3-minute read

How do you know whether improvements made in one area of a business are adding value to the organization as a whole? For example, is the new CRM being used to its full potential across all teams? Or, why does the DevOps team seem to run smoothly while the data management team is overwhelmed and bogged down by tedious processes? With process improvement, it’s easy to become laser-focused on improving one task or solving the problems of one team or department.


When improvements are made in a silo, the maximum benefit of efficiency and value are not realized. Or worse yet, improvements made in one area may inadvertently complicate the workflows in other areas. So, how is it possible to ensure that process improvements will benefit an organization as a whole?


Step back, take a bird’s eye view and employ value stream mapping as a method for seeing a complete chain of operations within a system at both the macro and micro levels.


What is value stream mapping?

Value stream mapping is an approach to process improvement where the series of events that result, in either a product or a service, are visualized and assessed. A snapshot of the macro view of an overall system is diagrammed to show all of the activities involved. Furthermore, the diagram drills down to see all of the individual tasks associated with each activity, the teams performing each task, the resources used, and time spent. In one diagram, a complete system is mapped showing how all pieces are interconnected and affect one another.


Once the current state has been mapped, inefficiencies, waste and non-value-added tasks become evident. From there, the ideal future state of operations can be mapped with the inefficiencies removed, and a more streamlined process diagrammed. The overall goal of value stream mapping and analysis is for organizations to see waste, plan to eliminate it and to monitor improvements made to the overall process.


Six sigma, lean and value stream mapping

This emphasis on eliminating waste and focus on value-added tasks probably sounds familiar to those following popular and successful process methodologies like Six Sigma or Lean. Indeed, value stream mapping was born out these methodologies, but in recent years value stream mapping has transcended outside of its origins to become a widely used tool to visualize operations. This family of similar methodologies and tools all arose from the manufacturing world, but now all industries are having success with these ideas of value-focused, streamlined operations.


Value stream mapping in healthcare

The healthcare industry is starting to take notice of the power of value stream mapping. The great puzzle trying to be solved in healthcare is how can patient care be improved while simultaneously reducing costs? By diagramming operational processes with value stream mapping, clinics and hospitals can begin finding areas where improvements can be made. For example, a clinic’s staff frequently hear patients complain about long wait times and confusion over insurance coverage. This happens despite the clinic’s investment in digital systems that were implemented in order to improve efficiencies and transparency. When the clinic brings in an expert to diagram the operational processes with value stream mapping, inefficiencies quickly become evident.


The clinic staff is still performing too many time-consuming, manual tasks and not using the digital systems to their full potential while patients are often left twiddling their thumbs. The value stream map reveals that much of the patient data collection and explanation of insurance coverage can be performed over the phone or through digital forms before a patient’s clinic visit, which would greatly reduce patient wait time. With the help of the expert consultant, the clinic maps out a more streamlined operational goal and builds a plan for moving to the more efficient processes over the next three months. The new process map finds ways to reduce waste, in this case waste being patient wait time and unnecessary operational costs. In turn, the clinic will be able to schedule more patients each day and have each patient’s time at the clinic be primarily quality time spent with their physician. Over time, patient satisfaction will increase while the cost per patient decreases.


Template for typical value stream map

The great thing about value stream mapping is that the approach is very straight-forward and can be implemented regardless of the industry. The general framework of value stream mapping focuses on discovering, visualizing and improving.



The discovery phase happens prior to diagramming and is the time period to collect all of the information needed to map the current process and understand the both the pain points and goals for improvement. This includes observing process in action, interviewing individuals and managers involved in the current flow, documenting current processes, practices and decision-making flow, and researching any technological systems and/or tools used to support the current processes.



After discovery and research has produced all of the details of the current processes and activities, it is time to diagram the current state. Similar to the sample diagram below, which focuses on a patient’s engagement with a clinic, first display the flow of the end-to-end activities, and then list the tasks and resources involved in each activity. Next, add the information stream that allows the processes to run (e.g., phone and email communication). Mark important events or goals with kaizen stars (e.g., patient portal, customer service, etc.). Once the current state is mapped, it is time to analyze the performance, and identify gaps and areas of waste.



After assessing the areas of improvement from the current state, design of the future state can begin. It is best to partner with a skilled expert who can guide this process using best practices and identify the ideal solutions that will lead to improvements. It is also important to note the expected benefits and results.


Diagramming the future state is not the final step. Now it’s time to determine how to implement the changes diagrammed in the future state map. Unlock the value revealed through the value stream map by creating a roadmap. The roadmap should guide an organization through process transformation efforts and detail a transition plan for moving operations from current state to future state over a pre-determined timeline.


Include a strategy for managing both the operational and culture changes created by the transition within the organization and how improvements will be monitored over certain milestones.


By taking a step back and viewing operational processes as a large, interconnected chain, it becomes easier to identify a more optimized flow that adds value to all facets of an organization. When value stream mapping techniques are employed, organizations can find ways to cut operational costs while improving production and/or service quality, increase ROI or re-invest dollars saved to another area of the business.


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