Business processes are similar to a river flowing in a natural direction and carrying information from point A to point B. Value Stream Mapping (VSM) is one of the techniques used in Lean Six Sigma for identifying areas of waste that need to be avoided in both manufacturing as well as office business processes. Aside from identifying areas of waste, VSM also helps in streamlining business processes for achieving higher productivity. VSM is based on scientifically proven methods, making it necessary for organization to employ profession Six Sigma consultants (VSM specialists) during the implementation stage.
The Initial Process
Implementing VSM is a long drawn process where the first step involves mapping the current flow of materials or information in key business processes of an organization. The mapping is done with the help of flowcharts that depict the flow of goods or information from one end to another. The flowchart also contains information about the average time taken for the completion of various sub processes. For generating a comprehensive flowchart, consultants often gather inputs from business heads, floor managers or factory workers. While creating the flowchart, key sub-processes are highlighted using specific icons. This helps in pinpointing areas where waste and inconsistencies are happening. The flowchart also helps in understanding the complexity of a business process, which needs to be simplified for increasing efficiency.
Future State of Value Stream Mapping
In the next step, VSM consultants discuss each step depicted in the flowchart with the management for finding out ways that would streamline and optimize the whole business process. In Six Sigma terminology, this is referred to as Future State Value Stream Mapping (FSVSM). A number of methods can be used during FSVSM process but only those need be selected that help in streamlining processes without affecting the day-to-day operations of an organization. One such method is Cellular Manufacturing, which can be used during FSVSM. Although it is a simple concept, it requires adequate planning on part of the consultants as well as the management. Takt Time is another method that is used for evaluating ‘lead-time’ of manufactured goods or services rendered. This method is commonly used in organizations where the main objective is to deliver goods or services in time, for e.g. courier companies. Another method is known as Kanban, which forms a part of Just In Time (JIT) manufacturing system. It helps in maintaining low inventory levels and work in progress without affecting the quality or volume of manufactured goods.
Effectiveness in Automotive and Other Manufacturing Industries
VSM has proven to be very effective in organizations that make use of large and complex assembly line manufacturing processes. Automobile manufacturing companies are probably the best examples as far as the effectiveness of VSM is concerned. Top automobile companies such as Ford and Toyota have successfully implemented VSM in their business processes, which have in turn helped these companies in manufacturing high quality products while reducing costs at the same time.
Although concepts of VSM are applicable in all types of manufacturing organizations, companies other than automobile companies may find it a little difficult to implement VSM word for word. Some consultants also feel that benefits associated with VSM are sometimes over-hyped when it comes to implementing VSM in non-automotive companies. Personal opinions may vary but what is certain is that VSM does help in reducing waste if implemented properly.