Monica Dhiman I am passionate about solving business problems by bringing the team together and removing impediments. I started my career as a business analyst before moving into product management. I am a Certified Scrum Master and I also write my thoughts about product management at

Value stream mapping: Examples, process, template, and symbols

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Value Stream Mapping: Examples, Process, Template, And Symbols

Value stream mapping (VSM) is a powerful tool that is used to optimize processes and increase efficiency across various industries.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll dive into the ins and outs of VSM, including its history, benefits for product managers and examples of successful implementations. We’ll also outline detailed steps on how to conduct a VSM exercise, common symbols used in creating VSM diagrams, and tips for identifying value-adding activities within your processes.

Table of contents

What is value stream mapping?

Value stream mapping is a lean tool that documents the step-by-step processes required to bring a product or service to market. It helps visualize, analyze, and improve all the steps involved by identifying waste and reducing process cycle times.

The ultimate goal of VSM is to create more value for customers while improving overall efficiency.

Also known as “material and information flow mapping,” VSM represents the end-to-end flow of goods, materials or information from supplier to customer. It’s often utilized as part of Six Sigma and Lean Six Sigma methodologies for process improvement.

By laying out each step in detail within a process — whether it directly adds value for the customer or supports delivering a quality product — VSM helps you better understanding and more easily identify optimization opportunities.

Origins of value stream mapping

Value stream was first introduced in 1990 by James Womack, Daniel Jones, and Daniel Roos in their book, The Machine That Changed the World. They later popularized it further through their book Lean Thinking, published in 1996.

However, Toyota had already been utilizing this concept since the 20th century under another name: material and information flow mapping. Toyota engineers found significant productivity improvements could be made by enhancing hand-off activities between steps which could be easily visualized through VSM techniques.

Toyota’s success using lean manufacturing practices helped establish VSM as a widely followed best practice among highly efficient organizations.

Benefits of value stream mapping

Product managers are tasked with the complex responsibility of delivering exceptional products that cater to evolving customer needs. To effectively navigate this challenging role, embracing methodologies and tools designed to enhance efficiency and optimize processes becomes increasingly important.

Value stream mapping (VSM) is one such technique that offers substantial benefits specifically for product managers. In this section, we will explore how VSM supports product managers by increasing process visibility, eliminating waste, reducing time-to-market, promoting stakeholder collaboration, and, ultimately, improving customer satisfaction.

  • Clarity on processes — Value stream mapping provides an overview of all processes involved in building a product, allowing product managers to gain deep understanding and make informed decisions. This helps identify inefficient steps, bottlenecks or improvements that can enhance their team’s productivity
  • Waste reduction — By pinpointing activities that don’t add value for the customer, VSM enables teams to eliminate waste and optimize resource usage
  • Faster time to market — Identifying repetitive processes or bottlenecks allows teams to streamline workflows and deliver products more quickly
  • Stakeholder alignment — Engaging all stakeholders during the creation of a VSM ensures input from every perspective while promoting agreement on process optimization opportunities
  • Improved customer satisfaction — Focusing on value-adding activities results in better products tailored to customer needs and an overall enhanced experience for users
  • Streamlined communication and collaboration — By creating a visual representation of the entire process, VSM facilitates communication between different departments and team members, fostering collaboration across various stages of development
  • Better resource allocation — With increased clarity into each step of the process, product managers can make informed decisions about how resources are allocated – whether it’s time, personnel or finances – ensuring maximum efficiency throughout production cycles

Examples of applications for value stream mapping

  1. Healthcare organizations have used VSM techniques to reduce patient wait times, optimize processes, cut costs, and improve overall care experiences by examining procedures like appointment scheduling or clinical workflow management
  2. The manufacturing industry was among the first adopters of VSM with significant gains in efficiency achieved through identifying non-value-adding steps within production lines such as assembly sequences or supply chain management strategies
  3. Software development teams can use VSM to improve hand-offs between stages such as design-to-development transitions or deployment-to-maintenance handovers while enhancing communication within project cycles which leads to faster delivery times and greater autonomy amongst staff members
  4. Retail businesses can leverage VSM to streamline inventory management, store layout optimization, and customer service processes. This helps minimize stockouts, enhance shopping experiences, and improve overall sales performance
  5. Logistics companies can use VSM to optimize their transportation routes, warehousing systems, and shipment tracking mechanisms for improved efficiency in delivering goods from suppliers to end customers
  6. Financial institutions can employ VSM techniques to streamline loan application processes or account opening procedures while minimizing errors and redundancies throughout various stages of client onboarding
  7. Customer support teams can implement VSM principles to optimize ticket handling workflows, response times, and issue resolution strategies resulting in higher levels of customer satisfaction

Value stream mapping process (7 steps)

While the exact value stream mapping process will vary from organization to organization (or product to product), the following 7 steps are a good place to start:

  1. Identify the scope — Define the objective behind improving a specific process or service area alongside its overall scope, then communicate it across relevant stakeholders
  2. Talk with stakeholders — Discuss objectives with key parties involved while setting aside necessary resources (time/budget) for conducting your improvement efforts effectively
  3. Map the current steps — Document each step in the process — including time required to complete it as well as responsible parties — using standardized symbols representing different aspects of material flows, information exchanges or human interactions within a process workflow
  4. Analyze existing workflows — Examine your visual representation closely for areas that could be improved upon such as repetitive steps, bottlenecks between phases or activities that don’t contribute value directly for customers
  5. Propose improvements — Once problem areas are identified during analysis stage present recommendations tailored towards enhancing productivity without sacrificing quality standards – these could range from automating certain tasks through technological solutions all way up consolidating roles team members take part order reduce confusion complexity workflow
  6. Implement changes — Closely monitor new measures enacted during implementation phase track results against original objectives ensure that desired outcomes achieved adjustments can made necessary case challenges arise
  7. Evaluate and iterate — Conduct periodic reviews post-implementation stage determine whether further improvements warranted, continually striving streamline processes drive better overall performance within organization’s product development lifecycle

Elements of a value stream map

A variety of standard symbols are used across industries when creating VSM diagrams — some of which were introduced in 2009 by Lean Enterprise Institute’s “Learning to See” workbook — but these can be modified or expanded upon depending on organizational needs:

Symbol Title Description
Value Stream Mapping Symbols: Customer/Supplier Customer/supplier This symbol can represent a customer or supplier based on its position. When present on the upper right hand corner it represents the customer while if it is on the left-hand corner it represents the supplier.
Value Stream Mapping Symbols: Dedicated Process Dedicated process  This represents a single department,or process with continuous material flow
            Value Stream Mapping Symbols: Shared Process Shared process This represents a department, process or operational machine shared by multiple value streams
          Value Stream Mapping Symbols: Data Box Data box This is placed under other icons that require more data for analysis
          Value Stream Mapping Symbols: Work Cell Work cell This represents multiple processes integrated into a manufacturing work cell
      Value Stream Mapping Symbols: Inventory Inventory This represents inventory counts that need to take place within the value stream
      Value Stream Mapping Symbols: Manual Information Manual information This represents flow from memos, reports or conversation
    Value Stream Mapping Symbols: Electronic Information Electronic information This represents digital information flow like the Internet, Intranets, Electronic Data Interchange, etc. Frequency, type of data and the media used can all be recorded
      Value Stream Mapping Symbols: Solution Solution/improvement The cloud symbol indicates proposed ideas, solutions or suggestions
    Value Stream Mapping Symbols: Expedited Expedited Indicates product or information deliveries that are expedited.
      Value Stream Mapping Symbols: Batched Kanban Batched kaban This icon represents Kanban cards arriving or being sent in batches

Value stream mapping template

When developing your own VSM template, consider your organization’s unique needs and the specific process being analyzed. Make sure all relevant steps are documented using the standardized symbols described above while also accounting for any industry-specific elements not covered by traditional VSM conventions.

We’ve created a value stream mapping template to help you get started:

Value Stream Mapping Template

Note: To customize the template, first create a copy of the spreadsheet by selecting File > Make a copy from the main menu.

Identifying value-add vs. non-value-add activities

The whole point of value stream mapping is to make your processes more efficient by prioritizing activities that impact desired product outcomes. But how do you actually differentiate between what adds value and what adds up to wasted time?

To determine whether an activity adds value according to lean principles, it must fulfill three criteria:

  1. Change form — The step should transform the product or service in some way and bring it closer towards completion
  2. Value for money — Customers should find that end results are worth their financial investment
  3. Do it right on the first try — Reworking or repeating any task due to errors wastes resources; avoidable inefficiencies should be eliminated wherever possible


Value stream mapping offers numerous benefits for product managers seeking to optimize their development processes. By dedicating time and resources to understanding each step within a process, teams can deliver high-quality products faster and with greater customer satisfaction.

With continued practice and implementation of VSM insights, organizations can become more agile, efficient, and successful in meeting consumer demands while staying ahead of the competition.

Featured image source: IconScout

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Monica Dhiman I am passionate about solving business problems by bringing the team together and removing impediments. I started my career as a business analyst before moving into product management. I am a Certified Scrum Master and I also write my thoughts about product management at

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