How To: Mapping Your Value Stream

Jim BensonPrimers1 Comment

When we build our kanban – whether for ourselves or for a team – we first need to build a value stream. A value stream is simply a list of the steps you take to create value. When we build a kanban, work flows along the value stream and this visualizes our flow.

Before We Begin

There are some quick tips about a value stream.

  1. It should match reality as closely as possible.
  2. It should be only as detailed as necessary to see and understand your work flow.
  3. As your understanding and contexts change, your value stream will also change.

These three tips are telling. Words like stream, flow, and value are all difficult to pin down. They change, they evolve. In tip number one, we want to match reality as closely as possible. We will never draw a map that perfectly matches our workflow forever.

The Beginning: Start with the Ends in Mind

What is it you are doing?

In a meeting you may be:

  • fully discussing a topic
  • coming up with action items
  • planning a future set of tasks

At home you might be:

  • delegating chores
  • planning a vacation
  • building a deck

During the workday you might be:

  • creating documents
  • managing staff
  • building a section of an airplane

All nine of these might have very different end-states.

So, if we are writing a report, the end state might be “publish.”

The other end … your backlog … is usually called “Backlog” or “Ready”. That is where your value stream starts. So, for our publishing value stream, our backlog looks like this:

Kanban End States

Next Step: Fill in the Blanks

Between start and finish is creation. What steps do you take to create something? Working backwards from publish, we might have collation, before that is final, before that is second draft, and before that might be the first draft.

Full Sample Value Stream

This now starts to build a stream into which the specific sections of the report can flow. The report team can now track each section or chapter as it moves toward completion.

Important Bits to Remember

1. Your value stream is your best educated guess as to how your work is actually occurring.

For some teams, the value stream above will work nicely. They would likely have a report that is from a template and being updated or customized, because the value stream suggests a very orderly process with no surprises or constant re-writes. Other teams will have a value stream that visualizes more editing, document re-organization, or people involved.

2. Your value stream will change.

As mentioned above, your value stream will change as you better understand your work. You do not need to sit around for a month figuring out the perfect mapping of your value stream. Just get one up and start working. You can refine as you move along. Different phases of projects may require very different value streams. Do not allow yourself to fall into the trap of rigid process.

3. Your Value Stream is Fault Tolerant

If you move a stickie to the right and something changes to make you move it back to the left – this is not a problem. It is reality. You really did move a chapter from the first draft to the second draft, conditions changed and then it moved back to the first draft stage again.

This is a Personal Kanban 101 Post. See others in the series.

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Jim BensonHow To: Mapping Your Value Stream

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