What is a VSM

Guide: Value Stream Map (VSM)

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Daniel Croft

Daniel Croft is an experienced continuous improvement manager with a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt and a Bachelor's degree in Business Management. With more than ten years of experience applying his skills across various industries, Daniel specializes in optimizing processes and improving efficiency. His approach combines practical experience with a deep understanding of business fundamentals to drive meaningful change.

Value Stream Mapping (VSM) is a transformative lean management tool that serves as a critical component in enhancing operational efficiency. Originating from the principles of Lean Manufacturing, particularly the revolutionary Toyota Production System, VSM focuses on mapping out the journey of a product or service from inception to delivery. Its primary objective is to provide a visual representation of processes, identifying inefficiencies and opportunities for improvement.

VSM involves a careful process of data gathering, mapping current states, identifying areas for improvement, and designing a future state that streamlines operations and reduces waste. This introductory overview sets the stage to explore the intricate processes and significant benefits of implementing Value Stream Mapping in various business contexts.

Table of Contents

What is Value Stream Mapping?

Value Stream Mapping (VSM) is a lean management method used to understand and analyse the current state process map and design a future state for the series of events that take a product or service from raw material and information into a complete product for the customer. 

The benefit of a VSM is in its ability to identify areas of waste within the processes. By identifying this it allows businesses to improve their efficiency and effectiveness, which leads to more streamlined operations and better product or service delivery. 

Value Stream Map (VSM)

Value Stream Map (VSM)

The Origins and Purpose of VSM

VSM is key to the principles of Lean Manufacturing, which is a philosophy heavily influenced by Japanese manufacturing businesses such as Toyota and the Toyota Production System. This system revolutionized manufacturing by focusing on reducing the seven wastes (now 8 wastes) to improve customer value.

The main objective of a VSM is to make the process visible in a way that highlights inefficiencies and bottlenecks. By visualizing these processes, VSM facilitates a deeper understanding of the processes and enables the ability to find opportunities for streamlining of operations.

Key Components of a Value Stream Map

A Value Stream Map is a visual tool that outlines the flow of materials and information through a process. It uses a set of standardized symbols and icons to represent various elements within this flow. Here are the key components of a VSM:

Processes: These are typically depicted as rectangles and symbolize the various steps or stages in the workflow. Each rectangle represents a distinct process or operation in the sequence of creating a product or delivering a service.

Flow of Materials: This is illustrated using arrows. These arrows trace the path that raw materials, components, and finished products take as they move through the different stages of production or service delivery. The direction and flow of these arrows are crucial in identifying how effectively materials are moving through the system.

Information Flow: Often represented with dashed lines or arrows, this component shows how information moves through the system. This could include orders, instructions, and feedback, which guide the flow of materials. Understanding how information travels and influences the process is key to identifying delays or inefficiencies in decision-making or communication.

Data Boxes: Attached to each process step, data boxes provide crucial metrics relevant to that particular stage. This data can include cycle times, wait times, inventory levels, and error rates. These metrics are instrumental in assessing the efficiency of each process step and identifying areas for improvement.

Timeline: Positioned at the bottom of the map, the timeline offers a comprehensive view of the total time taken for each process step and the cumulative lead time across the entire value stream. This timeline is essential for understanding the duration of the entire process and identifying stages where time is either effectively used or wasted.

Creating a Value Stream Map

Step 1: Identify the Value Stream

Starting a VSM map first requires the identification of the value stream. This step is about defining the scope of the analysis, which involves selecting a specific product or service and mapping its lifecycle from inception to delivery. The goal of this step is to understand the starting point which is usually the point where the customer initiates the customer order or request and the end point, which is the delivery of the final product or service to the customer. Identifying the boundaries of the value stream map ensures that all relevant processes are included in the analysis.

Process Mapping

Step 2: Gathering Data

Once you have identified the scope of the value stream, the next step is to collect data on each step within this stream. This will involve collecting information on a range of aspects of the process such as:

  • Cycle Times: The time taken to complete each step in the process.
  • Changeover Times: The time required to switch from one task or product to another.
  • Quantities Produced: The volume of output at each stage.
  • Error Rates: The frequency of errors or defects at each stage.
  • Other Relevant Metrics: Any other data that could impact the efficiency and effectiveness of the process, such as employee downtime, resource utilization rates, etc.

This data collection is important as it provides the basis of data for identifying inefficiencies and areas where waste occurs in the process.

Step 3: Mapping the Current State

Once you have the data for each process, the step next phase is to create a visual representation of the current state of the process. This is the process map that provides a detailed diagram and includes all the elements of the value stream:

  • Process Steps: Each step in the process is represented, often as rectangles.
  • Material Flow: Arrows or similar symbols illustrate how materials move through the process.
  • Information Flow: This includes how information is passed along the process, aiding in decision-making and process progression.
  • Data Boxes: These are used to display the collected data at each step.

This current state map then serves as a baseline for which improvements can be planned and measured.

Step 4: Identify Areas for Improvement

Following the completion of the VSM, analysis should be done of the current state map to look for areas of waste and efficiency in the process. Common types of waste include:

  • Transportation
  • Inventory
  • Motion
  • Waiting
  • Over Production
  • Over Processing
  • Defects
  • Skills

This is an important step for identifying specific areas where changes could lead to significant improvements. 

Step 5: Designing the Future State

Based on the analysis of the current state, a future state map is developed. This map is a blueprint for a more efficient and effective process. It involves reimagining the value stream by eliminating identified wastes and optimizing process steps. The future state map is not just a theoretical exercise; it provides a practical and achievable vision for process improvement.

Step 6: Implementing Changes and Continuous Improvement

The final step is the implementation of changes necessary to transition from the current state to the future state. This often requires a collaborative effort across different departments and may involve changes in processes, equipment, staff responsibilities, and organizational structure. Moreover, VSM is not a one-time activity; it’s a part of a continuous improvement culture. As improvements are made, they become the new standard, and the VSM cycle begins again to find further enhancements.


Value Stream Mapping is an indispensable tool for businesses aiming to optimize processes and reduce waste. By dissecting and visualizing the entire lifecycle of a product or service, from raw materials to customer delivery, VSM offers an insightful perspective on operational efficiencies and inefficiencies.

The process involves an extensive analysis of current states, identification of potential improvements, and the creation of an actionable future state map. Implementing these changes requires a collaborative and continuous effort, embodying the ethos of Lean Manufacturing. As organizations evolve and adapt, VSM serves not just as a one-time exercise, but as an ongoing commitment to operational excellence and customer value enhancement, ensuring that businesses remain competitive and efficient in a dynamic market landscape.


  • Singh, B., Garg, S.K. and Sharma, S.K., 2011. Value stream mapping: literature review and implications for Indian industry. The International Journal of Advanced Manufacturing Technology53, pp.799-809.
  • Lasa, I.S., Laburu, C.O. and de Castro Vila, R., 2008. An evaluation of the value stream mapping tool. Business process management journal14(1), pp.39-52.
  • Hines, P. and Rich, N., 1997. The seven value stream mapping tools. International journal of operations & production management17(1), pp.46-64.

A: Value Stream Mapping is a visual tool used to analyze and improve the flow of materials, information, and activities within a value stream or process. It provides a clear and detailed representation of the current state and helps in designing an improved future state.

A: Value Stream Mapping offers several benefits, including the identification and elimination of waste, improved efficiency and productivity, reduced cycle time and lead time, enhanced communication and collaboration, and increased customer satisfaction.

A: Value Stream Mapping can be used by a wide range of organizations and industries, including manufacturing, healthcare, service industries, and software development. It is beneficial for any process or value stream where there is a desire to improve efficiency and eliminate waste.

A: To create a Value Stream Map, you need information about the process steps, cycle time, lead time, inventory levels, process capacity, and any other relevant metrics. Gathering this data through direct observation, interviews, and data analysis is crucial for accurately representing the current state.

A: The Value Stream Map should be updated regularly to reflect the current state of the value stream or process. It is recommended to review and update the map whenever there are significant changes in the workflow, processes, or improvement initiatives. Keeping the map up to date ensures its accuracy and relevance for driving continuous improvement.

A: The current state Value Stream Map represents the existing flow of materials, information, and activities in the value stream. It helps identify areas of waste and inefficiency. The future state Value Stream Map, on the other hand, represents an ideal state where improvements have been implemented. It provides a vision of how the value stream should operate without the identified waste and inefficiencies.

A: Common tools and symbols used in Value Stream Mapping include process boxes to represent process steps, arrows to indicate the flow of materials or information, triangles to represent inventory or storage, and kanban symbols to represent pull systems. Additional tools like swimlane diagrams, takt time calculations, and value-added analysis can also be used to enhance the map.

A: Absolutely! Value Stream Mapping can be applied to non-manufacturing processes, such as healthcare, logistics, software development, and service industries. The principles and concepts of VSM can be adapted and tailored to various processes to identify waste, streamline operations, and improve overall efficiency


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Daniel Croft

Daniel Croft is a seasoned continuous improvement manager with a Black Belt in Lean Six Sigma. With over 10 years of real-world application experience across diverse sectors, Daniel has a passion for optimizing processes and fostering a culture of efficiency. He's not just a practitioner but also an avid learner, constantly seeking to expand his knowledge. Outside of his professional life, Daniel has a keen Investing, statistics and knowledge-sharing, which led him to create the website learnleansigma.com, a platform dedicated to Lean Six Sigma and process improvement insights.

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