Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Value Stream Mapping, on the fly

Value Stream Mapping, on the fly


So I'm sitting in a meeting earlier this afternoon and it felt like it was dragging.  With a number of the company's key people in the room, it was also an expensive drag.  What to do?


I began to diddle in my notebook and the idea hit me to draw up a basic Value Stream Map of the process we were to accomplish in the meeting.  It seemed appropriate, as we were gathered to review and decide on a series of proposals.  As I began to draw, ideas began to flow.  I "saw" the steps more clearly, with pencil now in hand.  I then noted how I could collect data for the data boxes in each area.  I pulled my watch off and began to time things...informally, not terribly accurately, but time them nonetheless.  documented 7 steps to the process; previously I thought there were only 4.  I noted active time, idle time, disruptions to the flow.  And each of it was measurable, however roughly, and trends began to jump out. 


What I found was each "product" followed a predictable path.  On that path, there was one, single constraint.  The data was overwhelming...nearly 8 times as long spent in that one step than any other. 


As I observed, the ideas kept flowing as to what we could do.  Ideas that moved towards breaking the constraint. I kept writing.  More ideas.  More writing.  The meeting ended, everyone else left, I was still sitting there writing more.  Yes, I turned out the lights when I eventually left.  And now I'm writing more.


The lessons for me?  First, the tool of Value Stream Mapping is much more widely applicable than it first appears.  That basic template of VSM gave me a framework to make sense of a meeting that I otherwise simply said seemed to be "cumbersome."  It is worth understanding VSM well. 


Second, start writing.  Anything.  The pencil is a great aid to learning. 


Third, collect some data.  Even rough data.  It guides to the important topics, it steers away from the trivial. 


I hope you can try this.  And I hope it is as helpful for you as it was for me.


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