The other day, I was looking at an online forum for lean practitioners. One user posed the question, “What software would you recommend for value stream mapping?”
I was not shocked to see that the overwhelming opinion of the people who responded was that the best software for value stream mapping (VSM) is a piece of paper and a pencil.
Here is a typical response, “I do not recommend software for VSM. Butcher paper and post-its are the best way to go. By trying to use software, you are losing the interaction of the team, which is critical to creating an accurate current state map, as well as an ideal future state map.”
KaiNexus provides software that support value stream mapping, so you may be wondering why I am sharing this with you. I'm sharing because what the forum users had to say is important. Value stream mapping software that involves only creating the map, ironically, doesn’t add much value.
In fact, too much focus on the image of the map itself can even hinder collaboration and be detrimental to the creative process. The best “software” for creating the map may actually be “a big sheet of paper.”
But that doesn’t mean software isn’t necessary for improving all of the work that surrounds the map and actually produces results.
Teams don’t just show up one day and create a value stream map. The process usually begins with a charter that describes the scope of the map, the issues that are to be analyzed and the desired results.
Before the map is created, a team is formed and the charter is defined. Value stream software becomes the home for the charter. It becomes the historical record of the value stream mapping process so that the organization becomes a little bit smarter each time the process is repeated.
The value stream mapping involves documenting the current state, but documenting the process alone is not enough.
In order to determine if the new map is a success, you must understand the results of the current one. In other words, you need data.
Value stream mapping software provides a collection of relevant metrics, including process times, delay statistics, quality data, and capacity. This forms the baseline for improvement and the rubric for judging the impact of any changes to the process.
The value stream map itself is only an artifact. What really matters is the work that is done to implement the opportunities for improvement and the results achieved by changing processes.
Software that stops at the map provides no support for action.
Instead, what’s needed is active workflow software that makes sure progress is made toward the desired state and that leaders are notified when momentum stalls so that corrective action can be taken right away.
Once a VSM is created and changes are made to reach the desired state, there are many questions to answer.
Did the improvements gain the expected results? What are the financial and other benefits of the changes over the long run? How do these results compare to the results of other VSM initiatives?
Value stream mapping software should help you answer them.
The forum users who argue for paper and pencil in lieu of software for creating a value stream map have an excellent point.
However, value stream mapping software that goes beyond the map provides an indispensable structure for improvement work, measurement and institutional knowledge.