Even though organization processes are set up to improve productivity and results, value stream mapping is the key to streamlining everything once you’re in the thick of it. Value stream mapping is used to uncover the people, processes, and effort it takes to reach an outcome. Understanding where your processes can improve means finding better solutions for customers and ultimately improving their experiences. 

A strong understanding of where your processes work (and where they don’t) is becoming even more important these days, especially if your company aims to: 

  • Expand production
  • Improve client relationships
  • Offer new products and/or services 
  • Solve resource management problems without spending too much 
  • Make the most out of their in-house talent 
  • Collaborate effectively with suppliers and contractors

What Is Value Stream Mapping? (VSM)

Operations, procedures, and workflows need to be monitored consistently to perform consistently. However, many product managers still see their project management style as static when making teamwide improvements. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Just like your offerings, your big picture and day-to-day processes always have room for improvement, and a value stream map is the best way to help find those areas. 

Additionally, while it is true that everyone follows a team's prescribed process, the reality is that most of the time, processes are modified or simplified by individuals or teams. Using the value stream mapping approach, everyone from software engineers and developers to project managers can refresh their knowledge of how workflows can or should go. 

Now sure where to begin? In this detailed guide to value stream mapping, you’ll discover: 

  • The definition of value stream mapping
  • The advantages of value stream mapping
  • What waste is in processes and the seven different types of process waste you need to know
  • A list of components every value stream map should have 
  • Step-by-step instructions for how to conduct a value stream map
  • Tips for analyzing your findings and getting actionable insights 
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What is value stream mapping?

It might sound complicated, but a value stream map is really just a visual tool to help deliver complex information in a more digestible way. It usually includes all the critical steps in a product creation or service process, identifying the time and work needed during each stage. 

Why would you need a value stream map? Organizations often use them to quantify the information that’s part of a planned process. A properly thought-out VSM is very useful in determining if a project’s plan is more complex than necessary. It might also help identify areas where it could be counterproductive, slowing or even stopping project delivery. As a result, you can then plan to address those issues or optimize the process to achieve your goals in a faster, more smooth way.

To create a value stream map, you may choose to use a value chain diagram. A value chain diagram shows the various activities related to a material product or service. These are the activities that are typically referred to as "value streams." So when a value stream map is created, the information may come from here. 

The goal of mapping a value stream is to identify and reduce waste in that stream. Doing so can deliver efficiency enhancement across the process. Think of it as a summarized version of your workflow from start to finish. It will be used to define, assess, and improve existing processes so that teams can create a better customer experience. 

The role of technology in value stream analysis

The advent of digital transformation has significantly influenced how businesses conduct value stream mapping (VSM). The integration of advanced software tools has automated the process, making it more efficient, accurate, and faster. These tools can track and analyze data in real time, offering valuable insights that help businesses identify and eliminate waste, streamline processes, and enhance customer value.

Several types of software tools can be leveraged in VSM. Process mapping software, such as Microsoft Visio, Lucidchart, or SmartDraw, allows businesses to create visual representations of their workflows, making it easier to identify areas for improvement.

Powerful project management platforms such as Wrike can also play a crucial role in VSM. It facilitates task assignment, progress tracking, and communication among team members, fostering collaboration and ensuring that the process improvements identified through VSM are effectively implemented. It also serves as a single source of truth, a vital element in any value stream analysis.

Data analysis tools, like Tableau, Excel, or Power BI, help in analyzing and visualizing the data collected during the VSM process. These tools can highlight trends, patterns, and anomalies in the data, providing a deeper understanding of the process. These are all easily integrated with Wrike, meaning you can work seamlessly across all the tools to keep work flowing smoothly.

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) technologies are also finding their place in VSM. These technologies can automate data collection and analysis, predict future trends, and recommend process improvements, making VSM more proactive rather than reactive.

In this era of efficiency, leveraging technology in value stream mapping is no longer an option, but a necessity. As businesses strive to improve efficiency and customer value, the role of technology in VSM will continue to grow.

What kinds of waste can you use value stream mapping to curb?

There are seven common types of waste that value stream mapping solves for: 


Defects are defined as waste created by unsellable or refunded goods and services. These can be costly both in terms of revenue and brand reputation. Spotting defects ahead of time through value stream mapping is a realistic preventative measure any company can do. 


Too much of a good or service can cause a ripple effect, leading to production delays, quality problems, and wasted time. 


This means goods are not being transported or handled on time. This term also refers to an overly complex process or procedure that can be easily manipulated. One example of this is unsafe production. 

You may also hear waiting to be referred to as a non-value-adding operation. This means any action or activity considered necessary to sustain a business, even though it does not contribute to its customer requirements.

Underutilized Talent

Underutilized talent refers to team members who have extra time in their schedule for tasks that aren't being used. This can also mean assigning team members with special skills or knowledge to work that doesn’t make use of their abilities. 


Unnecessarily moving physical goods and supplies from one place to another is an example of controllable transportation waste. 


Overproduction refers to an accumulation of inventory that has become too heavy or created a burden in some way. This can result in increased lead times, difficulty identifying problems, or significant storage costs.


Similar to transportation, motion covers wasted resources that go from Point A to Point B, only in this case, it refers to people and not objects. 

Additional Processing

Additional processing refers to overworking a certain area, whether that’s extra steps or using too high-quality output for unnecessary aspects of the product or service that don’t have a proportionate effect on the end customer experience. 

A successful operation involves identifying and correcting waste. When these areas of waste are identified, teams can solve these issues and create more productive processes. 

Types of value stream maps 

VSMs are used across industries like manufacturing, healthcare, logistics, and software development. They help analyze and design flows within lean environments. There are two primary types: current state and future state maps.

The current state map, created first, provides a snapshot of existing processes by observing and documenting the flow of information and materials. The future state map envisions the desired process flow, building on the insights from the current state map.

Three key sections make up a VSM: information flow, product flow, and time ladder.

Information flow: This section visualizes the communication process, including involved stakeholders such as release managers, product managers, team leads, or client groups. It outlines the communication tools used and the flow of information among stakeholders.

Product flow: This outlines the processes, their corresponding teams, and cycle and setup times. It presents the processes from left to right, linking the beginning and endpoints to the relevant stakeholders in the information flow section.

Time ladder: This represents the production lead and processing time. Days and hours are represented by high and low horizontal lines, respectively, connected by vertical lines to create a continuous timeline. A summary of the total cycle and setup times may be included for reference.

What are the benefits of value stream mapping?

Mapping a value stream helps identify areas of waste while also uncovering knowledge gaps, improving communication, and making collaboration easier. But it’s the end result that is most important: a renewed focus on the customer. 

Identify waste

For example, when a project gets handed off from one team to another, it's important that all relevant knowledge and resources go to the other team. If something goes wrong, you don’t want the new team to waste time reinventing the wheel. With value stream mapping, you can identify waste and minimize it before issues come up. 

Uncover knowledge gaps

There may be errors in the tools you use or the time it takes to complete a certain project phase. When information is represented visually, it makes it easier for C-level executives to assess the real versus imagined process labor involved. It’s also a great way to see who is or is not in the loop. 

Improve communication

A value stream map helps identify gaps in communication across teams and departments. It also defines the flow of communication. This is helpful when working with third parties and vendors since information sharing is especially important in a successful project plan. 

Easier collaboration

Along those same lines, a VSM can help managers, clients, stakeholders, and team members better understand everyone’s role in the project. It also defines each major process and the expectations around effort. Having one neat summary of all this information in a visual format makes it easier to collaborate effectively since everyone is on the same page. 

Renewed focus

Your primary focus should always be on the customer. But with so many teams and moving parts, it can be hard to keep that focus long-term, especially during busy seasons. This is why value stream mapping is so important. It cuts through the noise to streamline the steps between ideation and actually helping people. 

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How to conduct a value stream map

The start and endpoints of a mapping exercise can vary depending on your goals. A value stream map can cover operations for an entire department. But it can also drill down on specifics. For example, each individual product or service can have its own value stream map. With all of that in mind, here are the essential steps you can use to conduct a value stream map. 

Step 1: Gather data

Mapping a process involves gathering information to identify its various stages and procedures. This is the initial step in developing a process activity map.

Step 2: Identify business value

List out the components of the product or service that bring value to your customer. Rank them in order of importance. This provides a foundation for business decisions while also giving your team a strong starting point for your value stream map. 

Step 3: Assign the project

Determine who will lead the project and see it from start to finish. This person will act as a point for related communications. They’ll also draft and revise the value map itself. You’ll also want to build a team that will be responsible for each individual process. A VSM can also communicate where their processes fit into the bigger picture. 

Step 4: Define the issue

The point of creating a value stream map is to solve a problem. But you can’t solve a problem if you don’t understand what it is. Again, keep your focus on the customer. Ask your team what the issue looks like from your audience’s perspective, then go from there. 

Step 5: Create a goal

Consider what you’re trying to solve, what the issue may be, and what a realistic solution looks like. From there, you can focus your VSM on a big picture process or hone in on one specific process within the greater project landscape. 

Step 6: Determine scope

Before you start working on a map, make sure that you know what problems you cannot solve and what solutions you need to implement before taking further action. 

Step 7: Plan it out

Get started mapping out your process steps and timeline. This will help you identify areas of improvement and will also help you improve your lead time.

Step 8: Draft the map

Use a document tool or a value stream mapping generator to visualize your data points. Keep descriptions short but clear. Try color-coding to further divide the three major sections. And be sure to call out details that are unique to your project in the side margins— have your team add their thoughts too to make it collaborative.

Step 9: Get feedback

Share your VSM with your team. Ask them where they see potential stumbling blocks. Also, be sure to get stakeholders involved at this stage if they aren’t already. They may have preferences that clash with your productivity strategy. If that’s the case, sharing the value stream mapping draft with them can visually communicate the differences in a way that may shift their perspective. 

Step 10: Finalize and implement

Once everyone has signed on to the draft, it’s time to polish up any leftover notes and finalize. Share it with the group, along with a short bulleted list of any changes made between the last draft and the final one. 

What Is Value Stream Mapping? (VSM)
What Is Value Stream Mapping? (VSM)

How do you conduct a value stream map analysis?

Value stream analysis begins with understanding the current state of your organization, identifying weaknesses and opportunities for lean process improvement. This baseline can help gauge efficiency across different levels of detail.

Some start with a clear goal, working towards it from a known threshold. Others focus on the end: the customer. With a customer-centric goal, it's simpler to assess the current state VSM and formulate the future state VSM to reach the optimal outcome.

The current state VSM helps identify waste, bottlenecks, and roadblocks. Following this, a target state VSM is developed, showcasing the prioritized value stream. Spot the differences between the two to find improvement areas, which could involve procedure changes, automation adoption, or additional support.

These improvement steps should be turned into an actionable product roadmap in your project management software, assigning tasks to relevant parties with due dates and an overall timeline to ensure accountability.

Remember, the aim is continuous process improvement. VSM should be a regular practice, not a one-off project. Consistent process establishment and monitoring are integral to successful VSM strategies, potentially scheduling this project to recur monthly or quarterly according to your needs and bandwidth


The goal of every company is to develop a culture that enables teams to provide the best possible products, services, and experiences to customers. Once you have full visibility into your processes, your entire organization can streamline limited project resource management and operations. 

Interested in organizing your next value stream mapping project? Use Wrike as your one source of truth for task management, data capturing, and team collaboration to greatly improve all your business processes. Start your free trial today.

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