You might be wondering how we get from a diagram showing steps and timing, to actually making a decision on what to do next. It's not always crystal clear, and it does get easier with context and experience, but in this series I'll share how to get amazing value from your value stream maps. Let's look at an example that illustrates risks and opportunities in a value stream. Seeing the bottlenecks become obvious and quickly understandable is part of why value stream maps are such valuable tools for improvement.

Can it always be this obvious?
Can it always be this obvious?

If we look at the example above, it's depicting a portion of a project execution workflow. Beyond all the eye-catching red there are two measurements that stand out. Each one is 2 weeks, so why would we highlight one over the other?

If something is just sitting around there's a good chance it's adding little value unless we're making wine

The difference in this case is that the 2 weeks of 'Initial Discovery' is time which might be adding considerable value, and likely won't benefit from being squeezed any tighter. Even more important, is that if there's another obvious target we can just ignore it until there's no other easy wins to be had.

The 2 weeks highlighted as the Risk/Opportunity is time spent purely waiting. It's a good assumption that if we dig into this wait time further there is a lot of opportunity for improvement. After all, if something is just sitting around there's a good chance it's adding little value unless we're making wine.

Once we have our target, it's easier to collect data that can help us discover and eliminate any waste. We can look at the wait in more detail and discover the reason it takes so much time. It may be that the result of the Go / No Go meeting is sent in an email to the person managing the Backlog, and the email is often missed, or the recipient is away. Instead of collecting all the detail for all the steps, we used the data in a first pass to focus more attention on a second pass, saving a lot of time and effort.

If we were looking at a flow chart or a process diagram, we may be collecting too much or too little data. With a lean value stream mapping approach we can focus our efforts to not only get the most value from the map, but the most value from the session.


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Next time we'll take a look at a value stream with a more challenging focus decision.