Value stream mapping is an activity that stems from lean methodologies used to capture and report on processes from beginning to end. Once the value map stream is complete, you have a visual representation of the process and its activities such as inventory pulls, kanban signals, “milk runs”, buffers, load leveling and value processes themselves.
Once a VSM is complete, is now becomes a communication artifact, and to a certain degree, obsolete. Once you have the VSM, you now have the information you went in search of, and the VSM is nothing more than a representation of knowledge.
The identification of steps that create value and steps that create waste are the ultimate goals of production of the VSM. The purpose of the map isn’t the map, but the learning processes. Its the granular evaluation of specific processes within a process that produces the knowledge required to trigger kaizen events and make process improvements.
Once the knowledge is acquired and understood and a kaizen event triggered, future state maps can be produced to show where process improvements can be made – increasing (where applicable) and streamlining value adding processes, and removing wasteful activities. The future state map shows a more desirable VSM which is used to produce an action plan that can be introduced into the process and improvements made.
I was in the process of putting together VSM templates for Excel, and a colleague of mine made a good point when I asked him for input. Paper is portable. Pencil can be erased. The longer you sit and evaluate a process, the more you find yourself erasing and making changes.
That being noted, and taking into consideration what I said above, I’m not sure I see value in digital VSMs at all. They are short lived (when acted upon) artifacts the don’t require the effort it takes to screw with a tool outside of standard pencil and paper.