Let’s get rid of value stream maps.

I can hear it now: “Why would you say such a thing? Value stream maps are great. We can’t see waste without them.” Precisely.

Value stream maps have developed an outsized importance in relation to other types of basic information that one gathers when trying to understand the current state of a process. And they have helped turn kaizen, a doing activity, into a planning activity, where workers spend a lot of time drawing value stream maps – and getting approvals from managers – before any improvement can happen. Focusing on value stream maps as the one expression of the current state slows down improvement.

Except in rare circumstances, no person or team should spend more than one or two days gathering current state data – including creating current and future state value stream maps (which are not truly needed to begin with) – prior to kaizen.

In the old days, we did not use value stream maps in our Shingijutsu-led kaizens. Instead we used target progress report, 5S form, percent loading chart, time observation chart, standardized work chart, standard work combination sheets, set-up observation analysis sheet, motion study, skills matrix, etc., to understand the current state. Immediately after one or two days of doing that, we dove into kaizen. We combined and eliminated processing steps, took queue times to as close to zero as possible, changed out metrics, and made the job safer and easier for workers. And we did that quickly – within a few days.

Continuous improvement happened just fine at Toyota before they developed value stream maps. Outside of Toyota continuous improvement happened better before value stream maps came along. Think about that.

As I said in Chapter 4 of REAL LEAN: The Keys to Sustaining Lean Management (Volume 3, 2008), the real worth of current state value stream maps is to educate top company leaders, not to help workers make process improvements. Current state value stream maps prove to leaders that the company has long been organized for supply-driven sellers’ market that never actually existed. Everything they do is is wrong, from how value is created to how they measure performance to company policies and practices to how they treat people (all key stakeholders). In other words, the corporate microeconomic policy, perpetuated by CEOs and CFOs past and present, is to overproduce and generate all eight wastes (and unevenness and unreasonableness), and is thus fiscally irresponsible.

The real worth of future state value stream maps is, again, to educate leaders, not to help workers make process improvements. Future state value stream maps prove to leaders that the company must organize itself for the demand-driven buyers’ markets that actually exist. They must change everything they do, from how value is created to how they measure performance to company policies and practices to how they treat people. In other words, the corporate microeconomic policy needs to be reset by the CEO and CFO, to make to demand and eliminate all eight wastes (and unevenness and unreasonableness), to be fiscally responsible. Flow changes everything.

The contrast between current and future state maps reveals the flaws and limitations of classical and neoclassical economics, and of bedrock concepts such as “homo economicus.” Lean management can’t function properly if the corporate microeconomic policy drives people to be selfish and overproduce (via standard cost accounting and other entrenched routines). Value stream maps should be used for strategic, not tactical, purposes. They teach leaders something about economics and humanity that they did not learn as an undergraduate or in their MBA program. They also teach leaders the beliefs, behaviors, and competencies needed to successfully lead a Lean transformation.

So get rid of value stream maps and do kaizen instead – a lot of kaizen. Kaizen every day.

One Response to Lean Heresy

  1. Bob Emiliani says:

    UPDATE: I received some criticism for this blog post (less than I expected), mainly the result of misinterpretation. I did not say to completely eliminate value stream maps. I said that they should instead be used for a different purpose. Also, the purpose for which they have been used in the past slows down improvement. That’s important.

    I also received some supportive responses:

    “I am a lean leader, mainly of office kaizen, and have been trained by Shingijutsu. I totally agree with eliminating the value stream map. Unfortunately, I’m usually outnumbered when suggesting it.”

    “I completely agree with you. We have lost the Shingijutsu kaizen way. I always say VSM is another form of waste.”

    The essence of the blog post was that value stream maps were not needed in order to make large improvements quickly pre-1999, yet now the general attitude is that you can’t improve without value stream maps – with the result being small improvements made slowly (if at all). Something has gone wrong.

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