I've always been a visual person, and used flow charts, swim lane diagrams and every other technique to analyze and share information. It's easy to look at a typical diagram and dismiss it as overly simplistic, idealistic or inaccurate. I'd also use spreadsheets, forms and tables to collect data about performance. It's easy to get lost in numbers out of context.
When I discovered Value Stream Mapping (VSM) as combination of the best of both, I dramatically transformed the results I could achieve. A VSM layers data on top of an illustration of flow that instantly clicks for people whether they're inside an organization or a customer. The key to that 'click' is eliminating all the noise and confusion of a typical VSM.
Typical vs modern Value Stream Mapping
A modern value stream map is different from most VSM representations in that anyone can understand it easily, and it focuses on modern, digital workflows.
Most VSM representations look like:
Most of that detail and complexity adds little (if any) value, and since we're not concerned with physical steps, we can focus on the parts delivering maximum value, like this:
Instead of just representing, the value stream map can focus on revealing actionable insights, and that's where the real power of a VSM comes from. One of the most valuable parts of a minimal VSM is that it doesn't take a massive time investment from the team involved (especially if it's facilitated professionally). It's hard to convince a team that you're focused on eliminating waste and improving flow when the team has to stop what they're doing for a week!
Steps and Timing
At its most essential, the raw ingredients of a VSM, steps and timing, are the most powerful focal points, so they should be front and center in all of your representations. With those simple components, you can represent almost any critical KPI affecting your business or customers. Taking common performance metrics as an example (like DORA's 4 Key Metrics), we can clearly see where in a value stream each metric typically lies and communicate it quickly:
Value Stream Mapping is just beginning to appear as a core practice in digital, agile, and DevOps transformations. Although it's not a silver bullet, it should be a regular practice if you're focused on true continuous improvement.
If you're interested in hearing about my other favourite technique, Capability Mapping, make sure you sign up to get notified when I post!