Assessing the benefits of Value Stream Mapping Software
Originating in the Japanese automotive industry, value stream mapping (VSM) is a popular method of capturing and analyzing business processes including both material and information flows. Whilst many traditionalists, when mapping, will reach for pen and paper there is an increasing group of software companies producing software specifically tailored to assist value stream mapping programs.
Whilst the available software varies in complexity from product to product the tools are broadly split into two camps, software that can be used for drawing and developing value stream maps and software that can be used for both drawing and designing maps and the analysis of information contained within the map.
Value Stream Mapping software for drawing maps
Popular mapping programs such as Microsoft Visio have long supported VSM through the addition of additional “stencils”. These stencils typically contain standard VSM icons and symbols. The software provides drag and drop functionality allowing the symbols to be assembled in order to construct a map. The symbols typically include common icons representing customer, activity, flows, inventory etc.
For those familiar with drawing software, using these tools can support rapid development of value stream maps and conformity to standard symbols (particularly of use where maps might be constructed within teams). Once the map has been finalized it can easily be disseminated to colleagues via email or other electronic means.
Some software allows symbols to be configured with preset information – for example activity data can be configured to record specific information pertinent to the organization “house style” ( for example ensuring the cycle time is recorded in seconds rather than minutes).
Whilst VSM design software can make the process easier (particularly for IT literate staff) it doesn’t offer tremendous advantage over “pen and pencil” techniques, and indeed where training is required in order to utilize the software additional time may be required within the improvement program.
Value Stream Mapping analysis software
The next stage of value stream mapping software provides the traditional mapping tools and in addition includes tools to analyze the results. These analysis tools will vary from product to product but typically focus on automating calculations (such as Takt time, inventory, fat/lean) whilst providing powerful analysis (such as what if) tools to help in the design of future state processes.
Whilst some products feature imbedded analysis tools as part of the product – many offer plug-in integration with office products such as Microsoft Excel. These tools facilitate the transition from current to future state by articulating possible benefits that can be achieved through process change. Through enhanced visuals (such as imbedding charting on the VSM) – analysis can be simplified and various potential future state maps can be developed in parallel allowing the improvement team to assess how different enhancements may affect the process.
Where VSM programs require the ability to demonstrate improvements and financial impacts – this form of analysis can help tremendously – where calculations can be typically complex affairs utilizing software to reduce human errors can result in a more reliable end result.
As with any software product there is a learning curve (that is separate from learning to produce value stream maps) – firms adopting these packages must ensure that adequate training is made available in order that the potential benefits of the software can be released.
Overall, while it’s true that value stream mapping activities can be carried out through pen and paper – advances in VSM software in particular analysis tools – can provide significant benefits to improvement teams, bringing speed, compliancy and automation to the process.