Value Streams

Value streams are any series of steps which are taken in order to provide customers with the products, services or experience your business wishes to give.  Each value stream could be small with only one or two steps or extremely large and complex with dozens of steps.  Identifying value streams in an important part of the lean manufacturing process and 5s certifications.  Without proper understanding of a company’s value streams it is impossible to truly implement successful change and continuous improvement.

Why Value Streams

The main reason a company needs to identify their value streams is so they can understand where the inefficiencies or waste are in the processes.  Any step in a stream which is not adding value or causes waste should be eliminated or improved as much as possible.  Even tasks which may appear to be create value may actually be waste if they are not things the customer’s actually want so having each task associated with a detailed value stream can help any industry identify where improvements can be made.

Value streams are often considered the bedrock of any effective process improvement program because without a good understanding of each step along the path of product creation, you can’t truly make intelligent changes.  If, for example, you begin looking for improvement opportunities without a well designed value stream you might notice something being done which seems inefficient.  You can put in processes to eliminate the inefficiency only to find out afterwords that what appeared to be a problem was actually an important part of the process.  With a value stream in place you could easily see how each task interacts with each other task to form the full stream.

How to Identify Value Streams

There are several options available to identify value streams.  In most industries much of the stream will already be known, but it is often best to start from scratch anyway.  You can start either from the very beginning of the stream, the first step in manufacturing or preparing any product or service and walk it through until it is ready for the customer.  The other option is to start from a completed product and walk backwards to see what each step contributed to the end product.

Each of these two options can be effective and which one is chosen will often depend on the specific product or service being provided.  The important thing is that the time is being taken to learn about how each product or service is created within your industry.  While it is possible to use value streams in any industry, they are most popular in manufacturing industries since they have more clearly defined processes and products than most other types of business.

A well researched and document value stream can provide invaluable information about a company and allow improvements to be made.  As changes occur throughout a company, however, it is important to keep the value streams updated so they accurately reflect how business is actually done.  It may seem like a daunting task at first, but in the end it will result in a much more efficient business.

Additional Resources