Congratulations. You've mapped out the future state. Now what?


Value stream mapping (VSM) is a Lean technique used to analyze the flow of materials and information required to bring a product or service to a consumer. Companies use VSM to help them identify and eliminate waste and inefficiency in a process. If you've ever wondered why it takes four weeks for your company to reimburse your travel expenses, or why you have to give your bank account number to a customer service rep after you've already keyed it in on your phone, you're looking at processes that could seriously benefit from value stream mapping.

After you map the current state, you create a "future state" map that depicts the improvements to that value stream. And this is where things go awry. The people who have so laboriously mapped out the new direction don't have the time to actually make the changes. They barely have enough time to do all of their regular work, to say nothing of the extra work involved in making the lean transformation. So the future state map is only partially implemented, the 30-, 60-, and 90-day milestones go unmet, and everyone is left muttering, "Yeah, that was kind of a cool project, but it didn't really make much of a difference in how we do stuff. Everyone's personnel evaluations are still six weeks late."

This experience isn't limited to VSM exercises, of course. If you're on any sort of process improvement team, or on any committee not directly related to what you make during the course of a regular day, you're bound to run into the impasse between the infinite number of things you *could* be doing to make your corner of the world a better place, and the very finite amount of time you actually have to do those things. And in this situation it's all too easy to let the urgent (the project your boss just dropped in your lap) preempt the important (fixing the Catch-22-esque system that makes you prepare sales forecasts for next season before you have any information on how the current product is selling).

So how do you get around this problem? The solution lies in redefining your standard work to include time for this new responsibility. Adding this work means that most likely you'll have to drop (or postpone) something else that you had been doing.  While that's not always easy -- there are heavy expectations to "just get it all done" -- it's a reality that something's got to give. Far better to make a conscious choice about what you're going to ditch than to have the lean transformation fizzle out.  There's nothing like the sight of abandoned future state maps lying about the company like bleached whale carcasses  to foster cynical, demotivated employees.

And really, this is part of lean, too. Establishing standard work, understanding limits and leveling the workload so as not to overload people, allowing them to actually create the future state they've mapped out -- this is a humane, rational, and far better way to work.

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