A Practical Guide to Value Stream Mapping - Part 5, with Full E-Book

Posted by Greg Thompson on May 3, 2019 8:57:14 AM

Practical guide to value stream mapping

Current State vs. Future State VSM

Current State is intended to represent conditions that are present today. Not ideal conditions or how it is supposed to be, but as close to reality as possible. Future State should be your goal, your blueprint, your roadmap; this is your destination. It should be optimistic, but not unrealistic. We generally plan for a timeframe of 6 – 12 months to get to Future State. There are times an interim map is drawn, which I often call “Current State with kaizens.” Kaizen is the Japanese translation for ‘good change’. The interim map with the kaizens can be a bit messy, but it helps represent the transition from Current State to Future State. There are times when the Future State isn’t structurally different than the Current State, and the Future State is the Current State with kaizens.

Encourage the team to push the Future State ideas a bit. Big changes only come about through big ideas. The team needs to challenge the status quo. Change is hard. It’s hard for me - I now recognize it more than I used to, but I often find myself resisting change. Most people do. In my early days of learning VSM, my mentor would often say “If you’re asking questions that make people uncomfortable, you’re asking the right questions.” Future State VSM generally doesn’t focus on high-cost solutions, it’s creativity over capital. I’ve seen most improvements come from changes in mindset, policy, and procedure - not in capital investments.

Pitfall to avoid: While creating the Current State map, refrain from working on Future State map improvements until the Current State map is complete. Teams often want to jump to solutions for an issue as soon as it is placed on the map. Please wait. There are times that what may initially seem like a good solution locally, may not be the best solution globally; or there is a Future State vision that eliminates the need for a change at the local level altogether. We want to first map and understand the entire process to help us arrive at the best overall solutions. That doesn’t mean you can’t suggest things as you map. I encourage team members to bring up improvement ideas as we map, but we don’t develop or dwell on the ideas. Simply write them down as something to come back to during the Future State conversation - we don’t want to forget them. Doing this is also an efficient use of time, as many Future State idea discussions can be time consuming.

How to Create the Future State

The focus of the Future State should be dependent on the goals created in the charter. That’s not to say we should ignore other opportunities; we certainly want to include them as well. If the focus is lead time reduction, but someone observes an opportunity to mitigate an ergonomic risk, by all means, include it in the Future State discussion. However, lead time should take the main stage and the conversations should frequently return to it.

Much like suggested in “Learning to See,” I find it best to start the Future State focused on the customer with questions like: “What is the takt time?” and “Will we make to order or make to stock? Or, some of both?” This gets us focused on our ability to satisfy the customer: how much capacity do we need to meet customer demand (whether using takt time or machine utilization in the case of high mix) and how quickly do we need to respond to a customer order? This will drive our inventory and scheduling strategy.

After this, turn your eyes inward and start discussing opportunities for improving flow internally. This may be through combining operations, relocating equipment, reducing batch sizes, utilizing transfer lots (splitting a large lot into smaller lots so you don’t have to wait for the entire lot to finish), reducing or eliminating delays (material handling, quality checks, etc.), as well as a myriad of other opportunities. During these discussions, we review the wastes and opportunities we identified in the Current State map. Be sure to visit / develop the improvement ideas you recorded while making the Current State map.

Here is a list of things to look for to help guide your Future State discussions:

  • Where is inventory piling up? How can this be reduced?
  • How many times is the product picked up, moved, and put down? How can this be minimized?
  • If there are paper-intense processes can they be simplified, made more visual (schedule boards, etc.), or automated?
  • How is information communicated to and from the customer? Could this be improved / simplified?
  • Are there duplicate processes, duplicate inspections? Can some be eliminated?
  • Are things taking long because of sequential processing? Could some parts of the process be happening in parallel?
  • Is it easy to see ahead or behind status? Could it be made more visual?
  • Does every piece of the process have someone who is responsible for it? Or, are there some "orphan" processes? Every step in the VSM needs to be owned by someone.
  • Are things organized in "silos" (departments), rather than value streams or product lines?
  • How are products scheduled? Is machine capacity taken into account? It should be.


As I mentioned before, VSM is of little value unless you do something as a result of it. It’s such a good format for getting ideas and input from everyone. You should leave a VSM exercise with consensus and a plan for the future. What a waste to let this fade away! Everyone on the VSM has regular jobs that they have to go back to, and after a couple days devoted to VSM, there is catch-up to do. It’s important to keep the Future State VSM and action items on a front burner. The VS manager should be responsible for calling the team together on a regular basis to review progress of the action items and their success / impact, discuss challenges to implementation, and keep the ball rolling. When I have action items, I often get them completed the day before I have to report out on them. With no report out, other things get in the way, and action items get ignored.

The frequency of follow-up meetings will vary based on the timeline for implementing changes. Often times, many action items can be completed within a few weeks (changing forms, training, policy changes, etc.). There are usually some items that take months to put in place. Occasionally, it’s the other way around with most items being long-term. If a lot of activity is happening near-term, consider having bi-weekly meetings to review progress. Monthly meetings should be considered when the majority of the improvements are longer term.

The VS manager should communicate regularly with the team members and update the VS as improvements get implemented.

We have reached the end of the blog series, and as promised you can download the eBook, A Practical Guide to Value Stream Mapping.

Greg Thompson

Written by Greg Thompson

Topics: operations, value stream mapping

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