A Value Stream Map isn’t just pretty wallpaper For your office


Have you ever created a Value stream map, felt really proud of yourself for learning how to do it and then done nothing with it afterwards? You wouldn’t be alone, plenty of people have. This is why they are sometimes referred to as office wallpaper. We stick them up on the wall for everyone to see as if they are right of passage to being a called Lean engineer.

Here’s the problems your now up against:

To create the Value Stream Map you required Stake holder co-operation. So you’ve cost the company lost time and achieved nothing

As stakeholders have seen no rewards from their hard work they now have no intention of supporting you in future, well at least not to the same level of effort.

You’re stuck for ideas. You’ve created The Value Steam Map (VSM) and you’ve got a lot of generic data such as rolling yield, WIP in the system and finger in the air cycle times for each process but now don’t know what to do with it.

So where did it all go wrong

I’ve been in the exact same position I’ve described above, I’ve questioned myself as to why I do these things, I’ve had other specialist Lean professionals telling me “VSM’s are a waste of time, Use this instead” showing you a completely over complicated tool that really comes out with the same answers.

Here’s the mistake I made. I used the same old generic VSM templates or how too guides your probably using or are going to use. They include yield, Cycle times, and Resource, WIP and communication routes. The second mistake is to stick a VSM on a wall or PowerPoint presentation and expect people to understand what you want them to see.

What should you do?

The standard templates for VSM’s are great, they give you a top level understanding of what’s going on. You filled in all the blank boxes on your template and then said you were finished. Don’t stop there! You’ve now got a basic understanding. Go away and have a think about what the VSM is showing you. One I did recently told me exactly what I thought I needed to know, which was where the bottle neck was in the system which would give me somewhere to concentrate my effort.

My aim was to cut cost, although the Bottleneck was my rate limiter, was it really my major cost? Well in this case the major cost was Labour but the bottleneck I found was mainly asset utilization or in other words a machine. So concentrating my efforts on reducing the bottle neck would have had little reward.

But why waste the VSM it contains a lot of useful data. I decided to get the Stakeholders back together and add some specific manning data to the VSM. Don’t be afraid to cut and shut your VSM it’s not pretty wall paper after all. So we had a talk through and realized that the issue wasn’t required Man hours to complete the tasks at all, it was he requirement to have an operator stop what he doing approximately every hour and perform a 10 minute operation checking the material thickness and then reloading the automated line. Planning this was extremely complicated so resource utilization (worked hours vs available hrs) was really low, meaning we had far more staff than actually should have been required, meaning our costs where high. In this case we were able to use the gathered data to create a business case and purchase additional capability for the line to allow it to automate the thickness check. Meaning there were no more interim ops for the operators meaning planning was much simpler and we could cope with 1 less man per shift.

VSM Summary

Hopefully the major message you should take away from this is don’t waste the great data you’ve gathered. Develop the VSM to suit your needs. VSM’s can be really flexible after all its just a data gathering tool. Figure out what data you need and adjust your VSM to suit nd generate a report of your findings. Your report should concentrate on whats important to your requirement rather than listing every bit of data on the VSM.




Performance over anything else in Lean Manufacturing



Operator performance is seen by many as a touchy subject. I’ve personally worked for companies where stop watches are banned from the shop floor anything that remotely suggests the performance people are working at is also banned. The company will then wonder why it can’t compete with its up and coming rivals price points.

Even if you’re in one of the above mentioned situations it’s not the end of the world, it’s definitely not ideal but we can work around this.

From my experience if you have a fairly well designed production system, Performance will be by far the biggest player in manufacturing throughput. Some Ci teams, Lean teams and even management choose to ignore performance as it scares them, they would rather avoid potential upset with their operators. In other words it makes their lives easier. It’s no coincidence that the most efficient companies in the world are those that really go after performance over anything else.

Car manufacturers

Let’s take a car manufacturing plant. Specifically let’s choose Lean’s old friend Toyota. I’ve chosen Toyota as they set the benchmark for performance with an average I believe to be around the 76% mark (Don’t quote me on this) but its round about that figure. Let’s imagine a car production line. It’s constantly moving it never stops. The workers have to get the part that they fit onto the car before the car moves past their area otherwise it stops the whole line. Do you think that is the most efficient way to work? The answer must be no, surely it’s more efficient to have that car stop and allow the worker to more easily fit the part.

Car manufacturing plants are designed this way to put pressure in the system. It’s a way of managing the performance of your work force to a really high degree. Car manufacturers put a lot of money and effort into to designing their plants like this as they know that managing performance gives the greatest rewards in throughput.

Pressure in the system

I don’t recommend this or advise you to do it unless it’s the last straw but if you were a manager of a company that was struggling to break even or even at risk of closure I can guarantee you that if you communicated to your workers that “if we don’t improve throughput were going to have to close down”, your performance would sky rocket. Why? The majority of people will settle into a job and do what they have to do. Why would you make life harder than it needs to be?

The simplest and cheapest way to put pressure into a system is to have something to aim for. This could be a deadline, throughput targets or live orders. Another really good method is competition. Maybe you have more than one production line making the same product and each week you reward the team that achieves the highest throughput to the required standard. There’s nothing like competition to improve throughput!


Something you must do is build some baseline data. What are your current throughput and performance figures? You can use current averages and also comparisons to the same time the previous year if you have seasonal variation. If you don’t have this data you won’t know if you’re improving and how successful your improvement initiatives have been.

Start with throughput

Weekly throughput Chart with weekly orders and target line

Using just throughput isn’t the worst start. This is usually the first thing I would put on any visual management board anyway. What I like is a week by week throughput bar chart with an expected deliveries per week vs achieved. If we fall short it’s red if we achieve its green and anything above our target is blue. I also like to use an average target line set above anything we have achieved in the past, it’s a sort of stretch target that you can reward for if achieved. This gives everyone something to strive for.

It’s a competitive world out there

Your strongest message should always be that the company and everyone employed by it should strive to continuously improve and cut costs. We live in a world where there will always be a company aiming to make what you do, to the same quality and at a cheaper price. If we rest and put our feet up and don’t push forwards constantly they will catch up, overtake us and effectively put us out of business. To stay ahead and keep everyone employed for years to come we all need to be bought in and push ourselves every day.








A systematic approach to beginning a lean project

Let’s use an example, let’s say I’ve been asked to increase the efficiency of a cell in a manufacturing plant as it’s currently loss making. I’ve been informed that its costs are mainly associated with manning and the amount of hours it takes to complete a product. The company requires a saving of at least 50% in order to make a profit.

The first thing to do is get an understanding of how the product is manufactured. If you have planned operations available to you then that’s great make full use of them. I find the best thing to do with this is create a standard process map so you can visualize the steps in manufacture. If there’s no planning available then the likelihood is it’s a real simple process and you can map the process just by observing it.

Performance levels

If you’re lucky the company you’re working for may have standard times against each process. These are usually created by industrial engineers or the planners taking advantage of a timing tree created by an Industrial engineering specialist. These standard times can be used as a reference against your actual times to complete the processes in order to determine the level of performance. Why this is important? Well if your performances aren’t around 75% or more you know there’s definitely cost savings to be made via improving performance of individuals. In fact if the performances are really low say 30% then you immediately know there’s plenty of fat on the bone to be attacking and get those costs down. On the other hand let’s say I need to reduce cost by 50% and the performances are currently all at 60% against my standard times. A world class performance rating is often said to be 82% but this can vary based upon the complexity of the task. So if 82% is deemed world class then 82% – 60% = 22% .This means If we can get the performance levels up to world class level I have a potential gain of 22%.I needed to gain 50% to make the product profitable to the company I’m working for. This tells me straight away that increasing performance alone through efficiency gains is simply not going to cut the mustard, I’m going to have to look for other opportunities. If the performance gains available can get you to your desired saving then at this point you need to start studying the wastes. Standard times assume there are none of the 7 wastes effecting your manufacture so any you can find and address will lead to performance gains hence reduction in cost on the cell. But for now we just want to find opportunities and brief our leadership on them so let’s move on.

If you don’t have standard times against operations available to you then your best option is to observe the processes. Get a feel for how efficient and how hard you think people are working and use that as a gauge later on.

Ok so my cell has performance gains available of potentially 22%. That leaves me with another 26% to find.

The 7 wastes are otherwise known as TIMWOOD. I’m not going to go into too much detail at this point but these stand for

Transport, Inventory, Motion, Waiting, Over production, Over processing and Defects.

Of these wastes only, Motion, Transport and Waiting really have an effect on the performance of my cell operators and therefore their performance levels. I can target these with 5s exercises but we will talk about that on another occasion, for now let’s just stick to a systematic approach to gain an understanding  of the manufacturing cell and what improvement oppertunities


The major waste we need to look at now is Defects. To look at this we need to find our production yields. We need to get the yields at each stage of manufacture. If you’re lucky you will have this data readily available to you via one of your engineering support teams. If you haven’t got this information readily available you can either try and collate it or use a value stream mapping exercise and ask stakeholders for a rough idea. You can then use this data to calculate the rolling yield. The rolling yield is the total yield for the cell.

At this point I would be assessing the individual yields. Are there any that are particularly low? Again like the performance levels if the yields are particularly low, let’s say 50% then that means there’s potentially plenty of meat on the bone to go at. If the yields are pretty good or perfect then you know this isn’t an avenue to spend too much time on as you’re only going to find marginal gains.

From my experience the best way to find opportunities to increase yield is through improvement events where both the support staff and operators are invited to feedback on ideas they have to improve quality. I promise to write a blog ad chuck in some templates on how I do this sometime in the near future. A more formal way of finding solutions is to use a practical problem solving exercise with the intention of getting to all the route causes of the issues and implementing solutions. Again I will discuss this in a later blog.

Resource Utilization

What’s next? The next thing id look at is utilization of resource. You still have to pay for resource if it’s working or not. In other words it’s costing the company for a person or machine to sit around doing nothing whilst it waits for work.  You can work this out in a number of ways but the easiest is to use historic data.

Resource worked hrs vs Available hours.

Let’s say this works out at 50% that means with some effective work balancing we could expect to get that up to at least 90% meaning a gain of 40% in utilization this means we can either increase production rate and reduce cost against each product or manufacture the same quantity with less resource hence less cost.


We have found that a 22% increase of performance of the cell operators can be achieved via targeting waste and managing the operators effectively with key performance indicators.

The industry standard for yield in this manufacturing field is 70% in fact we have achieved yields of 80% ourselves in recent history. However our current yield is just 50%. As such it can be expected that we could achieve yield gains of at least 20% through improvement activities.

Our current utilization of resource is  averaging 50%. We believe that for this product utilization of 90% can be achieved meaning a potential gain of 40%




Cut the Crap in Lean Manufacturing


Cutting the Crap in Lean Manufacturing

This blog will probably differ from every other Lean, Continuous improvement or Operational excellence literature you’ve ever read as it doesn’t hide from the truth.

Lean manufacturing is not sticking pretty pictures and graphs on a wall and having people fill them with green and red ink then convincing yourselves  this means you are now lean.

If done properly is its so much more and so much harder than that.

Let’s get things cleared up from the beginning

If you think you’re doing any of the above listed job roles and you think it’s easy or should be easy then your either not doing it right or actually have no idea what your letting yourself in for.

So you might have been to a number of courses which teach you the basics or maybe even advanced tools that you can use to incorporate lean into your workplace. The lecturers might have blown you away with the experience they’ve had in the discipline by reeling off situations they’ve found themselves in.

So now you’re sucked in they’ve sold you completely you’re going to go into workplace as soon as the course is finished and incorporate everything you’ve been taught.

But you get into your workplace and after a matter of days you are completely disheartened as you’re facing at least one of the following issues.

A hostile workforce

Why wouldn’t they be hostile? You’re going in there with the sole aim of saving money. No matter which way you cut it the best way to do this is to reduce labour hours.

Lack of support from management

Ok so maybe your management isn’t fully bought in. there’s many reasons why this can happen. One I often find is they’ve been through this in the past and had no real success.

But it could be they are from a shop floor background and want to retain as many staff as possible Or They are just too busy with things that must be far more important. This is often due to them attending far more meetings than is practical/useful or spending their days firefighting issues.

Anyhow why would management want to change things the place is doing just fine?

Lack of resource and time

Well this is really building on the previous issue. You’ve been given no additional time to do the task. This occurs when you’re not a full time Lean engineer and have been asked to do this as additional work around your day job. There’s nothing wrong with this other than management haven’t reduced the amount of work in your everyday day job to accommodate it.

There’s no money to spend even if you find potential quick wins. Why? Because your management aren’t really bought into this. Why would they give you money to spend when they could spend it on much more important things such as overtime for the shop floor staff?


You implement some great changes and are really proud of what you have achieved. You’ve finished your project and go back to your day job or move to another project. A few weeks/months later you pay a visit to the place you made such great gains but shock horror everything has gone back to how it was before.

So should you give up?

The answer is definitely no! What you need to understand is the above issues will definitely happen. If you work in this field you will encounter every single one of them on a daily basis. You will face hostility and find yourself completely frustrated wondering where the Job satisfaction is in this role.

If you’re finding it hard then you’re probably on the right track, your hitting the right buttons and are pushing the right boundaries. All we need to is focus you’re attention on battles you can win until you’ve built such an army of followers that you can take on any battle and have the enemy wave the white flag before you arrive. It’s been described in the past as a virus spreading. Its starts small but grows exponentially. The difference you should find to a virus is leadership in your workplace will eventually come to you begging for it.

I will guide you through what I’ve learnt over the years, things I do to ensure I’m making a difference and mistakes I’ve made. I will post every week and will also provide you with tools and templates I’ve used and adapted.

By the way I love feedback and love to hear stories and examples of great work and issues other people have experienced