Mapping, whether it’s process mapping or value stream mapping can be powerful stuff. It should be a familiar and trusted weapon within your continuous improvement arsenal.

When mapping is deployed properly, right tool, right situation, it facilitates a handful of important team dynamics, including:

  • Physical engagement. Team members hang paper on the wall, record data on Post-It notes, position the Post-It notes, draw lines, figures, data, hang copies of documents, and hopefully, and most importantly, go to the gemba to directly observe reality. As one of my colleagues likes to say about facilitating teams, “Get ’em up, keep ’em moving.” If the blood does not move, the brain gets sluggish.
  • Shared understanding. Maps reflect a common visual language through the use of standard formats, icons, linkages and the like. Teams “see” the same thing, front and center, and can better confront differing perspectives, interpretations and concerns. This “billboard,” both during and after its creation,  should prompt effective discussion, closure and consensus. Try having different team members “read” the map to the team to see if it makes sense and to test the reader’s understanding.
  • Broader and appropriately deeper view. Rarely do folks have a substantive grasp of an entire value stream or a complex process. Mapping forces the team to flesh out the salient details of the target. Whether or not team members have the humility to admit it or not, there are typically more than a few “ah-ha” moments during the mapping experience. Better insight into the current condition, within the context of lean thinking, yields better results.
  • Dissatisfaction with the current state. Current state maps are typically ugly, both from a visually aesthetic perspective (hey, the goal is NOT to make a pretty map, it’s to understand and make meaningful improvements!) and from the perspective of the reality of the current state – where things don’t flow, where there’s multiple and unnecessary hand-offs, reversals, re-work, long queues, etc. This ugliness should prompt some serious dissatisfaction and hopefully, readiness to attack the future state.

So, while I strongly caution you against plugging any sort of electrical device through your map (as depicted in the picture – can you believe it?!), recognize that mapping brings power well beyond just the obvious. Yes,  the maps and related improvement plans are absolutely critical, but the mapping team dynamics and learned lean thinking are, in may ways, equally powerful.

Related post: CSI Kaizen – When Forensics Supplement Direct Observation