands of case studies, books, papers, etc. However, not all managers understand this or believe in it. The origin of lean operations in the industrial arena and manufacturing might be the cause of the disbelief of some professionals in its value as they do not understand how a concept born and matured in a different field than theirs can benefit their businesses. Thanks to Eric Ries and his book ‘Lean Startup’ lean concepts and methodologies started to get noticed.
One of the essential and valuable tools we always use in Corporita to lean-up our clients’ operations is value-stream mapping. This mapping process starts with outlining the life-cycle of the product or service as is, and then work the flow to create the new lean value stream.
Such a simple yet powerful tool enabled our team to assess the value of each step and stage in the life-cycle and adjust the whole process to always maximize the value by eliminating unnecessary costs.
While there are fancy tools in the market, you do not need to invest tonnes of money in one of them. All you need is a pencil and a paper. Start by drawing blocks that represent the steps and activities you and your team have to perform. List all value-adding and non-value-adding activities as the aim in this stage is to document the process as is.
Once you have all the blocks laid down on paper, you will be able to see the big picture. Consider this simple map a blueprint that you can use to identify waste, bottlenecks and other non-value-adding activities that depilate your precious resources.
Spend your time trying to understand the current state. You can use icons as visual clues representing different activities or stages in your value stream. The symbols we always use are icons representing your resources (manpower, money, or materials), arrows to describe the flow of resources and information, and icons representing delays, redundant work or re-work.
This simple technique could be applied to any business, process, product, or service. Even if you are a freelancer or a micro-business owner, you still can apply value-stream mapping technique to your business.
Now, look at your map with the external observer’s eyes. Follow the flow of resources and information and critically think of each activity and categorize it into value-adding or not value-adding. You can divide steps and actions into smaller units to get a better understanding of the activity. You might find non-value-adding sub-steps or sub-activities in value-adding activities.
You also need to identify waste. Start with the easy waste such as waiting and re-work. Waiting detects inefficiency in the flow or a loose loop in the whole cycle, and re-work or re-production indicate flaws in the core production process and poor work methods.
Once you finalize mapping and analyzing the as-is lifecycle, it will be easy to develop the to-be or the future state map. Eliminating the non-value-adding activities and sub-activities requires setting some standard procedures, new or revised work methods, implementing new tools or technology. Removing non-value-adding activities will reduce your product or service’s lifecycle and enable you to serve more clients. It will also save wasted resources and costs.
Along with the future-state map, your action plan will help you and your team to transition to the desired state.
However, your perfect mapping and planning will fall short if you or your team do not have the right mindset. Change is difficult, and we all resist it. Use your maps to communicate with any person that will be affected by the new process. Show the difference between the as-is map and the to-be map and itemize the expected savings in time, money and effort.
We consider value-stream mapping, not only a tool to detect waste, but in many cases, we used it in business planning, quality control, and financial management.