As DevOps, systems thinking and continuous improvement become more common knowledge, more and more people are looking beyond those foundations to how they can be best applied. 

Wardley Mapping - How would commoditization or genesis affect your value stream?
Wardley Mapping - How would commoditization or genesis affect your value stream?

More and more, I see people wondering what Value Stream Mapping and Value Streams are, and it can be challenging to describe to people what it is without risking confusion, considering it comes from manufacturing physical goods, is now many decades old, and can be easily mistaken for other tools and techniques.

So when I started writing about what a Value Stream Map (VSM) is, I quickly found myself sliding into describing what it's not. Here's a quick summary to illustrate the key differences:

Tool/TechniqueValue Stream Mapping Difference
Road MapA VSM can either illustrate a current state (how things are right now), a future state (how things will/should look) or an ideal state (how things could look). A roadmap focuses on future state, but ignores all the measurement and detail available in a VSM, so it is rarely trusted as a valuable asset, and many times it's ignored as being disconnected from reality or any connection to the current state of process or capability.
Gantt ChartA VSM is focused on improving iterative, repeated processes, rather than illustrating a 1-off plan for the future. By building and analyzing a VSM, you're aiming to realize many repeated benefits over time (saving 3 weeks every month, or 8 hours a week) instead of planning towards a large-scale delivered project. A VSM is more product-oriented than project-oriented.
Flow Chart / Process Map / SIPOC / KPIV/KPOV / SwimlaneA VSM is data-centric. It includes measurement of timing, quality, staff and more to reveal insights about the real performance of the process and workflow being represented.
Fishbone / Ishikawa DiagramA VSM does illustrate factors contributing to a specific outcome (value delivery) though its purpose isn't to simply list all the contributing factors and how they connect. The measurement aspect of a VSM is more actionable and the form is focused on repeated value delivery, not a single occurrence. A VSM usually looks at current and future, where as a fishbone typically focuses the past.
Value ChainA value stream focuses primarily on distinct areas of an organization that add value to a product or service, whereas a value chain refers to a complete representation of all of the activities within a company.
Value Stream ManagementA VSM is focused on accuracy and immediate improvement. A map represents a point-in-time representation of current or future state. It doesn't require any setup or configuration, and captures the most important parts of a value stream: the manual steps. If you're going to improve a value stream, starting with the parts that are already automated is missing the biggest opportunity. Combining VSM with value stream management software can be extremely valuable in continuous improvement efforts, but a VSM is the best starting point, and more accessible to most stakeholders.
Wardley MappingA VSM is both tactically and strategically valuable (vs the strategic focus of a Wardley [Value Chain] Map). It includes real-world measurement and a representation of actual workflow, so it helps make decisions for improvement immediately, as well as providing data to support future state definition.

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The short answer to summarize it all, is that a VSM provides data, most others don't. If you've ever tried to improve something, make a decision confidently, or make a compelling argument, you know how important data can be to supporting those efforts.