With value stream mapping, we aim to visualize, measure, and ultimately improve the flow of value through a process. The value stream is typically all of the activities involved in delivering value to a customer, from the idea/issue/start to when the customer benefits from the effort, or when it provides a return on the investment.
To visualize, we can use simple primitives like post it notes, or even a spreadsheet, to describe all of the activities in the value stream. Then we collect measurement on how long each activity takes, and how much time passes between activities.
In the example above you can see the activity time below, and the active time in each box, representing how much time is spent doing the work of each activity. Why different numbers? It takes time to get set up, understand the work, and start working, so it's valuable to capture that difference. Sometimes it takes a long time, and we want to notice that.
You'll also see the target state represented above. This is what the team has identified as the possible value stream state with improvements made. Usually the target state will incorporate automation, fewer steps, steps in parallel, and less wasted time.
By understanding the current state, identifying potential improvements, and planning a future state, a team can dramatically improve performance. Because mapping is a collaborative activity, it brings the team together under a common understanding and delivers clarity on what to do next.