How To Visualize Operational Value Streams


Oh no! Your family’s holiday party is in two days and you’ve forgotten to get uncle Jim his new blender! You frantically search online and order one that you know he’ll love. Fast-forward to two days later, just as you’re getting ready to go to the party, the doorbell rings. You open the door and there it is, uncle Jim’s blender, pre-wrapped and ready to go, just like magic.

Of course, it wasn’t magic, but the result of a people, processes, and technology working together to stock, package, route, and deliver what you ordered as quickly as possible. All of these are part of an organization’s operational value stream, which incudes, “all of the activities needed to produce a product or service which generates customer value.” A business’ operational value stream is often far more complex than it may initially appear, not only to consumers, but also to those operating within the business. This underlying complexity can obscure major delays, interruptions, and other inefficiencies within the business.

So, how can a business mitigate potential issues within their value streams? Perhaps the most important step in the process is visualizing the operational value stream. There are multiple methods for doing this, but today our focus is going to be on value stream mapping.

What is Value Stream Mapping?

According to Scaled Agile, value stream mapping is, “a collaborative process in which a group of stakeholders defines a value stream steps, hand offs, and delays.” This typically takes the form of a visual flow-chart that contains all of the information on the trigger and end point of the value stream, the various steps involved in delivering a product, and the amount of time each of those steps takes.

Knowing where to start when mapping a data stream can be difficult, but by looking at each of the three main components of the map, the trigger and endpoint, the steps in between, and the time each step takes, we can create our map in three simple steps.

Step 1. Define the Scope of the Value Stream

Our first step will be to determine the trigger and end point of our value stream. Every operational value stream begins when something, “triggers,” it. This, “trigger,” is typically a customer’s request for the product. In our earlier example, the, “trigger,” would be the order for the blender actually being placed.

Additionally, operational value streams have a defined end point, typically the initial request being fulfilled and the product being delivered to the customer. In our earlier example, this occurred when the blender was delivered.

By defining the beginning and end points of value stream, we are able to determine what is or is not relevant to our value stream as we try to visualize it. This is especially important as we consider our next step, determining what steps are in your value stream.

Step 2. Determine the Steps

The second step in mapping our value stream is to determine what it takes to bring a customer request all the way to deliver. According to Scaled Agile, this includes the people, processes, and technologies involved that either interact with the product directly, or who facilitate, “the flow of information and materials.”

To return to our blender example from earlier, your order would first have to be processed by an ordering and fulfillment system, then warehouse workers would find, package and label the blender. From there, another system would route the package to your address, before a series of delivery drivers bring the package to your door.

Each of those constitutes a separate step in our operational value stream and has to have a place on our map. Don’t be afraid to get a little granular when determining your steps, you want to be as detailed as possible, so that you can accurately ascribe times to each of the steps.

3. Map the Process and Wait Times

The final step to mapping our value stream is to enter the process and wait time associated with each step. Process time refers to the amount of time being spent doing activities that produce value, such as a warehouse worker packaging and labeling our blender, or a delivery driver bringing the package to your home.

Wait time, by contrast, refers to the amount of time spent not doing activities that are adding value, such as the time between an order being processed and the product being packaged or the time between when the package has been loaded onto a truck and when that truck begins driving to its destination.

When process time and wait time are calculated and factored into the map, you may be surprised to find that there is far more wait time than process time. In fact, process time may take up as little as 3-10% of the total time that your operational value stream takes up.

If this is the case, don’t worry! This is entirely normal and one of the major benefits towards visualizing your operational value stream. Being able to see where all of the time is being spent in your value stream allows you to start finding ways to cut down on that time.

Now What?

Now that your Operational Value Stream is fully mapped out and visual, what can you do with it? As mentioned before, perhaps the most useful aspect of a value stream map is being able to see how much time is being spent adding value as opposed to how much time is spent waiting for the next step of the process. With this information, you can take steps to limit downtime. For example, if you noticed that there is a long period of wait time between when a worker packages a blender and when it is loaded onto a delivery truck, you could investigate what might be contributing to that wait time, perhaps a lack of trucks, and tackle it head on.

Knowing how to visualize your operational value streams is key to leveraging all of the people, processes, and technologies at your company’s disposal and optimizing your flow.

EIT has a proven track record helping our clients visualize their operational data streams so that they can improve delays and optimize your company’s flow. For more information can help you visualize and streamline your value streams, visit us here.