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How to do a value stream map with Kanban

PostsProject management
Georgina Guthrie

Georgina Guthrie

March 13, 2020

Every single business works around supply and demand, whether you’re a car manufacturer or graphic designer. If more orders come in than you can fulfill, there will be a delay in delivery which means unhappy customers. On the other hand, if you produce too much and can’t shift your products, you end up wasting time and resources.

To keep things moving, you need to find the perfect balance between your supply and demand. This is where Value Stream Mapping comes in. But it offers more benefits than just a smooth-running supply chain — read on to find out how it can help you manage resources like a pro.

What is Value Stream Mapping?

Value Stream Mapping (also referred to as ‘visualizing’) is a Lean process designed to help you analyze and manage all the steps in your work process. It shows the flow of materials or information on its journey towards the customer.

Information is displayed visually, which makes it easier for you to see the different workflows (as well as any bottlenecks) and then assess each one according to whether or not it adds value.

The ultimate goal is to refine your entire operations by erasing the processes that don’t benefit the customer. But it’s important to remember that not every single stage will provide direct value to the customer — some workflows will benefit you, like quality checks that help keep standards high.

The benefits of Value Stream Mapping

Value Stream Mapping helps you root out wasteful steps in your workflow. This can boost your company’s bottom line, reduce lead time, and improve quality.

Aside from eliminating waste, Value Stream Mapping helps foster better team communication. When multiple teams work across shared projects, groups or individuals can get too insular. Visualizing work via a Value Stream Map gives teams a bird’s eye view of where their efforts fit in the overall picture, improving company-wide collaboration.

It also gives you leverage when negotiating fees. Customer’s understand that when they pay less, they should expect lower quality. And yet when confronted with a higher price, many take their chances with a lower cost option. One reason they do this is that they can’t see the full value of your service. So how do you change this? You reframe things.

This is where Value Stream Mapping comes in. It shows the customer exactly what they’re paying for, which helps them justify a higher cost. It also makes the finished product more tangible because they can visualize the work being done.

How to do a Value Stream Map with Kanban

Why Kanban? Because it’s one of the most straightforward Value Stream Mapping tools out there. It sets out team tasks and incorporates identifying and addressing problems right into the cycle itself. It’s also easy to understand — so let’s get started.

1. Plan the size of your Value Stream Map

First things first: the overall goal is to minimize waste — so this process needs to be balanced against the value it’ll provide. Make sure the effort you put in (e.g., time up-front) is worth the potential payoff.

One way to get a feel for this is to start small. Isolate one step first, improve it, then, if that worked, move on to the next step. Once you’re convinced the payoff is worth it, you can run a Value Stream Map across your entire workflow.

2. Work out the problem you want to solve

Do you want to lower the cost of your product or service? Increase production speeds? Improve quality — or all three? Define your problem and share it with the broader team so everyone knows what they’re working towards.

3. Explain the benefits

For this to work, you’ll need to get buy-in from everyone on the team, so take the time upfront to explain the process and the benefits.

If you’re rolling this out across the entire organization, use your small-scale examples to demonstrate the payoffs. The proof is in the pudding, or so the saying goes — and the more tangible evidence you have, the easier it’ll be to get everyone on board.

4. Choose your tools

You’ll need a Kanban board and cards for your team’s assignments. This can be a physical thing, like a whiteboard and Post-It notes, or project management software. The latter is better if you’re working with lots of data because it can easily be shared and tracked later on. Once you have your tools, it’s time to get started.

5. Create your Kanban board

A Kanban board works across three work states:

  1. To do
  2. In progress
  3. Timeline

For your first step, you need to isolate stage two — ‘in progress’ and record every stage of your workflow, including handovers. The more comprehensive you are, the more detailed and accurate your report will be, so go through it a couple of times to make sure you haven’t missed anything.

Because no one person ever has a full view of things, it’s a great idea to involve different team members in this stage so they can help you fill in the blanks or give you information about a process you may have otherwise missed.

6. Record the data and create metrics

Once you’ve noted down every stage, create some performance metrics. This will help you analyze the current state of things and give you something to measure your future performance against.

First, record your data. This might include some or all of the following: working hours, cycle time, uptime, downtime, lead time, resources, etc.

Next, take a closer look at your workflow and work out where there are issues. Here are some common problems you could unearth:

  • The amount of work in progress is too big
    If you have too much work in your backlog, it could result in customers waiting too long for their product or service to be delivered.
  • Lead time and cycle time are too long
    You may have jobs that can’t run in parallel or bottlenecks that are preventing work from being completed.
  • Too many steps that don’t add value
    You may discover unnecessary sign-off stages or paperwork that slows things down.
  • Output too small or quality too low

7. Create a new workflow

Create your new, streamlined workflow (or part of it), and make sure it matches up with your team goals and the broader company vision.

8. Implement your workflow

Start using your new map. Measure your metrics to make sure your adjustments benefit your customers and solve your original problem(s). Monitor it regularly, learn from the insights, and make adjustments as you go.

Remember to be flexible. Lean is all about iterative improvement — so once you’ve created your workflow, remember to revisit it and tweak it as you go. Teams change, as do customer needs — so stay as agile as possible so you don’t fall behind.

Final thoughts

Good organization is a must, so invest in project management tools that make the mapping and tracking process easier.

Physical boards are okay, but they tend to lose their usefulness once a project becomes too complex. They also can’t provide context in the same way that a virtual board with features for adding things such as documents and screenshots can.

Working digitally also means you can archive work, retrieve it later if needed, and organize things far more easily. Virtual boards also allow better collaboration, with the added bonus of being accessible from anywhere in the world with an internet connection.



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