What is Value Stream Mapping and How Does it Help?

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Last updated on
25th Mar, 2021
05th Mar, 2021
What is Value Stream Mapping and How Does it Help?

Todays’ corporate biosphere isn’t static, it is continuously evolving. In the race for being the best vendors to their clients, organizations are trying new ways (though old) to stay ahead. With Agile and Lean paving the way, the Value Stream is a powerful tool that can help teams in numerous ways. In this article we attempt to help you understand about value stream, its definition, benefits and how you can apply it in your work area.

What is a value stream?

A value stream is a set of events/actions needed to create a flow of value that can be realized by the customer and contains both value-added and non-value added activities. It contains all the steps from the start (of value creation) to the end (delivery to the client), where ‘Value’ is defined as the tangible or non-tangible benefit that the customer receives for return on investment.

As per Scaled Agile Framework, “Value Streams represent the series of steps that an organization uses to implement Solutions that provide a continuous flow of value to a customer.”

What is a value stream?

History of value stream mapping

It is difficult to trace down the history of value stream mapping and to know when it was invented but there's a reference of value stream mapping in several processes of Toyota. The book ‘Learning To See’, co-authored by John Shook and Mike Rother and published by the Lean Enterprise Institute, too talked about the material and information flow extensively reachable and relevant outside of Toyota. Though Toyota never used the term ‘Value Stream’, they did invest a lot in creating flow across processes.

Over the last two decades, value stream mapping has evolved and refined its ways through the IT industry. The first introduction to the term “value stream” was done by the authors - James Womack, Daniel Jones, and Daniel Roos, in the book “The Machine That Changed the World”. In the present world, value stream mapping is linked with both Lean and Six Sigma methodologies as they highlight the removal of waste.

What is the purpose of value streams?

Value Stream helps in identifying each component in the flow by defining a visual that can represent the ‘Start – To – End’ pipeline delivering value to the customer. It helps to define the flow and its counterflow ensuring a complete safety net in deliverables. Value Streams are composed of stages where each stage has a set defined ‘value’ as a deliverable that gets accrued at the end. It is a great method to focus on the benefits that can be attained through efficient effort consumption. Value stream provides a great way of defining the ‘what’ and ‘how’ in delivering solutions to the end customers.

Types of Value Streams

While defining a value stream, it is important to understand the ‘value’ that is to be delivered. With a clear understanding of the deliverable, it gets easy to define a value stream around it. There is no set standard to create a value stream and it is unique to each organization.

There are two types of Value streams:

  1. Operational Value Stream - It consists of a series of steps used to deliver products and services to a client. It delivers end-client value or solutions created by the development value streams.
  2. Development Value Streams – It consists of steps or phases to build and deliver a solution to the Operational Value Stream and ensure its smooth execution.

Value Stream KPIs

Value Stream KPIs(Key Performance Indicators) are the measurable actions to assess the performance of a value stream. It helps to check if the Value stream is working in the way it was projected. The KPIs differ for each value stream and serve the individual purpose for every stream. The KPIs form different parameters depending upon the type of value being delivered. Each Value stream defines its own set of KPIs to evaluate the constant venture.

How to identify a value stream

With smaller organizations, it is easy to define the value streams as the complexity is quite low as compared to large setups. While defining value streams for larger organizations, everyone involved must understand the ‘why’ or ‘the customer’s need’. Identifying a Value Stream requires an understanding of the flow and how to optimize it for consistent better delivery. As per the scaled agile framework, there are certain steps to identify a value stream:

  • Identify the Operational Value Streams – In a large setup, identifying the Operational Value Stream is not an easy task. It involves an understanding of the business goals and an ability to visualize the value flow to the customer.
  • Identify the Solutions the operational value streams use to provide to customers – With the identification of Operational Value Stream steps, the next action is to identify the solution that can be developed to support the stream and the customer.
  • Identify the people who develop and support the solutions – At this step, the people needed in the stream are identified who will build the solution. The estimate is provided in terms of numbers and the location depending on the value stream type.
  • Identify the Development Value Streams that build the solutions – This step is about identifying the development stream activities and the people involved in creating the solution.
  • Add the people needed to build the full business solution
  • Realize development value streams into ARTs – The last step is to define the ARTs. There can be multiple smaller value streams running in a single Agile Release Train(ART).

What is value stream mapping?

A Value Stream Map is an easy yet powerful visual tool that assists in visualizing the flow. It allows generating a comprehensive visualization of all end-to-end steps in the process. A value stream map shows all the significant phases required to deliver value from raw to finished goods. It is a Lean tool that uses flowcharts with boxes, arrows, and process flows to represent the system. It not only provides a real-time update on the flow but also helps in removing the waste and optimizing the flow.

How does value stream mapping help?

For decades, Value Stream Mapping has been supporting industries to realize ‘value’ both ways. Let’s look at some of the points that make it a ‘go-getter’:

  • Detect waste - Value-stream mapping intends to identify and eliminate "waste" which in turn grows the efficacy. There can be multiple types of wastes in the system such as Overproduction, Waiting, Transportation, excess stock, etc.
  • Identify bottlenecks – One of the very obvious benefits of Value Stream Mapping is the identification of bottlenecks. With Visual flow, one can easily check for the blockages in the system. It helps the whole organization to realize where the bottlenecks are and their impact on the value being delivered to customers.
  • Make processes efficient – Yet again, with visual help, one can know the current state just by looking at it. With reduced waste and bottlenecks, the organizations can perform better.
  • Improve cross-functional collaboration – With both Operational and Development teams working closely, it enhances the overall high-level collaboration. But at the team level, value streams help in building a cross–functional collaborative environment which sets the tone for enterprise agility.
  • Improve end- Product quality

How to map your first value stream of software development?

Creating your very own first value stream can be an exciting task that requires understanding on the value, the need, and the result. Every organization or individual has their way of doing it. Here, I will just lay out a basic format that can help with initial value stream creation: 

Creating a Value Stream can be a simple task that includes:

  1. Identification of all the end-to-end steps in the entire process. Make sure that you cover all the activities and keep it simple. You can begin with scribbling whatever comes to your mind in regard to the process and can rearrange and refine. 
  2. Data is the Key – Try to Gather data around each step, note the usual time it takes to complete a piece and the typical wait time between each step. 
  3. Follow by a minimal flow chart that represents the “value add” times for each step and the “wait times” between each step.  
  4. Lastly, and most importantly, look for the major holdups in the flow and establish the reason for the delay. Once you have an understanding of the data, delays, and bottlenecks, etc. start creating a plan to decrease the wait.    

Act on the plan you just created!

Measuring the Results

With all the processes and mapping in place, it is all the more important to measure the ROI. Metrics help in continuous improvement. Like for others, Value Stream Mapping(VSM) also has a set of metrics that can be used to identify bottlenecks and waste in the system. 

Let us look at some of them:

  • Process Time – Total time required by a single step within a process. In simple words, the time it takes to finish a single unit of work.
  • Lead Time  – The elapsed time between the task creation and work completion
  • Cycle Time – The elapsed time between the moment the team starts its work till the completion. 
  • Work-in-Process  – Limiting the maximum amount of work that can be done in each status of a workflow. 
  • Flow Load – Total Number of work items with the state as active or waiting


In this article, we talked about value streams being the set of activities one needs to perform to deliver value to a customer. To sum up, value stream maps are an easy and efficient way to identify bottlenecks in any process flow. Being visual, they make it easy for everyone to understand and agree on the remediations. It is a significant tool for achieving continuous improvement with collaboration. 


Deepti Sinha

Blog Author

Deepti is an Agile Coach by profession and Freelance Trainer with over 11 years of industry experience working primarily with healthcare & finance clients in delivering business. She has played a wide variety of roles in the graph of her career, whether it be, management, operations or quality. She likes reading fiction, management and loves to write her experiences. Her colleagues mostly describe her as very detail oriented person with a knack of creativity and imagination. And yes, she loves feedback more than her coffee!!