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Maximize value stream mapping

Running an enterprise value stream mapping event takes people out of the organization and places them “on” it, and the value will be significantly enhanced with the addition of “outside eyes” from suppliers, customers or other members from your manufacturing consortium.


December 10, 2010
by Richard Kunst

Running an enterprise value stream mapping event takes people out of the organization and places them “on” it, and the value will be significantly enhanced with the addition of “outside eyes” from suppliers, customers or other members from your manufacturing consortium.

An effective way to observe during a mapping initiative is to “stand in the circle.”

Toyota Motor Co.’s Taichii Ohno coached his budding Toyota Production System (TPS) leaders to carefully observe reality by drawing a chalk circle on the floor, and standing in it for several hours observing reality with their minds wiped clean and undistracted by other things. This intensive observation steeped them in kaizen thinking, which was necessary before they could coach others.

Kaizen is core to TPS because it’s learning by doing. Developing a few experts helps, but the power of kaizen is multiplied many times if experts coach everyone else to see and solve problems.

Process visibility reveals problems to everyone, not just managers. When something is amiss, workers quickly determine the cause and take action. Process visibility also stimulates everyone to think of still more ways to make improvements. Empowered by the method, workers learn to self-manage processes and spontaneously improve them.

Thoughtful visibility is a key tenet of TPS. Empty-headed gawking won’t do. Ohno’s basic problem solving method was “to ask why at least five times,” which means that he didn’t ask people to literally confine themselves to the circle, but to dig through the clutter to see the essential problem.

A very small process, such as integrated circuit production, can’t be seen directly, so they are made mostly through data and remote control. Yet even with fully gowned workers and minute processes, visibility reveals a remarkable amount of waste.

When flow charting a large process, people must communicate precisely, or someone must travel around to see the reality. And the only way to be sure that a chart is up to date is to review the process frequently. In large processes, such as automotive engineering change systems, someone is likely to be tinkering all the time, so at any instant, no one knows how it really works.

Although careful observation can be cultivated into a habit, it’s never simple. Toyota veterans know that observing a process for the first time takes several hours – sometimes days – to develop an initial grasp of it. (And seeing nothing happen can be a marvelous discovery).

“Standing in a circle” is taking the time to understand reality before acting. It’s not creating some kind of software or other model, and seeing if it works. It also counters the instinct of managers (and others) with so strong a bias for action that they must always make something.

Completing a VSM is seen by many companies as an accomplishment. We must remember it’s just a tool and needs to be used as such. Here are some tips:

• Re-do your VSM at least annually.

• Use “outside eyes” if possible so you can see the forest instead of the trees.

• Constructing your VSM allows your people to be “on” the business instead of being “in” the business for a few days.

• A current state map without a future state map is a waste of time.

• Quantify and develop opportunities identified during a mapping exercise within your business operations plan.

• Revisit your opportunities often to insure they are being implemented.

Many organizations with diminishing resources try to rush through mapping exercises when they should be slowing down and observing, which in the end will help them go faster.

Richard Kunst is president and CEO of Kunst Solutions Corp., which publishes the “Lean Thoughts” e-newsletter. E-mail rkunst@kunstartofsolutions.com.