• Sara Hanks

Value Streams and IT Implementations


For over a decade, I've been implementing IT systems and leading data analytics out of those IT systems. Basically, I've made a career of it. I have seen successful implementations and those that have taken forever or completely fail. One of the keys to a successful implementation is to leverage one of the most useful tools in the Lean Toolkit: the Value Stream Map.


A Value Stream Map (VSM) is essentially a flowchart that documents the process, including the movement of material and information. It is a great tool to help visualize a process from end to end and evaluate the process for improvement opportunities. The Value Stream Map includes metrics such as cycle times, defect rates and inventory. Essentially, by evaluating the Value Stream Map, a team can create a continuous improvement roadmap that's measurable.


Early in my career, I was creating an inspection module that would function for a complex product with 10,000's of parts. This was not an easy task. The goal was to create an inspection system that could scale easily to minimize the site implementation cost later. Additionally, the project was significantly delayed. In order to create something quickly, I developed a module that took advantage of the Graphical User Interface designer within our off-the-shelf product. In this case, the inspection questions were organized by question type, rather than replicating the flow of the product. Completing the inspection plan turned out to be a giant pain and added significant cycle time. We ended up redoing the entire inspection module after so many complaints from the users. It is not worth trading off understanding the current state process for implementation. This was a lesson learned the hard way.


When lean was a corporate initiative at GE, the business planned large Transactional Lean Events to conduct thorough Value Stream Maps in a week long session that was sponsored by senior leadership. Attending this event was a privilege and a great way to network with senior leaders. VSM'ing session in the Corporate Learning Center included giant rolls of white paper, post it notes, and paper cut outs. These sessions, often led by a trained facilitator, were highly interactive with people standing at the board and evaluating its accuracy. Over time the buzz died and it became more difficult to take people out of their jobs for that length of time. Once COVID hit, the hopes of getting people together to conduct a VSM disappeared altogether. Fortunately, my teams have found a way to create a Value Stream Map in a different way.


When the business stakeholders are not available to participate physically in a VSM event for a length of time, conducting interviews and building the VSM in an Excel template is an option. It is important to have a solid project charter that the stake holders agree upon (See Creating A Project Charter blog) with a clear understanding of who is involved in the process. Once the people are identified, schedule time to have them walk their process. Recording the session in Teams or Zoom is an effective method to refer back to any item unclear. Document the estimated times to complete the task, as well as an estimated cycle time of the overall step in the process. Getting the queue times or dwell times documented is important, as this is often where the benefits are discovered.


Once a draft is complete of the VSM based on the interviews, schedule a 1 hour session with all of the stakeholders for a final review of the current state. You may need to schedule more time later, but I recommend keeping it to 1 hour sessions at a time. Most of us are burnt out of remote meetings. When the current state is finalized and agreed upon, schedule a waste identification session to document the areas of opportunity. Finally, create an improvement plan based on the most impactful waste.


One of the benefits of creating an Electronic VSM first is that the Giant Paper VSM doesn't need to be replicated into an electronic version later. It is one and done. The team at Leverage4Data has created a free Excel template, including the standard ICONs to help your VSM. Value Stream Maps are so powerful that we develop them with our customers at the beginning of our engagements.


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